A little over two years ago I had a very unpleasant night. It started on the evening that I quit drinking.
I hadn't been feeling very well, so I thought maybe I'd lay off the booze for a week or two...but after less than a day, I started feeling ill- I had to leave work early, I could barely keep from throwing up and I was so dizzy that I could hardly speak: "sick...must go home", I mumbled and left.
Other than a beer, I only wanted two things:
1) An ice cube. For hours, I had been plagued with an indescribable thirst, the like of which I had never experienced- but every time I drank water, I vomited. A small sip of water would result in a small geyser of black, bloody bile; followed by incapacitating stabbing pains in my guts...perhaps a smaller sip of room temperature water would help...more blood and pain. Ice cubes felt good in my mouth as long as I was careful not to swallow any of the melting water- I felt hot and cold at the same time and the ice was the only consistent thing in my world at that moment, cool, always cool...me, I was sweating, shaking and shivering but the ice made me feel stable...until it was gone.
2) I wanted to die. The tearing, burning pain from my ruptured esophagus was almost as bad as the realization that I really didn't care that I was dying...I was losing blood by the mouthful and I really expected to expire at any moment- alone in a filthy apartment, surrounded by vodka bottles, beer cans and my own bloody puke, which I didn't see any pressing need to clean up.
I wonder if I'll ever understand why I changed my mind, but obviously I did.
I used my last twenty minutes of consciousness to drive myself to a fairly distant hospital - the same one I was born in, in fact. I live across the street from a hospital, but I didn't want t go there- I once spent 12 hours in their ER waiting room and I didn't think I had 12 hours to wait...it was late -not much traffic- I ran a few lights, sorta hoping to get pulled, but not caring- any cop would see that I was sick...anyway, I made it into the emergency room with a few minutes to spare. Just a few.
A gauzy figure asked me who they should notify. I probably wasn't going to live and they needed a next-of-kin. I wanted to say something but I don't know much after that...it was all tubes, machines, masks and bright rooms full of worried people...and then nothing.
A few minutes later, I woke up in an unfamiliar bed. A stern-looking man in a white coat was standing over me...I was in a hospital. There were things inside my nose , my mouth, my arms...other places. I immediately wanted to be somewhere else.
"Do you know where you are?"
"Do you know what day it is?"
I told him. I was wrong by three days.
For three days I had suffered a series of grand mal seizures brought on by my sudden alcoholic withdrawal- after years of daily drinking, my body wasn't capable of running properly without alcohol...at various points it looked as if my heart, kidneys and/or liver were going to quit altogether, but luckily, they did not.
All told, three surgeries were required to repair the physical damage done by decades of alcoholism. The emotional damage is a different matter. That is something that I am working on at this very moment.
After I was told what had happened to me, I knew that I wouldn't drink again, but convincing my therapists and doctors was not so easy...one woman told me that statistically, most people who arrive in my condition don't live more than a few months- they usually drink again as soon as they are released and die shortly thereafter. Given my personal history and family background, she was not at all optimistic about my chance of recovery- my liver was starting to break down and it was too early to tell if it would recover (it did)...I was advised to start getting whatever affairs I had in order.
Fuck that. Football season was getting ready to begin and my 39th birthday was right around the corner...my previous plan of "dead by 40" didn't seem so appealing...I didn't know dying would hurt so much. I was in no hurry for more pain.
During those days I learned to love ginger ale, though I seldom touch it anymore.
Ginger ale meant I was getting better- one straw full, sip...wait...take another, smaller one...in an hour you can have another sip. Maybe.
Tiny sips of ginger ale and an IV full of Valium sustained me for several days...eventually, I convinced my keepers that I wasn't suicidal and that I could be trusted to go home unattended. If I'd been insured, I imagine that I'd have been placed on the 5th floor psych ward...but I wasn't insured, so I was freed.
I didn't have much to come home to. I had lost my temp job during my absence and had spent what little money I had on medical bills and Nexium. My car was a 'rolling total', an '87 Honda in worse shape than I was...at home, all the blood and mess from that dreadful night was still there, dried and caked onto everything...
For two years after that, I left a little blackish spot of dried blood on the wall behind the toilet- I pointedly avoided it during my rare cleaning episodes- I left it there as a reminder to myself as to how goddamn fucking lucky I am to be alive and that one drink could put me right back behind the toilet.
Last week I cleaned that speck off. I don't need it any more.
I was going to make an "inspirational list" of things that I am thankful for, but honestly,
the one thing that I am most thankful for is the fact that I am still alive.
I spent today in my kitchen.
My grandmother has been too ill to prepare a 'real' dinner for many years- for a while we made do with the store-box type, which are awful- but after I sobered up, I took on the job of preparing our holiday family meals.
With Grandma, my Dad and my Uncle all in bad shape, I have to face up to the fact that each holiday may be the last one. There's nothing I can do about that except try to make sure that we have the best dinner possible... today I prepared homemade stuffing, laced with cranberries and fresh rosemary leaves- sadly, parsley, sage and thyme were of the dry variety- I boiled, peeled and mashed five pounds of fresh russets, adding just a touch of cream, white pepper, fresh roasted garlic and olive oil...mmmm...so good...and finished with a rice pilaf, using just a touch of cumin...a recent experiment showed that this blends exceptionally well with traditional gravy and stuffing-important life lesson: don't be afraid to take chances when cooking! Some odd combos work nicely... mangoes and goat, for instance.
Anyway, I don't need a list of things to be thankful for.
I have only one thing to be thankful for.
I'm thankful to be alive. That covers everything.