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[ Personal Narratives ]

Deathbed to Degree

My addiction, alcohol.  

I worked as a bartender/manager for approximately 22 years, being in this business allowed me easy access to alcohol.  Having a bad day, have a drink.  Having a good day, have a drink.  Haven’t seen someone in ages, cheers!  There was always someone to drink with and I was so good at playing the game I rarely bought a drink, I even had bosses who would buy me a double just to perk me up so I could push that alcohol.  Tips were plenty and laughter was abundant, as were the relationships I attracted.  

My average relationship would last for two years, then I would bolt and it was off to find my next victim, I ‘er mean the love of my life.  If only I could find a ‘good’ man, one who loved me for who I was I knew all would be well in my world.  Wrong.  I was attracting men who were of the same mindset as I was, unhealthy attracts unhealthy I’ve come to understand.  The infatuation stage was fantastic as we’d laugh our ways through almost anything, we’d drink together, dance and sing, heck one even got us a limo and a two hundred dollar bottle champagne, yup he loved me that much… then the beatings started and he held me hostage until the courts rescued me from his grip. 

My children, yes I was a good mom in their early developmental years, thankfully I had my children young and I never drank when the oldest was born, it wasn’t until my first marriage and second child was born that I started drinking, at least once a week.  After my marriage of two years ended I was left once again being a single mother, this time with his debt to clear up, and I continued to drink, sometimes twice a week.  Then the blackouts started. 

I knew I had to do something to change my life so I moved from my small town life to the big city lights. I had two sisters who lived in the city and my Mom wasn’t too far away.  I needed my family desperately, I just knew that I was missing something in my life and my drinking concerned me.  

So there I was two young children in the backseat of my Mustang pulling into the city, my uncle had my worldly possessions not too far behind and as I approached the lights of the city my heart started to pound.  What had I just done?  Oh my goodness, I’ve never even driven in a city, oh no!  I forged on, gripping the steering wheel, heart racing, I found my rented town-home on the same block as my sister.  Relieved, I unpacked my car and my children and walked into my new life. 

After I became accustomed to driving in the city, I found a job, yup in a ‘lounge’ as a cocktail waitress and this scared the life out of me.  I never used to drink when I worked, heavens no, I would have instantly been fired and how in the heck would I even be able to serve drinks under the influence of alcohol?  The place I worked I later learned was one of the seediest places in the city, no wonder I was freaked out and stayed there only until I could find a better job.  In no time at all, about a month later, I was working at yet another lounge, a step up from my first city job but far from what I was accustomed to back in the haven of my small town life.  

Customers bought me drinks while I worked, I used to either have a pop and pocket the money or I’d save one or two drinks for after my shift.  Never would I drink and drive.  Until … gosh I don’t remember until when but I remember my first DUI and thankfully I didn’t kill anyone.  Did I learn from this?  No.  I simply had bad luck. 

Another job, more drinking.  Then THE job of a lifetime, I became a bar manager of a country and western bar. I hired staff, bands and other forms of entertainment.  I made an insane amount of money in tips, I opened the bar, as well as closed this place.  I drank copious amounts of alcohol and was having the time of my life!  I even learned how to two step, or so I thought.  Booze, men (c’boys at that!), keys to a bar, my sister babysitting my children… what more could a girl want? 

I was also a perfectionist, the more I drank the harder I worked and the cleaner my home was, baking was abundant, laundry always done, and I was running on fumes, alcohol and fumes.  Two years of this type of a lifestyle and the bar closed its doors for good.  The two owners had a bit of a dispute and that was the end of this chapter. 

Another day, a new boyfriend whom I lived with, and a new job. Right, we even bought a house together.  Life was good, until my next bar job where the owner also encouraged me to drink, why not? I was a happy drunk, I made him good money and being an over achiever I worked and worked and worked.  Two years later I packed my children, I left my fiancee, my home and moved on.  Why?  Because that was my pattern and it was time. 

This is how my life went, until my second marriage in 1999.  It was New Years Eve and I said “I do”, this time I knew it was true love and I wanted to start the new millennium off with all being well in my world.  I even quit my bartending and went to work with my husband, he was a carpenter running job sites and I became his helper.  We did a lot of out of town work and we were known as the cleaners, if a job was a mess we’d walk in clean it up in record time and get it ready to turn over.  Did we drink?  You bet we drank.  We drank to excess sometimes and always a bottle of vodka a day between both of us.  Then the drinking was interfering with our relationship, I’m not sure if the fights were over who drank more, or who drank less, but it was an ongoing battle of the alcoholics.  It was while I was with husband number two I went to detox for a week, I loved him that much, I was going to show him I wasn’t an alcoholic and we even started to go to AA together.  We didn’t do the steps, nor get a sponsor, or do anything which was suggested, why should I?  I still wasn’t an alcoholic!  Three months of sobriety, now how could I be an alcoholic?  I didn’t own any trench-coats, I didn’t drink out of brown paper bags… just look at me, I shower, I’m clean, my house is immaculate AND  alcoholics can’t stay sober for three months.  

