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Holiday In Rehab

By Edited Apr 8, 2016 6 24

My name is Vic Dillinger . . .

. . . . and I'm an alcoholic

There are many not so good places to be during a major holiday: a Turkish prison, having dinner with the George W. Bush Fambly o' Idiots. 

But for a whole new perspective on life and what it means to be alive, spend Christmas in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. 

Portrait of a Young Squid
I come from a long line of practicing alcoholics. 

Baby Vic Dillinger
They practiced and practiced, but never could quite seem to get it right.  Their incessant practicing led to death – both of my grandfathers died of cirrhosis and other alcohol related complications, and the senior Dillinger drank himself to death by the time he was 57.

Recent science has determined there is a genetic pre-disposition (not a certainty but a pre-disposition) for children of alcoholics to become rummies themselves. 

Thus, I took up the mantle of practicing my alcoholism at an early age.  And much like my predecessors, I failed as well. 

Vic Dillinger (age 1)
My dad was a stinking drunk.  He was an abusive and violent sack of garbage.  When he died I did not attend his funeral – I did not love him, like him, or respect him.  

I learned from him, though – I learned to do exactly the opposite of what he did with his life.  As a result I was fairly successful at an early age, and found work rewarding both financially and mentally (as long as I was doing something I loved).  He, on the other hand, had dropped out of the work force by the age of 32 to devote all his time to being a booze hound.  I swore I’d never be that guy.

But in the end, I became that guy. 

Alcohol and I have a genuine love affair that transcends time and space.  It has always delivered on its promise (unlike other illicit substances I have ingested that merely wasted my time – fortunately, I wasn't paying for the crap). Booze, however, never failed me. 

Vic Dillinger (hippie days, age 4)
That love of the stuff came early.  The old man, using us children as slave labor, often had us fetch brews for him (he drank beer mostly; but then, like me, he switched to the harder stuff later – more bang for the buck.  Beer is for wussies).  On the trip from the refrigerator to the living room I would take a swig or two from the beer bottle (age roughly 5).  He didn’t think anything of it, so there’s your parenting.

I ranted against both parents for smoking cigarettes (which I do now), but particularly howled about my dad’s drinking up the household money.  Too many times I’d awaken in winter to find our gas had been cut off for non-payment or the electricity was off or the phone was out. 

Freezing was one thing, but there were too damn many times there was no food, either.  I remember one fine week where we ate nothing but boiled barley (from a box) because that’s all that was in the house.

My idiot mother kept leaving the guy and going back, and she finally got up the stones to leave for good.  I was about 12 when this happened.  Long story short, I smoked a little weed as a young teen, but really liked the booze, drinking off and on throughout high school, and getting an alcohol-related misdemeanor conviction (before the age of 18).

Vic Dillinger (play the bass, 1983)

Despite being an alcoholic, I have the good fortune of having a genius IQ.  This meant I was a straight-A student who took advance-level college-prep courses and was able to skate through high school, work a job in a funeral home, and qualify for a serious boatload of scholarships, all while being drunk half the time.  I also tested out of my freshman year of college, so when I walked in the door of my university, I started as a sophomore.  It was the effortlessness of this life that led me to believe, falsely, that I (unlike my dad) had a handle on the sauce.

Vic Dillinger: P.I. (1989)
College for me is what it was for many – studying, classes, women, booze, parties, more women, and more classes.  Like most college people, I drank cheap beer (we couldn’t afford much more than that).  I didn’t drink all the time in college, and I generally had a take-it-or-leave-it attitude during that period.  If it was around, great, if not I didn’t fall all over myself to get it.  I racked up an overnight stay in a crossbar hotel in another state (alcohol-related) but mostly I kept my nose clean.  I graduated with a degree (majored in mathematics, minored in physics), joined the working world, had a few more women cross the bed sheets, and finally got married at 29. 

