‘Thanks so much for joining us today on Daily Dose. We’ll see you live on Thursday for another incredible #GuestThursday conversation. Have a great day!’
I stop the camera and my husband, Dr. Mazz Marry, and I talk about the rest of our day. He’s a biology professor at a local university and I run an arts nonprofit, so we’ve both got plenty on our plates.
For the past 19 months, we hop on to StreamYard twice a week and do a live conversation all around Dr. Marry’s fall into alcoholism, his climb out to sobriety, and our joyful journey back to a happy and loving marriage.
But our current situation has not always been our reality.
February 1, 2017, 2:45 a.m.:
I’m sleeping soundly when Mazz calls out brusquely from the hallway outside our bedroom door, ‘Get up. I need you to take me to the emergency room. Something is really wrong with me.’
I take a moment to let my irritation wash over me… again. I’m warm and exhausted, and I don’t appreciate his insistence that I get up right now.
I stumble into the bathroom, which can only be described as looking like the set of a war film. Blood is everywhere. I shake my head to clear the sleep away. Then I turn to look at Mazz, who is holding a bloody rag to his nose, sucking up gobs of blood and trying, unsuccessfully, to mop it off of his face.
Earlier that day:
A text arrives from Mazz saying he’s going home because he can’t get his nose to stop bleeding.
I shake my head in disgust. His nose bleeds a lot and all the time, particularly when the dry winter air settles in.
I don’t even respond to the text because I think, ‘Of course you do,’ and move on with my day.
We spend another night like we’ve spent so many — Mazz in the basement watching anything on television and me somewhere else reading whatever book I’m devouring. Finally, I go to bed alone, as usual, and fall into a deep sleep.
Earlier in our lives:
One of the first things I remember Mazz telling me when we met was that he had one whiskey a night. That was certainly more alcohol than I drank, but I didn’t think much of it. Then, nearly seven years later, we got married, and I was surprised in those early weeks 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 all these 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. Along with that came other issues… We’d be in the basement together to watch a movie, and he’d be asleep before the opening credits were over. He often slept in the basement, and when he did come to bed, he emanated such a bad smell and snored so loudly I could hardly sleep. When we traveled, the first place we had to stop was a liquor store so he could purchase his travel bottle of whiskey. He stopped wanting to do anything. To get him to agree to go on a bike ride, I’d have to suggest that we bike to a restaurant where we could get a drink.
One morning in 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; he was standing in the kitchen, looking out the window, with a glass of whiskey in his hand… and it was about 8:30 a.m. We’d 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, and screaming, but nothing changed him.
I grew up in a household where absolutely no alcohol was consumed ever, so when I raised my concerns, Mazz would immediately dismiss me, call me crazy, or tell me I was right and he needed to slow down. He started lying to me all the time. I’d come down to the basement in the morning and there would be a glass of whisky with an ice cube in it, often shoved into the corner of the couch. And when I’d question him, he’d say it was from the previous night. Now, it’s not very warm in our basement, but it doesn’t keep ice from melting!
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. And this is a really important point, I still loved him. And more importantly, I believed whole heartedly 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.
February 1, 2017, 9:00 a.m.:
We’ve been in the emergency room for hours; a nurse has cauterized Mazz’s nose to stop the bleeding, and he is getting fluids. The doctors are asking all kinds of questions, and initially tell us they think he might have leukemia. They admit him to the hospital with the intention of doing a bone marrow test and spinal tap to find out more.
In all of this, I never think Mazz is an actual alcoholic. I don’t have the vocabulary to define it that way since I have such a limited understanding of what that disease actually looks like. He’s kept his job, and he isn’t crashing his car or getting DUIs. Things are bad in nearly every aspect of his life. I’m managing everything at home and only engaging him if I dangle alcohol as a reward for an activity. But I still don’t understand the disease that is consuming my husband and literally ruining our lives.
It’s easy, five years later, to gloss over the excruciating unknowns that were our lives in February of 2017. But it’s important for people who only see the trips to Europe and the romantic, playful posts Dr. Marry and I share back and forth on Facebook to understand the true gravity of what we went through to get to where we are today.
February 2, 2017:
Mazz is put into a medically-induced coma and taken up to the ICU. Before we leave the floor we’ve been on, a traveling nurse and perhaps a physical guardian angel, Susan, pulls me aside and says, ‘This is going to be harder than you know. You need to keep a journal, and I have this one for you.’
I take it and put it in my bag. I don’t start writing immediately, but once I do, it pours out of me:
February 4, 2017 (excerpts from my first entry):
‘So I’m sitting here in a chair in the ICU, watching you sleep. Actually, you’re sedated and have been since Thursday when I came back from a meeting to find you completely out of your mind… I got up in your face and told you to stop it right now. You grabbed my arm and said, ‘I will kill you with my belt.’
