Panic Disorder 411
The Journey To Recovery
Chapter 8: DanvilleTo Know You Is To Find Me
The blizzard left another foot of snow behind in its wake.
Jack stood in the bitter cold on the westbound ramp of the Ohio
Turnpike with his thumb in the air, a smile on his face, a buck
and a half jingling in one pocket, and a pill bottle containing
one Librium in the other. He'd left the warmth of home and the
beautiful woman who loved him to search for an oasis where the
liquor flowed freely—an alcoholic Don Quixote. Only two
cars passed him in an hour, and his hands and feet were numb. He
trudged through the frozen snow to the Holiday Inn to call Burt
to ask if he could stay for the night. Burt said "No," that he
was working the night shift. More traffic was traveling eastward,
so he walked to the opposite side of the road and caught a ride
with a trucker.
"Where are you going?" the driver asked.
"California," Jack said.
"You're going in the wrong direction."
"Yeah, I know. I couldn't get a ride going west. I guess I'll go to the east coast, head south, and take the southern route."
When the truck slowed to a crawl in the drifting snow in Pennsylvania, he thought about the boy who said that as long as you're moving, you ain't stuck, then he thought of Laura's friend, Susan, who quit school to go back to work to save enough money to finish school.
He got out of the rig in Danville, found his way to Mill Street, stopped at a watering hole, ordered a draft beer with his last buck, and phoned Susan.
"What a surprise," she said. "Walk out of the tavern, and I'll be waving from the window over the furniture store down the street."
Once inside, he saw a table set up for Christmas with a dozen liquor bottles sitting on top of a red tablecloth emblazoned with Santa peering into the living room, a drink in one hand, his other hand pointing to the salutation, Happy Holidays. The alcoholic Don Quixote had found his oasis.
"Want a drink?" Susan asked, pointing to the table, laughing. "Sorry about the mess. We never got around to cleaning up after Christmas." No need to clean up, he thought. Keep the booze coming, and I'll do the cleaning.
"Yeah, thank you, a Dewar's on ice," he said, looking around the dingy storefront apartment. If he hadn't remembered that Susan drank like a fish, then he'd still be on the road in search of another haven, a place to drink to his heart's content.
Every cell in his body screamed for alcohol as she washed and dried two glasses, fumbled with the ice tray, placed the ice cubes carefully in the glasses, slowly poured Dewar's over the ice, put the drinks on a tray, looked for cocktail napkins in the cupboard, placed the napkins next to the drinks, and carried the tray into the living room. Thank God, he hadn't asked for a martini. How fucking long would it have taken her to pull a jar of olives from the fridge, find a cocktail pick, stab the olives, and place them gently in a glass?
"Here's to you, Jack," she said, raising her glass.
"Right back at you," he said, clinking his glass against hers.
He finished his drink while she was in the bathroom. He walked to the table, poured another drink, drank half of it, started back into the living room, and turned around, grabbed a bottle from the table and took a good, long swig of scotch.
He watched her walk back into the room—heavy set, large breasts, long curly black hair outlining her angelic face—an earth mother.
"Where are you working, Susan?" he asked.
"At the state hospital, afternoon shift. Lucky for you that we have the night off," she said, smiling. The state hospital, another option for me, he thought.
"Must be a tough job," he said.
"No, not any different than babysitting, really. We're on the non-violent ward, and the patients are highly medicated. Because it's long term care, you feel close to some of the patients after a while. When someone dies or is sent to another facility, you miss them. And it helps that my roommate works on the same floor."
As Susan finished her third drink, Ellen was at the door tussling with three bags of groceries and trying to pull her keys from the lock.
"Hey, I got everything, I think. The roads are terrible. I almost slid into a fancy sports car leaving the store," Ellen said.
She stashed the groceries on the counter, put away the frozen foods, dropped a few ice cubes in a glass, walked gracefully to the table, and poured a drink. She was a beautiful young woman, trim, toned, short brown hair, a few freckles spattered about her face, a hint of Irish.
She faced Susan and asked, "How are you getting along with Helen Garvey?"