By this time I had already switched from beer to rum as a beverage of choice, then settled on gin with tonic as my favorite potable.  My wife and I both had jobs, no kids, and a freedom to do as we pleased.  I’d come home from work, my wife and I would cook together, we’d eat, and I'd have a few drinks.  Sometimes we'd go out at nights.  Sometimes I got drunk, sometimes I didn’t. 
Vic Dillinger: P.I. (San Antonio, TX, 1994)

Later on, after divorcing that woman, moving to a new city, and sharing my boudoir with a few more babes, I got married again.  I was riding pretty high at that point, making excellent money, had a house built, bought another one as a back-up in another state.

My newer wife didn’t care for drinking (her dad drowned when she was five while he was loaded).  So, there was no booze in the house, and I didn’t really miss it so much.  Sure, I drank on company outings or whatever (vendors take you out for the wine-and-dine), and yeah, sometimes I’d come home loaded and she’d nag, but no big deal.

[An interesting side note: despite my lack of judgment I have just been plain lucky.  I never got any kind of STD and never got any woman pregnant.  My "No Fatties" rule is apparently so deeply ingrained that it has kept me from waking up with two tons of fun after a night of drunken sex.  Similarly, I have never blearily awakened next to a coyote-ugly woman, either.]

I never missed work.  That was the one point of principle I stood firmly on – my dad didn’t work, but dammit, I sure as hell was going to.  If I was feeling crummy from too much bingeing or seriously hungover, it didn’t matter.  I went to work.

Most importantly: I am eternally grateful I never injured or killed anyone during any of the times I was driving drunk.

The Dark & Downward Spiral
Mental illness in any of its many forms can strike at any time.  It also still carries a stigma for the sufferer and his or her family members.

Vic Dillinger (1997)

For me, everything fell apart seemingly all at once.  In late 2003 I started feeling listless, unfocused, and lethargic.  My joie de vivre took a hike; if it weren’t for the fact I had a job that both paid me well and for which I was responsible for others I wouldn’t have bothered getting out of bed.  In fact, many weekends I did not.  I didn’t know what was wrong.

On a business trip to Florida in late 2004 I discovered something wasn't right, however.  It was twilight on the East Coast; I was standing on shore facing the Atlantic Ocean, and all of a sudden I was overwhelmed by a complete and inconceivably crushing sense of loneliness and despair.  I have never been lonely in my life – I had been alone from time to time, but never lonely (I don’t really like the company of other humans, except women, and generally only then if I’m sleeping with them or have already had sex with them).

So, I went home and didn’t say anything to my wife about that weird despondency that had overcome me.  A woman I worked with, however, was on psych meds for various reasons, so I went to her and described what happened.  She told me I was depressed. I lost it – I had no respect for depression.  I didn’t get it, and I thought anybody who whined around and complained about being depressed was a weenie and just needed to snap out of it. 

The thing is, though, you don’t snap out of it.  I flatly refused to see a doctor. Finally, my wife convinced me to see one.  After telling him what was going on, he said it sounded like chronic depression.  He prescribed Zoloft.  I took it for two months, but still had all the same problems as before (suicidal, loss of appetite, couldn't sleep or sleeping too much and worst of all my sex drive was down the dumper).  I was sure I could beat this thing by myself.  So, when the Zoloft ran out, I switched to vodka.

Skipping ahead to 2008 I was divorced by then, living alone in my rather large home (just me and a pet bunny), and I was going nowhere.  I was still depressed, not medicated, working a crummy job with no relief in sight (recession was in full swing, and although it had never taken me more than a couple of weeks to find decent employment before, somehow, nothing was happening economically). 
Vic Dillinger (Dec 2009)

I drank over a liter of vodka a day, straight from the bottle, no chaser.  It went down like water.  I knew this was not good.  Yet, when I tried to stop drinking, I'd end up shaking so badly I couldn't even hold a pen steady enough to write my name.  I could not carry a full glass of water without slopping it all over the place.  So, I'd go back to the vodka.  Now I was at the point, the really bad point, where I no longer wanted to drink but I had to just to function.  In early January 2009, I went four days without eating, and just stayed in my house smoking cigarettes, drinking vodka, and drinking water (when I remembered).  I ended up in the hospital for several days.  I didn't care.  I got dosed up with Valium, and got released.  Knowing I couldn't afford my house, I called my bank, told them to take it, and moved away. I racked up more DUIs, spent more time in jail, and was going downhill fast.  Yet, I would not ask for help either with the depression or the alcoholism.  [And I knew I was an alcoholic.  I'd even tell people that.  Most alkies deny there's anything wrong; I never did.]

