One thing I have never done here is to show you what my alcohol issue does to those around me. In this case, I’m going to give you, in Liz’s words, what she came home to this time. This is hard for me to do, because it isn’t pretty, but I wanted to give her the chance to speak. From this point forward, this is all Liz’s words . . . .
There are reasons I rarely speak on Eric’s blog. One is general time constraints. As you know I’m a workaholic who happens to be a single mother. That leaves precious little time to organize my thoughts and transcribe in a meaningful way following stressful days on the job. Probably the biggest reason is that I’m a very private person. I choose carefully the people I allow into my life and even more importantly who I allow into my kids’ lives. When Eric chose to move to FL, we discussed this at length. His blog is his avenue to “get the shit in his head” down on paper. It’s his therapy. It’s his forum to discuss what is going on in his head. The few times I have appeared in a post were with my authorization, including the posts about my kids. Otherwise, I leave this to Eric and the friends he’s made here.
He and I have spoken over the last several days. His blog post from early this morning, I have not read as yet. He wanted to iterate his experience from the view of the alcoholic and any additional information be entered as an addendum or a follow-up. I asked him if I could write the follow-up from the perspective of a friend, but more importantly to add to what he was unable to remember. It’s with trepidation that I write this because the story isn’t pretty, but he has editorial rights. There are also certain aspects that I’ve never told him. Because the story doesn’t make sense unless I give you the background, it will have to be told in 2 parts. I apologize in advance for the length, but it’s necessary to see the effects on many people. As a nurse, and more importantly his friend, I’m preserving his confidentiality and won’t elaborate on certain areas, but will relay the story and its effects from the view of a family member. Over the last several months, Eric has become a member of my family and I view him as a brother. Unknowingly, he has been a support to me and aided me during a very difficult time in my life. Consequently I view him as more than a friend. He is family.
Alcoholism isn’t new to me. I am also German and come from a line of “heavy drinkers”. Functioning alcoholics. Fortunately I wasn’t blessed with the gene and have no alcoholic tendencies. When Eric moved into my home last year, I was obviously aware of his past. As a nurse, I’m also aware of the high rate of recidivism which is why I’ve chosen to relate my two rounds of experiences.
During the relapse in May/June last year, we had re-established “contact”. I place “contact” in quotation marks for a reason. During his relapse phases, I’ve come to discover that he drops all contact. Alcohol is his priority. It’s one of the first signs I look for. Out of concern for his life during that relapse, when he would communicate, we had a discussion the middle of the night about him coming to Florida so I could get him established at the VA and try and get him the help he needed. It was a brief exchange of texts. I figured we would discuss it more the next day, but the next thing I knew, he was packing up and moving here. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I panicked. I do have kids, a respectable career, and in the general scheme of things really didn’t know what I was getting into.
One thing I’m good at after nearly 28 years of being a nurse is the ability to read people. I knew upon meeting sober Eric that, despite his “bad boy” image, he is a kind and caring person. He is a man of his word. A man of integrity. He’s a straight-shooter, no bullshit kind of man. What I had never seen was drunk Eric.
I need to step aside and explain how Eric and I met. We did meet essentially through his blog. Our initial contacts were through writing and it’s that avenue that both of us tend to fall back on when confronting difficult issues. It allows us to organize our thoughts in a meaningful manner. He doesn’t pull punches and neither do I. However, neither one of us sets out to intentionally hurt anyone. We merely express our opinions, no bullshit involved.
Almost immediately following his arrival to Florida, he relapsed. Quite honestly I’m not sure that he had totally recovered from the binge that led him to move here. Not entirely certain the best way to handle the situation, I contacted his brother through Facebook. Knowing that I didn’t want to expose my children to this, I set out to confirm my suspicions that he had been drinking by writing him an email. That went unanswered and I had my answer. He came to his own decision to stop drinking and began to display symptoms of Delirium Tremens (DT’s). For those of you that don’t know what this is, it’s the body’s way of withdrawing from alcohol abuse. Withdrawal. It’s potentially a life-threatening state that can progress to seizures and death. It’s beyond the scope of the blog to go into it thoroughly, but you can
read more about the symptoms and treatment here: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000766.htm
Recognizing the symptoms, I confronted Eric and offered to take him to the VA Emergency Room. He initially refused. At the time of the exchange, I was at work. When he continued to refuse treatment, I left work emergently and came home. When I arrived home, the symptoms were as I suspected. He refused to go the ER initially because he had been through this “cold turkey” process many times before and it was his punishment for drinking when he knew he shouldn’t. There was no option in my mind as I instructed him to get out of bed and get into the car where I drove him to the VA for treatment. He acquiesced. He was evaluated and ultimately discharged home. I’m not exactly sure when I told him, but I did explain this would be his only “get out of jail free” card. I managed to hide much of this from my children, but was not going to expose them again.
