Dr Marry and I have made a decision together to share the most personal part of our nearly 20-year relationship in the hopes that it might offer assistance to others who have struggled or are currently struggling with this issue. We share this knowing that we are putting ourselves out there (particularly Dr Marry) for criticism, but we feel that the benefits it might bring to someone else far outweigh whatever judgement could be lobbied at us. To the few of you who have known of this, thank you for your incredible friendship and support. To those who haven’t but who have wondered how I seemed to hit the absolute jackpot in terms of spouse, we share this to remind everyone that we all only know a fraction of anybody’s reality. It behooves us all to be kind whenever possible.
This is a multi-post, multi-media series, and we invite you to share them with anyone in your life who you think could benefit from our journey. And if you are struggling with any piece of this, please know that we are here for you in any way we can be. Our story is not your story, but we hope it might provide something for you to hold on to as you traverse your own path to happiness.
This morning, like so many from what is now my reality, Dr Marry came to the door of our bedroom and said sweetly, “DD, time to get up and ready for spin.”
I nestled into my warm flannel pillow for one more second before recalling a scene very much and absolutely nothing like this from exactly three years ago, in the middle of this night. I took a moment to catch my breath, to thank my lucky stars and to dwell in the warm light of gratitude that I have had nearly every single day since the early morning hours of February 1, 2017.
2:45 a.m., February 1, 2017
I was sleeping soundly when Mazz called out brusquely from the hallway outside our bedroom door, “D. Get up. I need you to take me to the emergency room. Something is really wrong with me.”
I took a moment to let my irritation wash over me (again). I was warm and exhausted, and not feeling particularly cordial towards this man. And I didn’t appreciate his insistence that I get up right now.
I stumbled into the bathroom, which can only be described as looking like the set of a war film. Blood was everywhere. I shook my head to clear the sleep away and looked again. Then I turned to look at Mazz who was holding a bloody rag to his nose, sucking up gobs of blood and trying, unsuccessfully, to mop it off of his face.
I was awake.
Earlier that day
Mazz texted me in the afternoon saying that he was going home because he couldn’t get his nose to stop bleeding.
I shook my head in disgust, literal and emotional. Years earlier, I had started calling Mazz a semi-hemophiliac, which he consistently reminded me was not possible. He had serious nose bleeds all the time, particularly when the dry winter air settled in. If you lightly flicked his arm, he would bruise up and down it. He also had an obsessive scratching issue that made his legs and arms bleed, and made our bedding appear to have had a point-blank shooting happen on them.
I didn’t even respond to the text because I irritatedly thought, “Of course you do,” and moved on with my day.
I made supper that night, and while we ate, he held a soggy, bloody handkerchief to his nose and kept sniffing up the blood that was steadily streaming from him. Revolted by both this action and, quite frankly, nearly everything about him by now, I ate in silence and got up from the table as quickly as possible.
We spent another night like we had spent so many: Mazz in the basement watching anything on television and me somewhere else, reading whatever book I was devouring. Finally, I went to bed alone, as usual, and fell into a deep sleep.
Earlier in our lives
I remember Mazz telling me when we first met that he had one whiskey a night. That was certainly more alcohol than I drank, but for an Irishman, it didn’t feel too bad (whatever that means!), so I didn’t think much of it.
Then, nearly seven years later, we got married, and I was surprised in those early weeks and months of actually living together that he was drinking sometimes more than one drink a night. But he mostly seemed like the Mazz I had known and grown to love all those years, so I reluctantly set that aside.
As our marriage ticked along, the drinking started to get more persistent and consistent, but it was gradual, so I can’t say there was a clear turning point. And along with that came other issues: we would be in the basement together to watch a movie, one of the few things he was ever interested in doing, and he would be asleep before the opening credits were over. In the later years, I often “joked” that I had a newborn for a husband; sleep for 20 minutes, up for 15, sleep for one hour, up for 25 and on and on. He never saw a full movie with me.
Early on, he very occasionally slept in the basement, claiming to have just fallen asleep while working. I didn’t doubt him, and I don’t really think he was lying. He was working towards becoming a tenured professor by this point and his work was demanding. But as time progressed, he ended up doing this more and more. I would wake up in the middle of the night and go downstairs to find him sitting up, sleeping heavily, a glass of whiskey always by his side, sometimes in his hand. Waking him up was like waking the dead, and I was consistently outraged by the time I actually got him to go upstairs because by then, I was fully awake. When he did come to bed, he emanated such a bad smell and snored so loudly that I could hardly sleep. When we traveled, our first stop was always to a liquor store so he could purchase his travel bottle of whiskey.
