Old Long Since

Alcoholism almost took 2019. Our marriage, Swenny’s health, and a house with a third bedroom fell victim. Most everything else still stands.

While at times it feels like February, when I asked Swenny for space between his drinking and me, or May when I traded our house for a place too small for our family, or July when I filed separation papers, I know that it is December. Four months since a diagnosis of advanced liver disease changed everything and ten months too late to put back together that which I have pulled apart.

And that’s okay, because 2019 hasn’t been just about alcoholism and the recovery that continues to elude us. Rather than dwell on what was happening, I took the space that Swenny gave me and grew into it. I joined three non-profit boards, one with a focus on addiction. I earned a promotion to extend the influence of my employer to the industry we serve. I bought a cherry red Benz. I became a landlord, and against all advice, chose kindness in my dealings with the tenant I inherited: a man whose dreams loom larger than his opportunities. I drove a U-haul. I danced the night away in Nashville and allowed time to get lost in the backroads of Kentucky on the way home. I saw the most beautiful sunset with my Mom and sister, and represented myself and my marriage in a courtroom, accepting that all good things do, actually, end.

Swenny and I spent Christmas together yet separate. We woke up that morning six blocks from one another, positioned ourselves on opposite ends of the rooms in which we spent the day, drove to and from in separate cars and sat at different dining tables. When he left Christmas night with his presents neatly bagged, the hardship of the year finally struck. Until then, I had kept myself distracted. A safe distance from heart and home.

My hope for 2020 is that Swenny and I continue to find our way together. In the best possible way for us, even when it makes no sense to anyone but us. First, though, I need to still the chaos of 2019, and let myself dwell on it. For long enough to find, in the quietness of its aftermath, the promise of the year ahead.

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet for days of Auld Lang Syne. ~ Robert Burns

Merry

In the merriment of the season is a go-round that Swenny and I have found necessary for the care and keeping of chronic liver disease. Halloween Eve marked Swenny’s first test of cirrhosis, an esophageal scope in which a varix was found and banded. At the same time, a biopsy was done on his stomach with good results. Four weeks later, a second scope was done and the initial varix re-banded. A concerning stomach fold was being watched, so a CT scan was scheduled along with a third esophageal scope.

Results from the CT scan were good: no cancer, no blood clot. The third esophageal scope was postponed until January, and a doctor’s appointment made for late December.

Throughout this, Swenny and I have found a comfortable pattern of tests and treatment, with a routine fitting our separate yet entwined lives. On days when he has a procedure requiring anesthesia, he spends the night here, at the home where we share the title. After we leave the hospital, I drop him off and depending on orders, pick up prescriptions, and return home with soup from whatever restaurant has the softest-of-the-day. A chocolate shake follows. He rests, and when he falls asleep, I study the doctor’s notes, researching what he has written until I find and explore every potential risk, every potential complication and every potential outcome. The possibilities seem endless, so I settle on what I think is likely, without full understanding of what it all means.

Between appointments, the business of life keeps us occupied, more separately of late than not. Daily conversations are no longer a given, and days can stretch to a week or longer before we see each other. I continue to position myself for entry into his appointments to no avail. I’m thankful to have met his doctor, though, and for the opportunity to counter Swenny’s claims of sobriety with what I know to be true: his drinking continues, confirmed by the traces of alcohol I sense in phone calls at night and in shaking hands by day.

This is where cirrhosis is helpful. It opens difficult conversations about the detriment of alcoholism to Swenny’s life and livelihood, and about the threat of more alcohol to take away any chance for an ever-after by turning compensated into decompensated.

When the reality of his symptoms is not enough for him to accept help, we question together why he lets by the opportunities to stop his cirrhosis, or at least slow its progression. And when I ask for how long he intends to use every result that is not devastating as a pass to drink, I do so hoping that bad news doesn’t answer first.

Until then, we continue to go round.

All we ever do, is all we ever knew. ~ The Head and the Heart