There are over 600 pages of my psychiatric health in my medical records spanning from 2008 to 2018. Here are two pages.
This first one photo is from a psychiatrist appointment on September 28, 2017. I drank that entire summer of 2017. Ok, I drank every summer for a lot of summers. But in September 2017, a manic episode led me to spend over $400 in the course of a couple of hours. I drank because I didn’t feel OK. I roamed around La Jolla getting kicked out of places. Then I went home to a room I rented in Mira Mesa before going to a coffee shop in Encinitas. I don’t really remember how I got there considering I was broke. There, I felt so out of control I called 911 and was carried away on a stretcher in an ambulance. There, I did a Facebook Live of my emergency room admittance. It was a shitshow.
My roommates ended up having a weird intervention for me saying that I scared them. They’d never been around someone like me so if I had another episode, they wanted me to leave. Sure, they were kind about it, don’t get me wrong. They did the best they could. Have you ever tried living with a bipolar alcoholic?
In the moment though, I tried to educate them the best I could about bipolar disorder and alcoholism. Quickly, I tried to make them remember I was a human not just these dysfunctions. But there was no reconciliation to make them feel safe because honestly, I fucking wasn’t. As the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous kindly states: “A drinker in his cups is an unlovely creature.” I was bipolar, non-compliant with meds, and “in my cups”.
Then I found out in early October, that my friend Chris was dead. (I thought he had died recently but he had been dead since the summer.)
Chris was a friend from sober living in 2016. We were instant best friends. Our conversations ranged from racism to Conor Oberst to the Beat Generation. Our inside jokes drove our house manager crazy. All one of us had to say was “Ambercrombie and Fitch” and we’d lose it. Or our endless drives to and from meetings in my beat-up VW Beetle. The CD player didn’t work but the radio did and it was all we listened to. The same dozen songs on constant rotation. Some of our conversations still pop into mind when I’m driving around or when I hear a song, and I will explode in laughter. My entire chest swells up in joy at the ridiculousness of our early awkward sobriety. I laugh, by myself now, to the point of tears. Then I remember. There were also hours and hours of listening to him combat God.
“God hates me, if he exists” is a frequent thing he’d say. When he got kicked out of sober living for not getting along with the manager and not wanting to continue his stepwork, which was… ya know, supposed to get you God-reliant, he relapsed on weed.
Then he was homeless.
Being homeless when it rains really sucks, Vanessa. You have no idea. I smell like death.
Then he relapsed on meth.
The last time I saw him was at a Motel 6 in Vista in January 2017. I picked him up to go to a meeting and even though he hadn’t told me he’d relapsed on meth, just by being within 20 ft of him, my spirit recognized it. I became unbelievably unsettled. There were two girls in the car with me that night. They had asked for a ride to the meeting and I remember thinking, “There is no way in hell I can have him in the same car as these girls.” But dysfunction breeds dysfunction, and he got in.
At the meeting, Chris fidgeted in his chair and asked me to go outside with him for a cigarette. I watched as he broke two cigarettes trying to light them. Finally, I lit one for him and gave it to him. Then he broke it when he tried to flick the ash off.
“I can’t sit, let’s go walk,” he said, finally frustrated he couldn’t get the nicotine he wanted.
There was no point to our walk. It was just something to do. There were no inside jokes, no laughing, there was nothing I could say to make it better. All I could do was sit. There was no anger. There wasn’t any disappointment. I don’t know that there was even any sadness. All there was between us was distance. It was not my friend. I felt like throwing up.
When I dropped him back off at the Motel 6, he asked me to forgive him. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to forgive him for.
“This is just a little relapse, just a small one. Like yours, before you got back into sober living, right? Like, I’m going to get sober like you, I’m going to find God, I guess. This is just my first step or whatever, I’m powerless. Will you come up with me? Flush the rest of the tweak? Will you flush it for me?”
In another dimension, my body leapt out of the car and marched to Chris’s motel room and took all his drugs and flushed it all away. All his problems went down the drain. His fears about his schizophrenic father. His fears about his broken heart. His fears about who he was and what he was worth. In that dimension, Chris’s life was saved. He found God.
Instead, every. single. cell. in. my. body. stayed in place. Nothing could get me out of that car.
“I’ll go with you,” one of the girls in the backseat said. I turned around to look at her and remembered, I was responsible for these two other lives in the car now, too.
“No,” I said. I said bye to Chris but he didn’t hear me. He meandered across the parking lot back to his room. My car made its way out of the parking lot and my spirit began to rest.
