28 September 2008

Mother-in-law's Funeral

Greg was fine for the funeral. He had seen his mother an hour or so after her death and had come to terms with her passing. In many ways it had been a great relief for everyone as she had suffered for years with emphysema and had been marooned in the house for the last two. She had once been a very energetic woman holding lots of successful house parties, catering for forty or fifty people at a time and doing all the cooking herself. Her brain had been active to the last. She had even once stood as the local Liberal candidate for the council elections. But in her infirmity she had been relegated to a chair watching TV or doing crosswords and word games to keep her mind alive. Her last few days in particular had been painful to watch because she went downhill rapidly and could not move an inch from her bed. So everyone agreed it was better for her to go rather than to linger.

Greg had returned to London to collect Kay and me, taking us back in his car to his mother's cottage for the days leading up to the funeral. I felt confident that he was able to drive on the motorway all right, now that he had sobered up. His car had large scratches and gouges at each corner where in the past he had misjudged obstacles when parking it. Thankfully he had never hit anyone or another car but I had banned him in the last few years from making any trips in the car while under the influence. He had occasionally crept out and driven for more alcohol in the night when I was asleep, hence the mishaps to each corner of the car. Although he always maintained he was a better driver drunk than most people were sober. No comment!

Greg and his sister Jill were busy for a few days making the funeral arrangements, whilst I helped where I could with preparing the catering. The funeral day was successful (if you can call it that) and we spent a lovely day with all the relatives and friends who had travelled far and wide to be there. Over the following days, Greg and I went through his mother's things with Jill and made choices about what to take for ourselves or what to dispense with. We also made plans with Jill about selling the cottage. So there was plenty to keep us occupied. But already on the day of the funeral Greg had started to drink a glass or two of whisky. I was torn between saying anything or giving him some leeway - it was his mother's funeral after all. But I also knew that once an ex-alcoholic has ONE drink
, they are on the path to ruin again.

Once we were back home in London, Greg did indeed start to slip back into drinking quite quickly. Within a week or two he was back to half a bottle of whisky per day; within a month he was back to a full bottle each day. When he came out of detox, I had told him I could not bear to go through another bout of his alcoholism. We had already twice had the opportunity to pick up the pieces, but three times he had let us down and put us through hell. He had promised things would NEVER get so bad again. He had categorically assured me he would never go back to drinking heavily again. But here we were yet again. His sobriety had lasted just six weeks. Here I was again, having to drive out each morning to get him his supply of whisky and cigarettes for the day. Not to do so, once he was on a full bottle a day, would have meant HE would drive instead to get it. I could not have that on my conscience. The credit bills were rising into several thousands of pounds and in addition we had two large loans to pay off....all of it going on whisky and cigarettes. Where was it all going to end?

26 September 2008

Ode to Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Who has not read the Ode to Autumn by John Keats? If not, you can access it here. I am always amazed that as soon as Kay ends her school summer holidays and starts yet another academic year, nature flicks a switch. The air turns crisper, the trees change colour and there is condensation on my windscreen when I get into the car first thing. Every year it surprises me. On 31 August it is summer, but come September - bang - Mother Nature has done it again.


24 September 2008


For the next four weeks after detox, Greg managed remarkably well. I could see he was using coping mechanisms that he had learned at the clinic. He was also trying to rebuild his strength, had a huge appetite and insisted on walking the dog to improve the weakness in his legs and his general fitness. He even used to make it his purpose each day to walk down to the high street - about a two-mile round trip - stopping to have coffee and read a newspaper at a cafe halfway. Naturally I was suspicious that he might be stopping off at a pub on the way, because trust can never recover completely, but I would deliberately get up close to smell his breath and was convinced that it smelled of coffee and nothing else. I was quite impressed and began to allay my fears that he would go back to drinking. He wanted to be part of the family again and insisted on booking tickets for us to see a West End show. He got all dressed up in a suit and for the first time in ages looked very presentable indeed. Other people even commented on how well he was looking lately.