"That bitch really needs to be sedated. She told me to get out of her way yesterday, like she owned the ward. I wish I could stab her in the ass with a hypo filled with Thorazine. Who does she think she is anyway?"
"I saw her husband in the market, and he was talking to a bag of coffee. They're both nuts and should be patients on the ward."
Jack was in his element, fueled by scotch, talking with two beautiful women on a subject that he'd thoroughly researched. "Everybody's a little nuts," he said.
When Jack said something about leaving, they said "No," in unison. Ellen told him, "You can stay with us for a while to get your bearings. There are jobs in Danville if you decide to stay. You could work with us at the hospital."
Jack shrugged. "Work at the hospital? Hell, I could be a patient."
"Couldn't we all," Ellen said. "The difference between the patients and the aides is that we have the keys."
He awoke at noon in Susan's bed. The last thing that he
remembered was something that Ellen said about keys. He looked
around the room, saw his clothes in a heap on the floor and a
note on Susan's pillow:
"Jack - We were called into work early. I'm so glad that you're here. There's coffee cake and eggs in the fridge. Help yourself to whatever you want. We're both happy that you're going to Providence with us this weekend to see Joanne. See ya around eleven-thirty - Susan. ♥"
He stumbled to the table, poured a stiff drink, slugged it down, and went back to bed.
As the car climbed the winding road in the hills of
Providence, he thought of the weekend that he and Lisa had driven
through the area looking at houses, and she begged him to stop in
Bethel for the Woodstock Festival. Lisa was gone, and the job was
over. At least he would have had the memory of Woodstock. A rush
of anxiety flushed through his body. He needed a drink.
He hugged Joanne in the doorway, looked into the kitchen and saw a bottle of Johnny Walker Red waiting for him. He didn't see any food anywhere. It didn't matter. He wouldn't eat anyway.
Joanne and Susan talked in the living room, and Jack stayed in the kitchen, guarding the liquor, and drinking with Ellen. An hour later, she grabbed her coat and headed to the door. He stopped her and asked where she was going.
"I don't know, anywhere but here. I'm fed up with all this bullshit, all this meaningless fucking chatter. Fuck this shit. I'm outta here."
She had a glazed look in her eyes and looked at him like she didn't know who he was, and a moment later embraced and kissed him.
"You're so proud, Jack. You're just so damn proud. And you're so fucking smart that you're two steps ahead of everyone else. You shouldn't be here and neither should I, but what the fuck can you do? We're trapped, scratching and clawing to get out of prison to be together, but we know that it won't work for us. It just won't work out. Fuck, I gotta get outta here."
"Let her go, Jack," Susan said from the living room. "She just can't handle her booze." Ellen left and returned a half hour later. He looked at her. The glassy look in her eyes had disappeared into the cold night air.
In the morning, Jack awakened to the sound of muffled voices coming from the kitchen, then heard Joanne say distinctly, "I'll be damned if I'll let my best friend get involved with some loser alcoholic. He'll fuck you over, and I'll have to pick up the pieces." Jack sat upright on the sofa, and Susan came into the room crying.
"She got a letter from Laura in the mail this morning. I refused to read it. I never liked the bitch anyway."
"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean for any of this to happen. I should leave," Jack said halfheartedly.
"I don't want you to go, but maybe— Shit, I can't think straight. I just want Joanne to shut the fuck up." Then, Ellen walked in and said that she'd drive him wherever he needed to go.
He felt like saying that he needed to go to California, where he was headed before he got turned around by the blizzard. All he'd done was to stop in Danville for a drink, and now he was in Providence, stranded in the last place on earth that he wanted to be, tossed out on his ear by someone he never liked from the start.
Ellen and Jack walked through the kitchen on their way out. He noticed that the liquor had been stored away, and saw Laura's letter on the counter. The fucking bitch, he thought. I'm in Providence, and she sniffed me out like a bloodhound and fucked me again with another poison pen letter.
Ellen pulled under the canopy at the hospital to let him out
and told him that she'd wait for him in the parking lot. He
looked at her dolefully and said, "No need to wait. They'll know
what to do with me."
