At rehab, he was elected group leader, was a participant in all sessions, worked a twelve step program; he wanted to embrace his new life in recovery whole-heartedly. But a person cannot live in rehab forever. The real world eventually comes knocking, and in this one moment, taken off-guard, confused, and upset, he forgot everything he had learned. In a state of frenzy and panic over indignation by the health insurance folks, he turned back to his old patterns and what had been his only source of solace for so many years, the bottle. He had gotten all the homework in rehab, but when it came time to execute when the real life lesson appeared, he just couldn’t make the final leap.
He called me, disoriented, angry, frustrated, depressed and alone. Could I talk him down from his relapse? Most consuming my thoughts, would he try to hurt himself again? We had not had a relapse where self-injury and suicide was absent from the equation in a very long time, and each time, his decisions became more erratic and dangerous. I felt the familiar pang of anxiety, fear, and worry that had come to dominate my life, but it was dulled, diluted. I don’t believe that the intensity was decreased, but I do believe that I was so desensitized by that point that it felt less. I had reached critical mass, the glass ceiling of fear, and in that moment, the universe gave me one of the most powerful lessons of my life. I had learned in my limited time working my recovery program that I had choices, that I could remain paralyzed by these emotions, or I could detach and realize what my burden to carry was, and what was not. We had come to the ledge together. It was time to implement the material we had been given. He had failed, but me . . . would I succeed? I could continue to fight, for every piece of real estate on that collapsing land, or I could let go.
I went to bed that evening, angry, irritated, isolated, and alone, but I woke up the next morning, resolved to go about my day as if nothing had happened. I got up, I dressed to run to my Al-Anon meeting as I did, and still do, every Saturday morning. Still intoxicated, Jeff denied he had had any alcohol, and refused to go to his own AA meeting. I decided to leave, because I knew that his circumstances did not need to be mine, but something pulled me back, which I now know was my higher power. I think the universe wanted to test me to see if I was really serious about not being responsible for him anymore. I found him, in the bathroom, falling over into our bathtub, and I quickly knew that something stronger than alcohol was now involved. But still, I had no idea how serious things were about to get.
As he fell unconscious, I thought he was playing a sick game with me, because he was so intoxicated and ornery when I was trying to leave. But when I pushed his eyelids back, I only saw whites. I tried dropping water into his eyes, and I dug my fingernails into the beds of his nails, to no response. I called my father, and texted my sponsor. A sternum rub was suggested, and even this did not rouse him. I knew that I had to call 911, and quickly. The EMTs rushed up the 4 flights of stairs to our condo, where they, too, were unable to awaken him. They gave him something to incite vomiting, but at this point, little could be done.
In the hospital, I knew something was different this time around, because they wouldn’t let me back. I argued with the insurance company on the phone as I waited, because I didn’t know what else to do to pass the time. I wanted help, but there was no one to give it. The lady on the phone asked if I had looked into getting therapy after I snapped at her for giving me the same treatment center we had already been to twice. I remember asking her if she had someone she loved and what she would be willing to do to help them. She didn’t like that much. But here I was, fighting against the current, alive, and watching someone else drown. In an ironic turn of events, the disqualification from health insurance, which was the trigger that caused this mess, did not include his short-term disability benefit. Because of that, he was able to remain on disability for the majority of his recovery from this significant event. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if they would have just given him the health insurance, as it probably would have saved a lot of money. That is not how our story was meant to be. He was given a wonderful gift, and through this tragedy has come our journey. Anytime I question the existence of a power greater than myself, I think back to that moment. We were so lucky to have that to fall back on.
I remember walking back to the hospital at 6 am the next morning. I had gone home to sleep as the nurse had instructed and urged. I believed he would be awake the next morning and gave her explicit instructions to call me if he woke up before I arrived. She said that she would, but as I look back, I can see that she was merely humoring me. She knew better than I that he would not be awake the next morning, or the next day, or even maybe the day after that. It was possible that he might never wake up, but I was too exhausted, too afraid, and too naive to see. As I walked down Broadway, the floats were lining up for Chicago’s iconic Pride Parade that day, but we would not be celebrating. I went to the hospital in the hopes that my husband would be there once again, but instead I still found the body of someone I barely knew, who was barely alive. I remember it all like it was just yesterday: the ICU, the big, blonde, foreign nurse, confused by my presence; the World Cup soccer games, the suicide watchers, the strawberry protein bars I choked down at every meal because my body was too exhausted to notify me it was hungry; working on my laptop from the settee that was my office, dining room table, and bed for days. I remember his anger when he came out from his coma, making us laugh at his unconscious tirades about ninjas and not peeing in jugs. But I mostly remember him: quiet, calm, serene. He was the way that we are designed to be. Not anxious, not depressed, nor confused – he was at peace, and my greatest wish for him was to be like that, always.
When he finally regained his wits after a number of days, the first serious question he asked me, after he was able to ease into the discomfort and enormity of what he had done, was, “What are we going to do?” With a peace that I had never felt before, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had faith in him then, which seemed crazy at the time given the circumstances, but more importantly, I had faith in myself. I was able to look at him, and let him know that I loved him and would support him, but that this journey was his. I knew in that moment - it all became clear in one instant that felt like eternity - that regardless of what happened to him, that I would be okay. It was my final exam in letting go, and I knew I had passed with flying colors. He passed his final exam, too, because tomorrow, he will receive his one year coin, marking the anniversary of his sobriety.
I know I wrote about this when it happened, but I just needed to do it again. To remind myself of where I was; to remember the pain and to recognize what happened and to know that it is okay; to look at this day, this New Year’s Eve, with a fresh set of eyes; my new, recovering eyes.