Don't Tell Me What To Do: A Spiritual Memoir
Just kill me now, LORD! I'd rather be dead than alive, because nothing I predicted is going to happen. – Jonah 4:3

Restoration: Philadelphia 2005

This is a preview to the chapter Restoration: Philadelphia 2005 from the book Don't Tell Me What To Do: A Spiritual Memoir by Ron Alexander.
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I am moved from the emergency room to the cardiac care wing of the hospital. I remain hooked up to the catheter because I still run the risk of a heart attack. My room is semi- private. Frank, my roommate, is an older man. He suffered a heart attack nearly a week ago. I’m happy that I am not alone.

The catheter is uncomfortable, but I am no longer in pain. Pissing through a tube into a bag—while transfixed on my back—is irritating and feels awkward.

Within a couple of days I am allowed to walk around the ward. In order for me to walk around the ward, a bag to catch my urine is attached to a pole that I must push before me as I walked.

On my eighth day in the hospital, as I am walking through the ward, a code blue alert comes over the intercom. I pause and feel apprehensive, but I push the curiosity and fear out of my mind. I continue the walk to my room. Within seconds, I am stopped by a familiar nurse who tells me that I cannot go to my room. I later learn that Frank had another heart attack that killed him.

Soon after Frank's passing, I am released from the hospital and transferred to the mental health ward at Temple University Hospital where I would spend the next month. I am placed on anti-psychotic medication to quiet the voices in my head, al- though I find that I am still not able to determine whether my thoughts are my own. I don’t know if the voice I hear in my head belongs to me or to someone or something outside of me.

The attending psychiatrist recommends that I go into a drug and alcohol rehab program, but I decide against it. I’m literally burned out from being hospitalized for so long. I want out.

* * *

Leaving the hospital, I go home, back to work and embark on writing an ambitious article. My article starts out to be a report on some of the problems with the chaotic, under-supervised
system for treating drug addicts. I begin by writing about the high cost of treatment, questioning the competency of addiction counselors, and investigating the state’s inability to regulate treatment facilities.

Ironically, while writing my article, I stop taking my medication, believing that my sanity is restored, that the voices have been vanquished and permanently shut out from my head. Within days, however, I discover that my self-diagnosis is wrong. I relapse and begin smoking crack.

My ritual time for getting high is on Friday night. That way, I spend Saturday and Sunday nursing my body back into shape with food, water, and vitamins. By Wednesday, I begin to feel like my old self. But soon it would be Friday again. Fake it until you make it. I play this game with myself every weekend.
After the first few weeks of relapsing, my once- a- week ritual begins to occur more frequently. I find myself craving cocaine more often, even before I have come down from the last high.

* * *

On the night before I am to turn the draft of my article, I find myself getting high with a friend, Carol, in North Philadelphia.

I am down to my last twenty dollars. I’ve already spent a one hundred and fifty dollars. I want more, she wants more, but she has no money. ‘Spend your last twenty dollars’, I tell myself. ‘Do it!’

Carol and I grew up together in the neighborhood where I lived with Mama. During that time, Carol was the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood, a fox with olive skin, long, shiny black hair, sparkling hazel eyes. She wore clingy dresses.

Tonight, as I gaze at her across the table, I realize that she bears no resemblance to the girl l once knew. She has scars on her face and arms, the souvenirs somebody all too familiar with the streets invariably picks up along the way. Her hair is short, its sheen replaced by gray beginning to appear. Twenty years of abusive men and drug addictions have robbed her of beauty and happiness, too.

“I’m going to get a twenty,” I finally tell her. “I’ll be right back.”

It’s raining, but I’m only going three blocks. Someone will be out on the corner dealing. Someone always is. When I get to the corner, I’m approached by several dealers—young boys—stylishly attired in Reeboks and Fila warm- up suits. The dealers talk over each other to get my attention.

“I got the killer right here. How many do you want?” “Get the jumbo here!”

“Look at these fat packages.” “This is the shit, man! Get this.”

I signal one guy and we walk half a block. “What do you want?” he asks.

“Twenty, Give me a twenty.” I'm impatient. My ears are ringing. The voices in my head want crack. He pulls out two packages sealed with tape.

“Which one you want?”

“I’ll take either. If they’re both the same, it doesn’t matter to me.” He gives me one, but before he can walk away, I break the seal to taste what I’m getting, something that I’ve learned to do after being sold baking soda a few times. “This is garbage, man.” What is supposed to be crack tastes like soap. ”Give me my money back!”

He backs up, reaches inside his jacket and pulls out a gun. “You better get out of here, man,” he says, pointing the gun at me. “I gave you what you wanted.”

By now, my head is pounding with the need for cocaine. I’m bigger than this kid. If I can take him on, I can get my money back and get all of the real cocaine that he has on him.

“I’m telling you man,” he says once more, pointing the gun at me. “You better get out of here!”

Is he holding the gun like that because it’s not real? Or is he really going to shoot me?’
At this moment, it occurs to me that something has gone
seriously wrong with my thinking. What I am doing is suicidal. This kid is going to kill me if I don't back off. A guy is holding
a gun on me and all I can think of is killing him and taking his drugs. I need help.
I back away from him. “I should beat your little ass,” I
grudgingly say. “Killing you isn’t worth twenty bucks.”
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