Gifts for Dad ➔

(A work of fiction)

“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” ― Albert Camus

In the midst of a tumultuous period in my life, I came up with a great idea; I decided to get drunk to erase my emotional pain.

I was experiencing panic attacks as often as 6 times per day. My heart would race, I felt dizzy and nauseous. My hands would shake, my knees would knock together and my sense of balance became askew. I felt as if I were dying, or at the very least, in heart failure.

These attacks would come over me without rhyme or reason. I might be watching television stretched out on the couch. I might be soaking in the tub with soft music and scented candles as my companions. WHAM! The symptoms would hit out of the blue. It was terrifying to say the least. My days were miserable.

Imagine that you are standing on a train track with your booted foot stuck in the track. You hear the train approaching, but you cannot free yourself. Your nervous system would begin the ‘fight or flight’ response, and panic would overcome you. As the engine grew closer your symptoms would increase in intensity and if you didn’t faint, you might likely wet yourself. Your knees might buckle, dropping you to the ground, or your vision would blur to a point that sight was useless.

Welcome to the world of panic.

Unable to continue to work and live alone and convinced that I was losing my sanity, I returned home to my parents’. Both mom and dad thought that I was experiencing some sort of seizure phenomenon or that I had a fatal disease. I was schlepped to many a physician. These doctors were all in agreement- this was not a neurological disorder, a cancer or the like. We repeatedly heard, “emotional, psychological, dysfunctional.”

Initially, my parents thought that I should get rest and that this ‘phase’ would pass. Months flew by and the attacks continued to bombard me daily. Deciding to self-medicate, I headed for the liquor cabinet and voila, the panic subsided.

I had found my panacea and all was right with the world again. Alcohol numbed the fear and the tension, and I felt calm for the first time in years. The panic attacks no longer haunted me as I began to drink around the clock Hating the taste of liquor, I would actually hold my nose closed and gulp straight from the bottle. As long as it was alcohol, I cared not for a particular type or brand.

Welcome to the world of substance abuse.

My friends stopped calling and visiting and eventually my parents grew concerned. Oh yes, I was drunk…slurring my words, stumbling about and at times experiencing blackouts. I believed that no one noticed or perhaps family and friends thought that my inebriated behaviors were part of an undiagnosed medical condition. I was convinced that I was fooling all.

Was I an alcoholic? Of course not. Alcoholics wore tattered clothes, carried their bottle in a brown paper bag and begged for a handout. Alcoholics were often homeless and usually made up of men in their 50s. I certainly did not fit that bill.


In our living room sat a thin, tall man in a suit. He shook my hand and introduced himself. He began to speak in a quiet voice, “You, my dear, are not well. I’ve been meeting with your parents and based on those discussions, I will speculate that you are experiencing extreme anxiety and may be having addiction issues. You’re young, bright and talented and in need of some help. I’m here for that reason.”

Packing a small suitcase, I went with the doctor. An hour later we arrived at a beautifully landscaped campus and I was escorted to my room. I never had thought that I’d visit a psychiatric hospital and in my wildest dreams did not envision being a patient in one.

I began to accept my illnesses in stages; denial, anger, self-pity and remorse. Withdrawal was horrific. I felt as if my body was on fire and that every one of my organs was dying. My muscles cramped and I was nauseous round the clock. I had two petite mal seizures.

Eventually, my body adjusted to not being fed poison and my mind became clear. It seemed that my panic resulted from a childhood trauma, yet it would be decades before I could face that fact. Non-narcotic medications helped take the edge off of my anxiety and I learned to express myself in a healthy and forthright manner.

Attending Twelve Step meetings, I saw that I was not alone, not insane and not hopeless. I went to a meeting every day, made a few dear friends and became versed in the language of addiction. I also attended Dual Diagnosis groups that addressed both my panic disorder and my alcoholism. I cried, I sobbed, I laughed and I continued to learn.

Although sober and immensely proud of that achievement, I accepted that I was never to be without some anxiety. When those attacks would begin, I meditated, prayed and practice self-soothing techniques. All were tremendously helpful.

Twenty years later, I confided to a therapist the details of my childhood trauma. Feeling as if I were experiencing an out of body sensation and overcome with terror, I pushed forward and spoke of that day. My journey had finally begun and I walked that pathway with trepidation. Gradually, I put the many pieces of that large puzzle together. I found some solace and some serenity.

Today, I guide alcoholics toward the wonders of sobriety and I feel compassionate to all. I lead groups at a women’s shelter and I tell my story to interested audiences. I feel as if I am whole and as if I am worthy. I state again and again;

“You’re only as sick as your secrets.”


This article originally appeared on Women Make Waves

Katie Hiener

Kathleen Gemmell has a passion for the written word and spends her time penning in a myriad of genres. An animal rights proponent, life coach and psychology buff, Kathy dreams of winning the lottery and running sanctuaries for abused/retired circus animals. Pen and paper at the ready, Kathy will create prose on that experience. ("I can dream!") In the meantime, Ms.Gemmell is a Connecticut resident who loves being a mom and a dear friend to many. Currently writing for 3 online sites, Kathy has an awesome sense of humor and the ability to tell it like it is.

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