I tried to broach the subject of rehab - the second phase in which the alcoholic comes to terms with why the addiction first started and how to avoid returning to it. It would mean a six-month residential stay with no possibility of returning home for the first few months and then occasionally at weekends thereafter. But Greg was adamant that he would NEVER return to drinking heavily again. He had learned his lesson. He gave me his assurances. In any case, he did not much like the idea of being away from home for six months, cut off from the world, the news, the world wide web. Nor did he relish the idea of communal living with fellow addicts. He had put up with it for ten days but that was the end of it.

Then, at the end of those four weeks, we got a call from Jill, his sister, to say that their mother had taken a turn for the worse. For the best part of her life she had smoked heavily and had developed emphysema a few years earlier. She had spent the last two years not only house-bound but also chair-bound, as any effort, however small, such as getting washed and dressed, had exhausted her. For those two years, she had been literally tied to the end of an oxygen cylinder. But Jill now reported that her mother had overnight lost the use of her legs and was unable to stand. Much to Jill's despair,as she would have preferred to keep her mother close by in her own home, their mother would now need to go permanently into the nursing home she had stayed in for three weeks last year. Greg rushed there by car to see if he could do anything to help or at least be there for them. Kay and I remained in London, as Kay still had school to go to and I had the animals to look after.

Five days after my mother-in-law went into the nursing home, I got a call from an agitated Greg at breakfast-time. The nursing staff had gone into his mother's room to wake her up, only to find she had died in her sleep.
Greg's words were punctuated with tears - he was clearly beside himself with grief and remorse.

20 September 2008

Detox Clinic

The detox clinic was apparently run on a strict
regime . Absolutely no visitors at all at any time... to avoid banned substances being smuggled in and to avoid any upset to the routine or to the state of calm. All luggage was searched on arrival before being returned to its owner in their designated room. Regular searches were made throughout Greg's stay to ensure drugs or alcohol had not somehow been smuggled in. He was not allowed a mobile phone in case it interfered with his rest and relaxation. All phone calls from me or from him had to be made through the central office phone, so they were never private. There were set mealtimes and all inmates had to wash their plates and cutlery afterwards. As the ten-day detox progressed, Greg's appetite went from non-existent to three courses each meal. They were wholesome and large to restore much needed nutrients. Lots of stodgy puddings for dessert with lashings of custard. There were set times too for the medicines to be dispensed. The alcohol withdrawal programme was based on a high dose of diazepam at the beginning which gradually reduced as the ten days passed.

In the mornings, there were sessions to discuss their addictions, triggers and ways of avoiding them. After lunch there were sessions to de-stress them such as Indian Head Massage or Yoga. In the evenings there were more soul-searching sessions and then leisure time to watch TV, or read in your room,
or play pool. A hairdresser visited once a week too. Most of the inmates were hardened drinkers or drug addicts who had lost family or partners and were borderline down-and-outs. The programme gave them a chance to be pampered, empty their souls and relax. Greg made quite few friends in there. They all had one thing in common whatever their background and that was their addiction. They shared life stories; they supported one another when they broke down in the sessions; they smoked cigarettes in the yard together; they commiserated when any one of them had to leave to go home.

Back at Alcoholic Daze House, life was very peaceful. Kay and I were able to sleep soundly knowing that we were not going to wake up with flames from a fallen cigarette licking round us. We could relax without fear of hearing Greg stumble about, or without dread of him deliberately sabotaging our TV viewing or study with his drunken rantings. We were also smoke-free and could breathe. The ten days went by remarkably quickly and I found I actually enjoyed the independence and the calm. I was quite happy coping with single-living and was not so sure I wanted Greg to come back.

