Gemini Magazine
_______________
When you are suffering from an
illness, sometimes the experience can bring
people in your life closer. But when that disease
is addiction, it is a different tale altogether. In
the throes of dependence, you slash and slice
people from your life like an out-of-control
samurai sword and don’t even realize what is
happening until you sober up and see the
damage you have done.

                        * * * * *

My best friend Beth, weighing over 200 pounds,
swayed like a large ballerina in the wind as
Tobacco Road’s house band, Iko Iko, wailed
and jammed to the blues. Her body was pear-
shaped—her breasts not so much small as her
hips wide. Her burnt auburn curls brushed
against her shoulders—one ringlet, cascading
like a waterfall, caressed her forehead.

Her eyes were powder blue like a mid-
afternoon Montana sky. Her eyelashes, coated
in brown mascara, curled above the blue, and
when she saw a man who captured her
attention, she’d slowly close her right eye and
reopen it—a silent flirt in a smoky bar. Her lid,
covered in blue eye shadow, glittered as the
lights shined from the stage.

She wore mostly black with a flash of pink or
turquoise here and there. Her dancing outfit
often included a cowboy hat, a wide belt, and
cowboy boots. Red lipstick outlined her tulip-
shaped mouth, which, when it broke into a
smile, hinted at naughtiness and at the same
time, comfort. When we left the club around 4
a.m. she strolled to her white convertible with
the DR BETH license plates. Silver earrings
dangled from her earlobes, and light from the
street lamps made them flicker in the night like
airplanes—or—if you were lucky—a falling star.

                          * * * * *

Beth and I met the first week of medical school
at the University of Miami. I came up with the
idea of tie-dying our plain white coats for
anatomy lab.

“What a great idea,” Beth laughed. “Let’s do it.
I want mine to be blue.”

We had a party at another girl’s apartment and
created our new works of colorful art. I loved
the way we looked going into the lab the
following day. Swirls of blues, yellows and reds
danced around the sterile, silver room, making
the cadaver lab seem festive.

The next week six of us went to a bar on the
water to celebrate turning our cadavers over
and seeing their faces for the first time. We
drank round after round of creamy drinks called
Harbor Lights in curled glasses that looked like
little vases. Made with Kahlua coffee liqueur,
they tasted like dessert and reminded me of
my first mixed drink in my friend’s kitchen
when I was fourteen. The drinks warmed me
inside and we all ended up wasted.

Later Beth and I ended up in the ladies’ room.
A girl was lying face up on the floor; her shirt
was stained with vomit and remnants dribbled
down her chin. Her eyes were closed and her
friend caressed her hair as she squatted down
beside her. Beth rushed over, took the fallen
girl’s wrist and began taking her pulse.

“Don’t worry,” Beth said to the girl’s friend.
“She’ll be okay. We’re doctors.”

I laughed so hard I barely made it to the stall
on time.

One night Beth told me she was taking me out
for my birthday. When we walked into her
parents’ house I heard, “Surprise!” I looked
around the living room—all my friends were
there. There was even a cake. Beth had
planned the whole party for me.

“Why does every cake I ever get say ‘eat me’
on it?” I asked.

“Why do you think?” Beth smiled.

She “got” me.

                        * * * * *

Throughout our four years of medical school,
Beth and I partied together most weekends and
some weeknights. We shared many common
interests: love of bars, dancing, and meeting
men. I always met guys and had a blast when I
was out with her. People in our class referred
to us as the Dynamic Duo.

I could always count on Beth to be the
responsible one. She always drove when we
went out, as I was too drunk to drive
anywhere. At the time I had a love affair with
alcohol—and a fondness for cocaine—that Beth
did not share. She did not miss school often like
I did. She did not wake up with pieces of the
night before missing, her head pounding while
she searched through her purse to find
evidence of how she’d made it home. I’d wake
in the morning and think to myself, “How did
my life become like this? This is not how I’d
imagined it to be. What happened to me?”

As a child I searched for spirit—first through
yoga when I was eleven and then to Jesus and
church when I was twelve. I had a hole in my
soul and was seeking something to fill it up. Fill
me up. That year, I also discovered my calling—
I would become a doctor and help drug addicts
heal. The following year I began having anxiety
attacks where my fingers went numb and it felt
like my heart would beat out of my chest. I
could not catch my breath, my mind raced, and
I thought I was dying. Now I know they were
panic attacks. At the time I thought something
was terribly wrong with me.

At fourteen I stopped going to church and
discovered a new spirit to fill me up. One warm
South Florida night while out cruising around in
a friend’s car, I finished a whole beer for the
first time—Michelob in a bottle. As I stumbled
out of the ’69 Camaro I felt a click in my brain—
my first buzz. Everything changed in that
moment. My thoughts slowed in my head and I
felt safe in my own skin. I felt normal because
of the alcohol.
Click. By my senior year of
college, drinking had become as normal a part
of my day as breathing. My photographic-like
memory and ability to cram all night before
exams allowed me to graduate college Phi Beta
Kappa with a degree in chemistry, an
acceptance into University of Miami on
academic scholarship, as well as full-blown
alcoholism. That is how addiction enters a life—
first slowly and then encompassing all.

