Drinking While Disabled

1. Introduction

Looking around my room in the group home, I think about what got me here. For six years I lived successfully in my own apartment, and I envisioned living the rest of my life there. It wasn’t a glamourous life, but it was a comfortable life. I didn’t expect my life to change at all. But as they say sometimes life happens. The following essay is an account of how I slid into the dark world of addiction, my struggle with it, and my escape from it.

In order to understand my story, you must understand that I have a disability. I was born unconscious when my Mom’s placenta tore, and I was without oxygen for the first few minutes of my life. This resulted in severe athetoid quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy.

Cerebral Palsy is an umbrella term for any brain damage occurring before, during, and up to two years after birth. Cerebral Palsy affects the way my brain communicates with my muscles. This involves my walking and talking, but, fortunately, it does not affect my intellect or learning abilities. Unfortunately, CP does affect the way I got about my daily life.

2.  College and Graduate School

When I went to college in Fall 2003, there was no doubt in mind that I would eventually get a job. None whatsoever! When I switched my major from computer science to psychology, my parents warned me that I might have a hard time getting a job, but to their credit, they let me change my major anyway. (Something I still don’t think they have forgiven me for.) I excelled in psychology, getting a 3.8 GPA and nominations for the “Most Outstanding Senior Award ” for the class of 2007 from four professors. I was riding high! I seemed to have the world in the palm of my hand.

 In Fall 2007, I started in the graduate program of my choice, Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Several things happened to make my studies there more difficult. First, I got hit by a car in my wheelchair the month after I got there. Secondly, my VocRehab counselor led me to believe that VocRehab would pay for my PCA services, and then when I got out there, VocRehab declined to pay for these services. This put a tremendous amount of stress on me, but I managed to live in Chicago for three years without any kind of assistance. Something that I rank as one of my most outstanding achievements and the one I’m most proud of.

(PCAs are Personal Care Attendants. They help people with disabilities with activities of daily living (ADLs). These are tasks that most people take for granted, such as dressing, bathing, and preparing meals. At this time in my life I could perform most ADLs. It just took a lot of energy. A PCA would have saved me some energy. Today I struggle with many ADLs. I can’t dress myself or bathe myself anymore. This because as I become older, it becomes harder to move. I also feel that my time drinking diminished my physical abilities.)

The third reason my studies in Chicago did not work out was that my mental health declined. I had always been prone to depression, and the stresses of graduate school didn’t help. I tried the best I could and completed all the class requirements. However, as much as I tried, I could not finish my master’s project, and after three years in Chicago, I decided to come home. This was a tough decision for me as it was the first time in my life I had failed at something.

3.  Feeling like a Failure

Like many people in their mid-20s, I moved home to my parents’ house. I was ashamed that I couldn’t complete my Masters; however, there was little doubt in my mind that I could eventually get a job. I felt that, whatever I couldn’t do because of my disability, I could make up with my grades and intellect. After all, this is what always happened in school. Why would the work world be any different? While living with my parents, I applied to 200+ jobs. I went on all the websites and applied everywhere. I wasn’t picky. I got two interviews after applying to all those jobs, and both were pretty much over once I walked in.

I was feeling pretty low at this point. I had (in my mind) failed at graduate school and failed at getting a job. To make matters worse, I lived with my parents, which would not make any 20-something-year-old feel good. One night, I tried to take too many sleeping pills, but thankfully my parents were there, and they got me to a hospital. After the hospital trip, my parents and I decided that I would get my own apartment, since living at home with my parents was a contributing factor in my depression and suicide attempt.

 In April 2012, I moved into my first apartment. It was in the town I went to college, and it was an income-based accessible apartment. Things were good. I had my ups and downs, but I was living on my own. In 2013, I made another attempt at finishing my degree. However, my dream of completing it never came true. It’s just too hard to try to achieve something like that long-distance and after so much time has passed. Nevertheless, I was successfully living on my own.

4.  Started Drinking

I lived on my own without any major problems  until 2016. In 2016, I started drinking heavily after a fight with my best friend. This friend was my drinking buddy. Until then, I never drank alone, but after we fought, I started drinking alone. Once I started drinking alone, I couldn’t stop…..

At first, it was only at night. A few drinks to wind down the day. In my head, it was no big deal. I thought I deserved it. I have bad spasticity due to my  CP, and I found the alcohol really helped my spasticity. It was like my muscles said, “ahhhhh, we can finally relax.”

My favorite drink was vodka with Diet Mt. Dew. I used to drink vodka with orange juice, but I found that to be too hard on my stomach because I have a lot of acid reflux. I never liked beer, and things like Mike’s Hard Lemonade were too weak for me. Like a true addict, I wanted to get drunk as fast as possible. At the time, I saw no problem with that philosophy.

I continued drinking into the fall. One night, I drank too much, too fast, and I lost control of my arms, or at least I thought I did. I had to push the button on my recently acquired Life-Alert. Ten minutes later, an ambulance showed up at my apartment and took me to the hospital. It was the first time I had gone to the hospital for drinking. It would not be the last. However, it would be the last time I voluntarily went with the EMS people.

Around this time, my social worker began to notice my behavior.  I always liked and respected my social workers. I was the “good client,” the one that never caused trouble. (Something that would change in the coming months.) She told me I was heading down a dangerous path, one that migh not end in a good place. She suggested that I go to treatment. I kind of laughed her off. I was fine. I had never partied in college, and, in my mind, I was just making up for the lost time.

In the fall, I continued to drink. I was no longer only drinking at night, but I had not progressed to drinking around the clock. One day in October, I had been drinking all day and ran out of vodka. I had to get more vodka. However, my shoes were off, and I couldn’t get them back on. So, like a real addict, I got in my wheelchair and went to the liquor store with just my stocking feet. This doesn’t make me an addict, I thought. I’ve seen several of my friends in wheelchairs go to the store with only their socks; it was a disabled thing.

On election night 2016, I was drinking and watching the election returns. Like the rest of America, I was expecting to celebrate the election of Hillary Clinton. However, it didn’t matter that she lost that night. To me, it just gave me justification to drink. Of course, I have to drown my sorrows by drinking. Had she won; I would have told myself that I needed to drink to celebrate. Basically, I was drinking that night no matter what happened.

5.  Parents Found Out

Inauguration Day 2016 was a memorable day for me, but not for the reasons it was notable for everyone else. I had drank all day that day, and somehow I ended up in the ER. Probably because my PCA found me drunk. According to Vulnerable Adult laws, we can’t be in unsafe situations, including being drunk. Once I got to the ER, they wouldn’t release me unless someone took me home. This was the first time my parents had any inclination that I had a problem. To their credit, they came right away.

When my parents took me back to my apartment, I tried everything I could to make them let me stay in there by myself. My Dad was just going to run in and get my clothes so that I could stay with them at their house. Well, I had different plans. I planned to stay there and walked from the car to the apartment, about a football field’s distance. (That would be the last time I walked any distance) When I got to the apartment, I told my parents I wasn’t going with them and to leave my apartment. My Dad said he would call 911 and tell them what the hospital said that I couldn’t be left alone. I refused to move. He dialed a number, and I finally agreed to go. Looking back, I don’t think he dialed 911, but he did get me to go with him. He played that game adults play on kids. “If you don’t shape up, I’m going to call so-and-so, and I have the phone ready, and I’m dialing their number…”

After a weekend at home, I promised my parents that I was done drinking, and I would clean up my act. This was the first of many broken promises to my parents and my family. I had zero intention of quitting drinking. I just wanted to get back to my apartment and start drinking again. At this time, I knew I had a problem, but I thought I could control it if I tried.

I remember going to my parents’ for Christmas because I was bummed that I couldn’t drink as I wanted. My Mom didn’t like me drinking even when I was drinking “normally.” She was concerned about my meds. (Which I probably should have been concerned with my meds as well, but I wasn’t.) During that Christmas break, I would sneak out at night and take drinks from the liquor cabinet under the microwave. I could still walk then, and I was very quiet. This doesn’t make me an addict because people sneak drinks from their parents’ liquor cabinets all the time. I’m just doing it 20 years late. Or at least that is rationale my addict brain gave.

When I got home from Christmas break, I continued to drink, and by this time, I was drinking around the clock. I went to the hospital several times, but since I was my own guardian, they could not keep me. The standard procedure for someone who comes to the ER very intoxicated is for the ER to send them to detox and then treatment. However, no detox or treatment facilities would take me because I required PCA care. At first, this seemed like discrimination. I mean, they were not letting me in because of my disability. How could that not be discrimination? However, I learned that it was not technically discrimination because it was accessible; they had an accessible room. Their staff just was not allowed to provide PCA care. Therefore, the ER had to keep me until my BAC got under .08, and then they had to let me go. This was fine with me. It just meant I could go on drinking. That was my mindset.

On my birthday, January 12th, my friend and I got into another fight. I don’t remember what it was about, but I remember what I did. I called another friend and told him I was feeling suicidal. He did what a good friend should do, he hit my life-alert button that was on my phone, and EMS came. I went to a mental health hospital for a few days.

 The people at the mental health hospital tried everything to get me into treatment. I mean, they called everywhere. But they were running into the old problem of me requiring PCA care.

My social worker wanted the psychiatrist to take away my guardianship because she believed it would help them get me into a place. However, the psychiatrist thought my social worker should be the one to petition the court for guardianship. Honestly, looking back at it with sober eyes, someone should have done it because I had no plans of stopping drinking. Of course, at the time, I did not feel this way. I was perfectly happy with them not doing anything and sending me back home, where I could continue to drink.

 A few days after they released me, I went to the liquor store, and I heard the psychiatrist say, “See you in the hospital, Chelsie.” He just happened to be driving by. I knew then if I went back to the mental health hospital, I was screwed. I was scared shitless, and I raced home, dumped four liters of vodka down the drain, and swore I would never drink again. Of course, that lasted all of an hour, and I was heading back to the store.

Sometime during the spring, I had a colonoscopy. My parents came because I have a terrible history with anesthesia and they always want to be there when I go under it. When the doctor got done with the procedure, he took my parents aside and asked if I drank. They said yes. He told them that he could tell because I had ulcers in my throat. He said if I continued to drink, they could erupt, and I could bleed to death. Now I wish I could tell you this opened my eye to how serious my drinking was, and I didn’t have another drop. I wish I could tell you that, but I can’t. I’m a smart person, I knew I was in trouble, but I didn’t care. Addiction ruled my brain. All I cared about was getting my parents off my back, so I could go back home and drink.

Therefore, of course, I assured my parents that understood how serious it was and told them I would stop drinking. My parents aren’t dumb, but I think they just didn’t understand how powerful my addiction was, and they truly wanted to believe me. Until this point in my life, I had been honest, so why wouldn’t they believe me? Never believe an addict in the middle of active addiction.

At some point during the spring, I’m not exactly sure when, the city of Marshall had a meeting with me. They were tired of me going to the ER. I was taking away valuable services and clogging up the ER, they said. I haven’t detailed every visit, but just know there were many. Once I left the ER at 8 pm one night, and by noon the next day, I was back again. They wanted to send me to detox and treatment, but no facility would take me because I required PCA care. They talked about putting me in the mental health hospital, but it wasn’t a mental health issue. Their hands were tied. Which was fine by me; that meant I could go home and drink.

I don’t remember who was at the meeting, but some pretty high up people were there. People from EMS, the firefighters, I’m sure there was an official from the city, and my social worker were all there. They explained they were tired of my actions. I was scared. This was the first time I had been in trouble of any sort. Technically, it wasn’t legal trouble, but it sure felt like it. They had me sign an agreement that I would no longer drink, and I think it said they would only come to get me if I was in severe medical distress. I was my own guardian, and no facility would take me. I wish I could say this opened my eye to how serious the situation was, but I can’t. The agreement meant little to me, and I continued drinking.

One day that spring, I had to go to my counselor’s. I had been drinking the night before (Of course), and I had forgotten to plug my wheelchair in to charge. I had enough power to get there, so I threw my charger in a bag and went to my appointment. Once I got there, I realized I had the wrong time, and I had missed my appointment. I went into the hallway and plugged my wheelchair in to charge. I was also hungover, and before I left for the appointment, I had taken several swigs of vodka, so while I was waiting for my chair to charge, I slept. My counselor walked into the hallway and found me. She explained that when I didn’t show, she called my social worker, and they were anxious about me. I didn’t care how my actions affected others. My life was about one thing and one thing only, drinking vodka.