Early November 2010 I was driving from another state, drunk.  Roughly 2 AM about a mile from where I was staying, the front end of the vehicle I was driving collapsed.  The friction at that speed caused the tires to catch afire.  I pulled off the road, got out, saw the fire, and decided this was the best way to go out, in a blaze.  I hated being alive.  I got back into the burning vehicle, locked the doors, and waited to die.

Unfortunately, some do-gooder called an ambulance and the police.  I didn't get to burn to death.  In fact I was completely unscathed.  I went to jail, but because of the circumstances (I told them I had willfully got back into the burning wreck) I was packed off to a nuthouse for a few days for observation.  That was great.  Pumped full of Valium, got weaned off the booze a little, got to sleep and eat well, no stress. But, alas, all good things come to an end, and I was transported back to jail when it became clear I was not going kill myself. 

After this latest court trial, I realized this was enough.  I now had six DUIs under my belt (along with some other offenses) and had been in and out of jails in several states from 1982 to 2010, and it was time to quit.  I found out when I was in the loony bin that the same institution had a residential rehab program.  I figured it couldn't hurt.  Meanwhile, I also went to a doctor who prescribed Prozac.  So, I started taking Prozac for the depression, and prepped myself for 30 days of residential rehab.

Rehab Ain't NASCAR
The program I entered may differ in the minor details from what is offered elsewhere, but they all fundamentally do the same thing. 

I didn't know what to expect when I arrived.  We could not smoke (as the facility was owned and operated by the State, and there is no smoking on state property).  We were not allowed cell phones – I didn't care about that as I hate the phone and rarely talk on it anyway. 

Straightaway, though, I got into an argument with the admitting administrator during the intake interview.  It was a philosophical one: she asked if I believed alcoholism was a disease, and I truthfully replied, "No."  Apparently, that wasn't the correct answer.  These days, alcoholism is classified as a disease – I don't see how that can be.  It didn't happen to me for no reason, and I was not coerced into being a drunk.  So, we went around about that.  I hate the "disease" concept of alcoholism – it tends to absolve the individual of responsibility for his/her behavior.  I will never embrace that theory – people with cancer have a disease; drunks choose to drink.

The thing that surprised me mostly, however, was the fact you were pretty much left to your own devices with respect to your treatment program, and you were an active participant in outlining treatment goals.  I always imagined rehab as being the sort of thing you walk in and a team of specialists swarm all over you like a NASCAR pit crew and fix you up.  Rehab ain't NASCAR.  In fact you as an individual are heavily invested in your recovery.  The counselors, psychiatric personnel, etc., on hand are there to evaluate and guide you, but it is up to you to make it work or not. 

I was assigned a "buddy" (you can only imagine how loathsome I found this).  I had to stick with that guy for three days (he was a drunk like me who had gotten there the week before). He showed me around, where the coffee was, where I would sleep, that sort of orientation thing.

I was assigned a counselor (himself a former alkie who then took up social work, got a degree, and worked in that place). Most of the counselors and case workers (not all) were former drunks, or dopers, or some form of addict (one woman bravely reported she had been a sex addict.  I thought that was heroic of her.  And she had been a real sex addict, too, and not one of those guys who claims to be one because he got caught with his pants down. She had the low self-esteem, and all the self doubts that go along with a true female sex addict).

This particular program (as I believe almost all of them are) was based on the most widely known 12-step program of all time, Alcoholics Anonymous.  Because there were dopers on hand the Narcotics Anonymous program was used as well.  I didn't care for AA as it is way too touchy-feely.  Also, they have that whole "embrace a Higher Power" concept I absolutely cannot get my head around.

However, the good thing about AA was the group dynamic.  I have never been a fan of working in a group or with a group on anything.  Groups working on a task are never as creative as their most creative member.  So, I hate groups.  However, I liked this one – it was one of the rare times in life where I never had to explain myself to anybody.  They were all in the same boat, all addicted to one thing or another (smack, crack, meth, whatever). AA is a method with a proven track record of success.  But frankly, it wasn't for me wholeheartedly, although I did gain some insight from it.

