Monday, January 21, 2013

From tears to smiles

Yesterday afternoon my wife and I went with my oldest sister to see my dad in the nursing home. We wanted to take him his own TV so he'd be able to watch whatever he wanted in his room. We also assumed he'd want to watch the NFC and AFC championship games, both of which were on yesterday.

When we walked into the facility we saw my dad sitting in a wheelchair in the dining room, where quite a few of the residents and some workers and volunteers were getting ready for a musical program of sorts. Since my dad was occupied, my wife, sister, and I decided to go to his room and hook up his television before letting him know we were there. It was just easier for us to get that out of the way ahead of time.

After we connected the TV, the three of us proceeded to go back to the dining room to visit with my dad. I have to say, I was not prepared for what I was going to experience.

My dad was sitting in his wheelchair with his head down. He was awake and his eyes were open. He was just very out of it. When we told him we were there, it almost didn't even register with him. While most of the rest of the people in the room participated in the group singalong, my dad just sat there with his head down.

On a few different occasions, I asked my dad if he wanted to go back to his room to watch the football game. Each time I asked him, he started into a long conversation about football and baseball and advertising/sponsorships. He said the people in the room were getting ready to take a vote and he had to be there for that. I had no idea what he was trying to explain to me. It seemed to make sense to him, but it was total nonsense to me.

The whole time we were in the dining room, I either stood or sat next to my dad and had my arm around him, gently massaging his upper back. I also either cried or struggled mightily to hold back my tears the whole time I was there. It was just so heartbreaking to see him that way. Totally lost, in his own little world. At one point I asked him if he had eaten lunch. I don't remember what his answer was, but it had nothing to do with the question I asked him.

The one bright spot came when the group was singing "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands" and went around the room from person to person, replacing the lyric "the whole world" with each person's name. When the room started singing, "He's got Gilbert in his hands," my dad smiled and waved to everyone. That was touching.

Aside from that one moment, though, the visit was incredibly tough for me. My dad was sitting right in front of me, but he wasn't "there." My sister told me a couple of times to remember that it's more painful for us than it is for my dad, because he doesn't know what's going on. That helped a little bit, but I still felt awful.

After the musical program was over, we left.

I'm cautiously optimistic that part of my dad might come back. The last time he was in a rehabilitation facility, this past summer, he went in in pretty bad shape. But over time he started to regain some of his faculties. I just don't know if that will happen this time or not, given the fact that he had a stroke.

What I do know is that I'm eternally grateful that I was able to let go of all the resentment and hatred I felt towards my dad. When that happened that one day last summer, it changed my life for the better. Seeing my dad the way he was yesterday is hard; but it would've been even harder had I still been carrying around all the baggage I carried for so many years. People, listen to me: If you are holding a grudge against someone you love, let it go. Just be strong and let it go, before it's too late. Life's too short, and hanging on to negative things from the past just isn't worth it. It took me about 40 years to figure that out. I'm just glad I did it in time.

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After the nursing home visit, my wife and I came home and I decided to make some comfort food for dinner. I really needed some nutritional comfort, so I made a turkey meat loaf--stuffed with some Havarti cheese--and my wife made mashed potatoes. I must say, it really hit the spot.

A few hours later is when the smiles finally came. My son was on a date with his new girlfriend last night. They went to the Detroit Pistons-Boston Celtics basketball game because she is a huge Celtics fan. (My son surprised her with the tickets.) Anyway, during the game the cute couple posted some really sweet photos of themselves on Facebook. It was so nice to see my son with someone he really likes, smiling and having a great time. In fact, seeing that was enough to take the pain I had been feeling all day long totally away.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A terrifying night

This past Thursday, I woke up extremely tired and emotionally drained. The day before, my mom, two sisters, and my brother had spent the afternoon visiting and touring nursing homes in an effort to find a place for my dad to go.

For those of you who aren't friends with me on Facebook--which I'm guessing is a lot of you--my 86-year-old father, who is in deteriorating health and suffers from dementia that comes and goes, had an incident a week ago today. He fell in the bathroom and hit his head on the bathtub. My mom called 911 and my dad was rushed to the hospital. The doctors think he may have had a stroke, or at least a "TIA" (Transient Ischemic Attack), which is kind of a mini stroke. My dad was having trouble moving his left side and suffered vision loss as well. Pretty scary stuff.