All too soon enough, the ten days were up and the time had come when I had to collect Greg from the Clinic and bring him home. As I drove through the sunny London streets, my heart got heavier and heavier. I wanted this to work so much, but the freedom I had just experienced made me realise I could cope alone, if I needed to. The whole experience had made me a stronger person. In the clinic car park, I waited for Greg to come through the security door. As he emerged, he waved and called to the friends he had made, as they leaned out of the upstairs windows.
Enforced bosom buddies. He had told them things he had never shared with me.

As we drove out into the one-way streets with their bus lanes, speed cameras and screaming police cars, as they hared to yet another crime, Greg was already telling me which way I should head, which street I should turn into, forgetting that I had already made the journey there that morning perfectly well without him. I felt resentment. I bit my lip. I did not want to start a row so soon. But when he asked me to stop so he could buy a small bottle of whisky, my heart really sank. At first he said it had been discussed at the clinic that they should be left to make their own decisions and trusted to go carefully. He said I should give him that trust. The occasional glass would be allowed. Then later - when I refused to stop the car - he passed it off and said he had only
been joking. When we got home, I felt I was walking on egg shells. I so did not want to upset things at this early, delicate stage, but my heart felt very heavy and I was full of dread.

17 September 2008

Detox - at last

The detox was done in early February. Greg was in a really bad state by the time the date came. His personal appearance was more like that of a tramp, all hygiene abandoned. He talked a lot of gobbledegook most of the time and still resorted to shouting when anyone dared to say anything.

The car journey through London to the clinic was farcical. I had forgotten to get a congestion charge ticket beforehand, which we needed to drive into the centre of London, so I wanted to stop off at a shop that sold congestion tickets on the way. He kept telling me so long as I bought one before the day was out, that was OK, but I kept telling him, I preferred to get one upfront. Unfortunately I did not have enough cash on me and the first few shops I stopped at would not take a credit card. Every time I stopped, he would ask why I was stopping and again I would say I was getting a congestion ticket and every time he would reply that I could buy it later. In the end I was at screaming pitch -with him, with the situation, with not being able to find a shop that would accept credit. I was also driving in an unfamiliar part of London with bus lanes, speed cameras, one-way roads taking me away from where I needed to be, and many police cars whizzing past on call, so my concentration had to be at its best but was actually at its worst.

We arrived at the Detox Clinic in the late afternoon. There was no sign outside to say what the building was and I was not entirely sure we were at the right place, but as there was no parking on the road, I drove through an archway at the side of the building to a small car park at the rear of the building. Greg by now had quietened down and was fast asleep beside me. Just as I was pulling on the handbrake and looking around me, a man appeared at the passenger door and opened it. He introduced himself as the man we were due to meet and shook Greg's hand. Greg then stumbled - literally- out of the car and almost fell against the perimeter wall of the car park. The man managed to catch hold of him and steady him. I got out of the car and opened up the boot to get the luggage out. As all three of us walked across the car park to the reception entrance of the building, the man was very upbeat and jolly-jolly in his tone. Greg and I were still reeling from the fractious journey we had had. At the entrance the man took the case from me, told me I was not allowed into the building and said we must say our goodbyes straight away. Greg was too drunk to even bother, so I watched the two of them go into the building and the security door close tightly behind them. It was as if he were a prisoner being put inside to serve his time. I got back into the car and made my way back through the streets of London. I stopped off at Sainsburys on the way and ironically bought a big bottle of wine to take home. I felt I deserved it. I wanted to celebrate my temporary freedom and the peaceful ten days that stretched ahead of me. I also wanted to make a toast to better times ahead.

13 September 2008

Upsetting everyone

My story continues.....

Eventually, in November 2007, Greg went to see Matt at the Alcohol Advisory Centre and agreed to detox. He felt so rough again and he knew he had to do it for his health. But he still baulked at the idea of rehab and said he would think about it later. Matt said there would be a wait of about 3-4 months for the detox, so we should not expect it to happen until well after the New Year -a full year after his detox in hospital.
Now back on a full bottle of whisky a day, plus all his medication (which amounted to about 12 tablets a day and insulin injections), those three months dragged. The medication was for his heart trouble (high cholesterol and high blood pressure), gastric upsets (following on from the burst ulcer), diabetes and poor circulation in his legs (caused by the smoking).

