My very handsome and charming ex-husband, Chris, is hours from death as he lay in a bed in hospice care at a nursing center. He is only 54 years old and the cause of his death will most certainly be alcoholism.
We met almost 20 years ago--at a bar, of course, where we began our friendship as drinking buddies. He was, by far, the most handsome man I had ever seen--prematurely grey, wearing a cowboy hat and faded Levis. He had high cheekbones and a twinkle in his eyes, but he was getting over a recent divorce and his brother, John, warned me that he was trouble. Hah! Just the kind of challenge I needed to hear.
However, he really was in trouble--his drinking was infamous at his favorite drinking hole, where I tended bar. In fact we kidded about Chris punching a timecard as he spent more time at the bar than the employees working it. We were young and irresponsible and made fun of him, which he took in his good-natured way...heck we made fun of everyone at that age, but one thing that really impressed me about Chris was his very strong disapproval when I made derogatory comments about others.
Eventually, Chis ended up in a treatment facility for alcoholism for 28 days, and emerged a very changed man. He still stopped in at the bar for a soda or two, but he looked even better--healthy and alert, and I made it my goal to take our friendship to another level so I quit drinking as well. Chris used to ride his bicycle around town, stopping at the park that bordered Lake Winnebago, dreaming of fishing later that spring, and in weird way, I started to stalk him.
Ultimately we started to 'date' and I recall a movie we went to see--well, I can't really recall it because I was so distracted from Chris' nearness that I had no idea what was happening on the big screen. But...as anyone who is familiar with alcoholism, a 28-day stint in a rehab facility often does not prepare one for the real world beyond the safe haven of treatment, and Chris began drinking again...and I with him. Of course, only on the weekends, but then Sunday counted as the weekend also, and soon Wednesdays crept in, and before we knew it...well, you get the picture.
Two years of hard drinking later, I was on the verge of leaving Chris--we were both spiralling down into an emotional and physical hell. However, Chris, was in a very, very bad way--jaundice and thin. I remember we were at a gas station in mid-November; cold and blustery in Wisconsin, and I waited in the car as Chris talked to the attendant. I knew at that point that someday I would bury Chris. It wasn't more than two weeks later when that became a very real possibility.
The day before Thanksgiving, Chris began to hallucinate as his liver was no longer filtering the toxins from his bloodstream. He thought that his son, Josh, was hiding from him in his golf bag, and that his daughter, Tiffany, was inside a large glass vase. The family was quick to act and had him into an emergency room by that evening. Chris was confused and somewhat combatant so he was sedated to ease the alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, when it was time to wake up, Chris did not respond and instead lie in a coma for three weeks. The doctors told us that he had about a 30% chance of recovery--70% chance of not.
I used to tell Chris that even a cat had only nine lives and Chris used one when ever he had a chance. He used a few lives on this occassion.
Chris lived in the limbo that a coma must be for three weeks...and finally, and very slowly, woke up. He spent the next three weeks in the hospital learning how to swallow again; how to lift his arms; how to stand; how to walk. He was extremely frail and relatively helpless. He was also often confused but he had a determination in spirit that was amazingly undeniable.
Chris spent the following three months in a nursing facility, the six after that in a halfway house for alcoholics, and landed on his brother's doorstep almost a year after his initial 'crash'. One might think that a scare like Chris lived through would be enough to keep him away from the evil, liquid demon...but alas...it was not to be.
For the next 15 years Chris was in and out of treatment centers, maintaining sobriety for shorter and shorter periods of time. As his wife, I sadly had to leave him--my co-dependence had led me down a very sick path and ultimately led to my own return to a drinking hell....to be continued...