It was a hot day, we worked a long shift and I asked if we could stop off for a cooler, just one, after all we deserved it didn’t we?  He agreed and one cooler led to two.  We stopped at two that night but that first cooler five years later had me lying in palliative care. 

After our two years together, oh wait it was almost two and a half years, I went to stay with my mother and he was going to regroup and get us out of debt by renting a cheap place in the city and we were going to get things sorted out.  Wrong.  We separated for good.  I had been with my Mom for two months, I was without a vehicle, she lived in the country and worked half an hour away so I would spend my days by myself, most days by myself.  I was at peace in my world, I kept busy by cleaning, doing yard work, and I’d always have dinner prepared for my Mom when she’d get home from work.  AND I wasn’t drinking, not until one fateful day when my Mom’s husband pulled up in his big truck and came into the house, standing in the porch he asked “Where’s Mom?”   I told him she was probably working late again and I glanced out the porch window and noticed a white car come around the corner. 

“Oh, that must be her now” I said. 

He glanced and nope it wasn’t her, it was a cop car so he went outside to power down his big truck and the phone rings.  It was a phone call which I wasn’t prepared for, one which I could never in a million years prepare for.  

“Hi, this is Constable so and so”  I asked “Is that you parked at the sign?” and he told me it was him.  He asked for my mothers husband and I told him he was at the big truck just ahead, the police officer thanked me and I wondered what in the heck did he do that the cops were asking for him.  I thought maybe hit something without knowing… and back I went to check on Mom’s dinner. 

My Mom’s husband comes back into the house followed by a police officer and a lady.  Instantly I knew something was wrong.  I dropped to my knees as I heard “It’s Mom” and that’s all I heard. I knew she was gone, I would never see my mother ever again and my heart ripped in two.  

The lady identified herself as a victim services worker… blah, blah, blah. I NEEDED a drink like I’ve never needed a drink before. The worker said that it wasn’t a good idea.  My mom’s husband whispered to me there’s a bottle of whiskey in the fridge downstairs.  I excused myself and had one, or four, shots of straight whisky and I detest whiskey.  I go back upstairs and the victim service worker wants to know if  I want her to notify my sisters?  Hell no, they are my sisters, it’s my job to let them know and I made three phone calls not recalling what I said. 

I don’t recall much other than my estranged husband literally holding me up by the graveside, us driving back from the old homestead, arguing and me telling him to sleep downstairs at my Mothers house.  I didn’t drink throughout the preparation for the services, or if I did I don’t recall drinking, nor did I drink the day of the burial, I was beside myself with grief.  

My husband leaves, my mothers husband takes a trip out of province and I’m at my mothers house by myself for three weeks.  I did anything and everything I possibly could to get my hands on alcohol, I couldn’t stand the agony.  About three, maybe four months, after Mom’s passing I moved into the closest town where I had help purchasing a trophy and engraving shop.  What did I know about this type of a business?  Not a single thing.  I did the one thing I knew how to do, I drank like there was no tomorrow, forgetting customers orders the odd time, not remembering who paid their bill with me and my life was totally out of control.  Some people say they spiral out of control, I forgot to spiral, I just plain out bottomed out and was left with no business, sleeping in the seediest hotel in town working as a chamber maid and right, I also got my second DUI.  I had a reading so high I was clinically dead and when I faced the judge he had asked me when the last time I had a drink was, I told him “Yesterday, it was my birthday!” Like duh!  Three years I lost my license for, but what did it matter, what did anything matter anymore?  I had no responsibilities, no children to care for, no husband, no mother, nobody needed me and I was a lost soul. 

I met a man, my hero rescuer, he saved me from living on the streets.  When we met I had a broken shoulder, I was contemplating suicide and I had zero purpose in my life.  I met him, we went to the bar with a mutual friend, he bought me anything I wanted all night long and I have no idea how I ended up at his place but when I woke up the next morning I was in a strange place.  I called out “Hello,” no response.  I called again “Anybody here?”  Again no response so I got up and looked out the window. Wow, where in the heck was I?  I was on a farm someplace, but where?  I ventured out of the bedroom down the hallway and found the kitchen where there was a note which read I had to go to work, help yourself to anything you’d like, I’ll call you later.  And thankfully he signed his name as I couldn’t recall what it was. 

