So, when he relapsed, which was this thing that we had talked over and over about potentially happening; this abstract thing we had prepared for, this thing we had created a PLAN for…not to mention relapse being a thing that has already happened many times before, you’d think I’d have been ready. But, I still had no fucking clue what to do. A plan is something that scared people make to assure themselves that a situation can be controlled. It reminds me of the fire drills we have in my high rise office building. The fire marshal comes. We all march down three flights of stairs to demonstrate a partial evacuation. We have assigned roles: hall monitor, floor captain, elevator monitor. They give us bright orange hats, and we even designated a meeting place down the street (a bar, of course) in case we have to leave the building. In the event of a real emergency, I can’t ever imagine a scenario where we enact that plan flawlessly. No one will remember their roles, people will scramble, and you have to be crazy if you think I’m heading to a bar down the street to meet my coworkers in the event tragedy strikes. That’s what happened with this relapse. My brain slipped quietly, easily back to old patterns and habits. The building, my friends, was on fucking fire.
I’ll be gentle with myself, though. There was progress. He came home, wasted, and I detached. I didn’t react, or instigate, or badger. I left it alone. None of the thoughts went through my mind as they had before. “Why me? How can this be happening? Why did we waste all this money on rehab?” In another place, another time, those questions would have blackened my mind like a cancer. But, it was different this time. I didn’t feel sorry for myself, or angry with him, or even sad. I just was. But it still initially threw me right back into that old, panicked, eerily comfortable, crisis mode. That’s always where I’ve done my best work, where I’ve derived my purpose, my adrenaline, my fulfillment. It’s during the quiet, calm times that I struggle most.
I woke up the next morning, and he still wasn’t himself. He was denying he had drank and was clearly still out of sorts. He refused to attend AA, which was a clear break of the family agreement he had made when he came home from rehab, at his suggestion, so I knew he was still in the throes of reaction. But that didn’t concern me, because his recovery is not my business. My recovery is the only thing that is my business. So, I readied myself to go to my Al-Anon meeting. But, much like the first time we had to go to the emergency room, something told me this was not a simple relapse.
I went into the bathroom as he had been in there for some time, and he had fallen into the tub and was unable to stand up. He wasn’t speaking clearly. I finally was able to pull him out of the tub and get him into bed, no small feat, but it was clear from his inability to walk, speak, and focus that he had taken something to impact his ability to function. I asked him directly if he had taken too many pills, but didn’t get a clear answer on what he had ingested. I frantically searched for his medications. Several of the bottles, including his sleeping pills, which had been filled only 15 days prior, were all gone. It was an out of body experience. I was calm, I was collected, and I was systematic about my response.
Still, I didn’t want to believe that he had tried to end his life again. Not now. Not right after he had gotten home from rehab. He was in such good spirits. He was back to work and we could finally breathe a sigh of relief. But as I checked his breathing and tried to rouse him, it became clearer and clearer that this was not something he would be sleeping off. This was not alcohol with a few pills. This was something more.
I threw a cold glass of water on him. I dropped his hand on his face. I rubbed the inside of his eyelashes. I balled my fingers into a fist and rubbed my knuckles up and down his sternum. I peeled his eyelids back time and again. He didn’t even flinch. His eyes didn’t move. You could barely see his pupils. I called my dad. He reassured me that I needed to call 911. I say reassure because it’s just not something that is easy to come to terms with – it never gets any easier to understand, accept, or believe for a person who is not suffering from mental illness.
The paramedics couldn’t get him to respond, either. They put a plastic bag around his neck as they carried him down the 3 flights of stairs. They needed to give him something to make him vomit. I arrived at the hospital after him, as I had to take care of our dogs before I could walk the few blocks over to the ER. But unlike the last few times, they wouldn’t let me go back to see him.
I called our insurance company as I sat in the waiting room to talk about a plan of action. I needed answers or, again, that magical “plan” to make me feel like things were under control. It was the worst moment of my life. The person on the other line couldn’t confirm any coverage or treatment. She said, “Have you tried IOP?” “Can you go to this hospital?” “Can he do therapy?” Just like every other time I called them, they offered no information on services or quality of services. The person I spoke with robotically spewed out insurance policies. I just wanted to scream. I call Cigna every day. I faxed 160 pages of documents for an appeal for the refusal of treatment. I didn’t know how to say any clearer, “WE HAVE TRIED EVERYTHING.” I knew it wasn’t her fault, but the lack of compassion this person had, coupled with the complete charade of knowledge, and the moment I found myself in, found me quickly losing my usually calm and positive attitude. I asked if she loved someone and what she would do for someone she loved who desperately was trying to get help so they didn’t eventually kill themselves. She was offended. She asked me if I had tried therapy for myself, as I sounded angry. I was sitting 20 feet away from my husband, separated by a mere piece of drywall, and at that very moment he was being intubated and put into a medically induced coma. The company I pay to be able to help me, couldn’t do a damn thing about it. So she was right, I was angry.
I was finally allowed back to see him, and it was surreal. He was lying there, with a tube down his throat, on a ventilator. I felt so very alone in that moment. I don’t know if I was able to understand that this was my life. He was restrained, his basic human functions stripped from him. Eating, going to the bathroom, even breathing were all activities that were too much for his body to bear. I was very calm, but it didn’t even feel like me in that room. We were both just bodies, going through the motions. It was confusing to the staff. I think they expected to see a hysterical person. People kept not understanding that I was his wife. I thought at the time that maybe it was because I looked young. But I think it was because I didn’t look upset. It wasn't that I wasn't upset. I am just tired.
He was admitted around 11:30 am on Saturday, and he was in the ICU into Sunday. It took until the wee hours of Monday for him to come out of his stupor, and to have the restraints removed, while myself, and a designated sitter (suicide watcher) waited for him to come back alive. It was Monday afternoon before he could use the restroom on his own. It was a year and 8 days since he woke up, got ready for work, and told me he couldn’t go because he was thinking of hurting himself. And today is the 4th of July, the 5th holiday or event (Memorial Day, Labor Day, my birthday, Jeff’s birthday) I will have spent on my own, due to Jeff being in a psychiatric or rehabilitation facility.
It can’t be easy for him. As an alcoholic, he’s surrounded by wolves at every corner, ready to attack. But I am hopeful. He made a really bad, split second decision that snowballed into a very dangerous and scary place, yet again. There is truth to the statement that every time an alcoholic goes back out, it gets worse and worse. But he doesn’t have to start over. He doesn’t forget what he’s learned, or how far he’s come. A lot of people take much longer to want to be sober and even longer to get there. Expecting a life changing event to occur overnight is not realistic. It may seem on the outside, looking in, that we haven’t come very far, and that we’re in the same place, if not a worse one, that we were a year ago. But that isn’t the case. We can cope with this and work together to move forward. This time around, I know he is ready to try again. He’s just carefully trying to put the pieces of a very complicated puzzle together. I know he can eventually get it. My only hope is that he can do so before his life becomes the consequence and the bottom, and that the wolves get the best of him.
Want to read Jeff's side of the story? http://www.lifeimpaired.com/jeffs-blog/the-wolves-act-i-ii