Naivete wanted me to believe all of that to be true and good. Looking back, I feel so foolish, but I also know that I could not have known any better at the time. The greatest lesson I have learned through this experience is that life really is a journey. You can't rush to an answer or know what to do in every situation. Sometimes, you have to learn the lesson the hard way, and this was one of those things. I feel incredibly lucky, grateful, thankful, and blessed that the ultimate cost of this lesson was not Jeff's life, because for that, I don't know if I ever could have forgiven myself.
I wanted him to go back to work, because underneath the facade of Jeff's shaky confidence and quiet resolution, I didn't want to imagine that the waves were still crashing. I just kept clinging onto flotsam and jetsam, greedily hoarding any piece of debris I could stow my body of worry onto and allow to float away. But he wasn't ready, and my greatest fears surfaced, unresolved and as tumultuous as ever.
I came home on a Friday from work, and it was a particularly difficult day, as far as normal difficulties go. I had intended to leave work early, as it was Labor Day weekend, but work was a real beast and never-ending. We had just gone through some serious changes and I was still in the weeds, trying to figure a lot of it out. On top of that, I was trying to schedule a fantasy football draft with our friends that no one could seem to commit to attending that weekend. This is the kind of normal shit that BI (Before Illness) would have been enough to stop me at the store on the way home to buy a bottle of wine and just veg in front of the TV all night. These types of things PI (Post Illness) became have become laughable blips on the radar. If something goes poorly at work, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't upset me as much. If people mess my plans up, I don't really let it get to me. That is another positive thing that has come out of this. My constant need to sweat the small stuff has really faded into the oblivion.
Anyways, we had finally agreed to do the fantasy draft that night at our house, so I rushed home to try to get the place in order and snacks prepared, which also would have stressed me out BI. I selfishly hoped it would be good for Jeff. I knew he was nervous about returning to work, and I hoped a fun night with friends would take his mind off things. When I came home, though, I found him curled up on the couch. I immediately knew something was wrong. I went into the kitchen to examine our alcohol. I didn't really realize he was an alcoholic at this point, but I did know he had been misusing alcohol. I just couldn't believe the man I knew for almost 6 years could be an alcoholic. I had never really noticed alcohol impacting his life negatively. He was never the last one out at the bar, pretty much stuck to beer and wine, and as far as I knew, he was only drinking maybe once or twice a week, tops. If anything, I drank more than he did.
When I found some alcohol missing, I confronted him, and he was honest with me that he had drank it earlier in the day to ease his anxiety. He had been lying to me often at this point, so I was just really proud he told me the truth. He knew how much organizing I had put into the draft, and I think he just really wanted things to be normal. He agreed that we could still have it. This was another decision of sheer stupidity on my part, looking back. I knew he wasn't in the right state to be around people and was already deep in his isolation, but I wanted to believe being around people would help him.
He asked me to go to the store to replace the alcohol he had drank that belonged to my nephew (my 23 year-old nephew lives with us) before my nephew got home and realized it was missing, and get the party snacks, I didn't think twice. The beer he consumed was New Belgium Pumpkick Ale. I remember, because it was almost fall and pumpkin beers were just hitting the shelves. I agreed to go. Textbook co-dependency, enabling shit right there. I was complicit in hiding his alcoholism for him. I feel silly for allowing him to manipulate me. Usually, I can tell when someone is pulling a fast one on me, but I wanted to believe he did it, was sorry, and just wanted me to replace the beer, so I let it go. Again, with the naivete.
Returning from replacing the beer and grabbing the snacks for the friends that I somehow thought we could still have over, I found Jeff, barely awake. I shook him, violently, but he was almost non-responsive. He was breathing and half opening his eyes, but I couldn't understand what could have happened in the less than 30 minutes I was away at the store. I yelled, at him, "Jeff. Jeff! What did you have? What did you take?" and he would not answer. After that, I said, "I'm calling 911. I'm calling your parents unless you tell me what you had." I was paralyzed with fear and disbelief. I didn't know how else to proceed, besides throw out threats that were meaningless to him. He told me, in slurred speech, that I should call 911 if I wanted to, because he didn't care anymore. He said to call his parents, because it didn't matter. My gut told me to check his pills, and I found that many were unaccounted for on a prescription he had just refilled. I wasn't sure what to do, but I knew I had to act fast. He wouldn't tell me what he had consumed or how much, so I just couldn't take the risk.
I had never called 911 before. I had fallen and broken my nose when running a few months prior ( at the end of my run, a block away from our house, sigh), but someone else called an ambulance for me. I did not want the ambulance called in the first place, because I knew I would be fine ,and an unnecessary ambulance ride would be expensive. When they arrived, I declined service. But this was different than a broken nose. This was life or death. I called my parents, and they didn't answer. I called Jeff's parents and asked them what to do. They told me to call 911. I think I needed to hear someone tell me that because I was so gripped with fear. I had no idea what I was doing or if I was making the right decision. I just needed someone to say, "Do this, now."
I called 911, and the firefighters climbed the 3 flights of stairs to our condo to retrieve Jeff. My nephew came home just as they were arriving. Thankfully for the firemen, Jeff was able to walk down the stairs, with help, on his own volition. Of course, we still managed to see all of our condo neighbors, many just coming home from work. Their concerned questions and offers of help enraged me at the time. "Why couldn't they mind their own business," I ranted in my head.
