Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Full Circles...

So, here's the end of the story even though it is very much the beginning of another one. I like the way the circles intersect. (If you need a refresher, here's part I, and also part II of this story.)

I got out of the hospital that night with 12 staples in my head, chemical burns over my back and neck from the gasoline, and some cuts and scrapes. The liquor store was indeed closed but luckily the hospital gave me something for the pain, which took the edge off of my need for booze. I really don't remember much about the few weeks. For the first few days I felt okay, I guess. On about the fourth day after the attack, I began to drink vodka. Lots of vodka. I stayed at home and in my room with my dog. I took her out when she needed to go but other than that, I drank. I got fired from one of my jobs. My friends and family worried about me. The attack exacerbated my emotional state and that in conjunction with my alcoholism resulted in my inability to stop drinking at all. So I drank and drank.

I finally dragged myself out of that room and went to work at my other job which as luck would have it was a bartending gig! Sweet! I had motivation to go to work. Booze. So, I worked and drank for about another month. One night, I remember going to work and that was it. The rest of the night is completely gone; I was there physically but was operating in a total black out. I'd blacked out many times before but never at work. I woke the next day and had that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that so often happens after a black out. (Oh, by the way, black out drinking is not normal.) Years earlier, my sister and I named that feeling "I'm-a-loser-itis," which is also accompanied by the familiar nagging question, "What the hell happened last night?...." UGH. Fuck. What. the. fuck.

The following day I got ready and headed back to work, pit of my stomach still nagging, where I was greeted by the owners of the bar. They told me that I no longer had a job and that they were also worried about me and said that they thought I needed some help. They didn't even know me at all and they were worried about me. Whoa.

This was in June 2007. Sushi was just a puppy and her mommy was in bad shape.

For some reason, that night was the night. I was standing alone behind a building where I once worked when it all came rushing into my head. I had, as they say, a "moment of clarity." I was 300 miles from my nearest family members, I had almost been killed by a madman a few weeks earlier, I had lost two jobs, was living with some people who had taken me in out of the kindness of their hearts, had a dog who relied completely on me, $60 in my pocket, and I could not stop drinking. Alcohol was going to kill me if I didn't get some help. I was 36 years old with no car, no house, no husband, no children, no nothing. I was done.

I called my sister and told her I was ready for some help. I think she may have screamed, "THANK GOD!" The rest is sort of a blur. I went for an intake evaluation at the local health department and was told to continue drinking until they had a bed for me at the treatment center, otherwise I may have a seizure and die. Apparently the only drug from which you can die during withdrawl is alcohol. Who knew?

So, on the morning of July 12, 2007, I took what I hope to be my last drink and went into treatment. My last drink sucked! It was warm, cheap, white wine that I pulled out from under my bed and swigged so that I wouldn't begin to withdrawal. It was purely medicinal with no pleasure whatsoever. I'm glad about that.

When I walked into that treatment center with my mother by my side, I was told that they would do everything to help me get sober but that I had to do the work. It was my choice, my work, my recovery. I became willing to listen to directions that day and began my journey. The obsession and craving for alcohol left me rather quickly and for that I'm so very grateful. That is not the case with many people, so I look at that as a gift.

Here's the kicker. I was getting sober and learning to live by a whole new set of principles yet I still had to go to court repeatedly over this case with Steve. The first time I saw him in the courtroom I thought I'd die. I'd never been more nervous in my life but I did what I had to do. The very worst day during that time came when I received an automated phone call stating in a computerized voice, that Steve was being released because he had posted his bail. You know that feeling right before you pass out? Like the world sort of spins and starts to go black from the sides toward the center? That happened. I also felt like I might lose control of my bodily functions. I was completely freaked out.

So for the next ten (yes, ten!) months the case plodded along. Steve tried every trick in the book to delay the trial, spin the events, slander my name, and legally get out of the punishment for this crime. It was awful. During this time I was still living with my dear friends in Maryland and Steve was up in New Jersey with his family. It didn't seem far enough away to me at all and I lived with a certain amount of constant fear. A few times when I was out with my dog in the evening I would get spooked and run home. He knew exactly where I was and that scared the living shit out of me.