This was about the fifth time my dad had fallen over the last several months, and the most serious incident to date. The bottom line is that my mother has decided she just can't take care of him anymore. He needs to be somewhere safe, where people can give him the care he needs.

After looking at extended care facilities on Wednesday afternoon, we all gathered at my house that evening to sit down with an attorney friend of mine who works for a firm that specializes in elder care. Coincidentally, she also went through the same thing with her father just about a year ago. So she was a great source of information and moral support. We sat and talked for about three hours about our options, Medicare, Medicaid, what we should do, what we shouldn't do, etc. It was mind-numbing and the end to a very long day, which had begun early in the morning with me researching potential nursing homes online.

I didn't sleep well Wednesday night and I knew Thursday would be a challenge. But I had no idea how much of a challenge it would be until Thursday afternoon.

It started around 2:45pm or so when I was looking through some e-mail conversations between me and my son's school that were taking place through our personal e-mail account. I saw a couple of e-mails that were sent to the school that were totally unfamiliar to me. My first thought was that maybe my wife had logged into our e-mail account and sent replies to the school without telling me. But when I called her to ask her about it, she said she hadn't even logged into our account that day. That's when I first felt like something weird was going on.

I continued on with my work day and started to have a similar experience with work e-mails. I saw work e-mails that I had sent that I did not even remember sending. The biggest red flag came when a co-worker sent me a reply to an e-mail. I opened the e-mail, read her reply, and didn't know what the hell she was talking about. I then scrolled down and saw the e-mail she was replying to--sent by me--underneath her reply. I had no recollection at all of having sent that e-mail. The information in the e-mail also meant that I would've had to have researched something in order to send the e-mail in the first place; and I had no memory whatsoever of having done that.

All of a sudden, I was terrified. I started to cry (real mean do cry) and called my wife at work. I told her something was wrong with me and that I needed her to come home. Luckily, my wife's office is only a mile away from our house and she got home very quickly.

I explained what I was experiencing to her and she tried to comfort me as best she could. But I was not a very cooperative "patient." I was scared to death that something was seriously wrong with me. All I could do was sob uncontrollably. I certainly wasn't in any shape to do any more work; but I was in no shape to send any e-mails or call my boss, either. So I asked my wife to call him for me.

Luckily, I have an amazing boss who is very supportive of me. He's been supportive during everything me and my family have gone through over the last few years and this incident was no different. He told my wife to tell me to stop working and ordered me to take the next day off. I can't tell you how great that was to hear. It was a huge relief and I thought just shutting down my work computer and  resting would fix things. But, unfortunately, it didn't.

A little while later, probably around 5:00pm, I started experiencing something incredibly strange. So strange, that I don't even know how to describe it...but I'll try. I started having little fragments of thoughts pop into my head. Some of the thoughts were discernible: work-related stuff, family things, etc. But other thoughts were completely foreign to me. They were things that made no sense to me. And the thing that made everything unbearable was that none of these thought fragments ever entered by mind fully. They would start to materialize; and then as quickly as they started to materialize, they were gone. This kept happening over and over and over again all evening and into the night.

My wife finally got me to go up to bed and lie down. But the thought fragment barrage just kept coming. I cried for hours. I even screamed several times because I felt like I was going insane. I must've muttered or screamed "Please make it stop" a couple of hundred times over the course of a few hours. I also said some pretty nasty things to my wife, who was only trying to help me. But I had no idea what was going on and felt like I had lost control of my mind. I was scared to death. Thankfully, my wife realized that I didn't mean the things I was saying; I was just going through a terrifying experience. She stuck by my side and made me feel as comfortable as possible. I really don't know what I would've done if she hadn't been there.

Finally, at about 10:30pm, things in my head started to calm down. The little thought fragments stopped popping into my head and I started to feel better. Exhausted, but better.

I don't know exactly what happened to me on Thursday. I don't know if it was a panic attack or a mini nervous breakdown. But it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I suppose all the stress and pressure that I've been going through over the last several years--or even the last several months--could've finally caught up with me. The situation with my dad might've been the straw that broke the camel's back. All I know is that I honestly thought I was going insane.

I was scared to go to sleep Thursday night. Scared because I was worried I would wake up in the morning and the crazy thought fragment thing would start all over again. But it didn't. I did wake up on Friday morning feeling like I had been through the wringer, complete with a ginormous headache. But my mind was calm. I thought briefly about logging into my company's network and doing at least a little bit of work. Then I decided to heed my boss's advice and just rest.