All the former problems came back...food tasted funny, he had no appetite, he sat all day watching TV, smoking 40+ cigarettes a day, shouting and shrieking often until very late at night, hygiene falling by the wayside. He looked a mess. He still wore old clothes that were far too big for him and held them up with a belt. His hair grew long and bushy again. He did not wash or clean his teeth, so there was always an aura of whisky mixed with sweat about him. He wandered around in bare feet, even in the garden, so that the soles of his feet were the colour of a blackboard. He would climb into bed with those dirty feet sticking out of the duvet. His sleep was broken by mumblings and arm-waving. He used to complain vociferously when my alarm went off in the morning to get Kay off to school. It broke his chance to have a long sleep in the morning. Yet he could come to bed late at night, sometimes 2am or 3am, and clatter about, putting the light on, even smoking right next to me, and I was supposed to put up with that without a comment. The irritations on both sides were getting too much to cope with. I really felt I was sharing the house with a stranger and not the person I had married. I treated him like an unwelcome lodger. I began to let it show that my feelings for him had changed. I would shout back at him, when he shouted at me. I would even sometimes tell him that I wished he were dead. I told him what hell he was putting Kay and me through. If he was so intent on killing himself then he had better hurry up and get it over with. Because the waiting was unbearable. There were times, I am afraid to say, when I got so furious with him and my frustration got the better of me, that I would grab him by the hair and shake him or pin him against the wall and beat my hands against his chest. And then I would cry and run off. He never followed to come and find me. I would often come down later and find him asleep on the dining chair. A glass of whisky still there in front of him.

It got to the stage where I could no longer bear to be in the same bed as him and I decamped to the spare room. Even the dog did not want to sleep in the same room and chose to scratch at my bedroom door and lie on my floor alongside me rather than be in the marital bedroom with Greg. In fact every time Greg entered any room, Snoopy would dive off from wherever he was snoozing and run up or down stairs to get away, sensing a shouting-match would be about to start.

Kay was beginning to answer Greg back and say to me that she did not love him any more, because he showed so little interest in her. He had once been a wonderful father, taken her to places, helped her with so much. Now he more or less ignored her or shouted at her. He never asked her about important events in her day, when she got home from doing them. She hates him smoking and she would get even more irritated with the smoke than I do. Her teachers have even commented that she smells of smoke. Our GP said she could smell the smoke on me too. When you are a passive-smoker of 40-60 cigarettes a day, it is sometimes difficult to breathe!

When my mother came to stay with us occasionally, he would have no inhibitions and would bellow as much to me in front of her, as if she was not there. It upset her to see him treating me that way and the shouting really got to her. Naturally, I did not want her to feel lonely at times like Christmas or on her birthday,
but she did not like to stay longer than necessary. She hates conflict and confrontations. If I tried to go away to spend time with my mother, I could not trust him to care for Kay. I was worried too about him falling asleep drunk with a burning cigarette and Kay being trapped at the top of the house in a fire. Yet my mother was getting older and frailer and needing more attention which I couldn't risk giving her.

You know that old vaudeville joke " I say, I say, I say. My wife and I have only had one argument in our entire marriage. It started the day we married and it's still going on now." Well, we had not argued much in the early part of our marriage , so we were not quite like that joke,, but we were arguing constantly now. Not just one row a week, not one a day, but several a day and most of the time in fact. The rows were over the silliest of things. Anything I said sparked one off. It could be something as harmless as asking what time an appointment was, when he wanted dinner, what he had done with a document. He would just shout at me to leave him alone and then I would stand my ground and we would be off. If I so much as said a peep over a TV programme he was watching (and he watched TV from morning til night) - even to say goodnight - he would rant and rave. It got to the stage where we were not making important household decisions, because we would inevitably end up rowing, with him shouting, and reaching no decision at all.