Also during those ten months I came to understand myself in such a different manner. I was so raw when I got out of treatment and had no idea how to live without alcohol. Simple tasks confused the hell out of me and making decisions was hard! I worked through the twelve steps of recovery with a sponsor and began to change my life. I did a lot of work on myself but sheer willpower did not get me sober. I had to rely on a power greater than myself which is different for everyone. Doors opened and small victories were had. At first I worked for a fiber artist friend of mine weaving rugs, which was incredible, actually. The repetition of the loom and the colors of the thread were a meditation for me. About 8 months into my recovery I was asked to return to work at the shop from which I'd been fired. I paid debts, made amends, and began to really live. It was amazing. All the while going to court and looking over my shoulder. Looking back it's hard to imagine that I handled it all.

After going around and around in circles, the day finally arrived! We were going to court so the judge could hear the case and sentence Steve. I was beyond nervous but now had a band of people with me both in and out of the court room. When my turn came, I stood up before that judge and told my side of the story. The beauty was that I had already shared the story with women in recovery groups and people in treatment centers so I felt comfortable with the details. The scary part was that I felt Steve's eyes on my the entire time.

I think originally Steve was charged with 11 things but it was eventually whittled down to three main charges: first degree assault, second degree assault, and violation of a protective order. I know, I know, "Why isn't it attempted murder?" I shouted the same thing, believe me. Well, in Maryland, first degree assault and attempted murder hold the same amount of "weight" in sentencing and since there is no doubt of the assault, the SA went with that. I'm fine with that decision. 

The judge decided to sentence him above the guidelines for the crime, due to the violent nature of the whole thing. He got 20 years with 10 suspended and was to be eligible for parole after 5 years. I was thrilled with that, especially the "above the guidelines" part! I was free in a very real sense! The very next day I celebrated 1 year of sobriety. It was a perfect full-circle moment!

My sister and I celebrating my 1 year sober anniversary!

I went on about my life. I got better and better and changed more and more. I have become the person I was meant to be. I met my husband and got married! We bought a house! I got a master's degree! I have a job that I love! My Sushi is happy and healthy at age 6! I have a new Jeep! My life is amazingly wonderful. I am a good daughter, sister, aunt, wife, dog-mom, and friend. 

I knew the day would come and now since it's been almost five years since sentencing, I'm standing in a familiar spot only I'm not the same person.

This brings me to that phone call from a few weeks ago. The one where I found out that Steve was asking for a sentence reduction so that he could get out on parole sooner. Meaning, like, now. All of this came flooding back to me in a second. I immediately called my husband and expressed my terror and he calmly talked me down. I talked to a few more people and the load got lighter. I've learned to share this kind of stuff instead of thinking I need to handle it on my own! I'm not alone anymore and have many people with whom I share on a continual basis. I truly believe that this is all happening the way it's supposed to and that everything will be alright. It just will.

The outcome of the sentence reduction hearing? I'm relieved to tell you that he was not granted a sentence reduction and will not be eligible for parole until November 2014. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I am happy, joyous, and free. Oh, and grateful as shit. ;)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Here's What Happened: Part II

Here we go..continuing the saga of my strange trip to sobriety and the wonderful life I have today...

I had been living with a drug addict/alcoholic/certified crazy man for less than a year and it was a huge disaster. For a refresher click here to read the last post. He was abusive and scary and I packed my dog and some of my things and left.

I knew I was on the right track when I was invited to live with a couple I met the coffee shop where I worked. They were so sweet and kind to me and obviously saw through my alcoholism and chaos to the real me. They knew I loved Rock Hall and didn't want to leave but had nowhere to go. The woman of that couple told me of a time in  her life when she was "taken in" by a friend who didn't want anything in return but a promise to help someone else when needed- a promise to pay it forward, in other words. It just so happened that Sushi and I were in need of help! We moved in and lived like a family. It was wonderful.

I'd love to say that this was the end of the situation with Steve and that the order of protection worked like a charm. But, alas, 'twas not the case. Steve disregarded the order and began to do some really frightening things. While living in New York I had gotten into a bit of trouble and owed a few days of community service. Since I took off and moved to Maryland, there was a warrant for my arrest. Steve called the NYPD and told them my location. He called my creditors and gave them the phone number to my job and they began calling incessantly. I left a bunch of clothes and items in the house we shared and he had a garage sale and sold my stuff. That which he didn't sell he left on the front lawn to get wet during a particularly rainy weekend. 

