Authors Note: Have you ever had a story to tell? One that you’ve kept hidden, buried, shoved into the back of your consciousness until it becomes distorted and torn? I have such a story. This story is embarrassing, humiliating and deeply personal. It is also something that is rarely addressed in our society in it’s entirety, which is what I mean to do.
Please, if you are easily offended, shocked or put off by upsetting situations or language, then it’s simple: Don’t read it. It is a journey of a sorts, through space and time, a story of the life of an addict, who in this case, happens to be me. This story may not have a happy ending, and the hero is no such thing. Names, places, situations and identifiable projections of individuals have been changed as I see fit. If you think you spot yourself in the following narrative, you’re wrong.
I’m going to post this every other day or so as I write. It will keep me working and give the patient readers something to follow. What I really hope is that it helps someone, anyone that feels abandoned, hurt or lost in the long road that is the lonely journey out of addiction. With that said, here we go.
“You’re dying.” I find these words to be irritating at best and extremely vexing at their worst. My head is swimming noisily, I’m relatively certain that I am going to throw up at any moment and to be quite honest, my ass hurts. In a way that can’t be good for me or anyone around me. I am trapped in my street clothes on one of those paper covered hospital benches that is, at this moment, way too high for my surroundings. I was happy, or more content only a few moments before while planted in one of the normally sized chairs in the tiny little waiting room where I was able to largely ignore the fact that I was sweating profusely, running an amazing fever and shaking like a leaf in a tornado while trying to deal woozily with the fact that I was suffering from multiple hernias and likely about to either a. Have a heart attack any moment or b. Slide into delirium tremens from alcohol withdrawal. I was banking on the heart attack.
So I sit, somewhat disconcerted, as usual, by my primary care provider’s insistence on sitting on a small, three legged stool that is at least three feet shorter than eye level from my perch on the outrageously overpriced hospital examination table. She’s dressed, as usual, in a loose-fitting, comfortable looking dress with no-nonsense shoes and a gorgeous scarf, along with eyeglasses attached by a beaded chain around her neck. I’ve never seen her deviate from this script of an outfit, nor have I ever seen her actually look through the eyeglasses. Over the years I’ve watched her look under and even around those lenses, but never through them. I speculate to myself that they are in fact for decoration only, but I know that this woman has a personality that would never allow her to wear something that did not have some function. Even if that function is just to throw the patient sitting awkwardly three feet above her head just a bit more out of kilter.
My eyes are so yellow and bloodshot and sensitive to light that I cannot for the life of me imagine taking my sunglasses off, yet that is what this evil woman perched on this stool around my kneecaps is demanding. At this point in our somewhat tenuous relationship I have realized that it is impossible to argue with her or question her motives, yet I hesitate with all the guilt of someone who is standing in the ruined remains of a bank vault that they have just blown to smithereens in the hopes of a million dollar payoff, only to find the treasure trove empty of the dollars they sought and instead occupied by a slightly deranged police officer seated on a small, three-legged stool.
So, I removed my sunglasses and ball cap. She squinted into my eyes, like she needed to, with her eye-magnifying-thingy and resumed place of authority on her stool to write in what is rapidly becoming a huge file on my health.
You’ve got to understand something. Just a few years ago, there was no health file on me. No medical records. Despite years of broken bones, car crashes, stitches, staples, multiple trips to the emergency room(s), I had never possessed health care that was decent or comprehensive enough to warrant medical records. This became a real problem when I was trying to get into Officer’s Candidate School shortly after finishing my Bachelor’s Degree in Geology back in 1997. The Marine Corp medical examiners were not blind, nor did they possess yellowish, bloodshot eyes. These young doctors were very determined and fit individuals, as was I at that time, and could hardly miss the fact that I was covered in scars from previous injuries suffered during a life filled with mostly recklessness. Nor could they overlook that despite the fact that I was 24 years old, healthy as I could be and did not carry one venereal disease, I had no shot records beyond my Mother’s memory.
Now there was a detailed file chronicling nearly a year’s worth of documented and extensive alcohol abuse. From that first Thursday morning when I finally admitted my drinking problem, while reeling with one of the worst withdrawals I had ever been through until today, my alcohol dependence and the breakdown of my independence were now thoroughly documented in a folder placed on the knee of a hard-eyed primary care physician who knew exactly what she was looking at.
She repeated the words that I was still trying to wrap my brain around. “You have six months with proper care and treatment, two years at the most if you continue to drink as you are right now.” My brain and body were still screaming at me for another drink, anything to calm the shakes and the nudges at my peripheral vision, something to return this world to some semblance of normalcy. “How much have you been drinking since your last treatment?”
To place a sense of time and space on this situation, my first attempt at total sobriety under the supervision of a doctor had been the past September, in 2012. My wife had just became pregnant at that time and I was trying to get rid of my addiction problems without really telling anyone exactly what was going on or admitting what was wrong with me.
This was the following March, 2013. It was one of those nasty early spring mornings when it rains, snows, the sun shines, then it sleets, then snows some more and everything is just a muddy mess. Honestly, I don’t remember much of the chain of events that brought me here, passed out on the examination table with my primary physician and nurse hooking up IV’s and getting me ready for transport to the emergency room.