Whenever we saw his sister Jill, they would end up arguing over something silly too. They always made up but it did not stop it happening again. Greg's mother was ill with a chronic lung complaint and Jill usually looked after her, as they lived in the same village. But, on one occasion, as Jill was going away for a few weeks on holiday, his mother
had to go into a nursing home and Greg offered to visit her there. His mother was embarrassed by Greg's appearance and made it clear to me that he should not come to visit her at the nursing home unless he made a great effort to spruce himself up. He did go to see her, but, as I have no influence over him and what he wears, he did embarrass her. It was not as if he even stayed a long time with her, as he hates small talk and hospital-like environments anyway. But we all knew he was staying in his mother's empty cottage drinking to his heart's content. How he made it there and back in his car on the motorway is a miracle.

All in all, every member of the family was suffering from his behaviour and couldn't wait long enough for the detox to come. When we finally got the call to say detox had been arranged for a date in early February 2008, our hopes were raised once more.

12 September 2008


This week has been rather manic and I have been flitting about like a mosquito on heat. So much so that I have not had time to blog or read blogs. What with daily hospital visits, dealing with the household, walking the dog and having extra things thrown in - like having to find a special 18th birthday present for my nephew or arrange a day-trip to Leeds yesterday for another university open day- I have been chasing my tail. But I have been much buoyed up by the supportive comments from others on my blog and that has kept me going. I shall try to respond and write an update when I get a chance to surface for air. Meanwhile, bear with me. Suffice to say Greg was in intensive care up until Wednesday. It turns out he has had pneumonia and is still very weak, cannot walk and is very confused. He has aged ten years in a week. His liver count, I am told, should be between 20 and 80 and is currently 1600. He is a medical disaster.


My thanks to those who have nominated me recently for awards. I have greedily pasted those awards onto this site, but have lacked the time to nominate others in turn. I hope I won't be turned into a pillar of salt for my sins. I hope it will be enough to say that all those on my blog list deserve an award (else they would not be on my list of favourites in the first place.) There are also quite a few not on my blog list but whom I follow regularly. I must get around to adding them some day soon.

07 September 2008

Another emergency.

Yesterday the hospital transferred Greg to the Intensive Care Unit. It seems they were concerned for his neurological state and a chest infection he has developed. Kay and I rushed over yesterday morning to visit him. He was wired up from head to foot with monitors, tubes and lines. He also had an oxygen mask and was getting antibiotics through a line. He was obviously having difficulty breathing as his chest was heaving up and down, but what was more distressing than any of that was that he seems to be on the verge of dementia and was muttering and rambling gobbledegook and seeing things that were not there. Whether that is a direct cause of the alcohol withdrawal - he has not had a drop since Friday breakfast-time when the ambulance came for him - or whether he now has dementia to add to his ailments, I do not know. Only time will tell. They are giving him medication to cope with the alcohol withdrawal. He still cannot stand or walk and seems to have little feeling in his extremities. The hospital goes quiet over the weekend, but the doctors will all be back in on Monday and hopefully I will get a diagnosis then.

06 September 2008


The chronology of my blog is all over the place at the moment, dipping back into the past to tell my story, yet writing in the present too when special things happen. Without wishing to make it too confusing, I have decided to write about the present in short paragraphs and then come back to them in detail one day in the future when the past finally catches up with the present in my story. I shall also write about the present for the moment in ordinary print and my story in bold. Hope that helps. I shall get round to changing the print for the previous posts when I get a chance.