Rehab is not a competition.  I would hear some guy say he'd downed a half-pint of peppermint schnapps the morning he got arrested for DUI, and I would think to myself, "What a lightweight" (only in slightly different words – you probably can guess).  Some kid said he drank two beers and wrecked his motorcycle: my thought was "Girlie man-boy!" (in different words – you can probably guess this one, too).

Then I realized that it wasn't about who was the most hard-core (the junkies and meth heads – with their needles, meth pipes, and jack-o-lantern smiles – made me look like a wuss comparatively speaking).  It was about that person's reaction to his or her substance of addiction, and what it did to him or her.

It was an interesting demographic in rehab as well.  Addiction apparently has no favorites.  Although I was one of the few college graduates I was fortunately not unique.  The social strata was well-represented, but I did notice one thing.  Regardless of whether the addict was male or female, the drunks were smarter and older than everybody else there.  The junkies were smarter than the meth heads.  The meth people and crack users were the stupidest bunch I'd ever met, not because of their meth and crack use but because they were just plain stupid.

I surprised myself by beginning to care about the recovery of some of the other addicts. Some of the people there were in the program by court order (I was one of only two there voluntarily).  Anyone was free to leave at any time (sacrificing his/her certificate of completion if aborted).  The guy I first had to "buddy" with started losing it the second week (wanting a drink), and he packed his stuff to leave.  I can proudly say I had a hand in talking him into toughing it out (he only had a couple of weeks left).

Also, they could throw you out for rules violations.  So, discipline for some was a problem. They separated the men from the women for sleeping and interactions.  We only got around our female counterparts in group discussions – in the past they'd had some sexual misconduct among the inmates, so it was better and less disruptive to keep us apart.  Get caught messing with the femmes, and you were outta there.

My tongue was hanging out for a cigarette by Day 3.  One of the junkies had sneaked in a pack of smokes at some point, and he and two other guys would smoke in the shower stalls.  For me, this bromantic activity of sharing coffin nails in the men's shower just wasn't gonna happen, no matter how badly I wanted that cig. It also wasn't worth risking ejection. And both men and women were thrown out after being caught smoking or taking other drugs (that visitors smuggled in for them).

One of the truly important things this facility did was bring in a nutritionist to speak about proper diet. Most of the inmates (male and female) were obviously malnourished upon arrival.  Meals were all state regulated for content, and they had fresh fruit available at all times, something most of these people never bothered with until they got into rehab. Many of the young women there were stick-figures, smoking meth or crack and not eating. Several of the meth chicks would have been very babe-a-licious with a few pounds thrown on them.  It pleased me to no end when I got ready to leave that one girl had put on some much-needed and healthy weight while she was there.

Finally, the younger people there provided moments of amusement via their inability to function as fully formed humanoids.  I had the supreme joy of teaching an 18-year-old kid how to use a coin-operated washing machine.  I taught another guy how to think critically about what he was hearing daily in sessions, since he was the kind to believe almost anything (Bigfoot is real, Elvis is alive, that sort of thing).  I had to explain to a third guy there is no such thing as white supremacy and that he was an idiot.   

The Black Orchid" (cover art 2011)

Christmas in Rehab
This particular program in 2010 experimented with letting the inmates out, released into the care of their wives or husbands or families, for a couple of days at Christmas.  It meant you had to tack on an extra two days to your rehab stay.  Most people wanted to go, but not me.  I didn't have anywhere I wanted to be.  I was perfectly happy to spend my Christmas in rehab. I thought I was making some progress, and I didn't want the distraction (considering the shaking had stopped a couple of weeks before – finally!!).  Nope, I was all happy to spend that holiday in rehab reading a book, and going over some of my class notes.  I took a nap, watched a movie on the tube, and me and another guy sat around shuckin' the jive for an hour or so.

Within recent memory it was the least stressful and most enjoyable Christmas I'd ever had.  I was getting re-acquainted with my brain, the Prozac had taken away constant longing for death, and I was on the road to recovery. It was a time for some serious introspection, and I realized maybe there was something left worth living for after all. 

