According to a study conducted by the University of Colorado, the state ranks fifth nationally for alcohol abuse and dependence. According to the study, 1 in 10 Colorodans are addicted to or abuse drugs and alcohol, while a staggering 3 out of ten are in need of mental health or substance abuse treatment. The state is also the second worst in the nation for pain pill abuse, according to the Denver Post.
On the night of April 22nd, I realized why. Enter Denver CARES. Or, as the regulars like to call it…Denver SCARES. This place is truly a nightmare. It totes itself as a detox, but it is NOT; not in any sense of the word. Somewhere between a homeless shelter and a jail, the Facility, as I’ll call it, is a 100 bed auditorium, with prison-like communal showers, where the lights never go out, the phone never stops ringing, and addicts and alcoholics are herded like cattle in and out of it’s doors every 24 hours. There are no doctors, no psychiatrists, no medications, and certainly no smoking…under any circumstances. You don’t even get a pillow; all you get is a bug-infested blanket, a bed made of some kind of impurity-loaded, cheap plastic, and a nightmarishly, cold-turkey detox, with all the shaking, sweating, nausea, hallucinating, and sometimes seizing that comes from severe alcohol withdrawal. To get discharged, all you have to do is blow triple zeros into the breathalyzer, which I’m not quite sure is even sterilized between patient to patient, or rather I should say…inmate to inmate. But once you blow those three magic goose eggs, you’re let out or kicked out, more accurately. Ahhhhh. Freedom! Sweet, sweet freedom!
Now, for most of the guys in there, discharge is a good thing. It means no more shitty food, no more annoying nurses checking your blood pressure every 5 minutes, no more bed bugs, no more rules…basically no more imprisonment. However, for someone like me, who actually wants—no scratch that—who actually needs to get sober, discharge isn’t a ticket to freedom it’s a one-way ticket to a sad, lonely alcoholic death. Like “Brooks” in The Shawshank Redemption who hung himself because he couldn’t make it on the “outside” I too can’t make it on the outside…at least not until I’m medically detox’d…medically being the key word here. Anyone who knows anything about alcohol withdrawal understands that simply blowing zeros isn’t the end of the torture…it’s the beginning. I’ve been at this long enough to know what I need, and it ain’t no 24 hour white-knuckle, tossing and turning in a bug infested, plastic bed; it’s a 5-7 day, medically-assisted, benzo-administered detox, with all the proper diet, sleep, and vitamins to go along with it. Oh, and a psychiatrist who could approve my regularly prescribed medications (in this case, anti-depressants) would be nice too. No need to go through those withdrawals in addition to the alcohol withdrawals. This is pretty much the standard for any detox…at least in the states I’ve been treated: California, Pennsylvania, South Carolina…even Texas. Yes, Texas. Who would’ve thought Colorado would have worse detox facilities than Texas? Of course, when I tried to explain this to the discharge counselor, she simply smirked and handed me a list of all the local homeless shelters in the area, wished me luck, and sent me on my way.
Where do you think an alcoholic, who was blowing in the 400’s only a day earlier then kicked cold turkey is going to go once you send him out into the cold, bleary, ice-slick streets of downtown Denver. I know where I went. Straight to the liquor store. Why? Because it sure as hell beats having a seizure on the sidewalk, in the middle of the 16th street Mall. That’s for sure.
You want to know what the nurse, if that’s what you can call her, asked me when I went up to her station to ask for one of those yellow buckets in which to puke? She said: “Why you shakin’? You cold or sumpin’?”
I WAS. ENRAGED. I said, “Let me ask you sumpin’ miss nurse, if that’s what you really are. You work at a so-called “detox” right? And you don’t know what alcohol withdrawal is? Just how fucking stupid are you?”
At this point she reached for the phone and called security. “Staff to the men’s dormitory,” rang over the intercom. About 10 seconds later two rather large men dressed in blue uniforms with white latex gloves, and set of dungeon-like key rings dangling from their tool belts appeared ominously in the doorway, as if they’d been conjured from thin air. They grabbed me by both arms, their sausage-sized fingers coiling like ball pythons around my biceps. (I still have the bruises). They then proceeded to drag me down the hallway, kicking and screaming like a little girl, and tossed me like a rag doll into…THE QUIET ROOM.
Now, for those of you not familiar with THE QUIET ROOM, it’s basically the psych ward’s version of “the hole”, but with a few exceptions: they never turn the lights out, so don’t even dream of being able to sleep in there, and there’s no little slot that opens up where a bowl of gruel comes sliding in. It’s a 4’ x 6’ (I’m 6’-1” so I was definitely in the fetal position) windowless, concrete-floored holding cell with a small, child-sized plastic mat, which if you lay on it just right you don’t have to get any appendages on the urine, sweat, and sometimes blood-soaked floor left by the dozen or so inmates in there previously. It’s not a place you want to be. I only had to endure it for about 6 hours, but I’ve heard some people were left in there for 24, which I can’t imagine. It’s hell. Not as worse as Shawshank, but still pretty shitty. I was thankful to get out and back into general population; back on my bug-infested, plastic mat, with the sweat-soaked blanket and no pillow listening to the sweet symphony of 100 drunks snoring like a collective freight train charging through my inner ear drum.
