I had my miseries, not hers;
she had hers, not mine.
The end of hers would be the coming-of-age of mine.
We were setting out on different roads.
This cold truth, this terrible traffic-regulation
("You, Madam, to the right - - you, Sir, to the left")
("You, Madam, to the right - - you, Sir, to the left")
is just the beginning of the separation which is death itself.
~ C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
I've been working on this post for weeks, overcome by the difficulty in deeply exploring the full story as layers of my personal anguish in seeing the puzzle and putting the pieces together surge to the surface. I question whether I am emotionally ready to write about it, because this part of my story with Boomer was barely on-track, ending in tragedy as quickly as it began.
It's a story that's sad, filled with more heartache, loneliness, sorrow, anger, shame and guilt than hope, joy or fun - - as was originally intended. It's a story with two truths to it; one truth genuinely influenced by the desire to begin a new and position for the future, the other truth is driven by the baffling, cunning, powerful disease of alcoholism - - how life plays out when you're directly in the line of fire of active addiction. It's a double-life existence; the deep-seeded underbelly of the ever-growing, untreated disease demanding protection of the need to drink. As the spouse or relative of an active alcoholic there are always two truths to every experience you have with your alcoholic loved one - - truth with the booze and truth without it. It's the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome I've mentioned before (read Bowing to Russell). Where you are personally in your own healing and recovery will reflect how or if you able to see it, acknowledge it, accept it, and deal with it. Because for every good intention the alcoholic has, there's always a manipulative one or two or three standing in the shadow - disguised by the veil of the disease - with the sole purpose to protect the ability to drink, keep the secret, sustain the denial, avoid confrontations, and isolate to self-protect at all costs - - including life itself.
I tell the story because I continue to see, no matter how hard, it does help me move forward and reclaim hope, peace and joy. More importantly, I learn everyday that I'm helping others feel comforted that they are not alone in their personal pain in dealing with the same disease that took my Boomer. This gives me strength to stand in the layers of my pain and process them in this way. I am an advocate for alcohol recovery and support for spouses and women, who, like me, have or are struggling with the alcoholic drinking of someone the love, helplessly observing hopes, dreams, plans wither away from a beast that refuses to be arrested. There is no cure for alcoholism; the compulsion to drink can only be arrested through treatment to not take another drink - - ever. Some silent, voyeuristic readers don't want to hear about this telling. That's OK, don't read it, mind your own business then - - I'm not writing it for you anyway. So here we go...
Boomer was unemployed for a year. State income taxes in Illinois had just dramatically increased. Gas prices were among the very highest in the country. My income alone wasn't enough to solely support our mortgage, taxes, etc. Boomer's sons lived out-of-state and rarely visited. My daughter was out on her own too. There we were, a empty-nest pair scratching our heads why were spending so much yet feeling like we were gaining so little. Winters in Chicago are long, cold, dark, and dreary - - we were both growing tired of it - - that year we had a historical blizzard that was our straw. It was time to go strategic in creating some financial prosperity and security if that was possible. We'd always talked about one day living in a warm climate year round...
Boomer was growing increasingly discouraged professionally, angry and bitter personally, and his drinking was in no way slowing down (read Maya). We'd heard Florida was among the hardest hit states in the real estate boon and subsequent bust; properties for sale were abundant and cheap. Boomer's favorite word... "cheap." Florida also doesn't have state income tax. That was it, our only criteria: warm weather, no state income taxes, cheap housing.
Yearning for a fresh start, the hope of turning things around, or at best, preserving what was slowly dwindling away was the carrot that had us both say, "Why not?" to the idea of relocating.
The dark truth - - it wasn't strategic at all. It was rogue desperation to relocate. Creating greater distance and space was for Boomer a way to run away, continue to deny his disease and keep anyone else who may have an inkling to his growing alcoholic problem out of his face and off his back. Distance will do that and it did. Never mind that the Florida job market sucks and salaries are 10 years behind. Nevermind that we clash with Florida's politics, gun laws, smoking, and healthy lifestyle choices. Logic and reason are fleeting within active addiction - but the knowing of daily Happy Hour 2-for-1 drinks at most restaurants and bars is both the norm and very appealing.
I didn't know that at the time, but it didn't take long to understand. My own struggle was having the confidence to ask those questions of logic and reason, when my gut was sensing something was a miss in our decision. Boomer didn't like it when my questions came in too close, he'd turn on me and tell me I didn't know what I was talking about. He'd remark in various ways that I wasn't smart enough or had any experience to challenge what he was deciding to do. It was times like these our prided "team work" was based on me keeping my mouth shut and letting him be in charge without question. I did, because in my own desperation, I ached for him to feel better and was so afraid seeing he wasn't, all it seemed I could do was acquiesce. This is why I don't like going here - - it spotlights how much I lost myself in the disease of alcoholism - - becoming a co-dependent, subservient wife.
We made a power house-hunt weekend trip to Ft. Myers, FL. My brother, who at the time, was still in Florida real estate, Miami-based, connected us with a terrific agent. Sandra knew the area very well, which was ideal because we didn't know it at all. Not at all. She was equally deft to picking up on our lifestyle personality to navigate where to show us properties. We honed in on "Old Ft. Myers", near downtown, and on day 2 found the 1924 Spanish-style bungalow where I live today. After that showing we went to lunch and made an offer. Three-hours later we were under contract, with a closing date of early April. Are you hyper-ventilating yet? We were. Our loft in Evanston had yet to be listed.