My counselor sent me on my way. I thought I had fooled her, and she had no idea I had been drinking. Addicts think they got everyone fooled, and they’re smarter than everyone. They don’t understand, or at least I didn’t, that people just don’t want to confront them. Looking back, there’s no doubt in my mind she knew exactly what was going on.

 When I got near my apartment, my best friend (the one I got in those fights with) drove by and immediately stopped. He explained that my social worker called him (he was an emergency contact since I didn’t have any family in town), and they had been searching all over for me. He is a very nervous person by nature, and he has a hard time with an emergency like that. But do you think I cared? No, I cared about my next drink. It was so annoying when I got to my apartment and my social worker was there. I couldn’t have a drink. She explained she was so afraid and imagined finding my wheelchair empty on the street because someone had abducted me. I tried to seem sorry, but my mind was on my fridge and my glass of vodka.

Finally, in March, my social worker finally found a treatment program that would take me. It was an outpatient treatment program located in a nursing home. It was for people who were too sick to participate in a typical treatment program. Basically, it was for end-stage alcoholics. I actually didn’t qualify to be in the nursing home, but they allowed me to participate as a day patient.

6.  First Treatment

I wish I could say this was it, and I stopped drinking. I wish I could say the I had the best of intentions and truly wanted to get better. I wish I could say that, but I can’t. I went because that’s what people wanted, no other reason. I was delighted when they said I could stay home; that meant I could still drink even though I promised everyone I wouldn’t.

I went to the program for three weeks as a day patient, still drinking at night. I’m not sure how it happened, but eventually, everyone realized I wouldn’t stop drinking. If I had to guess, I would say I ended up in the ER. In any case, it was decided I would be admitted to the nursing home. I think I could be admitted because they argued I was no longer able to take care of myself, and thus I qualified for nursing home care.

I HATED the nursing home, and I called my Dad crying to let me go home. I had checked myself in, and if I could drive, I would have been able to drive myself home. However, I couldn’t drive. A medical van drove me there, and I thought they should be required to drive me home, on my request. It did not work like that, though, and they would only come to get me if I was discharged. Honestly, as soon as I would have gotten home, I would have drunk. So, everyone, including my Dad, did the right thing by making me stay there.

The typical inpatient treatment is 30 days, but this was technically an outpatient treatment because the class only met twice a week. Yes, we were inpatients as far as the nursing home was concerned, but we were outpatients as far as the treatment. Therefore, I was there for three months, the typical length of an outpatient treatment.

I was able to leave the premises because I was still my own guardian, and I was not under court order to be there. I would go to the store and pick up pop and treats. I would also go for drives in my wheelchair around the town. On the Fourth of July, I saw someone loading a 12-pack of beer into a car and started thinking about drinking. There was a dead-end road nearby, and I got to thinking I could drink there.

Therefore, the next day I went to the liquor store and got my favorite vodka. I went to the road and sat down and drank. I did this several times. Nobody will find out, I thought. The addict brain can rationalize ANYTHING! However, the nurses quickly started suspecting something. They told my treatment coordinator, and he talked to me. I swore up and down I wasn’t drinking. He said they noticed I was drooling more. I said, how dare they comment on my drooling. An addict will lie straight through their teeth if they want that next fix, and they think lying will get it. I feel ashamed now. I had the coordinator telling the nurses they were unfairly picking on me.  But at the time, I was thinking of one thing, drinking.

Eventually, someone discovered my stash on the dead-end road and told the nursing home. The nursing home then went to the liquor store, where I was quickly identified. How many women in an electric wheelchair come in for vodka in a town of 500 people? The nursing home then said I could no longer leave the premises. I fought this. I was still my own guardian, and I wasn’t under court order. In my head, I should have been able to come and go as I pleased. I even appealed to the ombudsman. (An ombudsman is someone you take your complaints to if you’re in a nursing home.) I went full “disability rights” on them. But nothing worked. Looking back now, it was absolutely the right decision to take away my right to leave, and I’m ashamed I brought disability rights into it.

I had to stay an extra three weeks and finish some additional course work in the chemical dependency class. I eventually got out in August. A medical van was supposed to pick me up on a Friday, but they couldn’t make it until Monday. There was no way I was going to stay an extra weekend, so I called a friend with an accessible van, and she picked me up. I wish I could tell you that I had the best intentions and wanted to stay sober, but I can’t. On the trip home, I was already planning my next stop at the liquor store.

7.  Back Home

Back at home, I continued to drink 24/7. Somedays, I “got away” with it, and my PCAs did not turn me in for being drunk. Somedays, they figured out I had been drinking and did their legal duty and called 911. At some point, I had a meeting with the PCA company owner. The company was tired of my behavior. She drew up an agreement that said if I were drunk, the PCAs would not provide me assistance. It also said they would only offer me care if I was in severe medical distress. I signed it, knowing full well that I would continue my behavior. Eventually, one-by-one, my PCAs said they wouldn’t work with me until only a few would still show up.

During this time, my sister, Brooke, came to visit. She lived thirty miles away, and I think she was concerned about me. A few times when she showed up, I was so drunk that she felt she needed to call 911 herself. Also, one time I was so drunk that I was incoherent. She called our parents and asked what to do. My parents told her to drive me home, to their house. I remember barely being able to get in her car and one of my friends helping her. I also remember the tears streaming down her face. I truly believe she saved my life that day because there’s no doubt in my mind I would have continued to drink, and with the condition I was in, I probably would have gotten alcohol poisoning.

My parents were distraught at this point too. I haven’t talked about them, but they weren’t dumb, and they knew I was drinking, even though I tried my best to hide it. My Mom would video call me every night and I tried not to drink too much before she did, but I’m an addict, and addicts do not know when to stop. She would see my red cheeks and my behavior and start crying. I felt bad but not bad enough to quit.

One night she called, and I was very drunk. I was so drunk; I do not remember the call. My Mom would later tell me that I begged her to get me and then passed out. I think of her sitting in her room and seeing her daughter in that condition. It breaks my heart that I did that to her. She jumped in her car at 9 pm and drove 2 ½ hours to my apartment. When she got there, she found me passed out on the floor. She stayed the night, and in the morning, she packed my bags and said I was coming home. I had sobered up and wasn’t crazy about this idea, but I went.

My Mom and Dad were at a loss about what to do. Like the professionals, their hands were tied too. I know some might say that they should have kept me home. However I was still my own guardian, and my parents were firm believers that I should be able to make my own decisions. Plus, the honest truth was that there was nowhere for me to go. During all this drinking, my physical health declined tremendously. I went from being able to walk medium distances to barely able to take a few steps. My parents would have kept me at their home, but their house just isn’t set up for me anymore. This isn’t their fault. When they bought the house, I could walk a mile unassisted, and I could do stairs by myself. Life just happened and my physical health just declined. Besides, my Mom just cannot care for me like she used to. It takes a lot of work to shower and dress a 35-year-old with CP. She can do it for a few days, but not day after day. I also think a part of them wanted to believe my promises that I would not drink. Addicts can be very convincing when they want something.

8.  Second Treatment

After a week with my parents, I went back to my apartment and my drinking. Sometime in September, I emailed my professor to tell him what was going on. I really wasn’t looking for help. I just wanted to tell him what I was going through. He has a big heart, though, and he wanted to help. He and his wife came over one day and called almost every treatment center in the state. However, he ran into the same old problem; the facility could not take me because I required PCA care. He suggested that he would hire someone to care for me.  But this would not work because of confidentially surrounding treatment centers. Part of me knew I needed help, but part of me was glad we were running into problems. It meant I could stay home and drink. However, he and his wife were not going to let me do that. They insisted that the were not going to let me stay home alone.

They called and found out I could go to an inpatient program in cities. However, the waitlist was three weeks long. This was fine with me. I could stay home. However, my professor had different ideas. He talked to my social worker, and it was decided I would go back to the nursing home. I felt ashamed. Several people who were in the nursing home when I left were still there, and I had to explain why I was back.

When we were leaving for the nursing home, I got out my bottle of vodka and made a show of dumping it down the drain. My last drink, I said. This made my professor get emotional. I felt guilty because, in my heart, I knew that wouldn’t be the last bottle of vodka I would have. I wanted it to be. I tried to get sober because I knew everyone else wanted me to get sober, but I knew in my heart I wasn’t ready.

I went to the in-patient program three weeks later. I liked the program. It wasn’t based on the AA system. It was based more on a holistic model. I have several objections to the AA system, which I will not get into here. I like the AA system for the fellowship, and that is about it. But people must use what works for them. I would like to say this program worked, but I cannot. I just wasn’t ready. Like many addicts, I told my counselor what she wanted to hear so I could go back home.

9.  Back Home

After three weeks, I went back home. At this point, I knew I could not go on drinking all day, every day. However, I could not get it through my thick skull that I couldn’t drink at all. I knew I could not limit my drinks. I knew that would not work. I thought if I could just limit my drinking to the weekend, I would be OK. I’m a smart person. I knew all the research said that addicts couldn’t use it at all. I knew that! But I thought I was different, that I had magical powers that would let me drink only on the weekends. In AA, they drill into you; you should not think of yourself as unique. I’m not sure if I 100% agree with that, but I definitely thought of myself as unique in the regard that I thought I could drink and be OK. I know now that that was my addictive brain talking.

One night I ran out of vodka. I looked down at my battery bar and saw I only had two bars left. Now two bars means I should have kept my ass home and plug my wheelchair in. However, I was out of alcohol and my addictive brain had taken over, I was not thinking rationally. I knew I couldn’t go to the liquor store, my battery would never last the two miles there and back. But there was a gas station about a block and a half by my apartment that sold beer. So, without weighing the consequences, I took off to the store. I barely made it there, when my battery died. Now when a chair dies, there is usually a little bit of juice left, so I switched it off and on. The worker at the store came out and pushed me in the store. I got my beer and left. At this point, I was terrified because I knew I didn’t have enough power to get back. But I continued to drive back, getting slower by the second as my chair was dying.

Finally, my chair died for real. I knew I was screwed because in my hast to get beer, I forgot my cellphone. So, I tried flagging down oncoming cars. A car stopped and I explained what happened, except the part about the beer. He called 911. While we were waiting, someone from a nearby apartment brought a blanket because I only had a sweatshirt on and it was below freezing. I did not care about things like keeping warm, I only cared about getting beer. Many addicts have died of exposure because of this EXACT situation.

Eventually, the cops came and pushed my wheelchair to my apartment. The cop was not happy when he saw the liquor bottles in my apartment. I must have not been too obviously drunk because had I been, he would have been required to take me to the hospital. I was just glad he did not see the 12 pack of beer in my bookbag on the back of my chair.

It was around December 2017, and nobody knew what to do. My social worker had done everything she could. My parents were at their wit’s end. They were up all night worrying. Now thinking of all the sleep they lost, I feel terrible, but at the time, it was all about drinking. I had gone to two treatments, and they did not help at all. 

At this point, my body was starting to show the effects of long-term drinking. My sleep was affected. I would drink until I passed out every night. It is a myth that drinking helps you sleep. It enables you to get to sleep, but the sleep is not very restful once you are asleep. As you drink more and more, you wake up more frequently. I would wake up at 6 am, and I would go straight to the fridge and take a long drink of vodka., My BAC was so high at that point that a lot of times, I would pass out again before I put the glass back in the fridge. I woke up several times in my wheelchair in front of an open fridge door. The sick part of this is that I liked it. I’ve always had a hard time falling asleep. Even today, it takes me two hours to fall asleep. It was so lovely to be able to fall asleep instantly. Well, that’s what I thought at the time.

I also had a severe loss of appetite. I lost about 50 lbs. because I just wouldn’t eat. They say that alcoholics drink their food, and that was the case for me. Food just did not sound good. Or I would eat it and throw it up. I couldn’t hold any food down unless I were drunk. My body had gotten so used to being drunk that it could not accept food unless I were drunk. At this point, drinking was no longer fun. It was just something I did.

My parents came and visited me for my birthday, and I could tell they were worried about my condition. My Mom just looked at me with tears in her eyes. We went to bingo, and I could tell their heart was not in it. We got something to eat after bingo, and I could not eat. But they didn’t know what to do. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say I was dying in front of their eyes, and there was really nothing they could do.