So, to answer my doctors question was to admit that I really didn’t know how much I was drinking. I remember reading Stephen King once back when I had a serious writer’s crush on Mr. King and his description over how silly that particular question seems to a true alcoholic. “What do you mean how much have I drank? Why, all of it, of course.”
Nonetheless, she pressed the question to my blurry mind. This entire doctor’s visit had begun nearly twenty-four hours prior when my wife had overheard me vomiting in the bathroom. I’m not sure if you could describe what I was going through as vomiting. Dry heaves are never pleasant, but they are decidedly less so when you can literally feel your insides tearing and the first trickles of blood on the inside of your thighs from a release of internal bleeding. She was extremely worried, as she should have been and no longer bought into the “It’s just ulcers – it’s normal for my family” excuse that I kept coming up with. She is a gentle soul, and rather than demand from me that I go to the hospital she asked if I would please go see the doctor. By that point in the morning I had managed to choke down a couple of pills along with half a fifth of vodka and was feeling no pain, except for the nagging sensation that I had actually damaged something that may be important this time around.
By the next morning, the gig was up. My goose was cooked. I had not been able to eat, despite my best efforts and I was now under the scrutiny of Laura and unbeknownst to me at the time, my Mom. My mother was raised in a family saturated with alcoholism and knew all the signs of late stage denial and was also well versed in how stubborn her offspring could actually be, even when it seems that they are hell bent on their own destruction. Between the two of them and some rather strategic searching throughout the house and vehicles, they quickly realized that I was consuming mass amounts of alcohol. The exact amount remained a mystery, even when I was confronted directly with the question and too sick to hide the answer.
So here I am, face to face with an unyielding physician along with her glasses and penetrating gaze, trying, as is my smart-ass way, to find some sort of humor in the situation. “Does how much I drink per day include coffee? If so, you can count that out because I’ve given up caffeine.” She is anything but amused. She shifts the stack of paperwork on her lap and taps her teeth with the stem of her glasses. That is a new tick for me – I have to admit that I have never seen that one before. I wonder what this new turn of events has in store for me. Probably a new round of pills that take the edge off the urge to drink for a few days and provide me with a new buzz when that urge wears off and I combine them with a few gin and tonics. I’ll at least be able to eat an oyster po’boy and help take care of my son without shaking so badly that I’m afraid to touch my baby boy. I do at least have some of my wits about me, just not very many of them. I realize that she is not going to back away from this question, the one about how much I’m drinking each day, so I take a wild stab in the dark, not really sure of the answer. “Maybe a liter or so a day? Maybe less, maybe a little more?”
She is still tapping her teeth with her eyeglasses while studying me. “Why are you sitting sideways?” she asks. I explain that I’m pretty sure that I’ve blown a gasket of some sort in both my stomach and my large intestine, as I have a defined umbilical hernia and what I am sure is a severe case of hemorrhoids along with what is likely a miniscule tear in my lower and maybe upper intestine. I’m not stupid, after all. The pain is rather intense, and reminds me of a day, long since past, when a slate bar that I was using to apply pressure to a piece of mining equipment while it was being welded snapped under the heat and pressure and smashed into my lower abdomen and upper body cavity, rupturing my spleen. I already knew that if any engineered material was subjected to enough stress, it would strain – my brain had just not caught up with the unreality of what we were trying to do. Coal mining reminded me of what I’ve read and heard about Vietnam and other wars, where a select few in power order their minions around in a play for power and ultimately, profit. That particular night a multi-million dollar ripper head, that piece of a grander machine that cuts off the coal to be sent out of the mine for processing, had broken. We were attempting under the most dire of circumstances to weld it back together just long enough to hit our quota so that we could pass our problems off to the next shift and thereby avoid the inevitable wrath of the men in suits, who would arrive at a suitable hour the next morning, resplendent in personal helicopters and tailored suits which hid what I much later learned to be gathering fluid in the abdomen, a direct result of the consumption of too much alcohol.
“Ascites. Jaundice of the skin and eyes. Acute abdominal swelling, likely caused by fluid accumulation due to liver failure from acute alcoholic cirrhosis. Fluid retention in the hands and feet. Visual impairment. Excessive sweating and involuntary shaking of the extremities. Pupils are dilated. The patient is unaware of the date and suffers from severe abdominal cramps, rectal bleeding and dry heaves accompanied by some hemorrhaging. Vital signs are unstable, BP is 225/150. Heart rate is 115 and crashing.” I realize that Glenda is speaking into a tape recorder and that the main doctor for the clinic is standing just behind her. She turns to the other doctor who is wearing a tie with Golden Retrievers imprinted on it. They turn on a recorder. “I’m afraid that there is nothing that we can do for him here. Outpatient treatment has been unsuccessful in the past two attempts and I am unwilling to continue those attempts without hospitalization and detoxification under medical care.” She leans in close to me. “Do you understand what we have been saying?” I nod. “Is your wife in the waiting room?” Another nod. In a sudden flurry of comfortable garments and medical paperwork, my doctor abruptly leaves the room.
With a sinking heart I realize that Glenda is headed out that door to confront my wife with the enormity of my current situation. The doctor of record pauses for a moment, subconsciously, I think, adjusting his ridiculous tie. “I hope you realize that your life, for better or for worse, has just changed. I wish you the best.” I glance down at the bloodstained paper bed cover and spiral into unconsciousness.