When Debbie Hampton took the mix of wine and drugs that nearly killed her, she didn’t ever want to wake up. After years of wrong turns, and facing the end of an acrimonious marriage, she was desperate for the disappointments of life to end. But Debbie did wake up. Strapped to a hospital bed, she was critically ill, but alive. Debbie had ingested over 90 pills, including ten different prescription drugs – causing massive, lasting damage to her brain and body. Debbie had to re-learn how to eat, how to speak, and how to fit back into society.
Separated from her two young children, Debbie’s problems were only just beginning. Faced with a long and arduous custody battle, she had to discover a new way of living.
In this book, Debbie tells the heartbreaking story of how life wore her down, but how, through her own resolve, courage and commitment, she forged a new life for herself. The lessons she has learned in life will be an inspiration to everyone.
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Still Alive, Dammit!
I woke up in a hospital bed. My arms and legs, secured with cloth restraints to the bedrails, could only move about a foot in any direction before they snapped back like an overstretched rubber band. Tied down like an animal. Normally, being treated this way would make me cussing mad, but, at the time, I didn't have the energy or clarity of mind to even care.
A bored-looking male orderly in aqua blue scrubs sat to the right of the bed in what must have been a very uncomfortable chair.
Machines in the room blipped, whirred, and hummed, like the "Oompa Loompa" song in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; however, there were no dancing munchkins to be seen anywhere.
It was the middle of June 2007, but I didn't know this. Like a foggy dream, some distant notions of the past and future existed in my mind, but had no bearing on my present world. All that I knew was the right here and right now.
Surprisingly, I wasn't experiencing any angst due to my condition and the circumstances. Usually, I'd be freaking out about now, but because my mind had no concept of normal for comparison, the situation didn't bother me. All I could do was subsist on a physical level in the present moment, a challenging task requiring every bit of my energy. Breathe. Sleep. Wake up. Back to sleep.
In an attempt to end it all, a kaleidoscope of pills had slid down my throat seven days earlier. I was gradually emerging from the coma that I'd been in for the past week. But the attractive 43-year-old woman, who on the outside seemed to have everything going for her, but felt empty and inadequate on the inside, remained locked in the darkness along with the details of the life she had known. In my injured mind, the troublesome ex-husband, the on-again-off-again boyfriend, and the terrified mess of a woman, and poor excuse for a mother that I'd become, ceased to exist.
Mentally, I was barely there, maybe a 20 on a scale of zero to 100, if even that. Before learning that it was gasp-worthy politically incorrect, I used to tell people that I was retarded. The closest thing I can compare my state of mind to was being shit-faced, out-of-your-mind bombed when it's way past the point of being anything close to fun anymore. Stumbling around, room spinning, can't think or function, drunk. But in this case, there was no sobering up in a couple of hours.
Whenever I'd been under the influence in the past, there was still some rational part of me that would pop up intermittently, watching the bombed me like a responsible parent making "tsk" noises and shaking her head disapprovingly. This clear-headed persona never really controlled my decision-making or behavior – unfortunately because she could have saved me from plenty of bad decisions – but she was always there, lurking and judging in the background. This time was different. The higher me had defected and was nowhere to be found.
Within a few days, the panicky, "Oh shit, shit, shit ... how am I ever going to begin to fix this mess?" thoughts began to surface as I came more into consciousness. I started to become cognizant of the fact that I needed to perform for all the people poking me and asking questions.
"What's this?" asked a fleshy-faced older man in a white coat, holding an object right in front of my face.
"Follow the pen with only your eyes," he said, bringing it to my nose, making me go cross-eyed, moving it away and then to the right and left. He used the pen to scribble on the chart and continued with his exam. It seemed like a fun little game to me.
As the mental fog continued to lift, I became increasingly aware of the seriousness of my situation. Without having a clear idea of how much of my messed up mental state was discernible to those around me, I attempted to do what damage control I could. Instinctively, I started to "play the game", like I had my entire life, which wasn't very good at this point. Like a child incapable of telling a convincing lie, my damaged brain couldn't spin information to put me in the best light, like I thought everyone wanted to hear, and to make what I had done seem not so heinous. For the first time in my life, I was blatantly honest because I couldn't be anything else.
My ego started to kick back in, and I began to feel embarrassed about how I must look in the ugly faded hospital gown with my shoulder-length hair, usually an auburn crown of curls and waves, now like me: limp and lifeless, and with no make-up. I usually never went anywhere without my face on, not even to bed if my boyfriend was sleeping over.
