It’s difficult to say with any certainty exactly when I developed Transient Epileptic Amnesia (TEA). My feeling is that it began with my post stag-party seizure & collapse in 2010, which was labelled Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome by the emergency doctor as he was tending to my – first – broken foot. At the time this made perfect sense for I had quit drinking – cold turkey – after a particularly toxic & excessive guys weekend in Vegas to celebrate the upcoming wedding of our dear friend Johnny. “Who knew?”… that you shouldn’t quit drinking suddenly, and that it was better to wean oneself gradually off the booze. The seizure happened at home as I was getting out of bed, a full 3 days after I’d had my last drink. The ER Doc’s explanation made sense, it was viewed as a one-off, and I vowed to never quit drinking again 🙂
Fast forward to May 2012, a full month after I had joined the AA program and gained my sobriety. I awoke disoriented one day but attached no particular significance to this. I was experiencing a brief difficulty with short term memory and was peppering my partner with questions about what had transpired the week prior and what was coming up. Other than a little generalized confusion, my thought was that this was just my brain adjusting to life without alcohol. I wasn’t hungover and this was unusual. After a half an hour of this I shrugged it off as an inconsequential result of quitting drinking. All good.
A month later it happened again. The symptoms were similar but this time it lasted a bit longer – long enough for me to get dressed, leave the house and go grab a coffee. The world appeared slightly changed and both the visuals and the smells were different. I felt like I was a little high, it was slightly hallucinatory but this too dissipated with time, and I chalked it up to further evidence of my post-alcoholic healing. Although I wasn’t overly worried it did register as a unique experience and my level of concern was ramped up to “Level 3”.
The following month, roughly 4 weeks after my previous seizure, I awoke, got out of bed, got dressed, made it to the kitchen and collapsed on the floor. Nothing broken, and I managed to get up quite quickly. This did set off alarm bells however, for myself and my partner, and It was decided that another trip to the ER was in order. What ensued was an impressive trip through the Canadian medical system. Over the next while I was assigned a Neurologist – Dr.Spacey (I kid you not) – and underwent a battery of tests…ECG’s, EEG’s, MRI’s, scans, blood work and conversations with various specialists. I was very impressed with our System and how thorough and attentive it could be – I felt very adequately prodded and poked.
Despite all of this, my Neurologist wasn’t able to come up with a conclusive diagnosis so I was forwarded to an Epileptologist – Dr. Hrazdil. While all of this medical attention and analysis was going on I continued to have these episodes once a month, like clockwork, from May through to December of 2012 – but didn’t suffer another collapse until my final seizure in late December. Throughout this 8 month period , I was more curious than concerned. I had faith in my specialists and was able to witness my episodes more as an observer than a patient. I found the experiences interesting.
In December I was to see my Epileptologist for the last time. Dr H. was 8+ months pregnant and getting ready for maternity leave and motherhood. Despite all the tests, she was uncertain as to the nature of my malady. She had spoken with her supervisor and he was aware of a rare condition called Transient Epileptic Amnesia (fewer than 100 people have been diagnosed with this condition worldwide ) which seemed to fit my list of symptoms, but they weren’t prepared to commit to a diagnosis or prescribe anything as a remedy – just yet – the idea was to “keep an eye on it” and see how things played out. I mentioned to her my suspicion that it may have been predicated on my years of heavy drinking, and the similarity to the Alcohol Withdrawal Seizure I’d suffered in 2010…she remained opaque on this issue and would neither support nor negate it. A few weeks after this final meeting with Dr. H., at the end of December, I had another seizure which resulted in a collapse (my final one) – in the exact same spot that I’d collapsed and broken my left foot in 2010 – the only difference was…this time I broke my right foot.
When you have seizures, collapse, and break things, the medical system fast tracks you, and you move to the front of the queue for further specialist attention. Because my Epileptologist was off having a baby I was plunked back in front of Dr. Spacey – my Neurologist – in rather short order in early January…plastic cast, crutches, contrition and all.