One day, my sister and her friend stopped by to make me supper. I think they were concerned about me and just wanted some way to check on me. I was not happy to see them because it meant I couldn’t drink. I had been drinking all day, so I was already drunk. I had hid some vodka in the community room in my apartment building, which was down the hall from me. So, I would make up excuses to go out in the hallway. I think I must have told my sister I was checking on my laundry three or four times. Every time, I would go to the community room and take five big long swigs of vodka and Diet Mt. Dew. I’m not exaggerating when I say each swig must have been the equal to a double shot. I would take five swigs each time I went to the community room and I went three or four times. Let’s just say I was pretty drunk by the end of the night.

Sometime in February, something finally happened. My social worker told me an opening had opened up at a group home in Luverne. I flat out told her no. There was no way I, Miss Independent, was going to a group home. None!

I was pretty firm on this until February 27th, my Grandma’s birthday. I woke up that day drunk, so I called everyone and told them I was not going. As I was trying to get back to sleep, I threw up, and it got on my wheelchair charger. My wheelchair charger had holes in it, and the vomit got inside, and the charger shorted out, cause and big noise. The noise scared me, and I started crying. I don’t know what it was, but the gravity of my situation hit me. I called my aunt, who struggled with alcohol when she was younger, and I told her I didn’t know what to do. She told me to call Brooke and tell her to get me and come to Grandma’s house.

I called Brooke, and we went to Grandma’s house. I tried to act normal, but I was drunk, and my stomach was not allowing food. I went into the bedroom to lay down. Eventually, my aunt came in, and she called a meeting with my parents. We discussed the group home. I told her I didn’t want to go. She said I needed to go, and my parents agreed. Then she said if I went to the group home for a year, she would help me move to my own apartment. I still was not sold on this idea, but I figured a year was not that long. And even I knew if I continued the way I was living, I would die. Therefore, we all agreed that I would move to the group home for a year.

10.  To the Group Home

My parents and I visited the house, and I liked it. Also, the staff I met was friendly. However, I was still thinking of reasons why I couldn’t move. One reason I came up with was that the group home did not provide pop. You could have pop, but they did not buy it for you. When you live in a group home, you only get a limited amount of money, and there would be no way I could afford the pop habit I have. My parents solved that problem and said they would provide the pop.

 Another reason was that I wasn’t sure my wheelchair would fit. When I’m with my parents, I use my manual wheelchair, so I didn’t have my electric wheelchair when I visited the house. To be honest, I was pretty sure it would fit, but I was thinking of any reason why it wouldn’t work. I told my social worker I was not sure that my electric wheelchair would fit. She solved that problem and arranged for a medical van to bring me to test it out.

                It did, and my move-in date was set for March 23rd.  I was fortunate that a group home came open when it did.

The day before my move in, my parents came up to move my stuff. My Dad specifically told me not to drink too much that day. However, my only thought was that it was the last day I could drink. I was going to drink. Friends would stop by to say goodbye, and I would covertly sneak a drink. By the time my Dad got there, I was pretty drunk. He was not happy! Because I was so drunk, I couldn’t tell them what I wanted to pack, so they had to guess. Some of my stuff got thrown away, which I later blamed Dad for. But it was100% my fault. I should have listened to him.

It would have fit my narrative better if I could say the staff was horrible, but that was not the case. From day one, the staff was very friendly and helpful. I immediately got along with two of the staff very well. One of them would be the program supervisor, and she is still my favorite staff today. I did not make it easy on them, though. I wasn’t very friendly to them. They were the enemy as far as I was concerned, and I was a temporary resident.

It was suggested that I start going to an outpatient treatment group at the hospital. I was not crazy about this idea, but I figured it would give me something to do. Ironically, my social worker had tried to get me in this treatment a year prior.

I did well for the first month; however, then I got it in my head that I could drink. I went to the liquor store and bought some vodka and snuck it in the hospital and drank after treatment. When I think about it now, I shake my head. I cannot believe that I actually thought I would get away with it, but it just shows the power of addiction. I thought I got away with it because no one confronted me. During the night, I fell off the bed, and the staff had to pick me up off the floor. In the morning, the hospital called my staff and told them they found a bottle in the bathroom. My staff confronted me, and I admitted that I had been drinking. It was my favorite staff, so it was easier to take. I would like to say I only did this once, but I can’t. I did this twice more.

The group home had to make a rule that staff would follow me when I went places, and they would keep my check card locked up, so I didn’t have access to money. This was a blow to my ego. These rules were in place for three months. This time I can say that I learned my lesson, and I have never drank in Luverne again.

The next nine months of a year went pretty well. I wouldn’t say I was happy, but I didn’t try drinking again. I would like to say I got out of my room and started interacting with people, but I cannot. I enjoyed hanging out with my two favorite staff. We had our inside jokes. I liked to give them the middle finger as a joke. (This had been a thing I did since high school) It was always in jest and never with malice.   One of my housemates did not like this, so I changed it and said: “You’re number 1” instead. It was over my housemate’s head as to what I meant by that.

I was biding my time. The group home encouraged me to get a volunteer job or get out of the house somehow. However, I just stayed in my room. A lot of days, I just sat staring at the floor, listening to TV. Or I would play computer games and listen to the TV. (I don’t really watch TV; I use it more like a giant radio.)

We had agreed to give it a year, but addicts are impulsive and want things on their timeline. I would beg my Dad to let me move. To my Dad’s credit, he kept to his word, and as a year came, he said I could move back to the same city in the same apartment. Many people said this wasn’t a good idea. My family didn’t think this was a good idea, including my Dad. They said that I should start somewhere fresh. But I had convinced myself that moving back to Marshall was the best thing. I just could not imagine life without my friends.       

Numerous people asked me if I thought I could go to the same places and not drink. I swore up and down that I could. In reality, I knew in my head that I would drink. I knew that I couldn’t drink like I used to. I knew that wouldn’t work. But again, in my head, I thought if I just limited my drinking to the weekend, I would be OK. It sounds like madness. I mean, I knew the studies…. addicts can’t drink AT ALL. But my addict brain told me that I was special. I would be the one addict who could continue to drink. I mean, I’ve seen people who used to drink a lot moderate their drinking. Why couldn’t I be like that?

 I always get addicted to something, doing it over and over again, and then suddenly, I stop. I thought drinking would be like that. I had been addicted, but I got it out of my system, and now I could go back to regular drinking. It did not matter how many counselors had told me that drinking was different. I thought I knew better.

11.  Last Drink

It took about two months to get an apartment, and on April 13th, I finally moved from the group home. I was excited! I was finally leaving. When my Dad and sisters showed up to move me, I just about fell out of my wheelchair with excitement. I think my Dad and sisters were even a little bit excited for me. My favorite staff brought a basket full of goodies as a going away gift, and we took pictures together. It was a festive atmosphere. I was also excited for another reason. A reason no one knew but me, I was going to drink that night.

When we got everything all moved in, my sisters went to Walmart to get a few things, and my Dad and I had a chance to talk. He asked me again if I thought I could live on my own and not drink. I looked him in the face and said yes. I felt terrible for lying, but I rationalized it by thinking that I would control my drinking. In my warped addict way of thinking, I thought it would be OK as long as I just limited my drinking to the weekends. It was madness.

When my sisters returned, they bought me lunch from Arby’s. They made sure I had everything I needed, and they left with my Dad. I scarfed down the Arby’s food. I could barely contain myself. I was finally free! I could drink!

I doubt my family was twenty miles out of town before I was headed out to the liquor store. I didn’t even have a chance to look around my new apartment to see where my family put things. I didn’t even go into my new bedroom or bathroom. There was one thing on my mind—vodka!

There are two ways to get to the liquor store from my apartment, the long way or the short way. The short way is faster but involves darting across a busy four-lane highway. The long way is safer, but well… it’s the long way, and I wanted to get that vodka as soon as possible. At this time, my addict’s brain was in total control, and I chose to go the short way, despite the danger.

However, there had been a snowstorm the previous day, and the bike path that I usually drive my wheelchair on was blocked with snow when I got across the four-lane highway. So, I backtracked and took the long way. My mind was zeroed in on one thing—vodka. After going the long way, I discovered that the sidewalks that I take to the liquor store were blocked as well. I was just about ready to make a very reckless decision and take my wheelchair on the four-lane road when I looked down at my joystick and discovered that I didn’t have enough battery to make it to the liquor store and back. I turned around and headed to my apartment, disappointed.

The entire way to the apartment, I was racking my brain, coming up with ways to get vodka. I knew my friends wouldn’t help me. I had very few friends left, and the ones that were left wouldn’t get me a bottle of vodka if their life depended on it. I thought about the bus, but it was past 5:00 and the bus stop running at 5:00. I finally decided to plug my chair in for a few hours, and I would go on the road to the liquor store. This would have been incredibly dangerous, but as I said, my addict brain had taken over. I was getting that vodka one way or another.

I plugged my wheelchair when I got back to my apartment. At this point, I was a nervous mess and not thinking clearly. If I had been, maybe I would have realized what I was doing was madness, perhaps I would have said, “Ummm…maybe there’s a bigger reason why I can’t get to the liquor store,” maybe I would have thought about the pain I would cause my family if they found out I was drinking. However, none of that came to my mind.

After ten minutes, I thought about a few friends I had on Facebook. They were not really friends; I barely knew them, which was good. They wouldn’t object to getting me a bottle. Therefore, I contacted one and told him I couldn’t get to the store because of the snow. He said he would buy me a bottle of vodka. I was excited; finally, I was getting my bottle.

He came and dropped off the bottle. He was in my apartment, maybe ten minutes. He opened the bottle for me and asked me, “You’re not going to get in trouble for this, are you?” I said no. My hands were shaking when I took the cup. It did not taste good because I had taken my medicine that makes you throw up if you drink. (My plan was to stop taking it but the group home had given me my morning pills, so I had to. They would have known something was up had I said I did not want to take thej=m) However, I knew it would relax my muscles and make me feel happy, so I kept drinking.

He left, and I was very excited. I was finally alone with my vodka. You would think I could tell you that I spent the whole night enjoying myself. That I  savored every drop of my precious vodka. But it didn’t happen like that. I took a couple of big gulps and threw up because of the Antabuse. I took a couple more, and I managed to keep it down and finally got those feelings of euphoria I so desperately wanted.

Then I called my aunt, the one I had made the deal to go to the group home with. Before he left, my Dad had told me she had helped pay for the move. She had paid my deposit and first month’s rent to make good on our deal. I called her to thank her. I was already tipsy by the time I called her. Actually, I was worried she would pick up on my slurred speech. I called her to thank her for making good on our deal, a deal that included me not drinking, and I was tipsy. I would like to say I felt guilty, but I think I was too busy enjoying my vodka. All I can do now is shake my head when I think about it.

After I hung up with her, I emailed my treatment coordinator and told her I drank. Why I did this, I don’t know. I did not want help. I think I just wanted to let her know.

I put on the A&E show “60 Days In” and continued to drink. My footrest had broken, and I was having trouble staying seated in my wheelchair. Usually, when I drink, I buckle my seatbelt, but I was so excited about drinking that I forgot to. Eventually, the inevitable happened, and I fell on the floor. I struggled for like twenty minutes to get in my wheelchair. I would get up to my knees and press my head in the seat of my wheelchair and then try to pull myself up. Then I would fall back down and have to start over. Thankfully my desk I was sitting at was on the tiled floor and not the carpet, so I didn’t get carpet burns.

I remember lying on the floor and thinking I had to find a way to get up so I could continue drinking. I also thought I had to get up because I couldn’t have my PCA find me on the floor.

Finally, I somehow got into my wheelchair and got my seatbelt buckled. Then I poured myself another drink. When I say drink I mean a 32 oz paper cup from Arby’s filled with vodka and Diet Mt. Dew. Then my memory goes fuzzy. I blacked out and can’t remember the rest of the night.

I must have somehow locked the door because the door was locked when my PCA got there in the morning, and I do not remember locking it. My PCA ponded on the door for an hour, but I did not answer. The PCA called her supervisor, who called my parents. Before I moved back, we had a meeting, the PCA company, me, and my Dad, where the PCA company said they would reinstate their agreement with me that if I were drunk, they wouldn’t serve me. My Dad said if that happened, he wanted to be notified. I really did not want this, but I did not really want to say anything. This would be a change. Previously when the PCA showed up and my door was locked, they would leave.

