Today marks my one year anniversary with sobriety. On this night, one year ago, I drank the last of the alcohol in the house and tried to sober up. That night was a nightmare that I will never again repeat. I don’t remember much of it, but my wife, unfortunately, does. My son was too young to remember, I think, although we will never know how soon the seeds of tangible memories and behaviorism are implanted. I do remember terrible pain, shakes, sweats, hallucinations and violent vomiting and writhing. I do remember being locked in a room, unable to get out. I do remember thinking I was going to die. I remember my wife yelling at me to be quiet, to stop bothering her and saying that I needed help. I tried to call 911 and couldn’t. I just could not physically or mentally bring myself to such an admission of helplessness.
The next morning I was literally dying. My liver had stopped working, my heart rate was off the charts, my abdomen had swollen to the point of bursting and my eyes and skin were the color of a pumpkin. I had aged twenty years overnight. I sweated through clothes, blankets and pillows. As the sun came up the next morning I watched from the ground, hidden in the trees of what used to be a sanctuary of trees in the forest by our home. I couldn’t bear to be seen.
I was bleeding and vomiting profusely and reminded over and over of my Grandmother, my beloved Grandmother, in a similar state. I was reminded of watching a man die in Reno, NV on the sidewalk outside of Circus Circus as traffic roared by, and pediatricians hastened by, as if they would be contaminated by his passing. I remembered finding a young/old man on the sidewalk in Washington D.C., only steps away from the glamor of our world leaders, dead or nearly dead, stained with blood, urine, vomit and feces with a plastic half-gallon of vodka still clutched in his hand.
Staring into the sky, wondering if I myself were alive or dead, I watched the late summer clouds float overhead on the first rays of sunshine as warmth dappled my face. I thought of my wife, the most wonderful, trusting, beautiful woman I have ever met, her hopes and trust and dreams smashed and broken by this illness, this horrible thing that I had become so dependent upon. The bottle that had ruined our dreams, dashed my abilities and stunted my ambition. I could see our small son, only eight months old then, trying to crawl and walk and already bonding to his Dad. I laid up on the smooth earth, breathed the scent of the forest duff, and made a difficult decision. I took my car keys, started the truck and drove to the liquor store.
The store manager would not allow me to purchase any more alcohol. She offered to drive me home, call an ambulance, call my wife, take me to a restaurant, anything but allow me anymore alcohol. I thanked her graciously assured her that I was fine, more than fine and left the store. She watched me drive away with her phone in her hand. I fully expected her to call the police. Apparently, she didn’t.
Undaunted, as alcoholics are, I drove the few short miles over to WV, bought a handle of something that would have undoubtably killed me, spent the rest of my money on toys for Nolan and flowers for Laura and drove back home, in all honesty, to die. I was planning to take a long hike with a big bottle of fine bourbon and be done with it. A cowards way out.
I carried the bottle all the way home in my lap, caressing it, wanting so badly to open it. At that point, between the pink elephants, hobbits and dwarves, it was hard to drive home and even more difficult to open the bottle while driving. I sat at the bottom of our drive, holding the bottle. I got out of the truck, pulled the cork, and poured the whole bottle onto the ground. I drove up our drive, mostly in the ditch and found my wife shaking in tears and anger and above all else, disappointment. She asked where I wanted to go. I talked with my counselor and my PCP and they both recommended rehab. Immediately. Right now.
So, I entered rehab. Almost numb with pain, vomiting every few minutes, I sweated and screamed for two days. No medication, no IV’s for fluids, no surgery to remove ascites. Nothing. A bed with no covers. A shower with no doors. A shitter with no lid. No belts, no shoe laces. No sporks. No alone time. No food save for a three ties a day buffet of microwaved, pre-packaged shit from China.
My third day there, I had managed the worst of the DT’s without dying and it seemed I might make it a little longer. Maybe. If I didn’t drink at all, ever again. Never. I agreed. I went home. Laura came to pick me up. We didn’t have much to say to one another. We were both broken, drained and hopeless. We both felt abandoned, betrayed and our trust was nonexistent.
Day by day, we carefully made our way forward. We were walking hand in hand tonight near our new home, enjoying the unexpected heat and humidity after our years in the mountains. We didn’t say much. We didn’t have too. She holds my hand now. I give her massages. Nolan has become the center of my universe, my reason for living. Support arrived from unexpected directions in the form of a famous Chef who took me in when no one else would. My wife’s aunt made me a prayer blanket. People started to read my blog and kind of cheer me on. I’m too private, stubborn and proud to make much of it, but I was thankful for every day. I was thankful to go to work at 4:00 a.m. to start breakfast. Little things began to matter and I slowly began to find myself.
One year later, is it better? YES!! Has it been easy? NO. Quitting is the easy part. Making amends and rebuilding faith is the hard part. Regaining your trust in yourself is hard, even harder than building trust in your loved ones. You are your own worst enemy sometimes.
Then there are those days: When it seems none of that happened. When your son, a toddler now, is “helping” on every project you are working on, from changing filters to canning to butchering to gardening to eating to everything. My son, Nolan, has become my shadow, my reason for sobriety. My wife, Laura, has become my loving wife once more, still wounded from years of lies and self-doubt and broken promises. My family is recognizing me once more. My wife is startled by my abilities that I though nothing of. I can hand split and hew rails. Shape rocks, mix my own cement, split all our own wood, take care of our son and keep him safe and clean and cared for.
Me? I’m happy. The past is just that, the past. Do I still have nightmares? Sure. Do I still crave alcohol? NO! That just simply does not fit into the new/old Ron’s life anymore.
Plus, while I was in rehab I saw an angel. Not a glowy kind. There were no wings or feathers or swords. But she knew me. My past, my childhood. The forgotten years. She KNEW me. She talked to me for some time. Out of curiosity, I followed her out the door, hoping to see her walk down the hall, stop at the nurses station and say hello. She was not there. I asked if anyone had seen her – my vitals were checked immediately. I was ok. Startling ok. Well enough to release the next day ok.
I returned home broken, barely salvageable. Nolan insisted on being held throughout lunch. I cried into his soft blond hair for things lost, memories gone, time past. I cried for the girl who slashed here wrists my last night there so she could avoid going home. I cried for the beautiful woman beside me, whom I married, the woman who loved me enough to have my child.
It was a long way back, and we’re not there yet. But we’re on a new road, one that is exciting and unpredictable and will undoubtably have potholes and rough patches. But we don’t care. We’re in this together now.
August 19th, 2014. Year One