God bless the internet….and Wikipedia. Having received the tentative diagnosis of Transient Epileptic Amnesia from my Epileptologist, I had done my homework and tracked down a bundle of info on Wikipedia, including; symptoms; diagnosis; epidemiology; and treatment etc…and, what finally convinced me that I indeed had TEA was this: “The IQ of people diagnosed with TEA tends to be in the high average to superior range…,” (Courtesy of Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transient_epileptic_amnesia) …yeah, that was it, it wasn’t the alcohol abuse, it was because I was too smart …I immediately curtailed all excessive intelligence and limited my smart thinking to one day a week 🙂
As I sat with my Neurologist in her office on that cold January morning she asked, “What did your Epileptologist say?..”Well”, I replied, “she thought it might be a rare condition, something called Transient Epileptic Amnesia.” …”Really? Hmmm, I’ve never heard of that before” replied Dr. S. “Well”, I said, “there’s a fair bit of info on Wikipedia”. “Hmm, OK, let me have a look” she said as she pulled out her laptop. For a few minutes she was engrossed in reading about this new condition, and then inquired, “Did Hrazdil prescribe anything for you?” “No”, I replied, “it was just a tentative diagnosis so no prescription was given”. “Well, let’s see what it says on Wikipedia” she said. Diving back into her laptop for a few minutes, with a few nods, “uh-huh’s” and the occasional raised eyebrow she finally went “Oh…OK… Carbamazepine…sure, that’s a fairly well known anti-seizure medication, I can prescribe that for you”…!!…I must admit I was a little stunned…diagnosis to prescription within 5 minutes from Wikipedia! I was torn between the relief of having my condition diagnosed with a prescribed remedy and my inherent mistrust of any information gleaned from the net.
As I sit here typing away on my laptop, in one of my neighbourhood coffee shops, 4 years seizure free, I am still in awe of the implications of the Wiki diagnosis. With fewer than 100 people worldwide diagnosed with this condition, the solution/cure would have been unlikely if not impossible in our pre-connected world…great things ahead for remote communities with limited medical facilities…and one more hurdle overcome on my personal journey of recovery.
I attempted to quit drinking in the old-fashioned way – set an arbitrary date, in this case, wait until after Christmas and New Years (classic!) and then quit on January 1st, 2012 – but I failed once again because my resolve wasn’t there and I had not yet – genuinely – embraced “the program”. I had started attending a few AA meetings, but was allowing myself to drink when out of town. This – as I’m sure you can appreciate – resulted in more road trips, holidays and vacations to justify my ongoing habit.
The initial AA meetings were good but I was still only making a halfhearted effort. It’s as if I had observer status but was not yet a member. I watched and listened and even got up and shared, but in fact was continuing to allow myself these out-of-town excursions for the purpose of having benders on the road. A holiday to Mexico with my partner C. did not turn out to be one of my finest performances, multi-day long beer and pot benders with my buddy Dave resulted in the most depressing hangovers I’d ever experienced, and I even found myself “cheating” on occasion by surreptitiously drinking at events in Vancouver that I’d foresworn. It wasn’t until my fateful road trip to the Sunshine Coast in late April that somehow my “Higher Power” stepped in to provide me with the epiphany I need to see the light.
I love road trips. After I’d walked away from the purchase of a property in Halfmoon Bay 6 months prior I decided that Pender Harbour was more to my liking and that I’d focus my property search there. A little 3 or 4 day trip up the Sunshine Coast gave me a chance to have a little adventure and to hit all of my favourite pubs enroute. On April 24, 2012 the last evening of my trip I’d closed down the Grasshopper Pub and had returned to my camperized van to polish off a bottle of wine that I had stashed there. Perhaps I smoked a little weed too, but it really doesn’t matter, I was wasted either way and in no condition to drive. But that didn’t stop me. At some point I felt like I needed to access the internet and I remembered that Wheatberries Bakery in Sechelt had accessible WiFi that I could use, so, I decided to drive the 40 kilometers down the coast to do so. It was late, it was dark, it was a little cold and the road from Pender Harbour to Sechelt is a windy undulating snake that is somewhat dangerous to navigate at the best of times. With the tunes cranked up and a wine bottle in one hand I ventured forth. Now…nothing catastrophic happened dear reader, I made it to my destination in the wee hours, parked the van, and basically passed out safe & sound until sunrise the next morning, where coffee and muffins awaited me just feet away from the van at Wheatberries.
But this time was different. This time, on April 25, 2012, I received my wake-up call, and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. The thought that I might actually injure someone else with my drinking and driving was enough of an epiphany to encourage me to quit for good. I called my sister-in-law.