He told the doctor that he was having an anxiety attack and needed medication. The doctor took a look at his tattered overcoat, his unkempt appearance, smelled the strong odor of liquor on his breath, and told him that he couldn't prescribe anything. "And I'm homeless," Jack added. They gave him a paper at the front desk with directions to the Salvation Army. Ellen was waiting, drove him to the facility, and gave him a roll of half dollars for cigarettes.
"I'm so sorry this happened, Jack. Joanne's a hypocritical bitch who fucks everyone who gets in her way. It's not a mystery why she's in law school. But she's Susan's friend, and I can't get in between them."
After drinking half a bottle of Listerine in the bathroom at
the Sally, Jack showered and talked to his bunkmate about the
work program there.
"Can you drink?" Jack asked.
"Hell yes, do you think that there's anyone here that doesn't?"
He knew that working would free him from the whims and hysteria of the women in his life, women who didn't understand his anxiety or his drinking. He thought about Ellen. She seemed to understand. He lay down, relaxed by the mouthwash, and fell asleep. Someone awakened him to tell him that he had a phone call. It was Ellen.
"I think we were a bit harsh with you, dropping you off in a strange place. I'll pick you up, and we'll take you back to Danville. You can stay with us for a while until you get settled."
Jack stayed in the storefront apartment for a few days until
his welfare application was approved. He rented a room over the
Mill Street Tavern, and made an appointment with the mental
health clinic. Before the appointment, he drank two shots of
vodka because he thought that it was odorless.
He told the therapist that he needed a script for Valium because he had horrifying anxiety attacks and repeated his request a few times during the interview. Pete Raush said, "The doctor will determine the necessity and efficacy of medication, but you won't get any Valium here."
"But I need Valium. The episodes are so severe that it feels like I'm going crazy. No one seems to know what I can do to get rid of them."
"You've asked for Valium a few times and smell like you've been drinking. It seems to me that you may have an addiction problem."
Jack retorted, "I don't have a damn addiction problem. I don't think you heard me when I said that I had to have Valium to rid myself of the anxiety."
"A second opinion couldn't hurt, Jack. We have another counselor that may be able to help you," Pete said, escorting him to the drug and alcohol counselor's office. He looked into the partially open door and asked, "Do you have a minute, Ray? This is Jack. He needs some advice."
Jack told the counselor about his anxiety attacks. Ray B. told him that no one would be able to determine how to help him until he was clean and sober.
"Jack, imagine that you're on a football field. You're in a scrimmage with drugs and alcohol. You tackle drugs on one side, and then alcohol tackles you from behind. The only solution is to get off the field, but you don't know how to do it. You need treatment, Jack. We have one of the best treatment centers in the country here. It's your best chance for a new start. Vocational Rehabilitation will pay the bill. I can take you to the center tomorrow, and we can start the paperwork now."
"Let me think about it, Ray. Can I do that?"
"Yes, you know that drugs and alcohol are waiting outside for you, but remember that the center is waiting too. Call me or come into the office when you've made a decision." Ray looked at his watch. "The psychiatrist can see you now."
Dr. Williams took a moment to look at his chart, and said, "How can I help you, Jack?"
Jack said, "I'm not sure that you can. I've had anxiety attacks since I was twenty, and no one I've talked to has any answers. I just don't know what to do anymore. Is there a medication that will help?"
"The road you're on isn't taking you anywhere. You have an anxiety attack and drink to relieve the symptoms, and then you have a whole new set of problems. You haven't taken the road less traveled that Robert Frost talks about in his poem, you're on the road that no one should take."
Jack recited the last verse of the poem, I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
"Jack, I'm not going to prescribe anything but advice. I'm not certain that you know how intelligent you are or how lost. You need to find a direction. Get a job, something simple that you can handle. Do your job well, and sooner or later, someone will notice your capabilities and promote you. You need to stop drinking, not an easy task. You can see this as a turning point or keep going on your destructive path. You have to decide. Ray B. can help you with your alcohol problem, and we can provide therapy to help with your anxiety problem."
Could someone, please, give me a straight answer. I wanna know how the fuck to get rid of the anxiety attacks. Don't they know that I'd get a fucking job if I wasn't terrified all the time.