My parents were at a funeral, so they called my sister Brooke. Brooke said she had a bad feeling, and she would check on me. When she got to my apartment, she pounded on my door, but I didn’t answer. She called the cops to do a welfare check. Since my apartment was in a building with vulnerable adults, the cops had access to keys to all the apartments.

When they opened my apartment, they found me passed out in my wheelchair. Brooke started crying because she thought I was dead. They found out I was alive and called EMS. Brooke called Dad, crying and told him what happened. They found my empty 2 liter vodka bottle. I somehow drunk the whole thing that night. I only remember refilling my glass once.

I woke up about five hours later in the hospital, having no idea where I was. I only knew Brooke was on the phone with my aunt, and they were both furious. Brooke asked me where I got the vodka. I told her I went to the store. I thought I was dreaming.  Or having a nightmare.

My sister left shortly after I woke up leaving me alone. I laid in the hospital bed, thinking about what went wrong. I was 90% sure I was dreaming; it was all a drunken dream of a guilty conscience. I kept pinching myself. One of my favorite staff gave me a friendship bracelet, and I thought it was weird that I would still have it on during a dream. I couldn’t get my head around what happened.

After I laid there for a few hours, I asked the nurse if I could go home. I was always able to go home all the other times. I didn’t see why this trip would be any different. The hospital had told Brooke to get my wheelchair just in case I ended up going to the mental health hospital. In my mind, I would just drive my wheelchair home and continue with my day.

However, the nurses said I could not go home. They would come into the room periodically, and I would ask them, and they would say no. I thought about trying to walk to my wheelchair and take off without the doctor’s approval. But I had tried that before, and it didn’t work out too well for me, so I decided not to try it again.

My sister found me at noon, and I had to wait until 7 pm for my Dad to come. Like I said, my Dad was at a funeral about five hours away when my sister called, so he had to drive all that way. I was very nervous when my Dad got there. He came in and immediately went to the doctor. I didn’t hear what that doctor said, but my Dad said, “Well, this should not have happened in the first place.” I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation, but I would soon find out.

When my Dad came into the room, he helped me get in a manual wheelchair and wheeled me out of the room. I was kind of hoping he would let me drive my wheelchair back to my apartment; however, he walked past my wheelchair and pushed me outside.

On the drive to my apartment, the car was hushed. I asked about my wheelchair, and he said the hospital was going to store it.

When we reached the apartment, my Dad jumped out and went inside the building to my apartment. He was getting my clothes. I was going to go to my parents’ house.

However, as I sat in the car, I got to thinking that if I walked to my apartment and just refused to leave with my Dad, he might let me stay. Looking back, this seems ridiculous, but I was not thinking. Therefore, I started to get out of the vehicle. I honestly do not think I was in shape enough to walk all that way, and I would have wound up lying on the ground, but I was going to try anyway.

As I was shutting the door, my Dad came out. He asked what I was doing. I said I was going to my apartment. He said that I was not. I tried to get past him. Then he called Brooke and asked her for the police officer’s number. Then he explained that the police officer had offered to put me in jail while my Dad went to court to get guardianship. I knew then I was screwed, and there was no point in fighting, so I got back in the car.

During the ride to Freeman, he finally broke his silence. He asked me what I was thinking. I didn’t really respond. He asked me how I got the vodka. I told him that I went to the store. He said to me that a PCA had seen me leaving the building shortly after he left, so he knew that I had not even waited to go to the liquor store. He forcefully told me that he didn’t know how to get it through my head that I couldn’t drink. He was hurt. I had lied straight to his face. He was also extremely frustrated. I didn’t say much. A part of me was still hoping it was all a drunken nightmare.

The next day, my Mom took off work and stayed home with me because she didn’t feel comfortable leaving me home alone because of my physical condition.  I later found out she called the group home in tears, begging them to let me come back. She said she didn’t know what happened to me and I wasn’t like this when I was growing up. Looking back now, I was very fortunate. The group home was going to give my room away the very next day. But at that time, I wanted nothing to do with the group home.

When my Dad got home from work, we sat down and talked about what to do next. I thought for sure he would let me go back to Marshall. In my mind, the apartment was mine, and I was an adult, so there was no doubt I would go back to Marshall. However, my Dad told me under no circumstances, I would be going back. I didn’t believe him and continued to ask him to take me back. This continued for days!

He told me that my room was open in the group home. I told him I was not going. I had to give my consent to move there since I was my own guardian, and there was NO WAY I was giving my consent. We went back and forth, arguing for several days. We even had negations. I would go to the group home but for only six months, among other things. The group home had to know by Friday if I was moving back.

In the meantime, I began contacting people I knew in hopes of getting a ride back to Marshall. Now I’ve never had very many close friends, so I just started going through my phone and contacting anyone. Once I went through my phone, I got on Facebook and started contacting anyone and everyone. I was desperate. My addictive mind was taking over again. I had waited a full year in the group home. I wasn’t losing my apartment. I must have contacted thhirty people, ranging from people I knew very well to people I was just acquainted with. Fortunately, no one agreed to give me a ride.

12.  Back to the Group Home

Then Thursday came, the day before the deadline to let the group home know if I would take the room. My Dad and sat down and talked about the situation. He said that if I didn’t give my consent, he would go to court and get guardianship. At first, I did not think he was serious, but I realized otherwise as the conversation continued. Therefore, I said I would move to the group home if I could move out in six months. We made a deal then. I moved back to the group home that Saturday.

However, I did not let go of my apartment. After I moved to the group home, I continued to contact people for a ride to Marshall. Why? I don’t know. My Dad had emptied my apartment, my wheelchair was not there anymore, and my Dad had handed in my apartment keys. But I had it in my head that everything would be OK if I only got to Marshall. Looking at it now, my parents just would have gone to court and got guardianship. That is all they had to do. But my brain was not thinking logically.

I went through my whole list of Facebook contacts and contacted everyone within a 200-mile radius. After I got done with my contacts, I went on dating websites and started asking for rides. I was desperate! I wanted to get my independence back. And honestly, I wanted to drink again. When people asked me if I would drink again if they gave me a ride, I would tell them no, but that was a lie. I 100% would have drank had I gotten to Marshall.

Eventually, the group home found out that I was contacting strangers online. This was a no-no. Because the people at the group home are considered vulnerable adults, I was putting my fellow housemates at risk. They were afraid one of the people I contacted would harm the other housemates or me. They took away my internet privileges.

 I did not know it at the time, but this was a blessing in disguise. Because I did not have access to the internet, I started going to the library to check out books. I started reading like crazy. I was reading eight hours a day. I had nothing else to do. I started reading in May, and by December, I had sixty books read. Reading gave me something to do other than thinking about how I hated being in a group home. It also gave me something other than fantasizing about drinking.

Throughout the summer, I continued to read; however, I would not say my attitude changed. I was occupied, but I still longed to live in my own apartment. I was still in my room a lot and was not very friendly to the staff. I mean, I’m not a rude person by nature, but I wasn’t pleasant to the staff. Also, I talked about moving ALL THE TIME. My favorite phrases were, “When I get my apartment..” or “When I move…”

I also started to go to treatment again, my fourth treatment in a year and a half. I did not want to go, but I figured it might convince people that I was serious about my recovery. Why? I do not know. I hadn’t given them any reason to believe in my recovery up until that point. They should not have believed me then. But I think friends and family are just so desperate to believe in the addicted family member.  Also, a lot of addicts really do try in treatment and are sincere in their recovery. I do not want to give anyone the impression that every time someone goes into treatment, they are gaming the system. That is not remotely true. However, in my case, it was 100% true.

When I returned to treatment, my treatment coordinator said I would have to do the whole treatment over. I did not really like this, but I figured since I was going to be in the group home anyway, I might as well go to treatment while I was there. Plus, I enjoyed the treatment coordinator. At this point, I believed in all the research about drinking. I believed that addicts could not drink. But my addicted brain just thought I was different.  Part of me knew that was my addicted brain talking; however, another part of my mind believed it.

During treatment, the coordinator had me read a book on Acceptance. When she gave it to me, I rolled my eyes. I thought I had always done the acceptance thing pretty well. I mean, I was knowledgeable about my disability and people with disabilities in general. I was always educating people at every chance I got. What is wrong with my acceptance? I thought.

She said that she felt I needed to work on my acceptance of my disability, addiction, and being in a group home. I’ll never forget, she said, “Acceptance is the key to happiness.” I rolled my eyes and chuckled. Right then, we were talking about accepting being in the group home. I thought to myself. There’s NO way I’ll ever accept living in the group home.  At that time, I could not see accepting living in a group home under any circumstances. Little did I know how wrong I was.

In October, I celebrated my six-month sober birthday. I tried to act excited. My sister and her friend came to my birthday celebration. I felt a little guilty because she got all choked up during the ceremony. She also gave a long speech on how my drinking affected our family and how grateful she was that I had come back to the group home.  It did make me think about my family and what I had put them through. I felt a mix of feelings; guilt because I had caused my family so much pain and shame because I didn’t know if I wanted to remain sober. We went out to eat, and Brooke and her friend gave me a gift card for my accomplishment; I felt even more guilty.

In November, my Dad and I had a meeting with my treatment provider, where we discussed the possibility of me moving back to Marshall. Or course, I had many reasons why I was ready to move. I told them that I had learned my lesson. I told them that I wanted to be independent again. I told them that I felt Marshall was the best fit for me because I knew how things work there, I could get everywhere in my wheelchair, and I had a volunteer job lined up at the college. My Dad was, of course, unsure. I had proven myself untrustworthy six months before. However, I think he knew how much I longed to be independent again, and maybe he wanted to see me independent also; I don’t know. The treatment provider then said that since I was still my own guardian (yes, after ALL THAT I did, I managed to maintain my guardianship), I did not really need my Dad’s approval.

 This was technically true; however, when a person lives in a group home, they only get a limited amount of money for personal needs. This amount of money would not cover moving expenses, no matter how much I saved. Therefore, I needed my parents’ financial help. I don’t think he was totally sold on me moving on my own again, but he said I could get on the waitlist for an apartment in Marshall. I was ecstatic and filled out the application that night.

When Christmas rolled around, I kept thinking that this would be the last holiday in a group home. I firmly believed that. The group home had given me a stocking the previous Christmas, and they had given it to me when I moved. I put it up, but in my mind, I thought, This will be the last time that stocking goes up here. Additionally, I would talk about moving ALL the time.

13.  The Turnaround

Things started to change around January. First, I got new housemates. My previous housemates had significant disabilities, and it was hard for me to relate to them. My new housemates are a little younger than me, but not so young that I can’t relate to them. Additionally, their disabilities aren’t as significant, so it’s easier to get along with them.

Secondly, my house got an accessible van. At first, I was actually mad they got it. I did not ask for it, and they did not ask me. I never had an accessible van in my whole life, and I got along just fine. I would drive my wheelchair all over whatever town I lived in at the time. I would jokingly refer to my wheelchair as my electric car. So I did not see a need for an accessible van. To me, the accessible van signaled that I was staying in the group home permanently and that definitely was not happening. Therefore, the first month or so, I did not ride in it. My housemates were super excited by it, but I, the person it was meant for, was cool towards it at best.

Then gradually, I started using the van and found out I really liked having it. My favorite staff started taking me on what I called ‘field trips.’ They were little day trips to Sioux Falls with just her and me.  We went to see a friend of mine from college. We went to Barnes & Nobles, where we spent too much money. We went to adaptive skiing at Great Bear. I really enjoyed these trips. They made me feel special.

Simultaneously, I started coming out of my room to join the staff and my housemates. Honestly, I do not know what prompted me to suddenly be social, but I’m glad it did. It was the turning point. I started playing games with the staff and my housemates. Like the true addict like I am, I played games all the time. Yahtzee and Sequence were the first games I played. Then I asked my staff if she could buy me a cardholder. Little did we know that would be the best $20 the company had ever spent because I played cards all the time.