For alkies there is no "recovered" only "recovering" in the AA terminology.  Since getting out of rehab on New Year's Eve day 2010, I have not been to an AA meeting.  I am not one of those guys who counts his days of "sobriety", either.  The only reason I can remember the date I last had a drink is it also coincides with the date I last went to jail.  If not for that, I couldn't tell you when I last drank booze.  As far as the sauce goes, as a free man in a free society I can take it or leave it.  I choose to leave it.  I don't miss it.

My holiday in rehab saved my life.  I haven't had a drink since November 7, 2010. 

My name is Vic Dillinger, and I am an alcoholic.


Author’s Update: In the spirit of transparency and honesty I need to report that my sobriety, as noted above, came to an end in 2013.  I started hitting the sauce again pretty hard, only this time I became one of those “black-out” drunks, the kind who can’t remember what they did when loaded.  I also became violent—I used to be a “fun” drunk but turned into a mean one, just like dear ol’ Dad.

So, late last year, with much at stake and sick of being a rummy, I made the decision to join (and embrace) Alcoholics Anonymous and its lifestyle philosophy.  Interestingly enough, I find that it is working.  I haven’t had a drink since December 14, 2015, and I don’t think about booze at all except when doing something like this.  And it has paved the way for me to go on and function more productively.

Thus, I’ll end with “My name is Vic Dillinger, and I’m still an alcoholic”.

From my "been there, done that" favorite author

Ham on Rye: A Novel
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(price as of Mar 3, 2016)

And another great "sounded good at the time" moment

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
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(price as of Mar 3, 2016)

written by me (has nothing to do with rehab)

Trucker Man
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(price as of Mar 3, 2016)


Dec 6, 2011 11:41am
Wow Vic, you are one brave soul to bare it like this. Very, very well written and I especially like that you made the program work for you, by focusing on the parts of it that DID work for you, instead of shucking it all in.

I think this could be really helpful for others going through similar situations. Wonder if there's any way to promote it to 12 steppers?

You are, truly, one lucky dude. Kudos to you, my friend!
Dec 6, 2011 12:03pm
This ain't even the half of it, but I figure if just one person can recognize himself or herself in this portrait then I've done something worthwhile. I turn the glaring and harsh spotlight of truth on everything, including myself.

Thanks for reading, but that little shield with the "X" on it at the top of the article may mean this piece will get rejected if not already rejected (I don't know what that means, exactly...)
Dec 6, 2011 12:50pm
an incredibly compelling read, vic, and not just because it's your story but because it's good writing. what is that shield/red X thingy? i will let me click on it but i'm too afraid to do it for fear this article will go away.

just one thing--please tell me the rampant misogyny in the first part of this piece was a symptom of your alcoholic non-disease? please? and that you don't objectify women anymore--well, maybe besides the ones who objectify themselves, like paris hilton or the like.
Dec 6, 2011 1:03pm
I hate Paris Hilton (I forgot to add). Also, I clicked on the "X" thing myself and nothing happened -- maybe it sends up a flag to admin or something. Who knows?
Dec 6, 2011 12:59pm
I am not a misogynist. It may sound that way, but I am not (the women who do know me well out here in real life know this to be true). I am a loner, and do not generally enjoy the company of others at all. I was trying to make a point about how indiscriminate one can be under the influence, that's all.