I have known T. for 30 years and, in all that time, she and her husband – my brother in law – have been sober. I knew that I needed sound advice as to what I had to do next. What did I need to do to gain my sobriety? I was, at that point, convinced that I was facing a life or death situation and was willing to do whatever was necessary, and that T’s learned words would put me on the right path. “Well, George, you’ve got to do 90 in 90”, she informed me in her occasionally stern manner. “What’s that? “, I cringed. “You have to do 90 meetings in 90 days…it’s the best way to overcome your addiction” she said, authoritatively. (She truly knows her stuff). “How is that even possible?” I whined. “Well,” she said, “How often do you drink?”…”Daily” I admitted…”And how many hours a day do you dedicate to your “hobby”? she inquired….”Well…anywhere between 4 and 8 hours, I guess, unless cocaine is involved, then of course all bets are off” ….I got her point. This time, I could no longer put it off. There were no more excuses, no more rationalizations or failure to be tolerated. I would enter the program and embrace it in its entirety. Whatever was asked of me I would do. I knew that AA had saved millions of people from the scourge of alcoholism – I wanted to be one of them. I had arrived.
There are over 100 AA meetings a day in Vancouver. I was fortunate that there were at least a dozen I could attend within walking or cycling distance of my home in Kitsilano. This made it relatively easy to fulfil my commitment to do the 90 in 90 program. During this time, I did not miss a meeting. There is a meme floating around out there that claims it takes 21 days to break a habit. When you are dealing with something as grave as drug or alcohol addiction it makes complete sense to go the extra mile and really purge the urge, with a 90 in 90 program. I now know people who have even doubled up and done two or three meetings a day, and others who, even after years of sobriety continue to attend meetings almost daily. Its a good program, a great program and – as a mechanism that saved my life – I have nothing but the highest regard for it and can give it nothing but the highest praise.
There are many varieties of meetings with a broad array of members. I have found that there is something valuable to be learned & witnessed in any meeting I have attended. If you leave your mind open, an opportunity for growth and learning will enter. I was fortunate when I entered the program that I wasn’t haunted by the desire to drink – it felt like the obsession had been lifted. Despite this, I moved through the days and weeks and months quite cautiously. I didn’t want to take anything for granted and I cherished every milestone & chip along the way to my one year of sobriety. I had a home group and a sponsor (the amazing and wonderful Phil) and I did a modicum of service work where I could. I’ve made some very good friends in the program and have met some incredibly strong & fabulous people whom I admire.
Within a month of quitting drinking and entering the program I started having unusual episodes of disorientation upon waking. These events happened monthly – almost like clockwork every four weeks – and left me briefly confused about the recent past and the near future…I was convinced that it was just my brain acclimatizing to not being hungover every morning and that these episodes would diminish. After 6 months of this, including two collapses and a broken foot I was tentatively diagnosed with a very rare condition called Transient Epileptic Amnesia which kept me fairly close to the medical system in Vancouver while I was also working on my completion of one year of sobriety. Fun times. It was also during this year that my ex-wife – Elaine- was essentially dying of early-onset Alzheimers in an institution that my son and I had her admitted to in 2011.
(The reason I am telling you all of this dear reader is because this blog, Embracing Sobriety, comprises my year of necessary personal transformation & healing following the abysmal previous seven years ( Death Mask Chronicle Parts 1 & Part 2and just prior to the glorious rebirth and ecstasy I would encounter on the next path moving forward, Searching for Shavasana (Part 1) and (Part 2)…Embracing Sobrietyis a bridge between the darkness and the light…a critical requirement before salvation and forgiveness could enter.)
If you are familiar with the AA program you will know about Step 9. Step 9 is one of the pillars of the program and involves making amends or restitution to those we may have harmed during our years of active alcoholism. My ex wife was definitely someone to whom I needed to make amends, and I arranged to do so. Unfortunately, by the time I entered the program, Elaine was in her 11th year of fighting a losing battle with the early-onset Alzheimers that she had been diagnosed with at the young age of 48, and that would soon take her life. But I would try. Although she was confined to a wheelchair in a dementia ward in an institution, and could no longer talk, we truly had no way of knowing what she might be receiving from us through our talks with her. With this thought in mind I went to see her and wheeled her out into the courtyard and sunshine where we could be alone. I must have spoken to her for 20 minutes, basically taking ownership for whatever bad behaviour I had engaged in that may have contributed to the end of our 11 year marriage. She made small noises which I took as some form of acknowledgement, and, I like to think that it gave her some comfort to know that I had quit drinking and that our son would benefit from my reformation in her absence. She died several months later, one week before my first year of sobriety.