These things seem like little things to me, but that really helped me change my whole attitude around. Ever since sixth grade, I had battled depression, and for the first time since then, I was not depressed. I no longer thought the group home was the worst place on earth. I did not think of moving 24/7. Nor did I fantasize about drinking anymore. We have annual meetings to discuss how things are going in the group home. During my yearly meeting, my Mom said she could see the old Chelsie from grade school again. The Chelsie that joked around and enjoyed life. That made me feel good.

In February, my favorite staff got promoted to a different job that meant she would no longer work in my house. She got promoted to a position within the company, so I still see her, just not as frequently as I would like. I would have thought this would be a deal-breaker; I would move if she were not working at the house. Instead, her getting promoted just made me treasure my time with her. I realized that I did not want to move and miss out on field trips.

I also started watching Iowa Hawkeyes basketball again. When I was in high school, I followed the Iowa Hawkeyes because my favorite teacher’s son played on the team. I tried to follow it as I got older, but I could never really get into it. However, I began watching the team during the winter, and it felt like I found an old friend. Watching the games gave me something positive to focus on. On game days, I would tell the staff helping me up that I needed to put on an Iowa Hawkeyes t-shirt that matched the color on their uniforms that night. This was yet another sign of the old Chelsie returning.

In March, COVID took over the world. No NCAA March Madness. No more field trips with my staff. No library.  However, I took these things in stride. My favorite staff started coming by for a couple of hours to play cards with me. I started buying books on the internet to read. And even though we could not go on field trips, we still got to go through the drive-thru at Taco John’s. For the first time I moved to the group home, I was happy.

As part of the stimulus package for COVID, I got a check. With the money, I bought some new markers and fuzzy posters. I used to be into coloring when I was living in Chicago, and I thought maybe I would try it again. I must get fuzzy posters because I cannot color regular coloring pages with my fine motor skills. I wish I could color traditional coloring pictures; fuzzy posters are much more expensive. Plus, there are only a handful of designs compared to the seemingly limitless supply of regular coloring books. (If you want to get fuzzy posters go to stuff2color.com. They have the best selection.)

 I thought I would color a few posters when I was bored. I did not expect that I would become addicted to it. However, I probably should have expected that; I seem to get addicted to everything else. For the next couple of months, I would spend from noon to 10 pm sitting at the kitchen table coloring. My housemates would color along with me, and sometimes I even gave them some of my fuzzy posters. I was probably the most social I ever been since grade school.

Gradually, that addiction petered out, and I got a new obsession: watching my favorite TV show Big Brother. I have been a Big Brother fan since day one of the first season in 2000. If you do not know what Big Brother is, it’s a reality TV show where contestants are locked up in a house with no outside contact, and they vote each off until there’s one remaining. The one remaining gets $500,000. What makes Big Brother so different from other reality TV shows is that the audience can watch the people while they’re in the house 24/7. I watched the live feeds frequently, but there are some people out there that watch it 24/7.

I had watched every season until Season 17. I started drinking during Season 17 and really wasn’t into anything but getting drunk. To be a real Big Brother fan, you have to devote some time to watching live feeds. If a person only watches what is on TV, they are missing ¾ of the show. When I was drinking, I could not devote the amount of time needed, and I really did not care.  When I started going to treatments and got to the group home, I told myself I would not watch Big Brother until my life got back to normal. I thought that meant until I got my apartment back. It says something about how I felt about my life that I started watching the show again.

I have ADHD when I watch TV or things on the computer. No, I don’t ADHD for real, but I have to be doing something else when I’m watching something. I can’t just sit and watch TV or the computer. I can’t do it. Since I was already at my computer watching Big Brother, I started going on Facebook. While I was on Facebook, I started getting into Facebook Support groups. I joined several groups from people with CP to women who used wheelchairs to groups for parents with children with developmental delays.

I found that I enjoyed responding to posts. People would ask questions about experiences they had and I found out I could relate to them. Parents would have questions about their child and I found I could answer their question. Also, I discovered a few things about my own disabilities. For example, I learned there is quite the debate over whether Cerebral Palsy is non-progressive. The doctors say it’s not progressive but several in the CP world argue that it is. I agree with the doctors and someday might write an essay about it. I have also learned that quite a few people experience pain associated with their CP. I have never had pain with my CP. In fact, I would tell people that pain is not associated with CP. I learned this is not always the case and in fact, my experience might be atypical.

As I responded to more and more posts in the Facebook Support Groups, I started to refine and hone in on my message. There would often be similar questions that I would respond to. The internet tells you that when responding on social media, you should keep your message short and sweet. However, I never was able to do this. My responses would quite frequently be 750+ words long. I would sometimes put two hours into responding to a post.

As much as I loved helping people, I realized that not many people would probably see my response, and I felt like I was wasting my time and energy. I decided to put my time and energy towards something that might be seen by far more people: a memoir. My lifelong dream has been to write a memoir. In my younger years, I wanted to write about living with a disability because I want to educate people about disabilities. Maybe even help individuals with disabilities. Now that I’ve gone through addiction, or I should say now that I’m living with addiction, I can (possibly) help more people by telling my story.

14.  Today

And that brings me to what I’m doing right here, right now, writing the story of my fall from being a top college student to a dive into the dark world of addiction to how I came back from that addiction as a much happier person who is fulfilling her lifelong dream.

I have an addictive personality. Nobody can argue that. I get addicted to EVERYTHING. Therefore, it was probably just a matter of time before I got addicted to alcohol. Alcohol was just the most available drug I could get my hands on. If I knew someone in the drug world, I probably would have got addicted to harder drugs.

                My drinking started with a fight with a friend, but in reality, it just gave me the excuse I needed. If that fight had not happened, some other excuse would have come along. I have put it like this, I was walking in the woods, and I stumbled on a rock, that particular rock. But there were lots of rocks, and eventually, I was going to stumble. I do not hold anything against that friend, and in fact, he is still a good friend of mine.

  Even though there were several years in between my leaving graduate school and my drinking, I honestly believe my not being able to finish my degree and my subsequent inability to find a job were the root causes. That and my addictive personality. I rank not being able to finish my degree as my biggest failure in life. Although, I rate going to grad school and living in Chicago all by myself as my most outstanding achievement. I have been told more times than I can count that it was not a failure, that many people do not finish their degrees. I understand that, but nevertheless, it feels like a failure to me. I got all the course work done. I just had to complete a thesis. My entire life, I have never been able to follow through and complete significant projects like that. I am hopeful I can rectify that situation by completing my memoir.

As for not having a job, I have made my peace with that. I would love more than anything to be gainfully employed, and I’m always open to opportunities. However, I look at it like this, I have an opportunity that most people wait until they’re 65 to get, if they get it at all. I can dedicate my life to whatever interests me. As I’ve shown you, my addictive personality makes it so that interest is always changing. Right now, I’m interested in completing my dream of writing a memoir. If I had to bet, I would say I find a new interest before that is done, but I’m going to try my damnest to get it done.

15.  Lucky

Looking back on my addiction, I realize how incredibly lucky I was. First and foremost, I was incredibly fortunate not to have killed myself. I literally drank all day, every day for  to two years. My body never had a chance to get sober and rest. I haven’t looked into my hospital records (If I write my memoir, I will), but I think my highest recorded BAC was .30. That’s more than three times the legal limit! And I’m sure my most elevated BAC was much higher than that.

Besides, I still have CP; CP and alcohol don’t mix. I could have easily fallen and broke something. Or fallen and started bleeding. Or I could have been hit driving my wheelchair drunk. I only received rug burns from crawling on the floor, thankfully.

There is a myth that goes around CP circles. I heard it in college.  It says that when a person with CP drinks, they walk straighter and/or talks better, or in other words, they get better. There is some scientific evidence for this; one treatment for CP is to shot alcohol in spastic muscles. Also, I saw several people in college walk “straighter” when they were drunk. However, this was not the case for me. I would end up on the floor if I didn’t have my seatbelt on. If I had to guess, I would say I have the wrong type of CP. With my kind of CP muscle tone fluctuates instead of the muscles being solely spastic. I have heard of people designing studies to test this myth out, but I have done plenty of my own testing, and it doesn’t work for me. I can say it was a relief to feel my muscles relax and I am actually kind of surprised drinking is not more of an issue in the CP world. I have some theories of why this is the case, but I will save those for a different day.

I am incredibly lucky that I had a family that stuck by me. When I think about what I put my family through, I only feel ashamed. I think of my family staying up all night worrying about me while I was oblivious drinking the night away.  I can’t even tell you how many promises I made, that at the time I made them, I knew were lies. Sometimes I had a rationalization for why I lied, sometimes I didn’t and just lied to get out of the situation. When I started writing this paragraph, I said ‘my parents,’ but my drinking and lying affected EVERYONE in my family. I lied to everyone. Not all families can take it. I have heard plenty of stories of people losing their families. However, I was fortunate that my family stuck by me every step of the way, despite my efforts to keep them out of the loop.

The first time my parents truly knew something was wrong was Donald Trump’s inauguration day. I watch a show that opens by saying what day of the Trump administration it is, and I always think, That’s how many days Mom and Dad knew about my drinking.

Also, I was incredibly lucky that I had social workers and treatment providers that cared about me. I know my social worker bent over backward, trying to find me a program to go to. She must have looked for four months, all the while I continued to drink. Also, I know she lost some sleep worrying about me. I am incredibly grateful that she didn’t ship me off to a remote location for either treatment or a group home, which was discussed. I know I didn’t give her a reason to believe in me, but she did and I will always appreciate that.

I’m fortunate that my room at the group home was available. My room is the only room in the house that would work for me. Also, the group home is relatively close to my family. Spaces in group homes do not come very often, and I was lucky this room came open when it did. Additionally, the staff was a perfect fit for me. They continue to let me make my own decisions. I do not know what I would have done had I went to a more restrictive environment.

Finally, I am incredibly lucky that my guardianship was not taken away; although, I can admit that it probably should have been. At the time, I had no intention of stopping drinking, and I should have had my guardianship taken away because of my resistance to my addiction.

 Now I tell people that if they have guardianship over themselves, they shouldn’t give someone a reason to take it. I gave my parents and social services a reason to take mine. The disability rights activist in me says this is unfair. Non-disabled people can make unsafe choices all they want, and their guardianship will not be taken away. However, there are reasons guardianship laws are in place. I have heard stories of guardianship being taken away way too soon; however, this was not the case with me. My parents and Social Services gave me every opportunity to change my behavior. I just was too stubborn.

Speaking of being stubborn; my whole life, I was proud of stubbornness. My stubbornness got me the ability to walk. It got me through a K-12 education while being the only student with a physical disability. It got me a 3.8 GPA in college, and it got me in the graduate program of my choice in a city I loved. However, it was because I was stubborn that I couldn’t admit I was an addict. Also, my stubbornness was why I continued to drink, even after I knew I was an addict.  My attitude was: I’m an adult. No one is going to tell me I can’t drink. Now I realize that being stubborn is not always a good thing.

16.   Learning from the Experience

So, the big question is, “Will I drink again?” I have been thinking about that question a lot, and my honest answer is I do not know. The ‘correct’ answer would be to say that I have learned my lesson, and I will never drink again. I have learned my lesson, and I would love to say I will never drink again. However, my addictive mind tells me it will be OK. A few drinks won’t hurt. It tells me I can limit my drinking to the weekends. My rational mind says that that’s my addictive mind talking, and it is false; however, the addictive mind is so convincing at times.       

Rationally, I know drinking will get me in trouble. As I have shown, it was only by some lucky situations that I kept my guardianship. I do not think another round of drinking will work out too well for me. However, when I think of the idea of never feeling that warm feeling of the alcohol going into my blood again, I get sad. It is crazy that I even could think about drinking again. But like the text of Alcoholics Anonymous says, “Alcohol is cunning, baffling, and powerful.”

I think it’s a good sign that I’m honest. In the past, I would have said, “Of course, I’ll never drink,” knowing full well that it was a lie. An addict in active addiction is usually a really good lair, I know I was. However, an addict in active recovery is usually one the most trustworthy people you will meet.

It frustrates me that I had to go to a group home to get and stay sober. I feel like I should have been able to do it while living on my own. After all, most people who get and stay sober do so while living on their own. Yes, many people go to treatment centers, but usually, they go back to living on their own. I have not. Sometimes it feels like my sobriety is not worth as much as other people’s sobriety. However, I remind myself that I proved, more than once, that if I wanted to drink, I’d figure out a way to drink. And I have not drunk since April 13th, 2019, 687 days as of this writing.