At that point, I opened the back doors to the VA, obtained him a primary care appointment and his process for recovery to include Dr. Baughn (you can remove if you haven’t used his name). His treatment as you all know included medications and a psychologist. Once the fog cleared and I was satisfied he was committed to his recovery, I opened the other door to the CWT program in an attempt to get him “in the door” at the VA. It’s not what you know at the VA, it’s who you know. I landed at the VA by accident as a contract nurse. That’s how I obtained my permanent position. As I suspected, Eric made an impression in the department immediately. Realizing they needed another position in supply, his managers set out to request a new, unbudgeted position. And then the vortex opened…………
You all know that I was a manager at the VA. The VA is a wonderful place for veterans because they are skilled in the care of veteran specific experiences. The employees are committed to providing the best care to the veterans and often do this with inadequate resources seamlessly to the veterans. What is frustrating as a manager trying to compete with these resources and the HR experience. You’ve read about it already. In fact, if you wanted to instantaneously see me in bitch mode, all I had to hear was whatever issue I was attempting to resolve was in HR. The hiring process is long and laborious. To give you an example, it took me 8 months to get 2 nurses hired for 2 budgeted positions. Approval in my department took 24 hours. The remaining time was the HR hiring process. Unbudgeted positions can take up to 18 months to process.
I did my best to support Eric throughout the process. I had many CWT patients and saw many extensions granted. It’s unknown to me why Eric had the experience he had in CWT. I’d seen patients who were in the program and doing well extended many times without their hours cut. I attempted to pull some strings, but it was a relatively new contact for me and it was one of the few departments I had little contact with in my 10 years working for the VA. At that point all I had to offer was encouragement to Eric. We managed to get through the initial reduction in his hours ok, but I was starting to see the stress building. Unfortunately, I was going through a particularly difficult time as a manager because the Nurses union at the VA was falsely accusing me of actions that I could be terminated for. They did the same to my boss. I had been tasked with doing 3 peoples jobs while trying to maintain order on a unit and provide excellent patient care. I supported him the only way I knew how. His managers acted on his behalf. Upon exhausting all my resources, I had no choice but to send him to our congressman.
There are two expressions at the VA. One is the government operates at three speeds…….slow, super slow, and stop. The other is……things at the VA don’t happen quickly, they happen suddenly. The congressional drew attention to the matter, but not quickly enough or suddenly enough.
Then the text came from Eric…..he was told to turn in his badge. His time with CWT was over. There were three positions he was in line for in varying stages of HR processing. Knowing he faced unemployment again and that was the reason for the last relapse…..I began to fear another relapse. During this time, I was offered a new job outside the VA that I chose to take. It requires travel. Their headquarters are in NYC. The end to my stress came. I did what I could do to stay positive and supportive to Eric as I watched him retreat more in to his own personal hell. I’ve learned forcing him to open up isn’t the answer. What I didn’t know was how far down he could go and I was about to find out……
I started looking for the signs. The day I headed to NYC to start my new position, I began to suspect that he was drinking. I found a bottle of beer in the garbage. Keep in mind that there
are other adults right now in my home that could have disposed of the beer. I tried to look for coffee grounds. Following the last round, Eric had told me that if I noticed he wasn’t drinking coffee, he was drinking. Needing to get to the airport, I didn’t have time to look thoroughly. He was in communication with me sporadically that day, but fear began to set in that it was going to get worse and I was going to be 2000 miles away. He did let me know with a vague text the end of CWT was bothering him, but he was positive in that a lot of people were fighting for him. We texted while I was at the airport. I hadn’t had time to get groceries and Eric agreed to go to the store for me. I transferred my portion of cash to him for the groceries. We texted again briefly when I landed in NYC……that would be the last I would hear from him.
Right now it would be an understatement for me to say my living arrangements are unconventional. Enter “friend” who recently arrived due to unforeseen circumstances as well. Because Eric has been through the unforeseen changes, he’s the one I joke with about them. I know I’m the “glue” in the household. The one who keeps everyone straight. Yet, during a critical time, I was in NYC.
I checked in with Eric the next day when I was driving home from my first day at work. I got no answer. So, I checked with “friend” to see if Eric was ok. Friend confirmed that Eric had been downstairs a few times, but not much conversation. He had only been outside to smoke. So, at least I knew he was alive. Pretty sure he’s been drinking. Unsure what to do other than hope I’m wrong.