The police came, too, since it was to be classified as an attempted suicide on the 911 report and subsequent police report. The policeman didn't understand. He just kept asking me, "A healthy man? What's his problem? What's wrong with him?" I could only respond that he had "major depressive disorder" and "generalized anxiety" over and over. The police officer just looked perplexed; like he wasn't buying it. He had the persona of the stereotypical, old school, Chicago cop. He couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that a strapping, young, professional man would try to kill himself. Of the experiences I have had, I draw this one frequently as the time I have felt the stigma of mental illness, most.
The police officer interviewed me in front of the ambulance outside of our condo building (so the neighbors could peek out their windows and chatter), and again at the hospital. I believe he was making sure it wasn't a domestic violence or abuse case, but he just really scared me. As he was leaving the hospital, he handed me a scratch piece of paper with a case number scrawled out on it and the words "attempted suicide" written in big black letters. He said, in his thick Chicago accent, "Best of luck to ya." The nurse was much more comforting. She quietly handed me a box of tissues, and assured me that it would be alright. I wish I had gotten her name, because she deserves accolades for her care, concern, and empathy. But I was selfishly wrapped up in my own shit right then.
Jeff passed out immediately upon arrival. The doctors told me that we could transport him from the ER via ambulance up to the psychiatric hospital as soon as his BAC (blood alcohol content) results came back and he was sober. At that point, I only knew he had drank some wine and beers much earlier in the day, so I assumed whatever pills he had taken were causing the grogginess. That's what I wanted to believe. I didn't want to believe he had drank so much, again, in the 30 minutes I was away, after he so freely admitted and apologized for his earlier behavior. I confidently told the doctors that he hadn't drank anything recently and that he should be relatively sober to be transported quickly. They were confident he had not taken enough or the type of pills that could harm him, but rather, he was extremely intoxicated. I was wrong, and they were right.
I think it's legal to drive in most states with a BAC < .08. I don't have a car, so I don't really know, but I do know above that level is when people start to act a fool when they are drunk. Significant drunkenness occurs at a .1, and loss of some memory occurs at a .2. His BAC returned at a .383, which is essentially the point where a person can become comatose and risks death. He was drinking to die, which is a very hard road, indeed. I had no idea what he drank when I was at the store, or what pills he consumed, but the doctor said it must have been substantial. He was so intoxicated that the doctor said it would be at least 10-12 hours before he would be sober enough to be transported and admitted to the psychiatric hospital. It was about 7pm when he arrived at the ER. It was going to be a long night.
Exhausted, sad, angry, and alone, I sat in the ER, by myself for a little while, while his heart monitor beat, IV fluid dripped, and he carelessly drifted in his dreamlike state. I felt like a bad wife, for so many reasons, but particularly because I couldn't stay there. I had been through one too many things, one too many times. I wondered what his parents would think of me if they knew I went home to sleep in my own bed, rather in a chair next to his bed in the ER. I needed a moment to be away from all of the monitors, pee jugs, and nurses telling me it would be okay. I needed to feel, if only for a second, like my life was "normal." The doctors said he would probably be passed out through the night, and the nurses told me to go home and get some rest. So, that is what I did.
When I got home, it was then I discovered the previously full, and now empty bottle of 4 year old gin he must have consumed. That was one of the last remaining bottles of booze in our house. Months later he would try to open a large format bottle of wine, not meant for consumption, but rather a decorative piece we had bought for our engagement. He also drink a vintage bottle of wine that we had a show piece in our dining room down the road, too. It was from the 1930s and completely rotted out, so I never imagined he would attempt to drink it. I thought that would be the last straw before bottom, but he moved onto mouthwash after that. Those days were some of the last dying alcoholic gasps, I guess, or at least I hope they were. After all, that was only a mere 3 weeks ago, so really, it's still too soon to tell.
I returned to the hospital at 6 am when the nurse called to tell me Jeff was sober enough to be transported back to the psych hospital (only another .3 miles up the road from the hospital, so essentially a half mile radius of my house). On my walk back to the ER, in the early morning dawn, exhausted, I finally got in touch with my parents, who I had been calling nonstop to no avail, all night. I found out then that my mother was also in the hospital with severe chest pains. She is fine now (it was her gall bladder, which was removed), but at the time, I felt my whole world, crashing down. It finally hit me that no matter how hard I tried, or how optimistic I was, or how much I wanted to force it to work, my life would never be the same, again. It took me many months after that (and I'm still working on it) to accept that different isn't necessarily bad.
I was right about the cost of a city ambulance (and not a transport ambulance, like the kind that took him from the ER to the psych hospital, but those are pricey, too), by the way. It cost $1200 (before insurance, which thankfully we have) to go .3 miles (3 blocks from our house to the hospital). But it didn't matter this time, because unlike my broken nose, this was not going to be fine. It was a week and a half before my 32nd birthday, but time was suddenly standing still.
Want to read Jeff's side of the story? http://www.lifeimpaired.com/1/post/2014/02/things-that-stop-you-dreaming.html