I couldn't focus on anything for more than a few seconds. It was as if someone had commandeered the remote control and was flipping through the channels inside my head. Before I could make sense of what was in front of me, like changing acts of a play, new props and characters would invade the scene I was looking at. A blurry haze of fragmented thoughts and disjointed images whizzed through my mind, and everyone and everything grabbed my attention and turned my head. My brain couldn't filter out extraneous information and stimuli nor prioritize what was incoming in any kind of sensible order.
I didn't automatically decipher what I was seeing or what was happening anymore. My brain knew a chair was a chair, a bed was a bed, and that kind of thing, but the process of visually taking in information and giving it contextual meaning eluded me. Understanding what I was seeing and hearing required making a conscious effort to try to assimilate, organize, and join the disparate parts. Most of the time, I simply couldn't piece together what I was looking at.
In addition to my broken brain, my mouth couldn't make comprehensible sounds to correspond with what I wanted to say. To my surprise, garbled noises and mutilated words spewed from my lips when I tried to speak. It sounded like my jaw was wired shut and my mouth crammed full of marbles. If you're old enough to remember Gilligan's Island, I sounded something like a drunk Thurston Howell. What came out was disturbingly slow, flat, and mangled, and didn't sound anything like the voice I heard in my head. The sluggishness of my speech was an indication of how quickly my brain was working: s-l-o-w. I couldn't control the volume of my voice, and I either spoke way too loud or in an inaudible whisper.
* * *
Most of my time in the hospital was spent sleeping, not only because I couldn't have stayed awake even if I had wanted to, but also because it was preferable to the reality that I was beginning to understand when I was awake. Sleep also made it easy for me to be a good patient and not rip out my IVs and explore the hospital. Like losing power during a thunderstorm, the lights would go out, and I would seamlessly slip in and out of consciousness whether I wanted to or not. I found comfort in the darkness and nothingness of sleep because while I was asleep, I didn't have to think, feel, or even exist.
Sleep was like the red, fuzzy blanket I kept folded up on the back of the couch. At any time, I could pull it over my head and disappear. In slumber, I could escape the consequences of my actions and the harshness of the real world, with its intrusive people, grating sounds, and head-hurting lights. Realizing what I had done made me cringe. It gave me that heavy feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach and made me want to turn away and cover my eyes, like I was watching a horror movie. Only, this wasn't a movie. This was my life.
In what seemed like forever, but was really only two weeks, that I spent lying there flat on my back, I can only remember one dream I had. In the dream, the sky was pitch black in the farthest corners behind the moon. The moonlight was so bright that the tall, scrawny, pine trees cast spooky shadows on the ground.
A single lane road ran through a group of buildings, looking like a hastily constructed military base – with identical, white aluminum buildings, arranged in symmetrical rows. Red dirt and patches of crab grass formed rectangles between the cement walkways connecting the buildings.
The trunk of a large pine tree stood so close to the building that wooden steps, like those leading to a child's tree house, had been nailed onto it.
Climbing the steps swiftly, I spotted a three-sided room, like a loft, with the open side towards me jutting up in the middle of the otherwise flat roof. Sitting in the loft drinking from little ceramic cups were my two older brothers, Chris and Ken. The white cups with no handles were the kind in which the warm Japanese wine, sake, is served. Maybe they were drinking sake. It wouldn't have been out of character for them.
I hugged both of my brothers tightly, inhaling their scents deeply. I've always been extremely sensitive to smells, especially people's signature, innate odor. Recognizing Chris and Ken on a primal level, I was comforted by the familiarity of their scents. The air was charged with a tingly yellow glow.
Ken looked as he had ten years ago in his mid-30s with his thick, brown hair in tousled waves falling just below his shoulders without any of the gray that's there now. A youthful, happy energy emanated from his face, and he smirked as if he had a juicy secret.
Chris, who had died 11 years earlier, appeared as he had in his late 20s. His small frame was defined and muscular just like he had liked it, and there was a devilish sparkle dancing in his eyes. His picture could have appeared beside the word "robust" in the dictionary. As he often did in life, he looked like he was ready to have a good time. The gaunt, haggard frame, resembling a skeleton, and flat, lifeless stare that haunted his sunken eyes during the latter part of his sickness were gone. The ashen, stubbly face with the protruding cheekbones that I'd become accustomed to at the end of his life had been replaced with his handsome, healthy pink, clean-shaven face.
As we caught up, little wrinkles formed at the corners of our eyes to make room for our smiles.
The reunion had the feeling of coming home on Thanksgiving Day, after a long absence, to the welcoming hugs of family and the smell of roasting turkey and baking pumpkin pie. Our love for each other hung thickly in the air with a tangible texture, like honey that you could reach your hand right out and grab a fistful of.