During the three years after medical school
graduation, my obsession with alcohol
intensified, and I put it before everything. I
craved anything with booze in it—from tequila
shots to top-shelf champagne, imported beer to
cheap wine, vodka and orange juice to rum and
cokes. Beth stayed in Miami and I moved to
New York City. My addiction progressed and
flourished in a place where bars beckoned and
winked from every corner and taxis roamed
the streets in yellow ribbons—no need to drive.
I went out drinking every night, which caused
more and more problems with my training to
become a psychiatrist. I was trying to help
others with their substance abuse problems and
mental illnesses but was barely able to function
myself. I called in sick often, and when I was
not at the hospital the other residents had to
cover for me. In medical school I rarely made
it to school on Mondays, so in residency I never
scheduled any outpatients on a Monday, as I
was always hung-over.

One weekend I flew down to see Beth and we
enjoyed plenty of sun, drink, and fun in the
Florida Keys. When we returned to her home in
South Beach, she called a man who she’d
hoped would be her boyfriend and we all made
plans to meet. At that point my brain was in
many fractured pieces from all the booze I had
consumed, and as soon as I saw him we began
kissing passionately right in front of Beth. I felt
I had known him all my life. The rest of the
night was shades of gray, but I ended up at
Beth’s later that night. The next day, while she
was at work, I slunk out of her apartment like
a coward and stayed with the man for two
days. When I finally sobered up back in New
York, I realized I had betrayed Beth and knew
she was no longer my best friend. I had
destroyed our dynamic duo.

I practiced psychiatry as a wounded healer but
three years into my residency, six months after
that episode in Miami, I was given a choice by
my residency director at the hospital: get help
for my substance abuse problem or lose my
medical license. Among many things, he told
me one of my supervisors had found me
drinking on the job. I’d never drunk during
work or carried a flask or bottle with me—the
alcohol he smelled was coming from my pores
after a weekend binge in Key West with the
man I lost Beth over.

At first I refused to accept the fact that I had a
problem with my best friend, alcohol, but then
I thought of all the problems it had caused all
those years: losing Beth as my best friend, not
showing up for work or school, and all the
things I did intoxicated I regretted—often
apologizing for things I did not even remember
doing. I finally realized I was an alcoholic and
needed to stop drinking.

For six months I tried to stay sober, only to
relapse again and again. After failing to get
clean on my own, I began attending Alcoholics
Anonymous meetings, where they told me to
“turn your life over to God as you understand
Him.” So I prayed to God, who I no longer
knew or understood.

“Dear God,” I pleaded. “Please help me stop
drinking and using. I can’t stop no matter what
I do. I don’t want to die. Amen.”

From the next day on I lost all desire to drink
or use drugs. A miracle had transpired! I
continued attending AA. I prayed and
meditated, and also worked through the
Twelve Steps, which gave me tools to live by. I
bought a gym membership from a friend and
began taking exercise classes. During the first
couple of classes I gasped for breath and the
next day my muscles ached with pain. But I
kept going and it got easier, and I loved the
feeling after I worked out—better than any high
from alcohol or drugs.

My sobriety date is January 8th, 1992, six
months prior to graduating psychiatry
residency, and a little over a year after losing
Beth. Over time she forgave me but our
relationship was never the same. Looking back
I realize that my alcoholism had caused many
problems in our friendship over the seven years
we were close. She often let them slide as her
love for me helped her overlook my problems.
“When you’re drinking and I look in your eyes,”
she once told me, “it’s like you disappear.”

Addiction is like a tumor inside that you don’t
know is there. It slowly grows and takes over
your healthy parts, replacing them with
malignant ones. Once a smart, caring kid who
wanted to help others with their addictions, I
turned into a selfish person who cared about
one thing—when and where my next drink
would be. I had a disease that told me I did not
have one, that alcohol was not the cause of my
problems, but the only solution. How can a
healthy friendship survive something so toxic?

I have been sober for over nineteen years and
to this day I miss Beth’s Johnny Cash outfits,
her Lucille Ball hair and her Angelina Jolie lips. I
have seen her many times since then, but I
know she sees me in a different light. She
married a musician named Reggie, which
happens to be my nickname. I send her a card
and letter every year sharing my life. I will
always treasure our friendship like a precious
gem tucked away in the jewelry box of my
heart. Unfortunately, some things you do can
never be undone no matter how many steps
you work, climb, or take.


A board certified community psychiatrist, Regina Leverrier is
medical director of an inpatient psychiatric hospital in western
Colorado. She has practiced for 20 years in many areas,
including drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, correctional
facilities, community mental health clinics, homeless shelters
and one of the busiest psychiatric emergency rooms in the
country. She competes in Olympic-distance triathlons. One of
her essays is forthcoming in Living the Everyday magazine.
by Regina Y. Leverrier, MD
DROWNING
THE
DYNAMIC DUO