I do hope to someday live on my own again. As much as I like living in the group home now, a part of me is not crazy about spending the rest of my life here. There is something about having the freedom to decorate my own apartment and pick out my own food that I miss. These seem like little things, but to me, they are essential. I used to pride myself on how I would go to Walmart by myself. I miss that.

 I miss not having to follow professional’s orders if I do not want to. In a group home, everybody must follow the professional’s orders. For example, every electric wheelchair user I know has a backpack on the back of their chair. I had a really nice backpack that my Mom bought me. However, the professional at the wheelchair store said that it was not good for my wheelchair, so, of course, the group home took my backpack off. It may be a little thing, but I have never have been really good at following professional’s orders. Sometimes it kills me to follow their orders. I am kind of a rebel.

One way I have found to make myself feel a little more independent is to have my own food. I discovered that I like having my own stash of it; it gives me a little sense of independence. It may be a little thing, but it means the world to me. I am very fortunate that my parents are willing and able to help me buy my own food to have this independence. If that ever changes, I do not know what I will do.

When I moved to the group home, I put a post on Facebook that I was moving because I wanted to work on my writing. I put that because I could not bring myself to admit the real reason. However, after almost three years of living here, I can reveal the real reason why I went to the group home. Additionally, I have begun to write for the first time in years, and I feel like I am closer than ever to my lifelong dream of writing a memoir. I hope to live alone someday in my own apartment again; however, I am comfortable where I am right now.

If you ever go through the painful experience of dealing with a loved one with an addiction, try not to say, “You can’t drink” or “You can’t do drugs.” To an addict, those are just daring them to drink. I had a treatment coordinator once tell me that those types of phrases are the #1 reason addicts go back to their behavior. Addicts don’t like being told what to do. (Who does?) I know, the more people told me I could not drink, the more I wanted to drink. It was like I was giving a big middle finger to all the experts.

I kind of have a history of giving people the finger but in a good way. The doctors told my parents I would not walk, probably would not talk, and would be better off in a facility. Well, I proved them wrong, so why not prove people wrong about my drinking? Or at least that is what I thought then. Now I understand there is a difference.

Why did I tell my story of addiction? I’ve done many things I am not proud of, and I’m sure a few people reading this will walk away with a lesser opinion of me, so it is risky telling my story. I guess, first and foremost, I truly believe that I might be able to help someone. It may not be an addict in active addiction. When I was in active addiction, stories like this did not make a difference. However, maybe I can help a loved one dealing with a friend or family member who is in active addiction. Perhaps it will be helpful to know what goes through an addict’s mind. An addict that is in active addiction is not thinking clearly. That does not make their behavior OK, but maybe it is an explanation.

Secondly, I hope by reading my story, people will realize that addiction happens to all kinds of people. I was a good person who had never been in trouble a day in her life. So, my story illustrates that not just people with troubled histories fall into addition. Also, I was smart, I mean, I graduated college with a 3.8 GPA, and I’ve tested in the genius level on an IQ test. So, intelligence doesn’t matter when it comes to addiction. In fact, there is some speculation that being smart actually increases your chances of falling into addiction.

Additionally, I came from a good home with loving parents who always supported me. So, people with addiction don’t always come from broken families. Finally, I had a disability. I look at my story as a story that illustrates that people with disabilities are regular people with regular problems.

Third, I hope my story serves as a cautionary tale to everyone, but especially to people with disabilities. I know part of me saw drinking as a great equalizer. I thought, Well, I can’t work like other adults, but I sure as hell can drink like one. I literally saw it as an equal rights issue. It does show that people with disabilities can be affected by addiction, but I’ve learned that alcohol is not the great equalizer. It just takes your hard-earned independence away.

Finally, I hope telling my story gives other people the courage to share their own addiction stories. Addiction is such a taboo subject that brings so much shame, and I think if more people share their stories, maybe there will be less stigma surrounding it. I know I was embarrassed to tell my story for many years. It was only after I realized that acceptance was the key to happiness that I was comfortable telling my story. I learned addiction thrives in darkness and secrets. The only way to truly be free of addiction is to shine light on the behavior.

I am one of the 21 million Americans living with addiction today. My story is unique in some ways and in some ways it is not unique. It is unique because I had a disability along with addiction. This presented unique challenges including physical challenges, challenges with authority figures, and the threat of having my guardianship taken away. On the other hand, many non-disabled addicts face similar challenges. Many addicts face problems with authority, although usually that authority is the police in most cases and in my case it was social workers and EMS. It is my sincere hope that my story educates people about how addiction affects people. Additionally, I hope to one day make treatments more accessible to people with disabilities. Finally, I hope educate people with disabilities about the importance of maintaining their guardianship and not giving people a reason to take it away.

In closing, I want to apologize to my family most of all. Without them I would not be where I am today. I also would like to apologize to my friends. I am truly sorry if I hurt you in anyway. I also want to apologize and thank my social worker, who tried so hard to get me the treatment I needed. It was you that found the group home I am in today and for that I will always be grateful. I would also like to apologize to and thank my PCA company, I know I put a lot of stress on you during my addiction. Finally, I would like to apologize to anyone else I may have hurt during my addiction.

 

17. Sample Chapters from Memoir         

Going to the Gas Station to get Beer

                One night in December 2017, I watched All in with Chris Hayes on MSNBC and realized that I was running out of vodka. This was the worst-case scenario for me, a night without alcohol. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it, but I managed always to have vodka in the apartment. This was one of the few nights where I ran out.

I started to think about how I could get my hands on some more vodka; however, there was one huge problem. Because I had drunk the previous night to the point of passing out, I hadn’t been able to plug my wheelchair in, and I only had one bar of battery left. This happened a lot because I would be so busy drinking, I wouldn’t plug in my wheelchair. Once a wheelchair is plugged in, it’s inoperable, and it has to stay where it is. It’s very inconvenient to have my wheelchair plugged in during the time I’m awake. So, I would often wait to plug in my wheelchair until right before I went to sleep. 

 However, this was problematic when I was drinking because I never knew when I would pass out. I would tell myself to plug my wheelchair earlier in the night, but I wasn’t thinking about things like that as I continued to drink.

It’s hard to explain just how frantic I was. I was like a headless chicken. One bar of battery should have meant that I kept my ass home and not even thought about leaving the apartment.

However, I was going through my worst-case scenario; I didn’t have any vodka. After going through the options in my head, I realized there was only one; plug my wheelchair in for as long as possible and see how much charge I could get. So, I plugged my chair in. It was about 7:30 pm, so I figured I would leave it plugged in until about 9.

I settled in to watch my favorite news program, The Rachel Maddow Show. While I watched the show, I played my computer cross-stitch game to kill some time. I also drank the last of my mixed drink and felt panicked when I knew for sure I was out of vodka.

At 9:00 pm, I unplugged my charger and headed out to get some alcohol. I knew I couldn’t go to the liquor store. It was a mile away; I knew my chair would never make it that far and back. Therefore, I decided that I would go to the gas station that was a block and a half from my apartment that sold beer. I wasn’t much of a beer drinker, but it was alcohol, and I was just looking for something to keep me intoxicated. Honestly, I was probably pretty drunk, and I had been drinking all day. But I had an intense fear that my buzz would disappear if I didn’t continuously drink.

Immediately, I realized that I should have grabbed my coat. It was maybe forty degrees outside. I had been inside all day drinking and didn’t know how cold it was. When drinking is your life, things like the weather are insignificant. I also realized the cold weather was terrible for my battery because cold weather makes the battery drain faster.

As I continued towards the gas station, in the bike lane, I kept looking at my battery bar every ten seconds. I don’t know why I kept looking; it didn’t help anything. The battery bar doesn’t move unless the wheelchair is stopped. Even if it did, looking down at it wouldn’t have made it suddenly go up. But, frantically, I kept looking at it anyway.

I kept pressing the joystick as far as it would go. I suppose this would be the equivalent to pressing the accelerator to the floor. Except with a wheelchair, you literally feel the battery draining as you are moving. I’m not sure if a car driver can quite feel the gas draining out of the car similarly. The wheelchair will be going at full speed, and then over time, the chair will be crawling along slower and slower with each passing second. It’s a helpless feeling because I knew that I literally couldn’t go anywhere when the battery ran out. If a car runs out of gas, the driver at least has the option to walk for help. I don’t have that option in a wheelchair.

Once I got to the parking lot entrance, I knew I had a hurdle to overcome because there was a prominent ridge to get over. I knew it would take more battery power to get over that ridge, power I didn’t have. So, I took a big breath and floored my joystick, and hoped like hell that I would get over the ridge. The chair slowed to barely a crawl, but, fortunately, I made it.

Then, I realized I had an even bigger incline to get over in a few short seconds. The ramp going up to the door. It wasn’t a very steep as inclines go. I usually can handle inclines much steeper. However, my battery was running on fumes at that point, so I knew that it would be a challenge.

I slowly rounded the corner of the gas station so that I was at the front of it. Slowly, I made my way to the front door, which was in the middle of the building. I lined up my wheelchair with the ramp, and I gunned it. It ever so slowly crept up the ramp.

Then, I had to get the door open. This was a challenge when my battery was fully charged, let alone when my battery was dying. It takes a lot of torque to open a door, and torque requires a lot of battery power to generate. And that’s not mentioning the power needed to get over the threshold.

I reached for the door and opened it. I have a unique way of opening doors that I’ve been using since I got my first electric wheelchair. I crack the door open and stick my right foot in the door, and then I use the power of the wheelchair to open the door—this way, the wheelchair is doing most of the work.

After the door was opened, I tried to go through the doorway. However, at this point, my luck ran out, and my chair died. When I get through a doorway, I have to let the door scrape against my chair, and the extra weight on my chair means I have to use more power. Power that my wheelchair didn’t have that night.

Luckily, the gas station attendant had seen me struggling with the door. He asked me if I needed help. I told him I did, and he got behind me. While he was doing that, I flipped my wheelchair on and off. This kind of resets the wheelchair and gives it a few more minutes of power. I knew then I probably didn’t have enough power to make it back to my apartment, but I didn’t have time to think about that. I was thinking about getting the beer.

I thought about asking the gas station worker to get me the beer because it would save my battery; however, I am too shy to ask. So, I drove to the back of the store, I went to the cooler and got a twelve-pack of Bud Light.

After I paid for the beer, I started for the door, and the worker followed me to help. As I was halfway out the door, my wheelchair died again. So, I quickly flipped it on and off again to squeeze out as much juice as I could. Thankfully, I had to go down the ramp this time.

I managed to get to the street. it was a straight shot to my apartment. As I continued along the road, I could feel my battery dying. Again, I kept checking my battery bar, but it had gotten so low that it wasn’t registering a reading. The battery bar has an icon, and when it gets down too low, there are just three question marks. The LCD screen also says “Please charge your batteries” in red.

When I got a third of the away to my apartment, the chair died again. I tried switching it on and off again, but this time the chair only moved a few inches and died. I knew this meant my wheelchair was totally dead; however, I tried one more time to switch my wheelchair on and off. But it didn’t make my wheelchair move.  

Sheer panic ran through me.  Uh oh…Now what should I do? I thought. I looked at the pouch where I kept my cell phone, but I realized that I forgot my cell phone in my hurry to get to the gas station.  Now I really panicked. I was outside at night in the cold, and my wheelchair was totally dead, and I didn’t have a cell phone. It had been a while since my last drink, and I was getting anxious to get more alcohol in me. In reality, I was already drunk and didn’t need any more alcohol, but in my addicted brain, I thought as soon as I stopped drinking, I would immediately become sober. And being sober was the last thing I wanted.

I sat in the street for a few minutes, thinking about what to do next. Finally, I realized that I needed to flag down a car.  I hated to involve other people, but it was the only option. One car drove by and didn’t stop. Another vehicle approached, and I waved my hands. The black SUV slowed and pulled to the side.

A man got out and said, “Do you need help?

I said, “Yes, my wheelchair ran out of power.”

“Can I push it?”

“You can try.”

I then explained that to put my wheelchair into manual, he needed to pull a lever on my rear wheels. He did that and tried to push my wheelchair. Now it weighs 303 pounds by itself, and I weighed around 200 pounds, so he was pushing close to 500 pounds.