I’ve never seen hatred like that. You were like a wild animal, and I was scared. It was the first time I truly understood what this is. You are an alcoholic, and I am watching you fall apart right in front of my eyes.
Thursday night, in the waiting room of the ICU, I cried and cried. I’m exhausted, I’m alone, I’m heartbroken, I’m furious, I’m stupid.
The rational part of me understands this is a disease, but this is not leukemia. You chose this. You brought this in to our home. You foisted this on to me.
I wonder who’s going to wake up in your bed? I wonder if I have ever known you sober? I wonder what else isn’t true?
Have I mentioned that I feel stupid?
So now what?
Now I don’t know who will wake up. Now I don’t know how I can ever trust you about anything. Now I feel this enormous burden to ‘watch’ over you, and I already resent it. Now I wonder how we will ever pay for this hospital stay. Now I wonder what comes next. What comes next? What comes next?’
Because I don’t have a history of journaling, going back to re-read this is powerful. I can’t believe how up and down I felt. I was so naive and blindsided by this experience. Beyond all the worry about what our new ‘normal’ would be, if indeed we ever had a normal again, I was consumed with fear I wouldn’t be able to get past this, and I would simply shift my criticism of his drinking to something else. I was terrified I was just a person who found and pointed out faults in my spouse. And I desperately didn’t want to be that woman.
February 5, 2017 (excerpts from my journal):
‘You know my instinct is to dig deep and fight, but I hope I won’t do that to try to rally you out of lethargy and despair. I don’t think I owe it to you to ruin myself for you. This is your journey, Mazz, and I’m not the conductor.
So where are you?
Where am I? What do I do? Maybe more importantly, what do I not do? The hardest thing for me is to walk away from a disaster, and for good or for bad, you are my disaster. The complexity of this makes me both set my jaw and try to keep my knees from buckling.
I’m afraid of staying. I’m afraid of leaving.’
February 7, 2017 (excerpts from my journal):
‘I think, I hope!, you turned a corner tonight. You haven’t been on Precedex all day (the drug that put you in the ICU), and you are only on a small dosage of Ativan. The point was to take you off the Precedex and see if you could stay rational, which you mostly did today. That’s very good.
Today you were very sleepy, but then I have to imagine your body has been fighting an epic battle these five days.
At one point, you woke up and I asked you if you knew who I was. You said, ‘Yes.’
‘Who am I?’
‘You’re Dayna Del Val.’
‘And who am I to you?’
‘You’re my wife.’
So here’s what’s hard. I keep forgetting we’re just getting started. I want to think we’ll get you out of the ICU and off these sedatives and you’ll be better, but that’s not at all true. In fact, the real work hasn’t come close to getting started.’
February 16, 2017, (Mazz’s 47th birthday):
‘I was proud of you today. You checked yourself into an in-patient rehab center and were honest about some things I’ve never heard you say before, and I’m sure that wasn’t easy.
You said to the woman checking you in, ‘Some way to turn 47, huh?’
She said, ‘But what a way to start your 48th year!’
Mazz was in in-patient rehab for 4 ½ weeks. It was a hard slog for us both. He had a tremendous amount of personal work to do, and I did, too. But I’m proud to say my fears about shifting blame from drinking to something else never came true. That journal was a god-send for me. Without it, I’m not certain our marriage could have made it. I had to have a place to process my complex emotional state, something I had never really dealt with until then.
Mazz and I decided to go public with this story on February 1, 2020, his three-year soberversary, because we didn’t want to be the couple who only shared the highlight reel on social media. Very few people knew what we had been through or that Mazz had been an alcoholic and was now a ‘smiling, happy alcoholic enjoying sobriety.’
The response from the public was overwhelming. We heard from hundreds of people that they, too, had alcoholism in their lives.
Our descent journey was, in so many ways, typical of an alcoholic’s journey. But I’m thrilled to say our recovery journey has been anything but typical. Dr. Marry has stayed joyfully sober for five years, and while neither of us would ever say he’s ‘cured,’ we are comfortable saying it’s highly unlikely he will ever drink again. And for him, and us, that is a true blessing.
Today, we host Daily Dose and speak publicly about our story because the shame that surrounds alcoholism is still so prevalent. We want people to know the disease of alcoholism is bad, they are not. By tackling this issue head on, we have learned beautiful things about ourselves and our relationship. If we can remove the shame and stigma of alcoholism for even one person, then we are doing our job and living into our calling.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Dayna Del Val of Fargo, North Dakota. You can follow her journey on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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