He returned to his room over the bar, drank for three days, then bought a gallon of cheap wine with the last of his money. He saved half of the bottle for his last desperate move the next day. In the morning, he drank the remainder of the wine and walked to the Danville Police Station.
He told the officer at the desk, "I really feel crazy. I'm hearing voices, and trying not to listen, but I'm scared to death of what's gonna happen next."
"Anything else?" the officer asked.
"I need some fucking help. I need to be locked up. I need to be committed to the state hospital. Nobody in the outside world can seem to help me."
"You're drunk," the officer said.
"Yeah, I'm drunk," Jack said. "And I need to be committed to the state hospital."
During his rant, another cop called Ray B. who showed up at the station to take him to an AA meeting. Jack was furious. Everyone in town was in on the conspiracy to prevent him from getting his hands on a bottle of Valium.
After the meeting, Ray said:
"How long are you going to continue on your path to nowhere, Jack? You saw the smiling faces at the meeting and talked with people who have found serenity. Do you think that your anxiety is more terrifying than the fears that others have faced?"
"Before the program, I would do anything I had to do to get my next high because coming off a speedball is like crashing into a plate glass window. I lived from needle to needle for ten years and was on a roller coaster ride through hell until the program saved my life."
"Do you think that life is just a series of coincidences, or can you imagine, for a moment, that maybe all the pain is leading to a greater purpose? God didn't intend for you to waste away in some cesspool of despair. You'll understand what I'm saying more fully as you find your way in sobriety. You can call me at work or at home anytime, and we will get you into treatment. I believe in you, Jack."
Jack was in a bind. He only had sixty cents in his pocket. His rent was due in three days, but he wouldn't receive his next welfare check for two weeks. He lay in bed for two days trying to sleep as the muffled sound of the jukebox echoed from the bar below with the song Torn Between Two Lovers playing repeatedly. He decided that his only option was to go into treatment. He walked over to the clinic and talked to Ray B., who made arrangements for his admission to the center.
Ray drove for a half hour through the snow covered mountains to Allenwood, stopping at the gate at White Deer Run to look at the large sign: Helping Addicts To Find A Meaning, A Purpose, & A Way Of Life.
Take a good look at the sign, Jack. Addiction owns every fiber of our being and takes away every bit of our humanity and free will. You'll begin to find a new direction for your life in treatment. Give the program all that you've got, Jack. Your life depends on it. Don't become overwhelmed with anxiety, but become absorbed in the program. When you've completed treatment, the snow will have melted, and spring will be here, a great time for you to begin your new life in recovery.
The lodge was the focal point of the center with a main meeting room with a large stone fireplace, a dining room with a circular, open hearth, and a large room on the lower level for AA meetings. A section of the building was reserved for group therapy sessions. The lodge was surrounded by cabins, an office building, a laundry, and a maintenance building.
Between the hours of seven in the morning and ten at night, residents were required to remain in the lodge, with the exception of a work detail for an hour after lunch to clean offices and bathrooms, cut firewood, and wash dishes.
The intensive program was comprised of group therapy held twice a day, one-on-one therapy sessions, a work detail, AA meetings, and free time to socialize. The program included alcoholics and addicts, some of them paroled from prison.
The admissions counselor led Jack into the dining room, and said, "Look around the room. You'll get to know everyone here in the process of finding yourself." They stopped at a round table, where the counselor introduced him. "This is Jack, boys. Show him the ropes."
"Hey Jack, I'm Bob. This is a strict program with a lot of rules. Be aware that if you break a rule, the whole community could confront you. The main rule is that if you need to leave the lodge, you need permission from a counselor and have to take someone with you. You'll get the hang of it."
Someone yelled from another table, pointing to a man headed for the coffee machine. "Tony, you didn't ask anyone to watch your place. How the hell are you going to stay straight when you can't even follow a simple rule?" Another man yelled, "You're a fucking loser. Instead of getting more coffee, you'd better wake up and smell the coffee."