I made it through all of Friday without incident, and as I type this late Saturday morning everything remains normal. I am incredibly grateful for that.

As for my dad, he was transferred from the hospital to an extended care facility yesterday. It's one of the places we had looked at on Wednesday. Luckily, they had a bed available. As much as I wanted to help out in the whole transfer process, I did not participate. I was just too drained. I thank my sisters for taking on that responsibility. My mom called me last night and said that everything went well and that my dad was settled into his room.

I'm hoping I never again experience what I experienced on Thursday. It was one of the scariest things I've ever been through. I guess the moral of the story is this: No matter how much stress you have in your life, and no matter how many things you have to do, it's important to step back every once in a while and say to yourself, "I need to stop and think about ME for a while." Helping others and busting your ass at work is great...until it starts taking its toll on you. YOU are the most important person in your life. Don't ever forget that. You deserve to feel good, too. I'm not saying to ignore or abandon your loved ones in need--or your job--but just listen to your body and mind when they start to tell you enough is enough.

Thanks again to my amazing wife. She really saved me Thursday night. She is not only my wife. She is my guardian angel in living, human form. And I would be lost without her. LOST.

P.S. I just wanted to mention something my dad said in the hospital on Monday while I was there visiting him. The speech pathologist came to his room to ask him a series of questions to determine how much he could remember. After answering several questions, my dad said to the speech pathologist, "I love my children and my grandchildren." That was totally unsolicited and was incredible to hear.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Cloud fucking nine."

I had to drive my son to work yesterday afternoon. I picked him up at his house and we were driving along when he said to me, out of the blue:

"I'm on cloud fucking nine."

I said, "Oh, yeah? How come."

His reply? "Because everything is going so well right now."

Hallelujah to my higher power. To hear those words come out of my son's mouth was like winning the lottery. Twice. In one day.

He's inching towards seven months of sobriety. He's got a job that he likes. He has a new girlfriend he's crazy about.

He's also maturing more every day. I can see it. 

Last night I posted this on his Facebook wall:

"Just want you to know how incredibly proud I am of you. Every day I see more positive changes in your attitude and personality. What I always knew was inside of you is coming out. And it's beautiful."

Damn straight.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Six months

My son is six months clean and sober today.

Six months. Wow. That has a nice ring to it.

I am so grateful and happy. But most of all? I'm proud as hell.

One day at a time...

"Recovery is not about bad people getting good, it's about good people getting well." --via Wisconsin Intervention Services on Facebook

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy 2013!


Finally, a HAPPY New Year's Day.

It's been several years in the making, but I guess the hard work on everyone's part has paid off. At least for now. I woke up this morning and realized that the first day of 2013 is the happiest New Year's Day I've experienced in years.

For the hell of it, I went back to my post from last January 1st to see what I had written. After describing a less-than-stellar Christmas holiday, I ended my blog post with this:

"So today is New Year's Day. Goodbye, 2011...Hello, 2012. It's been almost seven years since my son started battling addiction, and every New Year's I hope the coming year will be better than the previous one. Today is no different. My wife and I will try to stay strong and continue to work on our own recovery. Letting go is hard, but I think we're slowly making some progress.

"Progress, not perfection. One day at a time."

As of today, my son is just a couple of days away from being six months clean and sober. He's got a job. He's settled into a great sober living house with a great owner and a great group of guys. And my wife and I are miles ahead of where we were last year in our recovery.

I'd call that progress.

To everyone who reads this blog, I wish you the best for 2013. I hope whatever problems you may have either go away or at least become easier to bear. If you're the parent of an addict, I hope that your loved one makes progress this year and that you and your spouse remember that your recovery is just as important--if not more so--than your child's. Work on letting go a bit more. As they say in Al-Anon, you didn't cause your child's addiction; you can't control it; and you can't cure it.

It's a tough thing to come to grips with, but your child will ultimately make his or her own choices--regardless of what you want those choices to be. So you really need to take care of yourself. You simply can't let your child's addiction take control of your life. It will destroy you. And you deserve better.

Peace to all of you. And thanks again for all your support. Words can't describe how much it means to me.

"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind." --C.S. Lewis