He called me a few hours later, asked how I was doing and told me that if I wanted a drink there was vodka in the fridge freezer.  I told him I’d already found it and it sure helped with the hangover, and I laughed a nervous laugh.  He came home, we chatted and I spent another night with him, and another and another.  Two weeks later we went into town and got all of my belongings and I was living with him.  He was a God send, but he also enabled me as I got to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to do so, and I didn’t have to work, heck I even got a nice monthly allowance deposited into my account each month!  Yup, living the life of Riley. 

A few years passed and I was to the point of drinking daily, not always getting drunk but sometimes I would.  I still had my perfectionism going on as well, the house was immaculate, the yard tip top shape, the garden big enough to feed an army and meals always prepared with homemade baking.  I deserved to have a few. 

It was April of 2005 I went on a gambling trip out of province with his mother and sister. I had my bottle of 7-up, half vodka, for the bus ride and I wasn’t feeling good. No worries, a few swigs of my 7-up and I’ll be good as new.  I couldn’t even drink, it hurt my stomach!  We pull into our hotel and lo and behold there’a a liquor store, I go in and buy a bottle of vodka, I go back to my room and I make myself have two drinks, gagging them down.  Then off I go for supper and to gamble.  I ordered a salad, to eat hurt my stomach so I had a vodka instead.  I was so sick I went back to my room fairly early and slept hoping to feel better for the ride home the following day.  Nope, still sick and couldn’t even drink. 

I get home and he insists I go to the doctor, I listen.  The doctor asks me if I drink and I say yes I drink.  “How much?” he asks, I respond “Maybe a few beers a day, other days I drink a little more.”  He ran some tests and told me not to drink at all and he would be in touch with the results from the tests.  Within a few days I get the call back, I’m to come in and speak with the doctor.  I tell my boyfriend I need to go into town and he ensures he has time off, the joys of owning your own company, and the doctor tells me that I have to quit drinking all together.  He says way more than this but this is all I recall. 

So I quit drinking… the hard stuff. 

I continue to get sicker and sicker, my belly swells as though I’m pregnant and it becomes normal in my world to go into town and have my stomach drained at least once a week, OUCH!  Once they took four liters of fluid out of my stomach in a matter of about an hour, no worries, good to go again.  Back home and back to keeping up to the house and all that I do, and drinking ONLY beer.  

I honestly believed I’d quit drinking so when the doctor asks me if I’d quit I tell him yes, I’ve quit.  One day the doctor calls in my boyfriend for a consult with me sitting in the room.  That’s it the party is officially over.  But the boyfriend works all the time, he’s not a drinker, he’s a workaholic so I find ways to get alcohol.  I con friends into picking me up my booze, once I even took the vehicle into town, stocked up thinking the boyfriend would never know… wrong. I got stuck turning back into the driveway… oops. 

I get sicker and sicker, soon I am in the hospital in the city with complete kidney failure, cirrhosis of the liver, a bleeding gastrointestinal tract, severe jaundice, alcoholic hepatitis, and a few other ‘ailments.’  My weight drops down to 80 pounds, I’m as yellow as yellow can be and probably even glowing in the dark, I’m that yellow.  My feet are double their size and my legs are cracked and oozing fluid out of them.  I had one foot in the grave and the other was following.  I’m completely disorientated although today I have some memories come back to me and some of the insane things I’d said and done, and the pain and agony I endured,  ya I’ll save this for my book! 

I leave the hospital, I’m readmitted, I was like a yo-yo bouncing back and forth, home, hospital in the country, hospital in the city and then one day I was sick and tired of people, of all the crap they were putting me though and if only I could get back home then I’d be okay.  Even with all of the medications they were giving me I could still feel pain, and I knew a few beers would help me sleep!  I con my way into going back to the country hospital, I’m only a half hour from home.  I did this by telling the specialists that if I’m going to die at least let me go home to die, naturally I didn’t think I was dying, I just wanted the hell out of there! 

My last admission to a hospital for any length of a stay was on December 29th, 2005.  I had six grand mal seizures which are known of, I was left alone most of that day while he was out working and when he got home I’ve been told that I was in the middle of a seizure.  He called an ambulance, I had the second seizure before they arrived at the farm, I had two more on the way to the hospital and two more after I was in hospital. I woke up to massive bruising, stitches in my head, sore from head to toe and strapped into a wheelchair not having a clue how I got there. 

I’ll stop this part of my story there and fast track a bit. 

I have TIPS which is short for Transjugular Intrahepatic Portosystemic Shunt.  This is a temporary measure and I’ve asked my doctor how temporary temporary is and they don’t know.  This procedure was only used in Canada for I believe five years before it was used on me so it’s in my opinion that there isn’t enough research in this area to formulate a response.  My cirrhosis will never disappear, but thankfully my kidneys function and I’m off of all medications today. 