Early the next morning, the community was assembled in front
of the fireplace in the main meeting room. The director, a
vibrant middle-aged man, began his speech:
"The first order of business is to clarify two rules that you have to follow. Number one is that there will be no threats of physical violence tolerated here. And by threat, I mean even the intimation to do physical harm to another person. George, over there, told someone that he wished he could fuck up someone in here. Stand up George. Get your sorry ass out of here, Mr. Tough Man, and I mean now. You're going back to jail where you belong. We'll see how tough you are when you're fucked in the ass by someone tougher than you in the joint. I don't care how tough someone thinks that they are here. No one needs to be afraid of physical violence when they're working on their recovery. There is always someone tougher than the biggest brute of a man like George thinks he is, and I can tell you that nobody is going to beat a community of people."
"The second rule is that nobody will have or use an addictive chemical here. You would think that the way we've scoured this place that nobody could bring anything in here, but it's happened. That's why we require random urine tests. Everything in the kitchen is alcohol free, including the extracts. You're using matches to light your cigarettes because one of you could decide to stick a Bic lighter up his nose for a high."
"We are waging a war here that some would say is an impossible war to win. Impossible, because the enemy lives inside each and everyone of us. The enemy sees our every movement and knows when we're the most vulnerable and strikes at our weakest moments, the times when we're too hungry, angry, lonely or tired to fight back. The enemy is addiction. I looked up the word impossible in the dictionary, and one definition said, harder than hard. I knew that I could handle that degree of difficulty."
"Some of you think that you've got the world by the tail now that you're in treatment, but you're going to fall flat on your faces when temptation calls. All of you drug addicts walk around here like you're so fucking cool—self-assured and arrogant. You're so fucking cool that you robbed some old lady of the drugs that she needed to survive. You've ripped off people who trusted you, lifted your best friend's wallet, fucked his girlfriend if you thought that she had ten bucks in her purse to steal. You've used dirty needles and shot up air when you couldn't score. You've shot up shit that would have killed an elephant, but you just keep on going."
"You may think that the program here is too harsh. How soon you forget that you spent night after night sleeping in your own puke, but now that you're out of the cold with a few meals under your belt, you think that maybe you're cured. You object to being in the lodge from early morning to late night. It's too much, you think. You assholes can have it all back. Get up, walk the fuck out of here and see how far you get before you're back in jail or dead, because that's the only place that you're gonna end up, in jail, in the insane asylum, or dead with a toe tag that says, Damn this guy is cool."
"You drug addicts who end up splitting from here walk blatantly out with your heads held high like it was a fucking photo shoot. It's a fucking shoot alright, a shot in the arm and a shot off to the morgue. The young drug addicts want to live forever, and they'll die tomorrow, but the old drunks who've wanted to die every fucking day of their lives will go on forever. You fucking old alcoholics keep drinking yourselves into oblivion until the day comes when you're brain dead, and you keep on drinking. You sneaky, fucking alcoholics split down the mountain in the middle of the night because you've just got to have a drink, and you think, each time you start again, that you can handle it, but you can't even keep from peeing in your pants."
"Every time I hear an addict's story, I have to live my entire fucking life over again because I used to be you. I'm here to tell you that you can stay clean and sober a day at a time, but it's going to be harder than hard to do. Do you have any idea the kind of energy that it takes to be an addict, to be an alcoholic? Straight people can't handle missing breakfast, but all of you would crawl around on the ice naked, licking the ground if you thought that it would get you high. The energy that it takes for you to get fucked up, day in and day out, that energy, properly directed, could change the world."
"For those of you who don't think that you've hit bottom yet, look around you. Where the fuck do you think you are now? Where the fuck else do you want your addiction to take you? You have to put the energy that you used for getting a fix or a drink into your recovery. Get rid of the shit in your head by telling your story to everyone you can. Tell it over and over again until they're so sick of hearing it that they walk away. This program is for you. If you haven't told your story at least five times a day, down to the last sordid detail, then you're not going to make it. Commit yourselves, dedicate yourselves to your recovery."
