I finally got copies of my medical records and I’m going to share the mental health ones with you. Please note, there are over 600 pages of my psychiatric health in these spanning from 2008 to 2018 and I am sharing two pages with you.
This first one is in September 2017. That entire summer I’d had trouble staying sober. After I had a manic episode that fall that led me to spend close to $400 in the course of a couple of hours, I began drinking because I couldn’t feel OK… or stop roaming around La Jolla getting kicked out of places. I went home to a room I rented in Mira Mesa for a little bit before going to a coffee shop in Encinitas and feeling so out of control I had to call 911 and was hospitalized. I did a Facebook Live of my emergency room mania (yes, I still cringe about this and yes, it comes up every year… I made it “private” so no, you can’t see it.) My roommates ended up having a weird intervention for me saying that I scared them and they’d never been around someone like me and if I had another episode, they’d feel best if I left. They were incredibly kind about it, don’t get me wrong, they did the absolute best they could. Quickly, 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. But there was no reconciliation to make them feel safe because honestly, I fucking wasn’t. “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 of mine from sober living in 2016. We were instant best friends and shared inside jokes that to this day make me bust up laughing. There were endless conversations about music and philosophy and books. There were also hours and hours of listening to him hate God.
“God hates me,” 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,” he’d said while I sat in my bedroom of the sober living, warm and dry.
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 20 ft away from him, my spirit became unbelievably unsettled. I had two girls in the car with me that I was also giving 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.” At the meeting, I sat with Chris as he fidgeted and asked me to go outside with him for a cigarette. I don’t smoke, but 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 were no inside jokes, there was no laughing, there was nothing I could say to him to make him better. All I could do was sit. There was no anger. There wasn’t any resentment. I don’t know that there was even any sadness. All there was between us was distance. He was not my friend. I felt like throwing up.
When we dropped him off at the Motel 6, he asked me to forgive him and said he really wanted to quit.
“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?”
Every. single. cell. in my body fought to leave the car and save Chris’s life but every. single. cell. stayed in place. Nothing was going to 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. As the car began to move, I said bye to Chris but he didn’t hear me as he meandered back to his room, having lost interest in our conversation. The 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…”
I was nursing a hangover at that point, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, there was vomit and tears in my hair, I was barely clothed. Happy to hear from him but annoyed he didn’t care about my relapse and despair. Do you see how this disease is a physical, mental, and social manifestation of nothing but selfishness?
I say this but I don’t want anyone to confuse this as us being “bad” people. It’s soooo easy to say, we were morally deficient and deserved the worst of all our action. I get it. But…. I guess you’d just have to experience it to know why that isn’t true.
He sent me a photo, and he smiled in a sunny parking lot with a large cross around his neck.
“You look good, Chris, good to know God’s got your back,” I said.
“He does, and you know… 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. Life is too short, I think you meant good,” he said.
“What…are you talking about?” I asked. Steve had been his sponsor and we’d kept in touch only because he knew Chris, who did not trust anyone, trusted me for some reason. I racked my fuzzy memory trying to recall what I ever could have possibly done against Chris where Steve was involved. Was it because I left him at the motel? What was it?
“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 but 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. 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.
The nausea overcame me in a wave and on the floor by my mattress. I threw up the blue Gatorade I’d had trouble holding down anyway.
“I forgive you,” he continued.
“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 big. The sun shined so brightly in that photo.
Months later, a friend would call me while I was at work, nursing another hangover, 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 on my breath still, telling that group of people I couldn’t end up like Chris. He thought 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 heard, I was glad. I wanted to find Him again, then.
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 when on my birthday I had a toothache keeping me from sleep in the middle of nowhere with no ibuprofen and a long drive on a dirt road, when I prayed for Him to remove my pain and HE DID.
In that instant.
But maybe I’m crazy to still have doubts. To see and feel God in action in those 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, and 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, feel so distant from her, too.