Day 2. I again checked in with Eric. No answer. Again check with “friend” who confirms that Eric has been downstairs once, but not much conversation. Ok…..again, I know he’s alive, but anxiety is very high. I try again later that day……still no answer. Now I’m positive he’s drinking and beginning to wonder if he’s alive. Attempt to reach friend unsuccessfully. With all the people currently living in my house things have been a little strained with my daughter. Asking her to check on Eric wouldn’t be a good idea. Having difficulty reaching friend who is at least an adult, but unable to reach. I decide to reach out to Denise on Facebook. I figure he doesn’t need to talk to me, but he would at least be communicating with his girlfriend if things were ok. Denise confirms my worst fears…….she has not heard from him in 2 days now. I’m now both concerned and angry. It’s a strange dichotomy. Denise and I exchange numbers and talk trying to determine what to do next. I’m currently at dinner with my sister on Broadway in Manhattan. Both of us are out of town and unable to reach him. Both of us are concerned he’s dead. I’m almost convinced. I’ve not been able to reach friend to go check on him and my daughter isn’t an option. Not wanting to use this option, I contact my 16 yr old son. I know…..you’re thinking what kind of mother would do that, but it’s the one who’s afraid she’s coming home to a dead man. My youngest son is also gifted and talking to him is like talking to a little adult. I know if my worst fears are confirmed, I can rationalize with him. Talk to him. Since I’ve been out of town, he’s staying with his father so he’s not readily able to check and make sure Eric is alive. He tells me he can get to my house in about 45 minutes. It will be the longest 45 minutes of my life. Wondering if I’ve just asked my youngest son to find a dead man. Wondering if I made the right choice to ask him to check on him. Scared my biggest fear was going to be a reality. Working with veterans for 10 years, I can report that I’ve seen many “incompatible with life” situations. I’m now praying this is one of those times. You have no idea how I feel as a mother hoping your teenage son doesn’t find your friend dead.
My son finally calls back. He finally arrives and thankfully friend is present at home. They have opened the door to find drunk Eric naked on the bed, breathing erratically. There are numerous bottles of booze thrown about the room and vomit encrusted “rags” (I later determined this to be a t-shirt) on the floor. I’m told that he has vomited blood. The condition of the room, in addition to the smell is related to me by both my son and friend.
While I’m talking to him on the phone, I quickly text Denise in the middle of Broadway telling her it’s an emergency. Now it’s hard to explain what type of nursing I’m in, but suffice it to say that I’m skilled at blindly assessing patients on the phone. I no longer need to actually see a patient to know they look like shit. As I’m assessing the situation talking both to my son as well as friend, waiting for Denise to call back, I make the executive decision to call 911. A couple of arguments between friend and son and I argue that I don’t give a shit how angry Eric may get. Fucking call 911. Ultimately my son makes the call since I’m in the middle of Manhattan. I agree to absorb any anger that Eric may have. I remain on the phone with my son until the paramedics arrive. Evidently nothing is going on this night in Valrico because 3 paramedics and 3 sheriff’s officers respond to the 911 call. I talk to one of the paramedics and relate what I know of Eric’s history and request transport to the VA as long as they deem him
medically stable. They do, however Eric isn’t so enthused to be transported. After 20 mins or so, they finally convince him to be evaluated and transport him to the VA.
And I wait………..
Being a nurse I know I need to wait for him to be transported and be evaluated by the ER staff. Denise calls back and we talk. I do my best to try and calm her down, explaining what was found, where he was and how I came to realize he was drinking. In addition to being a nurse, this is round 2 for me. It’s only round 1 for her. She feel stupid for not realizing that he was drinking. I do what I can to help explaining it’s a learned experience for everyone.
After some time has passed, I call the VA and attempt to try and see how he’s doing. Here’s where HIPPA laws get in your way……they will only confirm that he’s there to me on the phone despite me being listed as an emergency contact on the chart. I can only pray that they will admit him because I know if he goes home, he’s drinking. If they can admit him, my former position gave me the opportunity to interact with almost every department in the hospital. I know many people in the inpatient and outpatient arena’s and know I can contact one of my friends to explain the dire situation I know he’s in. That doesn’t happen……….
I receive a call from friend at nearly midnight that night. Eric has been discharged home. Friend goes to talk to him, calls me and all three of us have a brief conversation. Eric is still clearly intoxicated at home. Anger arises that he was released from the VA because I’m still 2000 miles away and powerless to do anything to protect the home environment. Anger gives way to hope that he will stop drinking now that he’s been busted. That’s what happened the last time. I know I have friend there and if I can evaluate the DT’s are getting worse, I can always call 911, right?
I can do nothing but wait until the morning to contact his primary care physician and let her know about the relapse. She knows me well and knows that I’ve been involved in his care. She’s thanked me many times for saving his life when he moved here. It’s a long, restless night.