Mostly, the experience of gaining sobriety is a positive one. Beyond the fundamental fact that you are likely saving your life and improving the lives of all around you there are very tangible benefits: you gain clear-headedness; more energy; more self-love & self-respect; you are likely saving many hundreds (thousands) of dollars per month, and , if lucky, gain a rosy outlook on the future and life in general. Christmas 2012 though, my first Christmas in sobriety, was absolutely depressing! …the holidays…Christmas dinner…social events…without booze – who dreams this stuff up? I knew that I’d picked up a little S.A.D. (Seasonally Affective Disorder) along the way but this was painful. The skies were relentlessly grey and the thought of having company for dinner was anathema to me. Some things are just meant to be endured. On the road to sobriety there are many such things. One day at a time Georgie, one day at a time.
Three days later, after this most bleak of festive times, I would have a seizure – my last – within minutes of getting up in the morning . As I walked towards the bathroom I collapsed – briefly – onto the floor which resulted in another broken foot – this time my left. I had cracked three metatarsals, a non-weight-bearing injury which would put me in a boot and crutches for the next six weeks. This was the third and, hopefully, final time that I would be hauled out of our home via ambulance.
Most alcoholics bottom out prior to entering the program. I had a moment in January 2013 – a few weeks after this episode and a full 9 months after gaining sobriety – that I consider to be my tragicomic low point. It was nighttime. I had recently come down with a nasty cold and was lying in bed trying to sleep, wearing my protective boot and trying to suppress a cough so as not to wake my partner C. The cough was winning so I decided to go and sleep on the couch in the office…gingerly making my way down the hall on my non-weight-bearing injury…perhaps I crawled. While lying on the couch feeling miserable I could hear – a few feet away from me in the dark – my cat Jet, puking up her dinner and a hairball. “Perfect”, I thought…there was nothing to do but try and clean this up so I hobbled/crawled into the kitchen to get a rag and came back to deal with her mess. While there, in the dark, wearing my boot and leaning over her vomit while on my knees, my nose started to run profusely into her upchuck…I began to giggle…then I laughed until tears came to my eyes. The ridiculousness of my situation and the full realization of the journey that had brought me to this point seemed like the best of tragicomic farce. Hilarious, pathetic, poignant and cathartic…damn, it was just plain funny! And the beauty was that the moment was priceless and necessary…much like my epiphany on the Sunshine Coast, this moment served as a corner that needed to be turned…my foot might be broken but my sense of humour was intact….God I was…lucky! 🙂
It had been a rough three years, but there was more to come. Ben had just been murdered, I was newly unemployed and preparing to vacate the house which I no longer owned. Ironically, despite tragedy and crippling grief the first thing that loved ones closest to the deceased must do is “make arrangements”. For me this meant writing Ben’s eulogy and assisting with the celebration of life event. Ben was an extremely popular man, as a business owner and lead singer of a local funk band – Big Head Project – we knew that his memorial would be well attended. The band wanted a venue where they could rock out in Ben’s honour and also accommodate a large crowd. As fate would have it, one of the member’s knew the owner of Richards on Richards and was able to wrangle this nightclub as our venue before it was to shut down forever. (I believe we were the last show on this well-known stage) …the bagpiper piped, the Rabbi prayed, I eulogized, the people grieved and the band rocked. I played a bit of blues harp with the band, and Ben Banky shut down Richards on Richards. Love you Ben.
Life pulls you along and you must follow. My partner C. and I began the search for new accommodation …winter was heavy that year with much snow. My drinking was also heavy with a new heaviness of heart to go with it. Having lost a couple of key friends who -not surprisingly – loved to drink, I learned how to drink alone if others were unavailable. On a cold January night in 2009 as the snow was falling I decided to make one last fire in my back yard fire pit before we were to vacate the house. I was drinking wine and burning documents. It was nothing for me to finish a bottle and drive to the liquor store for another – which I did – and to fire up a doobie to amplify my inebriation. I was drinking to blackout frequently at this point…which I did that evening…but this time I fell face first into the ashes and embers of the not quite dead fire. I guess that I too was not quite dead, as I awoke quite quickly. One side of my face, from my chin to my nose was burned and scraped in a slight “grill pattern”. My coat was covered in snowflakes and ashes from the fire, and, thanks to my drunkenness, I felt no pain. I went in the house, took off my clothes and crawled into bed next to C. and fell asleep. The next day I told her that I had slipped on the icy steps and damaged my face. It was not the first, nor would it be the last lie told to cover my increasingly damaging & self-destructive behaviour.