He drove past my job all the time and dropped off bags of my clothes on occasion. Upon opening the bag I'd find my clothing shredded and shoes cut up. He sent me bizarre emails. He emailed and called my boss, parents, and sister- reporting on my behavior. I called the police each time he did something to harass me and we informed that there was nothing they could do but they'd "note" it.

I'd also love to say that my drinking waned and I began to get better, but that wasn't happening either. I still drank. A lot. I knew that alcohol had a grip on me but I just couldn't stop. I was getting to the point of not being able to live with alcohol and not being able to live without it. I knew I needed to quit but the thought terrified me and I repeatedly pushed it from my mind. I held on to the hope that I could regain control over alcohol and drink like a normal person. What I didn't know is that it's impossible to go back to normal drinking once crossing the line into alcoholism. Trust me, that's not a fun place to be at all.

So, here's what happened. The beginning of the end, if you will.

What happened next is truly disturbing and if you can't read it, I understand. I tell this story quite a bit in recovery groups and to women involved in abusive relationships so I'm used to talking about it and am very okay with it. It may be harder to read than it is for me to write.

It was a Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day, 2007, and I left work at the coffee shop, planned to run a few errands, and go home to walk Sushi. I made a few stops along the way to talk to friends. I headed down the block and as I walked down the main road in town, I saw Steve rushing out from behind the bank. Adrenaline ran through my body- talk about fight or flight! I was instantly terrified. He started shouting, "Come with me, you're coming with me!" I remember exactly what he was wearing and how he looked. I freaked out and ran into the road and tried to stop passing cars. No one stopped, because they didn't realize what was going on yet. Steve grabbed my arm and pulled me on to the lawn of the bank and I started screaming.

He spun me around to face him and I noticed something in his hand- a meat tenderizer that had once belonged to me. My first thought was, "Hey! That's mine!" Before I could have another thought, he did the unthinkable- he swung it and hit me in the top of my head. What the hell?! I fell to the ground and immediately covered my head with my hands and curled into a ball. I have the strange ability to remain calm in a crisis and this quality came in handy that day, let me tell you. I remember thinking to myself, "You got this, Amy. Just stay calm, and help will come! The police will come and they will take him away. You got this!" I was bleeding from my head and I just stayed as calm as I could. Because I was curled in a ball, I'm not sure what was happening around me, but I could hear some action. Steve then grabbed my hair, pulled my head back, and put a gun to my head and then tried to get it into my mouth. The entire time he was screaming at me and I was not responding to him at all. Not a word. I really didn't want to make him any angrier.

Disoriented and bleeding, I heard what I now know to be a bunch of guys jump him and get the gun out of his hands. It just sounded like a quite a commotion with cursing and shouting. (The guys who jumped in were young and not what we might think of as upstanding citizens. One was out on work release from jail and the other might be in jail now. I love those guys! Whenever I see either of them, I hug and kiss and thank them for what they did.) Where were the police? It felt like they were taking forever to come!!

Still curled in a ball, the commotion going on around me, I suddenly felt something wet over my left shoulder. The smell was unmistakable- it was gasoline. It was exactly at that point that I panicked. "HE IS GOING TO KILL ME!," I screamed at the top of my lungs and jumped to my feet. What he said next scared the crap out of me. He said, "We're going out together, sweetheart." I really thought I was going to die. With him. In the street. In a quick flash I saw my entire family and their devastated faces. It was horrible. The only thing I can guess is that he didn't have a match or lighter, because I ended up on the ground again, this time being choked from behind. That's when I heard the sirens. Finally, the police arrived! I later found out that what seemed like an eternity to me was actually about 5-8 minutes. That's a really long time when you're trying to stay alive.

Covered in blood, gasoline, sweat, and fear, I ran across the street to safety. Steve was pepper-sprayed and handcuffed and hauled off by the police. I was safe and alive! Hallelujah!