"I wanted to drink so badly that one day I handcuffed myself to the radiator in my apartment and threw the key out of the window. I had to yell for someone to get me the fuck out of the cuffs when the feeling passed, and the feeling will pass. I was in recovery for a long time and nothing got better. I was living in the same shit hole, listening to my wife rip me apart. I wanted to drink so badly that I would have sold my soul to the devil, but then I remembered that I had already done that, and I doubted that he would buy it twice. Then I thought, what if I hung in there another hour, maybe the overwhelming cravings would pass. What if I could make it through another day, another week, or another month, then maybe, all of it would pass. You struggle everyday in your recovery, day by day, month after month, and nothing seems to change. Then one day, you notice something is different. You don't want a drink or a fix. That's the day you begin to find God."
Jack sidled up to the prettiest girl in the community and
shared an amended version of his story, unaware of the vigilance
of the staff. His therapist confronted him after seeing them
"Where the fuck are you coming from, man? You're not going to learn anything from Diane. The two of you are the biggest fucking head trips that have ever crossed the threshold of this facility. You and she are so much alike that talking to one another is like talking to yourself. I want you to talk with Dave who's sitting over there. You'll learn something from him because the two of you don't have shit in common. Stop playing games and get real. You may be able to charm the skin off a rattlesnake when you're in your fucking street shoes, but you've met your match here."
Dave was a functional heroin addict who had worked everyday to save the money to pay for treatment. He wanted to stay straight with every fiber of his being, and Jack was given a glimpse into the degree of commitment required to achieve sobriety. He respected Dave and told him his story as honestly as he could.
Jack didn't like group therapy. In every session, someone was picked at random to take the hot seat. Jack was afraid that he'd be next and would be unable to handle the grilling. He didn't want to expose his emotions. He didn't want to cry, but most of all, he was afraid he would have an anxiety attack, and the therapist wouldn't know what to do. There wouldn't be any relief available. No Valium. No booze. Nothing.
When Eric L. was on the hot seat, Michael T. asked him, "How are you going to stay sober?"
Eric said, "Stay away from bars."
"What else?" Michael asked calmly.
"Uh, go to meetings," Eric said.
"What else, motherfucker?" Michael said, raising his voice. "You're just giving me generic answers."
"Avoid people, places, and—"
Michael interrupted and said, "You don't fucking get it, Eric, because you never shut up and listen. You're the first one to talk when someone is on the hot seat. It's your way of keeping the heat off of you, but it's only hurting you. You have to take an active role in your recovery. Anyone can stay sober in here, but what the fuck are you gonna do on the outside when temptation strikes like lightening. You don't have one tool in your recovery toolbox."
Eric bowed his head, avoiding eye contact, and said, "I guess I better start listening."
"I'm going to help you, Eric. I want you to pick up a small, smooth stone, big enough so you won't swallow it. Keep the stone in your mouth all day until you go to bed. The stone should remind you not to speak."
"For how long?"
"As long as it takes," Michael said. "I'll tell you to remove it when I think that you've learned to listen."
A couple days later, Michael told Eric to take the stone out of his mouth and asked, "Any thoughts, Eric?"
He sat for a few moments and looked at everyone in the room. "I've got everyone's number in the group."
"But do you have your own number?" Michael asked, pointing to a poster on the wall: To know you is to find me. "Have you learned enough from the people here to apply that knowledge to your life and begin to change? I've been clean and sober for a long time, and I'm still learning from people in recovery. It's the people in the rooms and the people in this center that help to keep me straight a day at a time."
After thirty days in rehab, Jack had managed to avoid any real confrontation in group therapy. He knew that he hadn't fooled the therapist and that his day to open the vault was approaching. He was reluctant to talk about his anxiety because there wasn't a person in the community who had mentioned having anxiety attacks. If psychiatrists didn't have a solution for his problem, then how could a group of recovering alcoholics and addicts help him?
On his forty-second day, Jack noticed that several of the people who had entered treatment after his admission were being discharged. He knew that they could keep him there indefinitely, so he talked with his therapist in his office.
"I'm here to find out when I'll be released, Michael," he said.
"Jack, you haven't addressed a single issue in group. My concern is that until you get in touch with your feelings, you will leave here less prepared to deal with the problems that you'll encounter in daily life."
"I'm really afraid," Jack said.