As I write this I am sitting in a Starbucks on West Broadway in Vancouver…it is mid afternoon on December 28, 2016. The remains of yesterday’s snowfall are being erased by the rains which have come. To diminish the incessant and glib real estate conversation of the rather loud woman sitting next to me, I’ve donned my headphones & toque & have put my Chillout playlist on loud…it is having little effect. Rain and conversations about real estate…two seemingly unavoidable irritants of living in this town.
There are always several – or more – realities playing out in any one individuals life story. The Death Mask Chronicle is a snapshot and, admittedly, the focus is a little dark. Be assured that joy and growth and love and laughter coexist within this story. Life is, at the very least, dualistic. Where comedy prevailed, tragedy now stepped in. Where I had been Yinning I now Yanged. The seven year period that this story covers (Parts 1 & 2) – between 2005 and 2012 – was notable for the relative difference from what had preceded it. Predictabilty had become chaotic. Weddings became funerals. The intent of this story is not to garner sympathy. We all must go through some pain on this journey, this is just my shit – yours may arrive earlier or be much deeper…and that will be your story.
The last e-mail that I received from Ben on the day that he died was a reminder that we were on the registration list for the 10th Annual Hornby Island Blues Workshop. It was here that he and I had met ten years prior, and, in honour of this, his widow Linda and our good pal “Big Head” Johnny were determined to attend. At this juncture, my drinking was perhaps even more out of control than was usual and my participation in the classes was limited by my bleary-eyed hangovers and urge to leave early and continue boozing. Out of this foggy experience though, I do remember Tempest, a young woman and street performer who stood out for her unique look and brash demeanour. We had some classes together and shared some laughs. She was fun & talented and bright, and, within six months would become Hornby Islands first homicide victim…
If you know Hornby Island, you know that this kind of thing is just not supposed to happen there. Hornby is a small and loving community of gentle souls with a deep well of reverence and compassion. It is a community designed for art & music, spirituality & sustainability, fun & festivals. Sigh. Although I did not know her well, Tempest’s murder, coming less than a year after Ben’s murder – both of whom I met at the Hornby Island Blues Workshop added a further sense of unreality to this already troubled dreamlike state. I started to feel beleaguered and cursed. My ego was placing me in the centre of a solar system orbited by tragic moons.
But here’s the thing…outlier events happen. Probabilities be damned…randomness occurs. At the time I didn’t quite see it. I was sensitized to tragic events and attached meaning to them. Ten friends and loved ones perished during this death storm and I was drenched in sad significance.
By the end of 2009, my ex-wife Elaine’s early-onset Alzheimers had deteriorated to the point that my 22 year-old son was finding it increasingly challenging to care for her and also devote sufficient time to his University studies. Elaine was now nine years into a disease that was predicted to take her life within eight. Her condition had reached a point where she needed full time care so we, as a family, convened and put a plan in place to try and care for her at home with the assistance a live-in Philippina caregiver – Daisy. I took on the administrative role, contacting the agencies, hiring the caregivers and looking after the necessary paperwork. My son was on the front lines of this illness, living with his mother and managing her house & financial affairs. Daisy took care of Elaine’s day-to-day needs, cooking, cleaning & “keeping an eye on her”, and Elaine’s sister pitched in wherever necessary, for this group we called, “Team Elaine”.
Although these new responsibilities which I had adopted would preclude moving out of town until Elaine had reached a point of requiring institutionalization (I had no way of knowing when this might be), it did not stop my property search – I had agents in the Okanagan, the Sunshine Coast, the Comox Valley, Powell River and the Cowichan Valley and the Gulf Islands constantly feeding me listings. Whenever an interesting property would come to my attention I would go on a road trip – to check out the property and also pursue my other hobby – excessive drinking at my favourite out-of-town pubs.