Fortunately I have an unanticipated day off from my new job. Being the workaholic I am, I still get up and do some work. In between emails, I contact some connections I have and find out that his primary care physician is on leave. Fucking luck of the draw, right?! I do leave messages for her nurse as well as the physician. Knowing WELL that Eric isn’t a morning person, I wait until I know he will likely wake.
Starting as strangers, Denise and I are about to become instant good friends, possibly one of the best things that will come of this whole situation. I relate what I can that morning. Now both of us are powerless given the distance between Tampa and NC/Manhattan. Adding insult to injury it’s on this day I find out I have to extend my trip in NYC to head to Atlanta for work on Monday while on my way home. Denise and I have many conversations this day trying to figure out how we can get to Tampa to take charge of the situation so that I’m not left with having my 16 year old finding Eric dead. It’s going to work for neither of us. I’ve contacted the airlines and anyway I figure it, I will be out 1K to try and get home. I can only hope that the fact he’s been busted now results in him stopping drinking.
It doesn’t. I try to reach him. Denise tries to reach him. No success for either of us. He’s drinking. Friend checks, but is unavailable during the day. It’s not until later that evening that my son and friend check again and find him in nearly the same condition again. I’m now told exactly how much Eric has been drinking and that he’s started drinking the wine I have in the house. The reason I have wine is because Eric has told me that he NEVER drank wine. It gives him a headache when he drinks it, so he doesn’t. I’ve recently stocked up. I now know how out of control he is and fear for his life KNOWING I can’t get home to intervene. I again make the executive decision to call 911. I have friend confiscate all the alcohol in the house.
Paramedics arrive…..all three of them…..as well as the same three sheriff’s officers. Now I’m angry, concerned, confused. I have a long phone conversation with the police officer who tells me there’s little I can do from Manhattan. He reviews my options with me incluIt ding Baker Act vs. Marchman Act. In his opinion, Eric doesn’t meet criteria for either. HOWEVER, should he not stop drinking resulting in us contacting 911 again, he will enact one of these legal avenues.
After the paramedics leave, I talk to my son. He tells me we need milk. At this point I realize the money I gave Eric for groceries has bought little more than booze. My son gives me a brief overview of what IS in the refrigerator. Following a litany expletives out of my mouth, I request my son to give the phone to friend. The kids need food, right? It’s bad enough that they’ve had to witness the last several days, but I now find out that there is no food in the house. There is also one more item I’m concerned about. I had recently bought an expensive bottle of wine for a special occasion. It’s still there. I know this sounds awful, but it did bring relief.
And I again try to get home so I can drag his drunk ass to the VA and advocate on his behalf…….but I can’t. Again, a restless night. I’m powerless to do anything. Denise is powerless to do anything and we worry. With each request to friend, I’m hoping that he won’t find Eric dead. With each report to Denise, I know she’s hoping the same.
Starts off the same as Day 3……wait until the house wakes up…….wait until I know Eric would wake up…..pray that common sense has knocked him in the head……pray that the first check by someone in my house doesn’t result in a call that he’s dead and that I wouldn’t have to make the call to Denise and his family that’s what happened. Upon the first report more booze is found in his room. I’m now told he’s been smoking in the room……anger arises in me…….a drunk smoking in my house……how much more of a fire hazard can I get? More wine despite the wine being confiscated.
And I wait………….I wait for him to stop drinking, the DT’s to start…….or someone to find him dead. And I’m powerless to do anything from Manhattan.
Denise makes the command decision to contact Eric’s brother. There’s nothing we can do but wait.
Then around 5pm this day, friend sends me a text………911 has been contacted again…….only this time it’s not under my direction. I’m confused. I’m concerned. I’m scared. Is there hope? Or is he on death’s door. By now I know that he’s been knocking back a fifth of vodka, 40ish oz of beer, and 4-5 bottles of wine/day. THIS is only what we know about. I know that he’s been driving while he’s been drinking because I didn’t have Skol Vodka in my house. Friend has also sent a picture of his car in the garage with the passenger mirror crashed into the shelving.
It’s later I find out that Eric called 911 himself. Friend had just left the house when the ambulance was coming down the street. All I can do now is wait and hope that he’s ok and that someone at the ER will give me any information. Updates on what I know are made to Denise. Friend stays until the paramedics leave again. We make sure he has his phone and pray that this time they will keep him.
And we wait and pray it’s not too late.
Eric again, here. While I believe this account to be accurate, I was not myself at the the time and have no memory of most of this. When I drink, I become someone else and know not what I do or say. This is an alcoholic and it is who I am and who I strive not to be. I consider Liz to be one of my greatest friends and to hurt her or her family or home is the last thing that I wish to do. This is the person that I wish to stop being. This story may change your opinion of me but keep in mind, this is not me. It is who I am trying to stop being. It was only fair that I share this with you.