After about a few feet, he said he couldn’t do it and suggested that we call 911. I wasn’t too keen on this idea because I knew I was probably intoxicated, and the history between me and the police, while I was drunk wasn’t very good. However, I knew there wasn’t any other choice, so I agreed.

While we were waiting, a group from the neighboring apartment building came over to see what was going on. The man explained that my wheelchair ran out of battery, and we were waiting for the cops. A woman left and returned with a coat because she said I looked cold. I tried to protest, but she insisted that I take it..

After about ten minutes, a police car came, and two officers got out.  One of the officers was tall and had dark hair, and the other officer was short and bald. They walked over and asked what was going on. The good Samaritan said that the wheelchair ran out of power.

The taller officer said, “What’s going on tonight, Chelsie?”

I immediately knew I could be in trouble because he knew my name, and the only way he could have known my name was if he had previous contact with me. The only time I had contact with the police was when I was drunk, so I thought he might be suspicious.

I sort of mumbled something, keeping in mind that my speech might be slurred. I had no idea how drunk I was, but when I knew I had been drinking all day, I  felt like everyone was extra suspicious of me. I had that guilty feeling that people have when they realize they’ve done wrong. I felt for sure that the police officers could see right through me and knew what I was thinking, as well as what I had been doing all day.

The tall police officer said he would push my wheelchair up to my apartment. I felt guilty because I knew how heavy the wheelchair was, but there was no other choice. So, I just kept my mouth shut and let him push me. It took about eight minutes.

When we got to my apartment, I said that I needed to be plugged into my charger and directed him to where it was. It was in my living room in front of my TV. He plugged me in and then looked around my apartment, where he saw the empty vodka bottles on my counter. When I saw his eyes go towards the vodka bottles, I took a deep breath and prepared for what was coming.

He asked me what the bottles were for. I just shrugged and put my head down. My mind was racing for excuses I could give him if he pressed me. Thankfully, he didn’t.  He just shrugged his shoulders and made his way towards the door. As he put his hand on the doorknob, he turned to say something and braced for a lecture or something. But he just said he didn’t like to see the vodka bottles. I just nodded; I didn’t know what else I could say. Maybe if I had another personality type, I would have smarted off and said it was my apartment and I could drink if I wanted to. However, I was too scared and just wanted him to get out of my apartment.

I then remembered that I had that woman’s coat on, so I asked him if he would return it for me. He said yes, and I took the coat off and handed it to him.

He took it and said, “OK, have a good night,” and he left.

I sat watching TV for ten minutes. During that time, my mind was racing because I knew I was lucky that the police didn’t take me to the hospital for being intoxicated. Looking back, there’s no doubt in my mind they could have taken me in, but they probably figured I was done drinking for the night. I was so thankful that he didn’t discover the 12-pack of Bud Light in the backpack on the back of my wheelchair.

My mind was also racing thinking about the 12-pack, and how long it had been since my last drink. In reality, it was probably only a couple of hours and considering I had been drinking all day, my BAC was probably well over the legal limit. However, at that time, two hours without alcohol was like two hours without breathing.

As soon as I thought my wheelchair had enough juice to move, I got out. I had to steady myself because I was tipsy. A year before, I could have walked to the back of my wheelchair with little to no problem; however, my physical health had declined so much that I needed to steady myself by hanging on to the chair itself.

I had a fancy blue backpack that my Mom had bought me for Christmas.  It was great for hauling things, but it was a little hard to take something out. So I struggled with getting the 12-pack out. I finally wrestled the beer. Then I got in the wheelchair and wheeled around to pick up the 12-pack

I wheeled to the fridge and unpacked the 12-pack into the crisper drawer, where I put it so that people couldn’t see when I had beer. It was my secret hiding place.

I took two beers out because I wanted to chug one to get my BAC level up, and then I would normally drink the other. I don’t know if thought explicitly in terms of BAC level, but I certainly thought about keeping my blissful intoxicated feeling. So, I chugged the beer in about five minutes.

It was about 10:30 pm, and I spent the rest of the night drinking a beer about every thirty minutes. It didn’t get me drunk like I was used to, to the point of passing out. But it allowed me to maintain some level of intoxication.

                   Meeting Brooke Behind Walmart

                One day in early December 2017, I had to run to the liquor store because I was out of vodka. It was about three in the afternoon. I had a PCA at five, so I wanted to go to the store and get back as soon as possible.

                I had got myself up that morning and didn’t get dressed all day. So before I went to the store, I had to get dressed. Typically, this wouldn’t have been a problem. At that time, I could dress myself. Well, if I was sober. As was typical for that time, I wasn’t sober. I had been drinking when I woke up at eleven until I ran low on vodka and decided I needed to get more.

                Once I decided to go to the store, I went to my closet and picked out a gold Iowa Hawkeyes t-shirt. I struggled to get my old t-shirt off and put the shirt on. It took about five minutes to change shirts because I had to steady myself since I was drunk.

                Next, I went to my pile of blue jeans and picked out my newest pair because it was the most manageable pair to get on. I figured I needed as much help as I could get. I must have fallen four times backward onto my bed. I always get dressed in front of my bed for just this reason. Just in case I fall while pulling my pants up. That day I struggled more than usual. However, I thought I was totally stable. I always thought I was more stable than I was.

                I then tried to get my shoes on. I wore Skechers shoes that had elastic. Typically, I had no problem getting them on. But as much as I tried, I could not get them on. I would wiggle and wiggle my foot like I usually did, but I just couldn’t get my foot to slide in. It was frustrating because I desperately wanted more vodka.

                I got so frustrated that I threw the shoe across the room and went into the kitchen. I went straight to the refrigerator and got out my glass of vodka, and took a long drink. I immediately threw up because of the Antabuse I was taking. I tried to catch the vomit in my mouth. In my addicted brain, I didn’t want to waste any of the vodka. However, I couldn’t catch the vomit, and it got on the pants I just put on and all over my seat cushion.

                My heart sank because I knew I didn’t have the time to change my clothes. Plus, I didn’t have the energy to change. I found the nearest dish towel and cleaned up the vomit as best I could; however, there was still vomit on my cushion and pants. If I had been in a rational mind, I would have realized that I couldn’t go out in public in my condition. Had I not been in desperate need of vodka, I would have never left my apartment with vomit on my clothes. But, I wasn’t in my rational mind.

                I went back to my vodka and took another long drink, and this time I managed  to keep the vomit down. One would think I would have stayed away from my drink for fear of vomiting again. But my addicted brain would tell me; You better take a drink. If you don’t, your buzz will wear off. That glass of vodka was like a magnet. It kept calling me.

                After I took several drinks, I put my glass back. I decided I would try to put my shoes on again. I went to my room and picked up the shoe I had thrown and tried to put it on. I struggled for about ten minutes, trying to get that shoe on. I struggled so hard. I even had sweat pouring down my face. But nothing I did worked. I was so frustrated!

                I took a step back and debated about what to do. It should have been a no-brainer. I couldn’t get my shoes on, and I vomited on my pants and seat cushion. I should have kept my ass home. I had no business leaving my apartment.

                However, I decided that I would go to the store as I was, without my shoes and all. I went and got my coat. I knew I should zip it up, but I was in a hurry to get my vodka. So, I threw my green North Face coat on and headed out the door. 

                On my way to the liquor store, I realized that I had forgotten the bag in which I usually carried my vodka. Typically, I had a backpack on the back of my wheelchair that I would put my vodka in. However, I had ripped the strap by running over the backpack with my wheelchair while I was drunk. I needed a bag for my vodka because I couldn’t very well drive in public with a bottle of vodka in full view. I knew the cops would see that and pull me over.

                During the trip, I racked my brain, trying to think of ways to get a bag without having to turn around and go home. Suddenly, I realized that Walmart had canvas bags for sale for $2. I decided I would make a quick pit stop at Walmart and pick up a bag. Ten minutes later, I was in front of Walmart.

                I was by the lawn and garden area when a blue car pulled up beside me. My heart dropped. I knew whose car it was. It was Brooke’s car. Immediately, I knew I was in trouble.

                She rolled down her window and said, “What’s going on?”

                I said, “Nothing, just going to Walmart.”

                She stared at me. I could tell she was looking me over. It was then I realized how disheveled I looked. My coat was unzipped, my shoes were off, I had vomit on my seat cushion, and I was leaning over my armrest because I was too drunk to sit up straight. I was quite the sight, and as she looked me over, I realized how bad I looked.

                Suddenly she said, “Get you fucking ass home.”

                “Why?”

                “Because you have vomit all over you, and you’re drunk.”

                “No, I don’t.” Immediately, my desire to cover up my drinking kicked in.

                “Yes, you do, and you need to get your ass home.”

                “I’m going to Walmart.” And then I continued towards the entry.

                Just then, she jumped out of her car and tried to block my wheelchair. I got around her and continued towards the entryway. She followed me.

                I stopped and asked her, “What are you doing?”

                “If you don’t go home right now, I’m following you around until you do.”

                “Brooke, come on; let me go into Walmart.”

                She said, “No, you need to get your ass home.”

                Realizing that she wasn’t going to go away, I said, “OK, Fine.” And I turned around.

                I hoped that she would leave me alone once I started towards my apartment, but she kept following me.

                I kept looking back to see if she would leave, but she kept following me. Frustrated by this, I turned around. I thought, There’s no way I’m letting her boss me around. We’re not little kids. We’re adults. I started to back towards the liquor store. However, she blocked me with her car.                                 

                I said, “Let me go.”

                “No, I’ll meet you at your apartment.”

                We had a staredown for a couple of minutes, but in the end, I relented and headed home.

                We continued slowly towards my apartment, with me looking back every so often in hopes of her leaving me. But as much as I hoped, she wouldn’t leave me. All the while, I was incredibly frustrated. I felt like I was being treated like a child. I couldn’t believe my younger sister was preventing me from getting my alcohol. I was pissed.

                I was also cursing the fact that she had a friend in Marshall. She just met her friend the previous fall. Before that, she wouldn’t have been in Marshall. She never came to Marshall, except when we did stuff together before she met her friend. After she met her friend, she was in Marshall every other day, it seemed. I felt like she was intruding on my independence. So, I was cursing her relationship with her friend under my breath.

                The whole way to my apartment, I kept thinking that I would just have to appease her. I thought I’ll just do what she says and then when she leaves, I’ll go to the store. As soon as we got to my apartment, I figured she would leave.

However, to my utter disappointment, she parked and got out of her car. I didn’t wait for her in the parking lot and went directly to my apartment. 

I thought if I didn’t let her into the building, she wouldn’t be able to get in. My apartment building had a locked entryway. However, there was a way into the building without using a key that I had shown her. I had forgotten that I had shown her that method.

I raced up to my apartment. I thought once she found my apartment locked, she would go away. However, I didn’t know that she had an extra key. About three minutes after I locked my door, she walked in.

Once she walked into my apartment, she started yelling at me. She was frustrated and probably a little scared. It must have been incredibly frightening to see her sister driving drunk and looking disheveled. I mean, I wasn’t wearing shoes, had vomited all over my pants, and my coat was wide open.

While we were arguing, she saw my check card and state ID in the pouch on the side of my wheelchair, where I kept my money and other necessary items. It was like a purse on my wheelchair. I kept it opened because it was hard to zip and unzip.

At one point, she walked across the room and dug out my check card and state ID and put them in her pocket.

I said, “What are you doing?”

Brooke said, “I’m taking your money and ID, so you can’t buy alcohol.”   

“You can’t do that. It’s my  money.”

“Watch me.”

“Nooooooooo, I promise I won’t go to the liquor store.”

“Bullshit.”

I lunged at her in my wheelchair and tried to grab her pocket.

Brooke said, “Stop.”

“Give me my money back.”

“I’m taking your money, and that’s that.”

“Well, I have my checkbook.”

“Oh?” And then she started to rummage around my room.

“What are you doing?”

Brooke didn’t respond and continued to search

I wanted to run and get my checkbook, but I knew if I showed her where my checkbook she would overpower me and take the checkbook.

However, after five minutes of searching, she found my box of checkbooks in my junk drawer in my dresser. I lunged after her. But I was too slow.

She turned around and left my apartment.