There were a lot of people standing around watching and I can still see some of their horrified faces. I called out to a friend to please go walk my Sushi and was then ushered into an ambulance. As the doors closed I had a thought, which seemed perfectly normal to me at the time. I now understand how insane it was.

"Shit! The liquor store is going to be closed by the time I get back from the hospital."

I was a sick woman.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Kick in the Gut

I got a phone call last week that felt like a kick in the gut and also catapulted me back in time. It started off okay, actually, but by the end I felt like I might puke.The call was from the State's Attorney for my county and was regarding a case from 6 years ago where the man with whom I was once involved tried to kill me. He was petitioning the court for a reduced sentence and the SA asked me, "Would you like to come to court to witness the hearing?" NO, I did not. That's when I felt sick.

This whole fiasco started, really, when I was about 25 years old and worked for my chiropractor in New York City. That's where I met this person who eventually tried to kill me. I'll call him Steve because that's his name. He was charming! He was a gentleman and a funny guy! He asked me out repeatedly and even though I had a boyfriend, I went out with him a few times. Mostly, however, we became friends. He moved to New Mexico eventually and I continued with my life, graduating from college and getting a job. Throughout the years we stayed in touch and he'd call to say hello and I'd do the same. We got together periodically to have dinner or lunch and to catch up. Over time I got to know his family and he mine.

By the Summer of 2006 I was living in New York and was a real mess. I always liked parties and drinking but somewhere along the line I crossed the point of no return and my drinking was totally out of control. I drank around the clock because if I didn't, the symptoms that began when my blood alcohol level dropped were horrifying. My blood pressure would rise so much I felt my heartbeat in my ears. Due to my consumption of booze, I had acid reflux, so I'd begin coughing so hard that I'd throw up. My eyes would get bloodshot and runny. I felt antsy and couldn't sit still. I was obsessed with my next drink. And I shook. Badly. Every morning I looked in the mirror and said to myself, "You have to get this shit under control, Amy! What the hell happened to you? You're an alcoholic." I'd swear to myself that I wasn't going to drink but when those symptoms began I knew what cured them. Booze. So I began drinking, again. I'd pass out, come to, and start over. It was a horrible, vicious cycle that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

Around this time Steve began calling me and found out just how bad my drinking had become. He was living at a friend's house in a little town on Maryland's Eastern Shore. I was so out of it at this point in my life that I didn't ask many questions. I have no idea why he was there and not at home in New Jersey. He always worked in the hospitality business and was not employed at that time. In retrospect, I should have asked what was going on but I was in no way capable of that. I was making every decision in my life through the fuzz of alcohol.

Steve offered to help by inviting me to come stay with him and get away from everything that was causing me to drink. I NOW know that changing location was not going to change my drinking, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. What was causing me to drink was alcoholism, not anything else. I had problems because of my drinking but I'd have told you I drank because of my problems. Since I was unemployed at the time, I went to visit Steve in October, arriving in Rock Hall after dark. I woke the next morning and had a feeling come over me as I looked out the window of the house: I was home. I loved Rock Hall from the moment I arrived. I loved it so much that I went back to New York, packed my stuff, and moved. Steve and I decided to try our hand at having a real relationship.

Life was good! For a little while, anyway. Life got really crazy quickly when I realized that Steve not only had a drinking problem, but also was addicted to crack cocaine. I also discovered that he had been diagnosed with bipolar and borderline personality disorders. Fun, right? Wrong. It was terrible. I'm too embarrassed to go into the details of how we lived, but we didn't have heat or hot water and that was the least of our worries.

My life was already spiraling out of control quickly when the relationship became abusive: verbally, emotionally and eventually physically. There's not too much more to say about that except the first time I was physically abused, his apology included my beloved dog, Sushi. I always say that it was such a stupid gift! Here I was a raging alcoholic who could barely take care of myself and now I had a dog to care for? Little did I know she would be instrumental in changing my life. (click here to read my previous post about my baby girl.)

The next time that the abuse became physical something happened to me and I had the good sense to leave. I packed up my dog and a few of my things and got the hell out of the house. I did not go back. I called the police, pressed charges, and followed up the next day by getting an order of protection. 

End of story? 

Not even close.