Dianne Corbeau, to quote the official bio, “resided in Philadelphia until 2010 and enjoyed a fruitful twelve-year partnership with the Artist’s House Gallery, which showcased her remarkable creations. Dianne’s artwork has been showcased internationally and across various locations in the United States, with her pieces exhibited in numerous galleries. Her remarkable talent has been acknowledged by renowned institutions.” She’s educated, talented, creative, acclaimed. Why would a person like this decide to become an alcoholic?
What most people either don’t know or refuse to believe, alcoholism is an illness – and a medication. With bipolar disorder, which both Corbeau and I live with, alcohol “cures” some symptoms. It can even be a lifesaver… until it isn’t. It neither fixes the underlying reasons, nor is good for you. But the same applies to the medication Dianne receives – or not – in her detox. When a crisis sent me to a mental ward for ten days, it was mostly boring. I don’t even know if there is a detox facility in my town. But I had someone fiddle with my medication because why not, and it’s not an experience I will ever forget. I’ve had an “experience,” though. Corbeau went through hell.
This book is not for the faint of heart. It might – might – make people who believe someone “decides to be an alcoholic” think, though. If they make it through.
Six Days in Detox is a short read – 177 e-book pages, which Corbeau herself describes as a “memoir and a novella.” She hallucinated frequently because of her “treatment.” Even if she didn’t, memory is rarely a reliable witness. How much of Six Days is “true,” whatever that means? For the author, all of it, even if the menacing Medman would have to go through six 24-hour shifts in a row to be around at all times she encounters him.
The psychiatrist, Dr Yang, ignores the recommendations sent by Corbeau’s regular doctor. When she dares to pester him asking for what she actually needs, he snaps “and how would 2000mg of Thorazine sound?” It would sound like a murder attempt, Dr Yang, or at least an attempt to send Corbeau into a coma, as 600mg is the maximum recommended dose for a hospitalised patient. But she keeps asking questions, such as “why am I not getting the medication my doctor has prescribed?” The doctor is busy. If she went into coma, he’d get more done. Not that his decisions actually make a lot of a difference…
Few people are more vulnerable than those who are both mentally ill and detoxing from substance abuse. Any side effect, including death, can be blamed on either “the crazy” or “the drunk.” The Medman may sound like a comic villain at times… to someone who has never experienced being at total mercy of someone who either doesn’t care for you or actively loathes you for some random reason, and decides how you’re going to feel next.
At one point, Corbeau sees her name checked on the list, meaning she has received her medication already. She didn’t. Because the Medman didn’t feel she deserved it. She is given antidepressants, which can send someone with bipolar into dangerous mania. Will she get her mood stabiliser tonight? Maybe. If Medman feels like it. He is kind enough to help her get to the bathroom when her body refuses to function, as she goes through the worst – then stays there, enjoying the show as she suffers, abusing her verbally, and ripping away any remains of dignity she could have smuggled into the ward.
Why would someone do it? I don’t know, why do soldiers waterboard prisoners? Why does Alex Jones exist and persist? When a friend visits, Corbeau tells him about the cruelty she’s being subjected to. The same Medman who enjoys her suffering is all smiles and pleasantries, as he lets the friend in and out. Later, she gets “punished” for her snitching. Some people become border guards where Poland meets Belarus. But throwing a pregnant woman over a wall is a lot of work. Medman’s job is a psychopath’s dream, his victim too weak to throw up in the toilet without help. And why would anyone believe this person’s words over those of a professional in a white coat?
Six Days in Detox is a story of survival – both of the illness and of those “helping.” Corbeau is essentially a non-playable character in other people’s game. As the story unveils, it becomes clear that Seven Days in Detox might have never happened, because books need authors. Those days turn her from a helpless victim into a bully herself, when she believes a schizophrenic roommate has been placed with her to punish her for disobedience and speaking back. (Which could be true, or not. Hence, “memoir and a novella.”) In the beginning, she literally can’t stand; at the end, she stands up to the Medman. But it’s also a story of an avalanche. Both alcoholism and bipolar are life-long conditions. You can never get “cured.” And one of the symptoms of bipolar disorder is insisting that you don’t have bipolar disorder.
Corbeau has been sober for twenty-six years before relapsing. “I hated God,” she confesses, trying to understand why her relapse happened, “blaming him and everyone else for my relapse. What happened, slowly, was my focus of sobriety being number one went to my painting. My obsession.” That relapse lasted two years, after which she became sober again for a decade. “I started to paint again, and back came floods of ideas, and I, once again, needed to paint. Even though it was the only thing I wanted to do, I placed sobriety first because I had to. [The bipolar medication] helped for a couple of years. Until…it did not. […] In the end, it all equaled suicide. Until again, it all became too much to inhabit my body.” She never reveals – or understands – the circumstances of that last, or latest, relapse. It turned out the rock bottom had a trap door.