I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. I felt violated. I thought about calling the police, but I didn’t want to do that to my sister. Plus, I knew I wasn’t in the greatest of condition, so I didn’t want to risk another trip to the hospital.

After a few minutes, I called my Dad and told him what happened. I only said to him that Brooke took my money and ID. I left out the part about me drinking and being disheveled in the Walmart parking lot. He didn’t say much. I didn’t know, but Brooke had already called him and filled him in. He said he would talk to her and hung up.

I was so pissed. I felt like she didn’t have a right to take my stuff away. I spent the next few hours brooding over the situation. I also was brooding over the fact that I had very little alcohol left. That was the most frustrating part.

Looking back on it, I know Brooke was only trying to prevent me from drinking. Family members of addicts sometimes are forced to do extreme things to protect their loved ones. I know she was doing it out of love.

While I know she was doing it out of love, the disability advocate part of me still thinks it’s kind of unfair. I feel like Brooke wouldn’t have leverage over me had I been non-disabled. However, I could be wrong, and she would have behaved the same way had I been able-bodied. In the end, I know she was only doing what she thought would protect me. She was being a good sister.

Brooke Yells At A PCA/Takes Me Home

                By Fall 2017, I was drinking around the clock. I drank from the time my PCA left me in the morning until I passed out at night.  I had a PCA visit at five in the evenings, and I knew I should be somewhat sober for the PCA visit. However, I could never control myself during the afternoon. So, I would always end up drunk for the PCA visit.

                On paper, PCAs are supposed to inform the authorities if a client is very intoxicated and is a danger to herself. However, the line isn’t always so clear. A PCA isn’t trained to detect when a client is drunk and may be a danger to herself. The reality is PCAs are low-wage workers who are there to provide help, not detect drinking.  They weren’t prepared to deal with a heavily intoxicated woman. I knew this, and I used this fact to my advantage.

                I would get very quiet when they were there to not let on the fact that I was intoxicated. I wasn’t the most talkative client, so not talking wasn’t abnormal for me. PCAs that wasn’t familiar with me often didn’t realize I was behaving differently.

                One memorable example of how PCAs were unprepared to deal with my addiction happened in August 2017. I had just got home from treatment. That day I had been drinking all day, and by my five o’clock PCA visit, I was very drunk. I was so drunk I couldn’t keep my head up. I actually thought about canceling my PCA visit, but I was so drunk, I couldn’t even use the phone to make the call.

                When the PCA walked in, I was sitting at my computer with my head down. As she walked in, I pulled my head up and gave her a weak smile. Instantly, I felt relief because I knew she wouldn’t report me. She was very young, and she didn’t know the rules very well. I could tell the job was just a job for her.

                Setting down her things, she asked, “What can I do for you?”

                Rising my head, I said, “You can do my dishes.”

                Nodding, she said, “I can do that.”

                She turned towards the kitchen and started doing the dishes

                While she was doing the dishes, I tried to play a computer game. I hoped that I could keep myself awake while she was in my apartment. I didn’t want to sleep during her visit because I knew she was there to help me. However, I was super drunk, and I was having a hard time keeping my head up. My head nodded up and down like older people’s heads sometimes do when fighting off sleep.

                I tried to play the computer game, but I was failing at fighting off sleep. Eventually, my head dropped, and I drifted off into semi-consciousness. I was awake but not really sharp. I was in that in-between stage on awake and sleeping. This was my goal while drinking. That state where I was conscious but just barely. I loved that state!

                After she got done washing the dishes, she asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

                I heard her, but I was too sleepy and drunk to answer her.

                She stood there for a few minutes and then sat down.

                I fell asleep then. The next thing I knew, Brooke was shaking me to wake up.

                I would later find out Brooke stop by because she was seeing Anna, and she wanted to check on me. During those days, she was always dropping in to check on me because she was concerned about my drinking.

                I have no idea how long the PCA and I were sitting there, but Brooke would later tell me that she walked in and the PCA was sitting in the recliner reading a book. While I was sitting at my computer with my head hanging below my computer desk and sleeping. When she saw the state I was in, Brooke immediately knew I was drunk.

                After she assessed the situation, she told the PCA, “You can leave now.”

                She was ferrous at the situation. I was drunk once again, and the person that was supposed to keep an eye on me was just sitting there while I was passed out.

                I don’t remember much because I was drunk. I do know she took a picture of me because I have a picture of me with my head down. She would later send it to me as a reminder of my condition.

                She was concerned. I was in no condition to be left by myself. At some point, she called my parents and asked them what to. She explained that I was so drunk, I was incoherent. My parents didn’t really know what to do either. I had been to the hospital, and that didn’t seem to work. I had been to treatment, and that didn’t work. They were as stumped as everyone else. Finally, they told Brooke to get me in the car and drive me to their house. They said they would figure out what to do when we got home.

                They must have felt helpless. Here they were two and a half hours away, and one of their children was calling and telling them that one of their other children was so drunk she couldn’t function. They had no idea what to do. Something like this had never happened to them before. It must have been a terrifying situation for them.

                After she got off the phone, Brooke tried to wake me up. I groggily opened my eyes and closed them again. I was content to just stay in my state of semi-alertness. I was in my preferred condition and wasn’t going to come out of it.

                 Suddenly, Brook left my apartment. She returned a couple of minutes later with my friend and neighbor Matt. I’m not sure why she got Matt. He was in a wheelchair and couldn’t physically help.  I think it was such an emotional situation; she just wanted someone there for support.

                Matt said, “Chelsie, wake up.”

                I slowly raised my head and opened my eyes. I gave him a little smirk. I didn’t mean to. It’s a natural reaction I have when I’m in trouble. 

                He angrily said, “It’s not funny.”

                Brooke said, “Here, Matt, help me with her wheelchair.”

                He went over and got my manual wheelchair from under the kitchen table.

                When he returned with the wheelchair, Brooke placed her hands under my armpits and lifted me. She did a standing pivot and put me in the manual wheelchair. She then went to my bedroom and packed an overnight bag.
                She came back into the living room and asked, “Where are your pills?”

                Sleepily I gestured towards my computer desk, where my pill caddy was.

                After she put it in the gym bag, she began pushing me towards the door. Matt wheeled ahead and opened the door for us.

                As we were leaving the apartment, I said, “Thanks for helping me, Matt.”

                He said, “I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing this for your sister.”

                She struggled to put me in the car because my body wasn’t cooperating with her. She tried to lift me into the car once, but she couldn’t get me in the seat. She put me back in the wheelchair. Then she reached into the car and put the passenger seat down so that it was flat. Then she lifted me in the car again, and this time she was able to get me into the seat.

                As she was closing the door, Matt stuck his head in and said, “Chelsie, we’re through.”

                I didn’t know what this meant at the time. I was too drunk to understand or care. But I would later find out that he was through with being my friend. He hasn’t talked to me since that day. I feel bad that I lost a friend over drinking. It’s never fun to lose a friend

                As we were pulling out of Marshall, I remember Brooke on the phone with my Dad, and she had tears in her streaming down her face. After that, I passed out.

                When we pulled into the driveway, my Mom was waiting for us at the car. She and Brooke struggled to get me out of the vehicle. At this point,  I was awake but not alert.

                They pushed me to the door of the house. I had to stand up and walk because the house wasn’t accessible. As I stood up, they each got one side of me and put their arm under my armpit to steady me. Unsteadily, I walked up the two cement steps and walked in the entryway.

                Once in the entryway, we stopped, and my Mom said, “Let’s take her downstairs. Dad set up a room for her.”

                Slowly we climbed down the seven stairs to the basement. They directed me to the twin-size bed my Dad had brought downstairs for me. As soon as my head touched the pillow, I was asleep.

                I didn’t know at the time, but while I was sleeping, they were on the phone with family members asking them what to do. They were frightened by how drunk I was. Finally, my cousin suggested that they take me to the mental health hospital in Sioux Falls, SD, the nearest city with a mental health hospital.

                It seemed like I had just laid down, and here they were waking me up again. I just wanted to enjoy my drunkenness and sleep. They woke me up and told me we were going to Sioux Falls. They helped me up and to the car.

                Once we drove the hour to Sioux Falls, we got to the ER. At the ER, we got blank stares. The hospital staff couldn’t figure out what we were doing in the ER. I wasn’t hurt or sick. I was just drunk. However, my Mom begged and pleaded with the staff that we needed help. She was at her wit’s end. She had no idea what to do.

                Finally, they put us in a room. We waited in that room for hours. A doctor came in and asked what was wrong. After my Mom finished explaining the situation,  the doctor said, “What do you want me to do?”

                My Mom got tears in her eyes and said, “Just help us.”

                “Hold on. I’ll see what I can do.”

                “Thank you.”

                After a while, my aunt came in and talked with my Mom. My Mom explained that the doctor didn’t seem to want to do anything. This made my aunt upset.

                She said, “ Can’t he see she’s still drunk, and she stopped drink five hours ago.”

                My Mom shook her head and started crying

                My aunt said, “I’ll go get Carri. Maybe she can do something.”

                Carri was my cousin. She worked in the mental health unit in the hospital.

                Carri came into the room. She and my Mom discussed the situation. My Mom pleaded for her to help me. I sat quietly. I didn’t want help, and I secretly hoped the hospital would say they couldn’t help me. I wanted to go back to Marshall and drink.

                Carr told my Mom she would speak with the doctor and see what she could do. Then she left the room.

                While we were waiting, I could barely look at my Mom. I felt guilty for putting her through such a hard situation. I knew I was causing her tremendous pain. However, if someone would have taken me home and let me drink right then, I would have jumped at the chance. It was like I had two brains. My rational brain knew the hurt I was causing. I didn’t want my family in pain. But I had another part of my brain, the addicted part, that only cared about my next drink. The addicted part had taken over.

                I don’t know what Carri said to the doctor or if it made any difference, but an hour later, the doctor came in. He said that I would be admitted to the mental health hospital.

                I don’t remember much from the hospital, other than I was bored. Unlike all the other times I was in the mental health hospital, I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t feel I needed to be there. I knew I had a problem, but I thought if I just limited my drinking to the weekend, I would be OK.

                I remember I sat in my room a lot. All the other times, I went to group therapies while in the hospital. But this time, I just sat in my room telling myself that I would go straight to the liquor store when I got out. You would think I would have realized my drinking was unsustainable. You would think I would have thought about the tears streaming down my sister’s and Mom’s face. You would think I would have thought about the friendship I lost. But none of that came to mind. I was selfish, and all I thought about was my next opportunity to drink.

                While I was in the hospital, I only had my manual wheelchair. My family didn’t have an accessible van, so when I went with them, I took my manual wheelchair. However, the hospital didn’t like this because it made me less mobile. The hospital had to provide a full-time staff to me so that I could move around

                After I had been in the hospital a few days, they called my Dad to see if he could get my electric wheelchair. The hospital thought this would make me more independent and maybe help my attitude improve.  My Dad said that he would, of course, get my wheelchair, even though it meant this he would have to drive the two and a half-hour drive one-way to Marshall. He wanted me to have everything to make my stay more comfortable. The next day my Dad got my electric wheelchair to me.

                My Dad hoped that having him get my wheelchair signaled that the hospital would keep me for a while. He took this as a good sign. Maybe it meant that I was going to get the help I needed.

                However, the next day the hospital called my parents. They were releasing me. The doctors didn’t feel like the hospital was an apporiperite place for me. They felt that my problem with alcohol wasn’t a mental health issue. So, the day after he went up to Marshall to get my wheelchair, my Dad turned around and brought me back home. He was not happy with the hospital.

                My Dad and my Aunt Darcy brought me back to Marshall. I was excited to be going back. My Dad, however, was unsure if I should be going back. But there wasn’t a choice. Yes, I could have stayed at my parent’s. But that wasn’t the best situation. I would be stuck in the house without a wheelchair.

                We didn’t talk about drinking on the drive to Marshall. But it must have been on my Dad’s mind. He must have been wondering if he was doing the right thing by bringing me back. I had given no reason to believe I could be sober. He had no reason to think I could stay sober. But he knew how much living in my apartment meant to me, and he probably wanted me to be successful.

                He shouldn’t have believed I would stay sober because, on the ride to Marshall, I was already thinking about my next trip to the liquor store. I don’t think they had been gone ten minutes before I was already heading to the liquor store.