Friday, May 04, 2007

And the next. And the next.

At the risk of becoming the “all suicide, all the time” blog, I really feel like I need to share what my big brother has to say about the cause behind the action. As you will no doubt notice, my brother takes any loss to alcoholism personally, and I’m pretty sure you couldn’t have gone through what he did and have emerged any other way:

I have some experience with alcoholism. It is cunning, baffling and powerful and affects loved ones and family members as much as it does the afflicted. Alcohol robs someone of their ability to feel true emotions to the extent that they forget what true emotions are. Hunger and pain are not emotions, and laughter is not happiness as it turns out.

So when a family member or other loved one becomes sick in a way where they can not experience vital emotions so necessary to the family environment, the entire family becomes sick. Love may still exist at some level but becomes layered with denial, guilt, anger and fear. It’s only natural to blame the behaviors of an alcoholic on the person and not the disease. (Yes, sometimes I call it that, sometimes I don’t.) Speaking as an alcoholic I would venture to say that normal people don’t really know the extent of the pain and self-loathing that the alcoholic feels, trapped and helpless as they are with only themselves to blame. The alcoholic in turn has no idea of the damage they’ve wrought as they hold the family captive.

Part of recovery is learning not to blame yourself for how you behaved while under the influence, and the influence unfortunately lasts long after the last drink. Without help, the family, (IMHO) have little chance to come to terms with distinguishing between the person and the effects of alcohol. The art of insulation, the natural reaction to an emotionally abusive environment, remains the survival tactic. Life cannot return to normal while members cannot feel and express true emotion, and trust remains just over the horizon.

I would be dead if I had owned a gun back then. I was faced with my limits of pain endurance, and as proud as I had been of them previously, I was no match for a progressive disease.

It is progressive.

As an Emergency Medical Technician, I have stood late at night in many a living room in my EMT jumpsuit and quietly pronounced this attribute, and got as close to getting outside of the bounds of what an EMT is really supposed to do as I ever got. I knew without the patient uttering a word that they would tell me that they are now okay and capable of making it through yet another night. “This isn’t about tonight, this is about tomorrow night and the next.”

Occasionally, I would reach in my wallet (non standard EMS equipment that it is) and pull out a slip of paper with a phone number. The message that I would try and leave them with was: think about calling this number before it ends.

All too often it ends. When you get tapped to “single gunshot, police on scene, one victim, no perp” call you pretty much know what you will find. It will be messy, it will be self-inflicted, it will most likely involve alcohol. The natural result of a progressive disease untreated.

This month marks my 17th year anniversary of my last drink. I should be dead but somehow I made it, with LOTS of help from others. I can say I would never have made it or even come close without that help, as hard as it was to accept. At one point I was willing to die rather than accept that help, how insane is that? I got lucky, I hit is just right, the few moments between when the pain was so unbearable that death was preferred. In lieu of a gun I had chosen to drink myself to death. (Remind anyone of Leaving Las Vegas ?) I damn near succeeded and was sick for a long time; they measured my remaining life in weeks originally.

I can’t say I experienced a single moment of feeling happy for over a year after I quit drinking… until one morning. On that morning tears came to my eyes as I realized the pain had quietly receded just a little bit at a time, I will never forget the moment, I was eating pancakes with syrup and they tasted good, and my little beige cat named Beige was sitting beside the plate purring with her eyes half shut. Knowing that it takes over a year to start to feel emotions in some cases, it becomes very clear that you can not “get better” from this disease overnight, or in a month.

As it was it took many years before I undid much of the damage of my time spent drinking. I spent years helping others, thousands of ambulance calls and countless shifts at the trauma center, always with a little piece of paper in my wallet with a phone number on it as a final tool.

My definition of a “bad day” has changed. Any day where family members are still relatively healthy is a day that we can ultimately get through, and consequently not really a bad day. I haven’t had a bad day in over 6,180 days

I was saddened but not surprised by recent events. The phrase that I heard was that “everything is all better now” when in fact it could not be, and the utterance of that phrase shows the depth and insidiousness of the disease. The effect of the disease lives on in loved ones and family members and it is my hope that they one day can accept the help needed to start their own recovery.


Skylers Dad said...

Thanks for sharing this Vikki, and please thank Dave for his honesty and sharing with us a bit of insight.

Jess said...

Wow. That was beautiful. Thanks for sharing, Vikki.

Bro said...

SD: Dave is my father, a good man who was able to see (and assist) his son get sober.

My son's middle name is David in turn.


Megan said...

My own brother has struggled through both alcholism and attempted suicide. Thank you for sharing this.

dad said...

It was 1990, I was out of a job, living in a basement, and my son was struggling with alcoholsim. It was a time to look deep inside myself (forget the praying)and find new paths. In many ways it was a near death experience. And yet, I knew what my son was trying to do, was much more difficult. I was almost helpless, except to give encouragement to him to find love for himself felt by the rest of the family. His recovery has brought many cleansing tears of joy and with it, renewal of life's rewards.

cheer34 said...

Thank you