He also stopped wanting to do anything. To get him to agree to go on a bike ride on the most beautiful of summer days, I had to suggest that we bike to a restaurant or bar where we could get a drink. He was completely disengaged from Quinn. Quinn seemed grateful for the disengagement, or at the very least, he seemed to have little interest in the man who had been so important to him for so many of his years growing up.
One morning sometime in early 2016, I left for work and had to run home a few minutes later because I had forgotten something. Mazz clearly didn’t hear me come in because he was standing in the kitchen, looking out the window, with a glass of whiskey in his hand. It was about 8:30.
We had had hundreds of discussions and fights about his drinking. I tried to get him to see that something was desperately wrong by cajoling, pleading, using logic, begging, weeping, screaming and threatening to leave, but nothing changed him.
Because I grew up in a household where absolutely no alcohol was consumed ever (the first beer I remember seeing was at my cousin’s wedding when I was 13 years old), whenever I raised my concerns, Mazz immediately dismissed me, or called me crazy or told me that I was right and he needed to slow down. He started lying to me all the time. I would come down to the basement in the morning and there would be a glass of whiskey with an ice cube in it, often shoved into the corner of the couch. And when I would question him, he would say it was from last night. Now, it’s not very warm in our basement, but it doesn’t keep ice from melting!
No way out?
Many times, I plotted an exit strategy, but that’s easier said than done. I didn’t know how to unravel the life we had made together: the house we co-owned, the dog we shared, the expenses and the income, the boy who wasn’t technically his but whom he had played such an active role in raising. And, and this is a really important point, I still loved him. And more importantly, I believed wholeheartedly that I could somehow “save him” if I could just find the right key to unlock whatever this new version of him was. I couldn’t let go of the man I had met and fallen in love with, and I couldn’t give up on him or us.
And, I learned all of this later, Mazz was an excellent and textbook alcoholic: he could explain away whatever I caught him doing. He was “fed up” by so much of his life that this was just the way he was coping. He could so expertly move the blame from him to me that it often left me wondering what my initial accusation of him had been. He was never, ever physically violent, but he could turn on me, using his considerable intelligence and knowledge of my vulnerabilities, to protect his own agenda with a wicked comment that left me breathless time and again.
A Sunday evening in early winter, 2016
We were watching an episode of Father Brown on PBS, and I had fallen asleep on the couch. Around 9:30, I woke to the sound of a strangled yell. I sat up in time to see Mazz’s entire body, sitting in a chair to my left, stiff as a board, his eyes rolled back in to his head. His legs were extended in front of him, and I quickly got up to move his computer desk away and gently help him to the floor. He was having a massive seizure, something I had never seen anyone do before.
I was very calm, and most frighteningly, so was our dog Lilly. Never one to let any excitement go on without her exuberant barking, she came and laid down quietly by his head, and that’s when I thought, “Oh my God, he’s going to die.”
But he didn’t die. He had a whole battery of tests conducted, but they found no reason for the seizure. He couldn’t drive for six months, so I dropped him off and picked him up from school every day. And after that, for quite a while, he was improved. He was grateful to be alive and worked to be more engaged. But that didn’t last forever.
Amazingly, nobody at that time, not the ER doctors, not the neurologist we spent time with a few weeks later, ever questioned his alcohol consumption, so I didn’t correlate the two together. And he certainly didn’t stop drinking.
9 a.m., February 1, 2017
We had been in the emergency room for hours; the nurse had cauterized his nose to stop the bleeding, and he was getting fluids. The doctors were asking all kinds of questions, and initially told me that despite his white blood count looking good, they thought he might have leukemia. They admitted him to the hospital with the intention of doing a bone marrow test and spinal tap to find out more.
In all of this, incredulously, I never thought Mazz was an actual alcoholic. I didn’t have the vocabulary to define it that way since I had such a limited understanding of what that disease actually looks like. He had kept his job, and he wasn’t crashing his car or getting DUIs. Things were bad in nearly every aspect of his life: he had failed relationships with most of his colleagues, he had lost interest in doing much of anything and he was basically a grumpy lump of a human being. I was managing everything at home and only engaging him if I dangled alcohol as a reward for an activity. But I still didn’t understand the disease that was consuming my husband and literally ruining our lives.
And I had no idea the remarkable journey this particular nosebleed had started us on that dark, cold February morning.
Featured photo was taken three days before this event happened. Mazz had fallen two days earlier on the ice and hit his head on the corner of a dumpster at work. And even though I basically physically look the same, I can easily see the fatigue and fear of my side of this story in my eyes. Today, Dr Marry bears no physical, mental or emotional resemblance to the man in this photo.