Bursting at the seams with happiness and totally at ease, I felt completely accepted and loved in the company of my brothers. I could have picked my nose, and it wouldn't have mattered one bit to them. This was the elusive, million dollar feeling I was always searching for in my life but could never seem to find anywhere with anyone. Little did I know that this sought-after place of love and acceptance didn't exist only in my dream. As I would find out, this treasure had been buried deep inside of me all along, and now, perhaps because I was so cracked and broken, maybe it could start leaking out. While I don't remember anything else about the dream, I will never forget that wonderful feeling.
* * *
My first week in the hospital was spent flat on my back, unconscious, and hooked up to a respirator. For the next week, I was conscious in varying degrees, stabilizing, and trying to learn how to perform the basics of living again: breathing, swallowing, eating, controlling my bladder, and communicating.
While many concerned people came to visit, all I really wanted to do was sleep. Being in the presence of others was mentally exhausting, and I couldn't carry on a conversation or recognize most of the people.
Because I'd already been informed, I knew who my family members were and their relationships to me. Other visitors were introduced to me, but even then, my messed-up brain didn't understand who they were or how I knew them. The pity and disappointment the visitors felt upon seeing me in my damaged condition showed on their faces, and I could sense their wanting me to be something else, to be better, to be the Debbie they knew. Feeling embarrassed for us both, I just wanted everyone to leave me the hell alone.
In retrospect, I can only imagine how distressed everyone must have been in the hospital around me during the ordeal. I'm sure that they were doing the best they could under the circumstances and while I can empathize with friends and family now and the hell they must have gone through, at the time this didn't even register with me.
When I first regained consciousness, I believed that I was still married to Jimmie, even though we had divorced three years earlier. I thought Chris was still alive, and my second son, Gabe, who was nine at the time, hadn't been born. I'd gone back to a period in life before my most painful memories occurred, before the comfy bubble in which I lived had so many holes poked in it that it finally burst. The medical staff directed my family to play along, to tell me, "He's not here right now," and make up other excuses whenever I asked about my husband.
With her arm intertwined in mine for support, my mother, who is five inches shorter than I am, would walk me, in my hospital gown and no-slip socks with the rubber strips on the bottom, down the hospital halls drawing my attention to each piece of mass-produced art on the walls. She would animatedly talk about each picture as though it were an exquisite painting hanging in a museum as I stared blankly at it.
"Oh, look at the beautiful purple hydrangeas in this one. They remind me of your grandmother and her bushes she loved so much."
Dad, whose olive skin and height I inherited, would keep the tone lighthearted during his visits, and was always good for a few treats off of the hospital menu.
"Why, Deborah Lynn, you're looking well today, but I bet you'd look even better after some orange sherbet."
Having been fed intravenously for a week, I'd lost 13 pounds and, having been thin to begin with, I now looked emaciated. Like when I was a kid, Jell-O or ice cream always made things better. Because I couldn't coordinate the acts of swallowing and breathing anymore, even these old favorites proved challenging.
A girlfriend, Julie, took it upon herself to shave my legs and armpits during a visit because she knew that the old Debbie wouldn't like being hairy. I sat in a chair in my room hugging a large pink, stuffed bunny, with orange inside his ears and green whiskers, that someone had given me, while Julie cleaned the stubble off of my legs.
Reaching down and cradling her cheek with my hand, I told her, "I love you."
With tears in her eyes, she looked back up at me and said, "I love you, too."
For the rest of her stay, I curled up on the bed clutching my bunny.
Ken flew across the country for an emergency visit when he received the news of my suicide attempt, and I slipped in and out of consciousness as he sat by my bed. In a brief moment of lucidity, I sat straight up and looked at him and said, "We love each other: why don't we act like it?" I lay back down and closed my eyes.
At this point, a light began to dimly flicker in the attic of my mind. As I became more alert, I started to recall chunks of my past and remember the words for common items that had previously remained nameless. The world began to make a little bit of sense again.
There were some visitors who were obviously missing. My sons, who were nine and twelve at the time, had been hurriedly shuttled to their father's care in the same city and were never brought to visit me in the hospital. In retrospect, this was probably for the best. I can only imagine how upsetting and confusing it would have been for them to see their mother in such a messed-up condition.
The other person conspicuously missing was the man with whom I had had a relationship for the previous three years, Steve, who had moved to a nearby city weeks earlier and called us quits. I'm told that he came to the hospital one time to see me and even brought a bouquet of flowers. On the way up to my room, he shared the elevator with my girlfriend, Karen.
Karen, a fiery redhead, blasted him. "You sure have some kind of nerve showing up here," she said. "Haven't you done enough damage already?"
Steve retreated to his car without seeing me. If he, the person I thought life wasn't worth living without, had shown up in my hospital room, would I have even recognized him?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sex, Suicide, and Serotonin"
Copyright © 2018 Debbie Hampton.
Excerpted by permission of Trigger Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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