A new day, a new coffee shop. Since I sold my place and left my job (I’m calling this semi-retirement) I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. I like coffee and I like the buzz of people. It is December 29 and I am parked in Artigiano at 24th and Main. Although I want to finish this story – Death Mask Chronicle Parts 1 & 2 – I am having concerns that it may all seem self-serving and fixated on tragedy & bleak events. Today I feel impatient and desirous of moving into the light, as it were. The light will come in the form of additional Journal stories both here, on Clay and Bone, and on my http://www.shavasana.ca website where I’ll be blogging about lighter subject matter. Until that time though, I must soldier on and complete the task at hand…gruelling despair, demoralization and gut-wrenching tragedy awaits! (and perhaps a little self-deprecating humour ;)…
One unanticipated downside to selling ones house and renting is – eviction. The landlords decided to sell the house that C. and I were living in in Kerrisdale and we were – once again – in need of moving. This was an indication of the beginning of the real estate insanity that was to grip Vancouver over the next 6 years. After the near collapse of the global economy in ’08 – ’09, the Asians were coming with buckets of cash. The move proved somewhat fortuitous though as we wound up back in Kitsilano – a favourite neighbourhood where I had principally lived since 1992.
Compared to the previous five, 2010 was a relatively benign year…Elaine was continuing her downward slide, and we needed a second caregiver to assist with her full-time care, and to give Daisy a break. Florence stepped in and now we were six. They say it takes a village to raise a child, the same seems to be true during our decline. Elaine was on 26 pills a day and a slew of medical professionals interwove themselves into her caregiving. Thank you Canadian medical system…thank you.
The medical system was also attempting to give me some cautionary advice but I paid no attention – my Doctor was warning me about the consequences of elevated liver enzymes, and politely suggested that I curtail or limit my drinking – but I wasn’t ready to hear. Following a particularly overindulgent (but fun) stag party in Vegas (where I missed my return flight because I’d passed out at the airport), I returned home in an absolutely toxic state and decided to quit drinking – cold turkey – for several days because I needed to clean myself up before I was to drive down to Burning Man Festival the following week. Three days after stopping drinking I suffered an alcohol withdrawal seizure, collapsed and broke my foot.
Now…you’d think that this kind of wake up call would be enough to convince a hard core drinker like myself to hang up the beer mug for good, and, for a time it worked. It was almost a relief that now, after suffering a seizure & a broken limb, I had an undeniable reason to quit drinking. Unlike the previous four or five times that I’d tried to quit, I embraced this new resolve imbued with the sense that I was now facing a do or die situation. I felt confident that, at last, I had the wake up call that I needed and that this time – unlike the other times – there would be no recidivism….but here’s the reality of the situation. I knew myself all too well and built a caveat into my new resolve. This time, if I fell off the wagon, I’d have to go to AA. …a kind of subtle and sneaky second chance to recommence binging and then have the ultimate punishment…AA
2010 was the year that the Arab Spring began, and also the year that the trial of Ben’s murderer took place. Ongoing momentous changes in the middle east of which I was an avid observer, and court proceedings brought against my friends killer for which I was in constant attendance. It’s a sad irony that Ben had actually hired this guy out of compassion…gave him a job because he’d fallen on hard times. I had met the gunman at a previous staff party…we shook hands and exchanged small talk in the kitchen of Ben’s home. Sigh.
Although the exact dates escape me…it was during this time that three children of friends of mine had also been diagnosed with cancer. Ivy and Ryan were stricken with Leukemia, and Nigel had contracted a rare form of cancer, the name of which I can’t recall. Only Ivy would survive. If you’ve been able to stomach reading “Death Mask” thus far I hope you can appreciate the almost relentlessly bleak journey that I (and so many others) were travelling during this time. Personally, I don’t think it gets worse in this life than the death of a child. Although I was – to varying degrees – on the periphery of these tragic paths, as a caring individual, and a father, I suffered alongside my friends. My heart goes out to them still.
My resolve lasted roughly six months before I fell off the wagon…again. It’s a strange process…it’s as if I’d forgotten how bad it was, or, convinced myself that I was miraculously “healed” and that I could now drink again with impunity. It doesn’t work that way. When I fell off the wagon, I went at it hammer and tongs, diving down down down to where I’d left off. But for some reason I’d forgotten my pledge to join AA. No, I needed to punish myself, and others with another round of bad boy behaviour before I would ultimately find redemption. This next round of drinking would find me getting into near scraps – physically and verbally – with good friends, passing out in parks, and driving while intoxicated…here’s a message from that dark time:
Forgiveness…a good thing to give and receive, and the best outcome that one can expect from heartfelt Step 9 work. I was still many months away from its healing power.