"Afraid to talk?" Michael asked.
"No, afraid I'll have an anxiety attack, and no one will know how to help me."
"We would be with you every step of the way, talk you through it, and help you to relax. None of us are strangers to irrational fears."
"I don't know if that would work."
"We could help you to begin to learn how to deal with the fear, Jack. It takes time to recover from addictions and anxiety problems, but you have to start somewhere. You know that intense feelings of anxiety will eventually lead you back to the bottle. You can't address it alone. You have to open up, like you have today, and start talking about your problems, or no one can help you with anything. It's a cold world outside this center, and you won't find the kind of intensive therapy that we offer here."
He thought about what the therapist had told him. He thought about it at dinner, throughout the evening, and before he fell asleep. He didn't believe that anyone could help him with his anxiety problems. He awakened at dawn's first light, got dressed, and left the cabin. He followed the stream down the mountain to a highway, hitched a ride north to Williamsport, and waited for the welfare office to open.
Jack was issued a check, rented a room at the YMCA, called a guy he'd met in treatment, and arranged to meet him at an AA meeting that evening. He brought up the subject of anxiety attacks at the meeting, but no one seemed to know what they were. He stopped at the liquor store after the meeting, bought a bottle of whiskey, and held up in his room for two days.
He emerged from his stupor with the bright idea to give Danville another try. He bought a bus ticket that stopped near Mill Street, entered the tavern and asked about renting a room. The owner told him that none were available. He walked over to the Monongahela River, checked under the bridge for hobo camps, but nobody was there. He didn't know where he could stay for the night, so he went back to the bar and drank.
He sat on a barstool next to a man wearing a cowboy hat and told him his predicament. "Hell, you can stay with us on the farm for a while if you like," the man said.
They called the man Cowboy, a straight shooting, hard drinking welder who said that he was the best damn tin bender this side of the Rockies. He lived in a shell of a house that would have been easier to tear down than to repair, with a mountain of junk surrounding the house. A cow grazed in the pasture, ten geese roamed around the house, and a homemade incubator in the attic had a dozen eggs due to hatch. Jack slept in the room with the incubator.
Cowboy bought quarts of beer by the case and rarely slowed down on his drinking. He painted the inside walls of the house with two gallons of metallic blue automotive paint, thinned with gasoline, an ever present odor in the house. The first night Jack spent at Cowboy's, he told him, "Pee off the porch, the toilet don't work too well." Standing on the porch, Jack looked out at the clear, black sky with a thousand stars in sight, curious geese walking up to him, and the cow grazing twenty feet away. He thought that he'd arrived at heaven's gate. For the first time since he'd left Valerie's, he was adrift in the flow of the universe.
One day, Cowboy showed Jack how to milk the cow, and a couple of days later, a hit and run driver slaughtered five of the geese. Cowboy showed him how to pluck the dead fowl and cooked them, basted in beer. They had a feast along with fresh, unstrained milk. Sometimes Jack went into the pasture to talk to Brenda, and the cow listened attentively to his rants, her big brown eyes peering at him like she understood. One day, a cattle truck pulled up to the field and took her to the market. Living with Cowboy was like taking an extended sixth grade field trip.
Jack mourned for Brenda by walking into Danville, five miles away, to the Mill Street Tavern, where he got drunk, called Laura, who was cold as ice, and walked back toward the farm. He stopped in the woods to take a nap under the tall pine trees, wishing a black bear would devour him. It was dark when he awakened with stars peeking through the branches of the pines. The field trip was over. The next morning, he left the farm, walked down the mountain, stopped at a liquor store for a pint of whiskey, and stood on the westbound ramp of I-80 with his thumb in the air and a smile on his face.
THE ROAD TO FORT WORTH by Michael Jackson Smith: Very little was known about panic disorder when I had my first panic attack. There was no help available to teach me how to assuage the attacks, but I discovered that alcohol would dissolve my fear instantly. My website contains the kind of information that would have been a tremendous help to me in the early days of my illness as I searched for solutions for the panic disorder, agoraphobia, and alcoholism that incapacitated me. My book is the story of my journey into recovery. Top of Page↑