But, that feeling of thankfulness inevitably where’d off and within a few hours of tossing and turning under the bright, fluorescent lights, I began wishing I was back at home in my girlfriend’s bed, her warm body rising and falling next to mine, her sweet, Awapuhi-scented hair floating like pixy dust into the air, casting me into a deep and peaceful sleep. But, to no avail. I was stuck; stuck with the rest of these poor, degenerate bastards in a system that has all but given up on us and considers us dirt to be swept under the rug and hidden away from the good, “home-owning” citizens of Denver county. But, unfortunately, as the dirt piles, it becomes so overwhelming that the rug can’t hold it, and “the powers that be” have no choice but to sweep some of the dirt back into the city.
It’s no wonder there are so many homeless alcoholics and addicts in Denver. There’s simply no treatment. The same guys—the “frequent fliers”, as the staff of The Facility affectionately likes to call them—come in and out as if they were on some kind of drunken carousel. According to an article written more than a decade ago in the local Denver magazine, Westword, some guys have been to The Facility nearly 100 times! The staff knows them by name for Christ’s sake! They laugh and joke with them as if they’re at a cocktail party. They then go on to say that “once the regulars stop coming in, it usually means they’re dead.” WTF? Where’s the alarm? Where’s the red flag? Where’s the bell? Shouldn’t this be an indication that something is wrong? The system is broken. Either shut it down or fix it.You’d think with all the additional state tax revenue being generated by the legalization of marijuana we could appropriate some of those funds to the restructuring of this terribly run facility.
As I read the Westword article, I couldn’t believe that so little has changed since its publication nearly 13 years ago! The unsanitary conditions, the non-medication assisted protocol, the lack of medical doctors and psychiatrists who can diagnose mental illness and prescribe medication possibly saving an addict’s life…it’s all still the same! Look, these people aren’t hopeless. They’re ill. According to the University of Colorado study I cited above, 60% of all addicts suffer from some kind of mental illness: depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar…whatever it is, you name it, we’ve got it. Addiction and mental illness go hand in hand, like peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, Simon and Garfunkle! What we need isn’t another detox/homeless shelter/jail. What we need is a dual diagnosis facility that can give these people the care they deserve without the requirement of a $15,000 down payment. “Well, who’s going to pay for all of this?” you’re probably asking yourself. Well, you are, the taxpayer. If you truly don’t like looking at these people, if they disgust you so much, then do something about it. With the proper psychiatric treatment these people can and will recover. How do I know? Because I did it myself 6 years ago in Texas. Hell, I’m doing it again, right here in Denver, no thanks to Denver CARES mind you.
You see, after I got out of The Facility I did a little research and found out that even if you call 911 in the comfort of your home and tell them you have alcohol poisoning, or some other kind of drug-related malady, there’s a pretty good chance you’re getting picked up in the patty wagon and dropped off at Denver CARES. However, if you call a private ambulance company to come pick you up, you can pretty much name the hospital you want to go to. And it will be a real ambulance with a gurney, IV, and paramedics who know what their doing. Not the Denver CARES garbage truck, which seems to resemble more of a dog catcher’s van than an actual ambulance. Or better yet, have a friend or a loved one take you to St. Joseph’s downtown Denver or Parker Adventist in Parker. These are what I call “addict-friendly” hospitals that, if you’re serious about getting sober, have the medical professionals on their staff (MD’s, psychiatrists, social workers) who will help you get the care you deserve. Avoid Denver Health. They’ll just send you across the street to Denver “WHO CARES?”
Now, there are actually real “medical detoxes” in the area. Cedar Springs, Centennial Pines, to name a few. However, the problem you will run into, as I did, is they are quite pricey. Cedar Springs, for example, requires $3,600 down payment, and runs around $2,500 per day. Yikes! Who can afford that in today’s economy? Not me. That left me with only one option: get drunk as shit and fake being suicidal. The key phrase is: “I’m a threat to myself and others.” If you say this at the ER, you’re in like flynn. My girlfriend was nice enough to drive me out to Parker Adventist, where upon entering the ER, I flopped down on the floor like a fish, pretending to have fainted. I was immediately placed on a gurney and whisked away into my own private Sanctuary. When the doctor came in I told him, “I had thoughts of hurting myself.” They put me on a psychiatric hold whereby I got my own personal psychiatrist and social worker, who worked tirelessly to ensure I would get into a certified, medical detox, and not just a homeless shelter. Yes, it’s devious. But, it works and if you want to get sober in Colorado, you have to discontinue honesty and use all your acting abilities to get the treatment you deserve. Otherwise, you’ll end up in Denver SCARES or worse…Arapohoe House. But don’t get me started on Arapahoe house. That’s for anther article…