By mid 2011 Elaine’s condition had reached a point where she required admittance to an institution. Soon she would need special lifts and harnesses for bathing, and wheelchairs for mobility. Our petite (yet extremely competent and hardworking) Philippina caregivers would not be up for the task – it was time. Not surprisingly, once we managed to get Elaine into a care facility most of the pressures on Team Elaine were eliminated. We all knew she was in good 24/7 hands and our work, beyond visiting, was done.
By the fall of 2011 I had ramped up my out of town property search – which were thinly disguised drinking trips to “really get to know the community”. I had pretty much decided on the Sunshine Coast for its beauty, affordability and proximity to Vancouver (my partner C. did not relish the semi-rural life that I was proffering, and had obligations in the city). An ex-coworker of mine who suffered from Crohn’s Disease and had a licence to grow marijuana, but nowhere to grow it approached me with the idea of – legally – growing it for her. I agreed to this wholeheartedly, and also decided to have a small version of the home distillery that Ben and I had dreamed about. This vision of a booze and pot-fuelled paradise required at least an acre, with outbuildings, which I found in Halfmoon Bay…I offered with subjects, they accepted.
The day that the subjects were to be removed I suffered from the worst case of buyers dissonance that I’d ever experienced. I’ve owned four houses previously but had never encountered this powerful feeling of dread and remorse before. I was like a deer in the headlights, I couldn’t go through with the deal. Perhaps it was self-preservation. Perhaps some vestigial remnant of my consciousness was trying to tell me that being an alcoholic, alone on a rural property, with a barn full of pot, and a distillery full of Apple Snake was not going to turn out well. This became a path not taken. It would have been a different life – or perhaps no life at all. Whether I would have drank myself to death or driven off the twisting highway of the Sunshine Coast after some late-night bender I will never know. Saved by visceral feelings. After this, any move out of town will definitely need to be preceded by full sobriety.
For most of us death arrives by telephone. For some it may be first hand – the bedside vigil or the unpleasant discovery – but most will get “the call”. I had experienced so much death over the previous six years, that receiving calls from friends or family at unexpected times had left me a little apprehensive. When my dear friend Kris called one afternoon in September 2011 to let me know that his 22 year-old daughter had fulfilled a decision to end her life, I felt stunned and broken. I had know Z. since she was a small child and loved her and her sister as if they were my own kids. She was bright, talented, and vivacious and always added sparkle to social gatherings. I felt lost and didn’t quite know what to do. After I put the phone down, I left my home and walked the 12 blocks to Kris’s house to give him a hug and, amidst tears,…kiss his hand, and then I went home to stare at the wall. On this earth, it does not get much worse than losing your child. Personally, I can think of nothing worse.
There’s a saying in AA that, “At first it’s fun, then it’s fun with problems, then it’s just problems”…I was reaching the “just problematic” phase. There’s no justification for excessive drinking when your doctor has given you the “liver warning”, you’ve had a seizure, and now, hangovers are laced with sad memories of tragic events. I was co-existing with serious cognitive dissonance. Although I was never one to actively consider suicide it was during this latter phase that the thought occurred to me that, “…all these problems would go away if I were dead”. So I get it. Even now, if I am feeling despondent for more than a day I think, “hmmm…I wouldn’t want the rest of my life to be like this”…fortunately, despondency rarely lasts more than a day – or two – and I have developed the tools and techniques with which to mitigate it.
I am now in the final stretch of this Death Mask Chronicle…it ends on April 25, 2012…the morning that I woke up in my red Van in the parking lot of a bakery in Sechelt, hungover, having driven there the night before from Pender Harbour…completely wasted… This was the seminal moment when I was finally able to face the music and enter the AA program. At the end of the day, it wasn’t concern about my own well being but fear that my drinking and driving might actually harm someone else. I didn’t want to be the cause of someone else’s tragedy…I’d already had enough. This thought was the epiphany I needed to “man up” and face responsibility for my behaviour and actions. Whatever it takes…a wake-up call, a moment of fear, an epiphany or the loving guidance of one’s Higher Power…I am grateful…profoundly so. Thanks AA.