A few months later, I got a call from a Georgia phone number.
“Hey Sneaky, it’s me! Shit got real bad in San Diego, man. Real bad. I’m back home now, I’m going to church with mom and dad. Can you believe it? God is real, man. He saved me, I’m going to send you a pic, ok, check out my cross. They have me set up at a motel right now, but I’m good, I got a few weeks sober. Shit got real bad, man…”
At that moment, I was nursing a hangover. Nestled in dirty blankets on a mattress on the floor, there was vomit in my hair and dry mascara tears on my face. I was barely clothed. Happy to hear from him but annoyed he didn’t ask about me. What about my relapse and despair? Do you see how this disease is a physical, mental, and social manifestation of nothing but selfishness?
I wasn’t being selfish because I thought I was more important. And he wasn’t being selfish because he didn’t care about me. But we each in our private minds were running on a terror that was too deep for either of us to name. We didn’t want to die and we wanted someone to tell us we wouldn’t. We couldn’t be that hope for the other.
I don’t want anyone to confuse this as us being “bad” people. We were very sick people and we had get well.
He sent me a photo. In it, he smiled in a parking lot with looming trees lacing the sun behind him. He beamed so brightly. His tall lanky frame, his skeletal fingers pointed to his chest – a large cross hung around his neck.
“You look good, Chris, good to know God’s got your back,” I said. An empty CVS bag crumpled beneath me. I threw up bile into it.
“He does, and you know…” he said. There was a hesitancy I didn’t recognize in him. He paused. “…That was kind of fucked up what you did. What you and Steve did… never… I never would’ve expected it from you but I really do forgive you. Jesus showed me, so I forgive you. Life is too short, I think you meant good,” he said. “I really think you meant good by it.”
“Chris, what are you talking about?” I asked. Steve was his sponsor. We’d kept in touch only because he knew that Chris trusted me. So if anyone would hear from Chris, it’d be me.
“He doesn’t trust anyone, Vanessa. But, he trusts you he thinks you’re all right.”
I racked my fuzzy memory trying to recall what I ever could have possibly done against Chris. And especially what did I ever do where Steve was involved. Was it because I left him at the motel? What was it?
“Hello, Chris? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, but I still felt guilty.
“The earbuds,” he said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Chris, can you just tell me?”
“You and Steve, you guys kept talking to me through my earbuds when I was trying to listen to music. You guys never left me alone. You guys said some fucked stuff man, like you didn’t want to talk to me if I never got sober. It wasn’t cool, I was going to get sober. I didn’t need you harassing me like that, that’s fucked, Vanessa,” he said. “I forgive you.”
My body felt on fire but I was shivering cold. That conversation never happened.
The tone in his voice… I knew there was nothing I could say to convince him I had not been secretly relaying messages to him through his earbuds.
Nausea overcame me in a wave. I curled up and dry heaved on the dirty carpet near the mattress.
“I forgive you,” he continued. In another dimension, I badgered Chris into submission. Into sobriety. I led him to God. He got sober. I asked for forgiveness.
“Chris, I have to go,” I said. I hung up. I stared at the photo he’d sent me. He did look much healthier, he’d been eating at least. His smile was so big. The sun shined so brightly in that photo. I could practically hear his laugh. His teasing nickname for me, “Hey Sneaky!”
Months later, a friend would call me while I was hungover and at work to tell me Chris had died.
I can’t express what happened to me exactly, only that I showed up at my AA workshop on October 8th, shaking and with vomit still on my breath. I told that group of strangers that I couldn’t end up like Chris. He thought I had gotten better. He believed I had answers. He wanted to believe I did. I wanted to believe I did.
If Chris had truly found God, like he said he had with the lightness and peace in his voice that I hadn’t ever heard from him before, I was glad. I wanted to find Him again, then, too.
If Chris had just lost his mind and was deeply psychotic and detached from reality, well I still wanted that peace he had in his voice when he talked about God.
Maybe I’m the crazy one. Still here, giving God the glory.
But maybe I’m crazy to still have doubts. To see and feel God in action in all these small and painful moments, and dismiss it as a coincidence.
To look back over the last two years of recovery and say, I did it all myself.
To remember every lie I told and promise I broke. To pick up the phone without shame or blame, to make it okay to the people I’d hurt.
To read these notes written by a doctor and feel so close to the 31-year-old Vanessa Gomez but with overwhelming and beautiful relief at 34 years old, to feel so distant from her, too.