I didn’t go back to the farm after I was discharged from the hospital on January 3rd, 2006, instead the ex dropped me off at my sisters place and I was a mess.  I stayed with her for three weeks, moved into the city with my oldest son and his wife and I couldn’t even walk to the corner store by myself, I was far too weak and disorientated.  Somehow, not sure how this happened, but I got myself into a rehab center where I had to go to get onto a liver transplant list.  In March of 2006 I had a setback and developed Mental Encephalopathy, toxins had built up and my mind vacated me.  I hadn’t had a drink since I had the grand mal seizures, how could this be happening to me? 

I woke up in a hospital once again unsure how I got there, I was monitored and released within a 24 hour period but that 24 hours was a nightmare.  I was scheduled to go to rehab the following week and I feared not being able to go due to this setback.  I called and they still accepted me.  I spent a month at rehab, go figure, as I still was NOT an alcoholic!   After the month elapsed I was off to a ladies recovery house, I had basically no-place else to go, it was a nice house and what did I have to lose?  

I spent six months at the ladies recovery house and I changed one thing about myself while I was there; this one thing was absolutely everything!  From the way I perceived myself to be, to finding out who I am, my patterns of thought changed, the entire world changed and became vibrant with color and I gained my weight back, heck I even found some self confidence while I was there.  It was in my 5th month at the recovery house I was in group therapy watching my counselor lead the session.  I had started to watch her ways and how she worked and I admired what she did and thought that maybe one day I could do what she does.  So with a  new in-look on life, (yes in-look, that’s not a typo as I had to go inwards to gain an new perspective), a bit of self confidence, a lot of healthy fears and a few suitcases I left the recovery house to start my new life.  Again I’ll skip out on many details as this narrative is turning into a book already… but I will say that I went to AA meetings every single night and this involved a three hour bus trip, what the heck, I had nothing better to do with my time anyways and had to get out for a while as I staying with son number two and sleeping on his couch.   

I started to look into going back to school, I had quit school in grade 10 as I was pregnant with my first child so I knew academic upgrading is where I would have to start.  I found an apartment which I could afford and I enrolled in school after taking a three day career planning workshop to ensure I wasn’t chasing a pipe dream, sobering up and wanting to save the world! 

Full of fear and apprehension I got on the bus on the first day of class, every time the bus stopped I wanted to get off, cross the street and head right back home… but I pushed through these fears, got to the college and pried open the 500 pound doors.  I completed my first year of studies, stayed in close contact with the AA program and I not only finished the first year, I excelled and even became an ambassador for the college.  I then entered into the social work diploma program knowing full well I’d need my bachelors degree to be able to do what my counselor did. 

Diploma done, it was off to big girls school and what did I know about university? Not a single thing!  I figured it all out, heck I even did my second placement in Australia living amongst the Aborigine peoples.  I crossed the stage after five years of study with my wee granddaughter in the bleachers and all of my children watching me, it was an exhilarating moment in time as I heard my granddaughter yell at the top of her wee lungs “Grammy!”  I had tears in my eyes, I was so full of gratitude for all of my blessings in life, my children who had seen their mother on her death bed due to addiction were watching me cross the stage of a recognized university… how cool is that? 

Did I stop at the bachelors degree?  Well no, this year I completed my Masters Degree, the more I learn the more I’ve come to realize just how little I know.  I’m still involved with AA, I’m not as fanatical about going to meetings as I once was, I’m now immersed in my Cree culture and love the spirituality and peace this brings into my life.  I volunteer within community, I’m an avid photographer, a proud and blessed mother and grandmother of one wee princess and I take my girl whenever I possibly can. I am present in life and I’m vibrantly alive.  I have friends in all walks of life, from the bikers whom I love, singers, songwriters, artists, young, old, employed, unemployed,  to the academics and yup, even friends in Australia now.  I am one of the richest women alive, my banker may disagree but the bank isn’t large enough to hold my riches. 

I haven’t had to have a liver transplant thankfully, will I ever have to have one? I have no idea, I just know that I’m dancing with my life and no more two stepping, it’s rock and roll all the way!  I tell myself I’m not sick, so I’m not.  Our minds can be our best friends or our worst enemies,  when my mind (where my addiction lives) wants to be my enemy I turn inwards to my heart and I dance like nobody is watching, free from all chains which used to bind me and I love my life!  Right, and I can now do what my counselor did for me, she not only helped me on my healing journey, she inspired me to pursue an education.  

My biggest suggestion to anyone who is reading this is if it’s touched you in any way at all, please find someone to talk to about it.  I believe in purpose and reason, if you’ve read this up to here, it’s with purpose, never ever give up, be it on yourself or a loved one.  We’re not sick people, we live with a disease and until we understand this disease… well as the saying goes, if nothing changes nothing changes.  Love, light, laughter and peace, this is my wish for you.