I’d hear the sound in my sleep. Aluminum on aluminum, the cap turning on the can, the small hiss of air escaping.
The sound of a beer can being opened.
It came to symbolize everything that had gone wrong, that was going wrong. I’d cringe when I’d hear it, my heart would sink in disappointment because I always hoped the last time I heard the sound would be the last time I heard the sound. But it always came back. Sometimes an hour later, sometimes minutes passed by. Silence. Then the hiss.
The cans piled up in the recycling bin and they became a mountain of problems, problems that I hid by putting the cover on the bin in an effort to make that mountain go away. If I didn’t see it, it didn’t exist. If I left the room and didn’t hear the beer cans opening, the problem didn’t exist.
But it did and I take part of the blame for everything that happened because I willingly buried the problem, ignored it or shut it out. I should have insisted. I should have helped. My silence was consent and my consent was enabling.
On a warm September evening I get a call from my husband, who is in North Carolina for an interview. “I’m in the hospital.” The rest of the conversation is confusing and alarming; he’s a bit disoriented and I struggle to get information from him.
A doctor calls me a little later. He had a seizure. But I knew that. I knew from the second he said “There’s been a problem” that we were reenacting the scenario that happened last March and, to a larger extent, the one that happened in July.
When you are a heavy drinker — and let’s just use the word alcoholic here — when you are an alcoholic and you abruptly quit drinking, bad things can happen to you. Including having a seizure.
My husband was eight years sober when I met him. We were together for six years before he started drinking again, two years ago. At first it was just social drinking, a beer with dinner, a cocktail here and there. But when he got laid off from his job, the drinking began in earnest, along with the deep depression. Depression can lead one to drinking. Drinking can make one depressed. It’s the proverbial vicious cycle and I was witness to it all, and a partner to it as well, as I did nothing to stop it. “It will pass,” was all I told myself.
It never passed.
They detoxed him in the hospital. First the doctors called me and asked for my husband’s medical history. I knew what they were looking for, I knew what they suspected and I decided to be completely honest with them. Maybe they could help him where I failed. When I said he was a heavy drinker, they had the necessary components for their equation. 2+2 and all. So the detox began, the regimen of medications, the wires hooked up, the “fall risk” wristband. With all that comes confusion, even delirium, and a combativeness that forced him to be tethered to the hospital bed and moved to ICU.
Phone calls, frequent as they were, were confusing and upsetting. He didn’t remember the interview. He didn’t remember how he got there. He thought he drove there from California. He thought he was in New York. He wanted to get on a subway and go home. As frightening and sad as it was for me, I felt awful for him. How scary it must be to not be able to piece together your current story.
The detox lasted days. The days felt like weeks. I kept waiting for the doctors to say he was ok to go home. And I kept wondering what it would be like when he got home. Would this be the time it would all sink in for him? Or would I hear that hissing sound again, the one that haunted me in my sleep?
It’s hard to watch someone you love fall apart. It’s a bit harder when you know you are complicit in it, that you should be doing something but you’re not because your non-confrontational nature won’t let you. It kept me awake at nights. It kept me anxious during the day. How could I get him to stop drinking?
I can’t, I rationalized. I can’t make him stop. He’s the only one who can do that.
And then a seizure, hours away from home.
Would that be enough?
Reality starts to come back into focus for him and he’s no longer confused. He knows why he’s in the hospital. He knows what happened. And he knows the important thing. He needs to stop drinking. He can’t go through a detox again just to turn around and open another beer can. He can’t risk another seizure, a potentially life threatening thing. He can’t do this to himself again.
Alcoholism is a brutal creature, one that climbs on your back and is seemingly impossible to shake off. It’s something you carry around with you, even when you’ve stopped drinking. It’s the monster perpetually hiding under your bed, waiting to surprise you yet again. You can keep the lights on. You can carefully keep your feet from dangling off the bed at night. But the monster is never gone, it’s always there, waiting to bite down.
So perhaps I should now be living in fear of the the hiss of an open beer can. Maybe I should be holding my breath, living day to day, minute to minute, waiting for things to collapse again, waiting for the monster to show its face.
But I’m not.
I’m living with a sense of faith, a belief that this is it, that sobriety is something he will latch on to and own. I have this faith because I lived six years with the sober version of him and I know that not only does that person exist, but it’s the person he truly wants to be. I can see the changes already, a steady progression from lethargy to productiveness. There’s an eagerness in his actions that have not been there for two years. The monster is at bay and more important than my belief that the monster will stay hunkered down under the bed, never again reaching out to grab ahold of him, is my husband’s belief in that.
He no longer fears the monster. I no longer fear that sound.
We’re not naive. We know this is a moment to moment venture. We know the odds. The hospital stay, the detox, are fresh in his mind, so fresh he’s still weaning off the Librium prescribed to him. As the seizure and aftermath get further from the present, they become part of the blurry past. This is work. Staying sober is work. But we’re doing this as a team. As much as I feel partly to blame for all that happened, I feel, as his partner, partly responsible for making sure it never happens again.
I’m at the airport waiting for him. They finally let him go, they say he’s able to get home on his own. I meet him by the baggage carousel. It’s been a week since he left on what was supposed to be a ten hour trip. It feels like a lifetime.
He looks good. He looks rested. His eyes are clear and focused. His smile is there. It’s a good smile, a genuine one. He’s happy to be home. He’s happy to be sober. He buys a diet Snapple before we leave and the pop of the bottle opening is a wonderful sound to hear.
We’re going to be ok.