Yesterday I had to call an ambulance to take Greg to Accident and Emergency. He was due to go in to hospital for a day procedure to widen the arteries and blood-flow to his legs. But when I woke him from his slumber on the kitchen floor, where he had spent the night, he was unable to stand or walk, let alone get into my car. The hospital have admitted him to a ward, where he will stay for the next few days while they decide what to do with him. Kay and I are luxuriating in the peace we shall get.

04 September 2008

Groundhog day/year

Kay is back to school for her final year and things are slowly going back to the normal daily routine. It is such a long time since I continued with my true story, that even I need reminding where I left off. I am sure anyone else will be confused too, so I thought a quick resume (with links to the posts) might be helpful.

1970 - 1999 The Early Years. Or the pre-drinking years. The first 29 years of our life together.

1999 - 2003 Booze Cruise. The problem drinking starts to escalate.

2003 Heart attack. Greg is in hospital and then convalescing at home.

2004 Early retirement. The drinking really spirals out of control.

From Bad to Worse 1.

From Bad to Worse 2

Emergency. Greg has a gastric bleed and nearly dies.

Ebbing Away Greg has a detox while in hospital
On the Mend. Things get better again.

2007 Bursting the bubble. After the detox, things start to get worse again.

By autumn 2007, Greg was definitely back to drinking a full bottle of wine a day and beginning to start on the whisky again too. I was devastated. We were back to square one like Groundhog day. I cannot tell you what that did to me. Our finances were already strapped to the limit. We still had the mortgage to repay and all the other usual outgoings which were climbing in price beyond general inflation.
Not content with one loan to cover the problem, Greg now took out a second and much larger loan which would commit us until 2013 to pay back on our small pension. The instalments were gobbling up all our available cash.

Greg was back to sleeping a lot of the time or drinking and shouting. Physically he was dishevelled and weak. One day he went to go down a flight of stairs, just swayed on the top step, then fell forwards, like in a cartoon. "Look, no hands". Kay and I heard the thud of his body as it hit each stair tread. We ran to the top of the staircase to find him uncurling himself on the floor at the bottom. We rushed down, helped him up and he was surprisingly not injured. Every time he stood at the top of a staircase after that, swaying around, Kay and I would have our hearts in our mouths and could not bear to watch.

I went to see the GP for help again, as I did not know what to do next. She said, yet again, that he must cut back gradually. The words I dread to hear. That made me feel so frustrated, as I know that Greg finds it almost impossible to cut back on his own, once it has a hold on him. The GP also said that I must contact Matt at the Alcohol Advisory Centre again and see whether a proper detox could be arranged (as opposed to the one that was done before in hospital as an emergency). When I contacted Matt, he said that he would need Greg's permission to apply for detox and again stressed that it should go in tandem with rehab. Both still had long waiting lists too, so nothing would be done for at least 6-8 months. That was assuming I could get Greg to agree to it. I felt so helpless. Nobody wanted to know. Meanwhile, Greg continued to see the counsellor at the Alcohol Advisory Clinic on a one-to-one basis, but, still the counsellor just listened and let Greg talk and talk. She didn't offer any practical advice, beyond the now familiar advice to cut down gradually.

I used to phone Greg's sister, Jill, to let her know of the latest developments and she too used to say she felt helpless and that there was little she could suggest for me to do. In all fairness, she lives over a hundred miles away, so I do not expect her to be able to help. But I really did feel at that point that I was alone in the world with the problem and nobody really appreciated fully what Kay and I were having to endure. I must confess - to be selfish for a moment -I
also used to get upset that we could have had such a lovely retirement, having time together, while Kay was at school, maybe going out for countryside walks with the dog, maybe driving to the sea, ending up at a pretty pub for lunch or just doing things with friends. But that was out of the question. Not only would Greg not be able to stick at just a couple of drinks on a day out, but also we would not even have the money now to go in the first place. It was all going horribly pear-shaped. It felt like one of those nightmares where you are being chased by something or someone - a monster, or giant or villain - and your legs feel like concrete so that you just cannot run and are fixed to the spot.