Bipolar and alcohol combine very well, creating a dual disorder. Alcohol lifts the bipolar depression, turning it into ecstatic joy. In the morning, however, time comes to pay. It hurts. But a drink (as in, something between “quite a few drinks” and “quite a few bottles”) will make things better. Immediately. Until the morning.
In my case, finding the right combination of medications took eight years, which, with bipolar disorder, is the average. In the meantime, I had to constantly monitor myself, because if I felt too happy or really enjoyed life, that probably meant my medication needed to be changed. This doesn’t happen overnight; it takes months to wean the patient off this, then build up to that. The suffering never stops, it just feels different, and there’s always the dread of “if you feel too well, we’ll make you worse.” And, behind a corner, there’s a supermarket with entire shelves filled with delicious over-the-counter poisons that work within minutes.
There is a saying – “God never gives you more than you can handle.” Yet the risk of suicide in bipolar disorder is between 10 and 25 times higher, depending on the source, than among similarly aged people without bipolar. 20% of people with bipolar disorder die from suicide. Corbeau was simply taking things slowly.
Surely, it can’t be that bad? Why would a doctor act this way? How come those people still have jobs? Why won’t someone do something?
One of my past psychiatrists openly rolled his eyes when I attempted to explain the side effects I was experiencing. I knew enough by then to bring my husband to the next appointment. “See? See?” I cried when the doctor rolled his eyes again. I asked him whether he remembered what I had said to him about a particular medication the last time we’d met. “No,” he simply answered.
A few years later a doctor I’ve never even seen decided, over the phone, that it was time for me to stop taking valium I’ve been using to sleep. For years. His plan was for me to come off it within two weeks. I followed his orders, knowing the result may be fatal, because another thing that can be fatal is getting labelled “a difficult patient.” On day four I started retching on the street, then had to lie down on a bench at a bus stop. I went back to the previous dose, against medical advice, and found a different doctor, who dispensed other, non-lethal medical advice.
At my old pharmacy, the pharmacist once stared at my prescription for sleeping meds, and slowly said “I think this is too much. I think I should give you half, at most.” I was suddenly drenched in cold sweat. At the end I got what I was prescribed. I also learned what it feels like to be a junkie deprived of a fix. I was living in Amsterdam, though. A junkie would only need one phone call to get a home delivery of whatever illegal drugs they craved. But there are no mood stabiliser or sleeping pill dealers. So, when my GP decided to cut my dosage by 3/4 last year because he “thought it was too high,” all I could do was contact my psychiatrist to ask to reverse the change, hoping the GP doesn’t notice.
Have I made my point yet? Because I could go on.
The main difference between medication and self-medication is really limited to who makes money out of it. The pills I put in my cup every evening shorten the lifespan of a person with bipolar disorder by an average of 20 years. (This includes the 20% probability of suicide.) I’m glad to report, though, that I haven’t felt excessively joyful for quite a few years now, except when I was on horseback or at the forge. While staying sober was initially difficult, I managed three years. When I tried (under medical supervision) to very slowly come off my mood stabiliser, cutting the dose by 10% sent me into an emotional and mental tumble dryer. I lasted three days.
My biggest fear is not losing my house, it’s a shortage of lamictal lasting a day longer than my stash can carry me. Because I don’t know if there’s enough alcohol at the liquor store to keep me alive. The very existence of Six Days in Detox is a miracle few people can fully appreciate. I’m not sure even I can.
I tend to recommend the books I review to certain types of readers. I am at a loss when it comes to Six Days in Detox. I’m pretty sure Dr Yang and the Medman won’t read it, and for the author’s sake, I hope she changed all the names and identifying details. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be mentally ill, nearly die of alcohol overdose, be thrown into a place where sadists will torture you and the rest of the staff at best ignore you, because you’re a worthless piece of shit? It’s your lucky day!
I’m very slowly going through Kenan Malik’s Not So Black and White, which I mentioned on X once before I X-ited. The author responded, “I hope you’re enjoying it.” I don’t think it’s possible to enjoy either Malik’s or Corbeau’s books. You think grimdark is grim and dark? Try reality.
Okay. This is the end of the review, which I hope you enjoyed.
*sigh* I TOLD you to stop reading.
Fine. Here’s your “but” and “unfortunately.”
Six Days in Detox has been published by a company named Page Publishing. I’ve never heard of them, but I know bad editing and lack of proofreading when I see it, so I looked them up. “Page Publishing is a full-service publishing house,” the company announces, listing their “packages.” (Hint: actual publishing houses don’t offer “full-service packages.”) Dianne Corbeau should ask for her money back. Some paragraphs repeat, rephrased. Sentences miss their periods. The PDF file I have received had some quirks that didn’t change the text into gibberish, but something resembling modern art. I checked whether this was an un-proofed advance review copy, where things like this can happen. Unfortunately, it was the full-service package the author paid for, and the only thing she can be blamed for is not reading it one last time before release. Which is a great shame both because I hate vanity presses pretending to be Publishing Houses, and because Six Days in Detox simply deserved better.