It’s 2:30 in the morning. I can’t sleep, like usual. Just the regular cycle of passing out / having nightmares / waking up and not being able to turn my brain back off and put it, and everything, to rest.
This post is a long one.
I’ve never told this complete story to anyone other than Hubs and my doctor.
I woke up with New Orleans on my mind.
(Update: I was just scrolling through my “On This Day” memories in Facebook, and it was 3 years ago TODAY that I landed in New Orleans for the very first time. How weird.)
It’s our home-away-from-home, to the point where we actually kept an apartment there for a couple years that we would go and stay at every couple months. Every time, we’d leave recharged and inspired, every one of our senses brought back to life.
The music. The food. The characters we’d meet.
Well, we left recharged every time, until the last time.
It wasn’t uncommon for me to have my first round of drinks at 9am or earlier while in NOLA, because, well – it’s encouraged. Before breakfast, I’d have had a few Bloody Mary’s (read: lots of vodka with a splash of mix) then a solo cup full of wine in hand on our way downtown at 10am in search of more drinks. I couldn’t leave a restaurant or bar without taking a “traveller” with me, because you can drink freely anywhere and everywhere, twenty four hours a day. They have drive-thru margarita shops, for Christ’s sake.
And boy, did I drink.
Looking back, I am fully aware that part of the allure of that magical city was my subconscious awareness that I could drink all day, every day, everywhere. Don’t get me wrong – I fell in love with New Orleans for so many more reasons than that. It’s a city that will truly change your soul, and you’ll leave parts of it there every time you go.
And just like alcohol, it calls you back.
Our last trip was over Halloween a few months ago. Our wedding anniversary.
Shit hit the fan so many times between Hubs and I. Our friend tagged along for the trip, and as a result of our beyond-excessive drinking, she got herself into a little trouble, too. Nothing serious, but enough to have caused a massive dialogue with her husband when she returned home (which thank God has proven to be for the best).
But it was all because of how drunk we were.
All of it.
Well, most of it.
We had a few days left in New Orleans after she left, just the two of us. Most of it was spent apart, and not talking. Hubs put it out there that he was coming to terms that maybe we were just meant to have those 15 years together and nothing more. Naturally I didn’t take this well, so I just drank even more. He promised himself he was going to stop drinking, because we both identified that alcohol was the problem – at the very least, it was the root of our inability to properly communicate anymore.
Happy Fucking Anniversary.
You see, a lot was going on with me health-wise at that time, and I didn’t say anything to anyone. Typical alcoholic male level of self care. I was scared and worried, and it was growling inside me constantly, pacing back and forth, wanting out. Wanting answers. Wanting to feel better.
You know – that tiger in your stomach that refuses to sleep.
As usual, I pushed it down by drinking. I distracted my worry with drunkenness, until of course, I couldn’t anymore. The combination of excessive drinking, and what was later diagnosed as a very enlarged prostate (Benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH), led me to actual incontinence and loss of bladder function. I was in incredible pain – bouncing between not being able to go to the bathroom at all, and feeling like I was pissing razors when I actually could, which wasn’t often. The actual physical pressure was unbearable. This had been going on for years, but the condition was accelerating faster than I cared to acknowledge.
A common symptom of BPH is urgency. There’s a complete lack of a warning system. You go from not having to go to the bathroom, to OMFG I’m not going to make it in a matter of seconds. When you’re drinking 24 hours a day, the sheer volume of liquid you need to pass is enough on its own, much less when you physically can’t – and your body just holds it all in. I knew I was having prostate problems, and my father passed away from complications of prostate cancer – so there was an inner terror I was refusing to acknowledge or talk about. Two of my cousins had theirs removed, and my Grandfather had BPH as well.
The night (one of them) when I actually pissed myself in public because I couldn’t physically hold it any longer, I left Hubs at the store (buying liquor, naturally) so I could try and make it back to our apartment before him. My plan was to nonchalantly throw my pants in the washer, have a shower, and avoid admitting what happened.
He’d never have to know.
I was so embarrassed and in lieu of how awful things were already going on our trip I didn’t want to add one more filthy piece to the puzzle. Especially because all the pieces were adding up to look like part of a very ugly picture.
The shame was worse than the pain of the symptoms.
He gets back to the apartment, immediately questions why the washer is on (did I think he wouldn’t notice?) then with the most disgusted look on his face ever, says “Oh my god. Did you actually piss your pants?” He rolls his eyes and chalks it up to me being a drunk.
I get defensive. Doors slam. There’s yelling. We don’t talk the rest of the night. The next morning I get up and leave before we even have a chance to see each other.
I remember standing in line at Starbucks that morning, for what felt like forever. My hangover was the size of the entire French Quarter and my shame was as big as New Orleans. I was angry at myself, and I was apparently upset that Hubs is not a mind reader. In my head, I had convinced myself I’d been so toxic to myself over the years, that I most certainly had prostate cancer, and that I was dying.
May as well have as many drinks as possible in the meantime, so I don’t have to deal with it.
We texted each other intermittently throughout the morning. I snuck back to the apartment and sat alone by the pool on the roof, feeling like an absolute useless pile of shit. The hangover wasn’t helping. I had been developing a cold all week, and was coughing uncontrollably (this later turned into pneumonia and I was out for literally ALL of November – I’m still on puffers because of it).
I contemplated literally everything on that rooftop, from killing myself to flying back to Canada.
I eventually needed a drink so bad I summoned the courage to go downstairs to the apartment and get one. I was too tired to go anywhere else.
This is where the conversation happens that he tells me he thinks maybe our time is up. That we were just meant to have the time we’ve had, and that’s that. I refuse to accept it. I finally spill on how I’ve been feeling physically, how terrified I am, and explain all my symptoms. That, with the exception of accidentally pissing myself three times in as many days, I can’t otherwise go to the bathroom. And, when I can, it’s essentially a dribble that feels like a combination of burning acid and broken glass. That can make a person a little irritable. I explain that my being drunk didn’t help my reaction to HIS reaction, and that my embarrassment was only compounded by his lack of understanding.
Blah, blah, blah.
It’s amazing how a little honesty can change the trajectory of a shit show.
The worst distance between two people is misunderstanding.
Things improve slightly and we can actually bear being in each other’s company again. I commit to seeing a doctor as soon as we return (for both the pneumonia that was developing faster by the minute) and for the dreaded prostate exam. Initial results were that it was most definitely “remarkably enlarged” and I’m sent for an ultrasound of my prostate (yes, the experience was as awful as you might imagine).
Waiting for the results felt like I was holding my breath under water for two weeks.
It’s not cancerous.
I’ll be on meds indefinitely to control it, and will likely need to have my prostate removed within the next 5 to 10 years. I suppose it’s better than the alternative, though (dying of cancer). The pills have some awful side effects, to the point where I’m wondering which is the lesser of two evils: taking them and feeling like this, or not taking them, and feeling like that. Plus, they interact with essentially everything, including my mood, sex drive, and give me wicked vertigo.
So, this is one of those rare situations, where I’m actually going to thank the alcohol for something – saving my life, and possibly my marriage. Things needed to blow up so badly for me to finally address and be honest about my fears, and in turn, it saved my life.
Granted, I’m sure if I weren’t an alcoholic, things would never have gotten to that point in the first place.
New Orleans has a way of doing this to you. Changing your life.
I never imagined it would also save mine.