We both lied with embellished stories about our familiarity of the area or people we knew there. We had none. Nothing realistic or practical anyway. Vacationing somewhere 30 years ago, or knowing friends of friends, or old high school friends you haven't seen in 20 years either, in no way gives you the proper lens to consider the place as an ideal locale for permanent residency. This is active addiction running the show - - self-gratification immediately - - make it happen asap. We were two human zephyrs... Hurry, hurry, we gotta find a place to live for the next 25-30 years within 72 hours. Go! We knew jack-shit about living in SW Florida. We're planning to uproot our lives and speed shop to do it. I lived in metro-Chicago all my life, I'm leaving my job, family and friends because the man I love, and committed to spend my life with is spiraling. I want him to stop, I want him to get healthy, find happiness, so maybe moving will help. It was the only trip we made to Florida.
We couldn't check-in at the hotel without first stopping at the store for Boomer's big bottle of vodka - - and some guilty snacks for me. That's what the alcoholic does when they can't hide the booze purchase, appease the person they're with with deflection purchases, in my case here - - snacks. Boomer knew I was closet stress eater, I had confided in him many times over the years how I struggled with it. The Mr. Hyde persona uses these kind of personal vulnerabilities to manipulate, and placate so as to create a diversion from their own wanted activity.
Our loft in Evanston (read Migration of Loft Nature) went on the market and the downsizing began. With a little help from St. Joseph neatly buried in a ficus tree (a totally fun story in itself), we had a contracted offer within a whooping 23 days; record time considering the state of the real estate market in Illinois. The closing was scheduled for June, affording us time to sell off, and donate personal affects, pack, attend college graduation of Boomer's oldest son (it was the last time he saw him) and for me to resign from my job, wrap-up client engagements and take some time to say good-bye. We shared a genuine exhilaration over the velocity at which everything was happening, taking it a as a sign "it was meant to be" and that we were indeed doing the right thing. That didn't mean the pace was any less difficult to keep up with - - for me anyway. It was the biggest move I'd ever made (and I've made many throughout my life); I was leaving the state, my home, my daughter, life-long friends, a blooming career - - it was scary and exciting at the same time - - with the promise of a new life, a fresh start, aligned fractionally with a shared-dream and lots of hope.
There was so much activity encompassing this short period of time, that our true team-work abilities shined, we were in sync, we defined our respective "jobs" in our consolidation/relocation effort. Moving and buying/selling a home is stressful, a life event highly regarded as the most stressful. Given my current life status as widow - - I'd beg to differ. Indeed the stress was there, squabbles occurred, but overall is wasn't bad. For me, the greatest stress was my growing cognizance I suppressed of how lonely I was already feeling. It wasn't new, only growing. There were two events in particular that Boomer bailed out on attending with me at the last minute, coming up with an excuse he needed to tend to something because he's a master procrastinator. Also he'd tried to hide repair work from the inspector of the loft sale and he was furious it was discovered. So I went alone, he stayed home, attempted repairs, and drank himself into another stupor.
|And away it goes...|
On June 1st, our belongings headed south. The truck pulled away at 6 pm; a moment later our neighbor, Francois, pulled up to take Boomer and I out for an evening sail on Lake Michigan as a send off (read That's a Wrap). We urban-camped for the next 5 days in the loft, our clothes in suitcases, eating take out from our favorite places for the final time, sleeping on air mattress and pile of comforters slated for donation (who needs a down comforter in SW Florida?).
On June 5th, my daughter, best friend and their respective significant others joined us for pizza at the loft - - our last night together. We spent the morning of the 6th loading the SMO-vee with our suitcases and the TVs. At noon, Boomer's phone rang, the closing was done, our agent was on his way over with a check. We pulled away from the loft parking lot at 12:45 pm.
We made a stop in Destin, FL to spend some time with former colleagues, who insisted we visit on our way. We had a lovely time. Our friends, Patty and Chris (not their real names), themselves had relocated from the Chicago suburbs several years earlier, and unlike our improv move, they'd been vacationing in Destin for 20 years before they decided it was right for them to move permanently.
Upon learning about the circumstances of Boomer's death, Patty sent me a note through Facebook, "...I had no idea Mike had that problem . . . it certainly was not obvious when you two stayed with us. I'm sorry for both of you that you had to go through all that you went through and I am amazed at the depth of your love." I'm grateful for Patty's sensitivity and compassion. Jekyll truth is, Patty's right - - the depth of our love was authentic. Hyde side: The disease transforms people into oscar-worthy actors. Masterful performances to keep the secret, protect the fear, harbor denial.
On June 10th, we pulled into our mile-long driveway at 5 pm, zealously greeted by our new neighbors, Dave and Dianne.
The woeful truth is that geography solved nothing - - other than activating the hardcore living nightmare of active addiction. Within 17 months of pulling in the driveway Boomer had succumb. I had been duped and robbed (read Smackdown). So was Boomer.
So, what the hell am I still doing here?
Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.
~ C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
|Summer, 2011 - Ft. Myers' Italian Fest|