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How 3 Days in The Psych Ward Saved My Life

A suicide attempt in sobriety landed me in a psych ward, surrounded by people who talked about porn, corn and hearing voices. They just may have saved my life.

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With four rehabs and two previous psych ward visits under my belt, not to mention a husband in the treatment industry, I was convinced that Darla, the substance abuse counselor, wouldn’t have anything new or insightful to share with me but I went to the addiction groups anyway. With her long grey ponytail, brown cargo shorts and black trouser socks, she looked more like a patient from Portland than a therapist from LA. We were handed out the usual shit—papers that explained that "H.A.L.T." stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired and papers on neurotransmitters. I tried not to look bored.

More than depressing or freaky, the psych ward is boring. I slept a lot. I tried to read. I waited for my visitors. I spent a lot of time on the payphone, calling collect, like a convict. And I’d drink the coffee, which came in a tiny Styrofoam cup at 7 in the morning and was atrocious. In the afternoon, I’d see some regular patients (repeat offenders, I’d call them) make instant coffee with hot tap water. I dreamt about Starbucks and cigarettes and freedom.

But the psych ward did help me and here’s why: I saw people 20 years older than me who were caught in my same cycle and it scared me. I saw how many people loved me in my life. I saw the impact that I had on other people. I saw that my suffering wasn’t just my suffering—that it was other peoples too. I saw that I did want to live my life. I began to appreciate what I had had and was hoping to still have.  

When I finally got out, people were angry. My friends were mad. My husband was devastated. My parents were horrified. Nobody saw it as cry for help. They saw it as a selfish destructive and expensive act of self-pity and defiance.

I felt guilty for having been so impulsive and reckless. I didn't really want to die. I just didn't to feel the way I was feeling. 

When I started sharing about this in meetings, I’d hear people gasp and feel their judgment. And I’d wonder: was it that far out to try to attempt suicide? Wasn't the way we used to drink and use suicidal at its best? When other people shared about their suicidal ideation, the general consensus seemed to be that they weren’t working a good program, weren’t connected to their Higher Power, weren’t in acceptance, weren’t spiritually fit. But maybe they were just mentally ill. Wasn’t that a possibility? Whenever I hear somebody share about similar feelings, I offer them my support and understanding and tell them to get a therapist and on medication immediately. These feelings, as I know too well, would pass. But taking action on them would have a lasting impact no matter how it turned out.

At least now I can say that I’m grateful to still be here, despite my best efforts not to be. 

Amy Dresner  is sober comedian who liberally pulls material from her depressive illness and drug addiction. She performs all over Los Angeles and is also on a national recovery tour called " We Are Not Saints ." She also wrote about  sex and dating  in sobriety for The Fix . 

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