Thanks for reading and thanks for asking questions. The "X" thing up there probably means this piece will have to be either severely edited or deleted (I don't know yet).
Dec 6, 2011 2:08pm
I read this piece last night and could not stop thinking about it. So glad you are still here to share and write about your experience. You will surely help someone else who is going through this or a family member who is ignorant of what one of their relatives might be experiencing. Kudos to you!
Dec 6, 2011 2:12pm
Thanks -- unfortunately, most people with depression or other issues don't take the initiative on their own, so I'm hoping maybe this could spur someone on the edge of a meltdown to go get help.
Dec 7, 2011 2:31am
Is the shield thingy because the article is for charity?
Dec 7, 2011 11:13am
Nah. I did some digging -- it's also on my first Clara Bow article ("The Brooklyn Bonfire"). Maybe words like "bonfire" and "rehab" are flags or something. I'm not gonna worry about it.
Dec 7, 2011 3:33pm
Very good writing here this will help people who have had similar experiences. Thanks for sharing this. I am glad you are doing better in your life.
Dec 7, 2011 5:07pm
Thanks for checking it out.
Dec 7, 2011 5:07pm
This comment has been deleted.
Dec 7, 2011 11:38pm
Gee whizz , you sure have done it tough. But you have shown that no matter what has happened you have come through. This should definitely help others and give them hope to battle through too.
Dec 8, 2011 6:23am
Thanks -- I can only hope somebody might follow suit.
Feb 1, 2012 3:32am
I come from a family of heavy, heavy drinkers, although in Scotland that's somewhat the norm. There have also been a few suicide attempts in my recent family tree, which hints at something more serious. I love to drink, but have always been able to keep it in check; depression, not so much. Lexapro, and my kids, saved my life basically, and it's a good thing I stuck around or I would have never met the woman who makes my life worth living every day....thanks for sharing your story.
Feb 1, 2012 3:43am
I thought long and hard about doing this, but the things you noted made it completely worthwhile. Depression, I know too well, and Prozac does it for me.
Feb 1, 2012 8:52am
The "Miami Vice" suit and shades look was awesome. It's weird to be able to put a face to you. You look nothing like I imagined.

By the way, thanks for writing this. It's jarringly honest, and a good read to boot.
Feb 2, 2012 2:01am
Yeah, I'm a goofy lookin' SOB alright, and I debated on the pics, but I figured "in for a peny, in for a pound" (although I may ACT like a cartoon, I guess it's helpful for people to see I'm actually a cyborg!).

Sometimes you just gotta do what you think is right, and I thought just maybe someone might follow suit (I've gotten some feedback from people who have expressed their own battles, and that's a good first step). Thanks for reading.
Feb 10, 2012 8:22am
This article is re-donkey-lous. In a very, VERY good way though. I am definitely one of those people who is taking heed in your advice, because you seem to have a similar attitude as I do (or, you used to anyway).

Much like inkedwriter, I love drinking, but I definitely have it in check (my severe hypoglycemia kinda prevents me from being too drunk, or drunk too much). But I don't know about my depression problems. I feel like I have it in check, but I am completely aware that it's normal to think you have depression in check. I've been completely aware of my depression problems for about 10 years now, and I've read up on it online too many times to count over the years.

I usually try to go natural before resorting to medication for ANYTHING. However, reading stories like this make it easier for me to understand that pills really do help with this kind of stuff. I'm still going to wait a little longer, for other reasons, but you definitely made me a lot less reluctant about it. Thanks for the excellent read and inspiration!
Feb 11, 2012 1:12am
The best thing to do, my friend, is go see a doc -- do not be worried about the meds. He or she will find what works, but you absolutely must give it several weeks to build up in your bloodstream. Prozac in its generic form is fluoxetine -- it's on Wal-Mart’s world famous $4 prescription list!

Seriously, if you do nothing else just go talk to somebody. I thought I could handle my crap alone -- it turns out, I was wrong.
Feb 10, 2012 8:25am
By the way, I have never seen that "X" before until now. I checked the web address for it and it is http://www.infobarrel.com/images/document-delete.png. Document delete? Neva hoid of it.
Feb 11, 2012 12:32am
It comes when you delete a pic -- I had an image that for space limitations I deleted from media before publishing.
Mar 11, 2014 7:22pm
Dear Vic,
I was looking for your vitrectomy article and found this one first - I hung on every word. I don't think you realize how personable (and kind) you are. I am so glad that you found something to live for - new wife, new bunny (now I know where Mr. Snuffles came from). Your writing is incredibly engaging, honest, and inspiring.
It's a pleasure to know you online sir.
Mar 12, 2014 7:26am
I have all kinds of things to live for NOW--that was just a really bad time a few years ago. Rehab can work--it may have a lotta negative connotations associated with it, but it can work, so if you know anybody like this help him/her if you can. Thanks for reading.
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  1. Vic Dillinger ""As I Lay Living..."." infobarrel.com. 28/4/2011. 5/12/2011 <Web >

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