Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Year of Recovery: Remembering January

On January 14, my husband was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric unit for 6 days following a suicidal episode. The following day, I drove to the city he was in to see him in the hospital. I didn't know what to expect, what his condition would be. I didn't know if he would be angry to see me or not; the last thing I had heard from him was anger that I had called 911. I didn't know what medications he would be on, or if he was in alcohol withdrawal. I had been in psychiatric units before, but not this one.

I was also very anxious about a number of things. Since he had lost his job, he had also lost his health insurance. How would we pay for all of this, the hospital stay, the ambulances, the ER visits? I had mixed feelings about seeing my husband. I was devastated by all of the things I had learned that he had done prior to my discovering his addiction. I was angry that we had not yet had a real conversation about anything that had happened. I didn't know who he was: I had discovered his secret double life, and I didn't know who I was married to anymore. I was angry, anxious, hurt and deeply saddened.

I arrived in the afternoon during visiting hours. I remember, and will probably always remember, being buzzed through the security doors into the locked unit, and seeing my husband sitting in a day room through glass doors. He was dressed in dark blue scrubs, barefoot and slightly disheveled. He looked up at me, and then his eyes widened like he couldn't believe what he was seeing. He told me later he thought it was a hallucination from the medications he was on. He believed he would never see me again.

He came out of the room and hugged me. He told me he was sorry, and we sat down in some chairs. Not knowing what the food would be like here, I brought some clementine tangerines with me, and they became a tradition between us. I brought them every time I visited him, and we would eat them together.

This time marked the first time that I felt like we truly saw each other for who we really were, and as hard a time as it was for us, it's an incredibly special memory for me. As we talked, all the lies and illusions fell away. He told me everything he could remember about what had happened in the past few weeks, and I started to get a picture of what had gone on. I started to feel some compassion for him, now that we were talking and he was more lucid, even though he was pretty heavily medicated. He seemed to understand that we were in this place because of the addiction and because of all the events that had led up to that point. We had some very heartfelt and honest conversations in that hospital, and for the first time it felt like we might actually be able to come out of this experience together, that we might get better.

This was also the first time that I saw physical signs of alcohol withdrawal in him. They were mild, but definitely present. I feared the major delerium and seizures that I have seen others go through in my line of work, and I talked to the nurses about this a lot. But it turned out that his symptoms passed in a few days, and did not ever progress to a serious enough state that he would need more intensive medical attention.

Although we were not quite out of the woods yet in this acute phase of the crisis, it was a definite turning point for us. I spent that week there, taking a leave of absence from graduate school, and visited twice a day. The rest of the time I read and wrote and tried to take care of myself. I still wasn't eating much, due to nausea and anxiety (I lost 12 pounds that month), but I was exercising and trying to help myself. When he was released six days later, I had told him that I was only willing to work on our marriage together if he moved to the city where I was living, so upon his discharge we packed as many of his things as we could into my car, and we drove home to start our new life together. We think of this as our second marriage to each other.

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