I’m fortunate enough to have led a pretty healthy life in my first 57 plus years on this earth. I have had back surgery, skin cancer and numerous broken bones over the years, but nothing major to complain about. My wife Lisa has also been relatively healthy over her 56 years although she was hospitalized for staph infections twice. Typing these first few sentences were easy. No one will judge me or Lisa for having an infection or a broken bone. Oh, I almost forgot, Lisa also has been hospitalized for alcoholism. Why do I feel society judging her already? Why is one disease so much more difficult to discuss than others? Let me come back to this point later. Allow me to start at the beginning of our story together.
Lisa and I met in Boston in the fall of 1979, fresh out of college and working together for a major department store in Boston, MA. Our first date was a couple drinks together after work. We hit it off together very quickly, fell in love, and married three years later, in the fall of 1982. We both enjoyed the nightlife of Boston together with old college and new work friends. I moved to New York City after a job change and our last year of dating before we married was long distance, hooking up on the weekends for alternating sites for nightlife between New York and Boston. Alcohol was always present, but not out of the norm among our social circles.
In October of 1982 we married. Nine months later our first child was born. We had our first five children in less than six years and seven children total. I have been in sales for over 30 years and traveled non-stop, so Lisa had the responsibility of raising our children, helping them with homework, getting them fed and off to school while I traveled most weeks. When I returned, usually on a Thursday or Friday night after a week out of town, it was time to unwind together and alcohol was the ever present “unwinder” for both of us. From time to time Lisa and I would overindulge. As the months turned to years, in retrospect, I now see how the frequency of Lisa’s “overindulgences” increased over the years. That’s the thing about alcoholism, it’s doesn’t boldly arrive with a marching band to announce its presence, it sneaks quietly and gradually up on you!
The first hospitalization was about 14 years ago for depression (God forbid either of us spoke the word “alcoholism” to each other!). I cleared all alcohol out of the house before Lisa came home. As the weeks went by, Lisa suggested she could handle “an occasional glass of wine” but would stay away from Vodka. We all know how this story progresses as we have heard it many times. There were periods of abstinence followed by periods of heavy drinking. I alternated between the “prohibitionist” and the “enabler” trying to find a way to put the genie back in the bottle. Our children suffered through the dark moments, but thank God those dark moments were far outweighed by the much higher percentage of days of love and laughter that Lisa showered on us all.
October 10, 2011: the first day of the rest of Lisa’s life! After hitting that “rock bottom” that I’ve heard alcoholics must hit the day before, I drove Lisa from New England where we were visiting for one of our daughter's bridal shower, straight to a Richmond, VA hospital where she was admitted with near lethal blood alcohol levels. Again God was watching over our family. Lisa went from several days locked in a hospital ward to a rehabilitation facility for several weeks. Lisa came home to a husband and children that harbored every feeling imaginable. Anger, frustration, relief, love, understanding, resentment, lack of understanding, love, alienation, detachment, love, distrust, love, love, love. You see, Lisa is strong, very strong. She fights every day to overcome this insidious disease that killed her father when she was but nine years old. She battles every day to kick this disease to the curb, a disease that her mother and six brothers and sisters fought in one form or another. And through it all, she managed to raise seven of the most beautiful, loving children on this planet.
Sober for almost three years now, Lisa and I became grandparents three weeks ago. I spent many a tearful night horrified at the prospect of not having Lisa alive and at my side for this amazing grandparent experience. But through Lisa’s strength, her fighting spirit, and the grace of God we have an amazing future to look forward to with grandchildren to spoil! She often worries that I will struggle with our “new life” that is no longer centered on alcohol. Lisa is concerned that I will resent the fact we have made conscious changes in our social life, circle of friends, etc. so we can engage in healthier activities and not be exposed to heavy drinking settings. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having Lisa by my side to hold our first grandchild, to have our children look to her with admiration for her refusal to give up, those are the moments to be treasured!
A key component of Lisa’s continued recovery is her desire to help others like she was helped in her time of need. While I’m sure the support of her family was critical, she also needed a support system from others who had been in her shoes. Lisa needed to see that there are people who can live long, happy lives sober. We ran some road races over the years and several of our children were involved in track in school. Early in Lisa’s recover she learned about an organization called Runwell that is dedicated to helping those suffering from the diseases of depression and addiction. Runwell has given Lisa a voice. Runwell has shown it is okay to talk about a disease that so many want to keep in the shadows. Runwell has chosen to name Lisa one of their ambassadors, and I am so proud of her for this accomplishment.
You know what else? My wife is going to run in this year’s NEW YORK MARATHON! Are you kidding me, the NEW YORK MARATHON!!! And the for the entire 26.2 miles, she can scream “I’m running for all the alcoholics who are sober, surviving, and thriving!” and she can do so with as much pride as the survivors of any other disease. Thanks to Runwell and other organizations like it, shame and anonymity no longer have to go hand in hand with mental illness and/or alcoholism. We don’t have to wait for someone famous like Robin Williams to tragically die too young before the press can speak of these diseases, if only for a brief news cycle. Thanks to my wife and a growing number of other heroes, the walls of shame and silence are tumbling down like the Berlin Wall. In closing, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s famous words, “ Mr. Society, tear down that wall of silence!”. Lisa and all the other Runwell ambassadors, don’t stop till every brick of silence is smashed. So many depend on you, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart!
On November 2, 2014, Lisa will be running the New York City Marathon, and she is dedicating her run in memory of Shane Campbell, a friend, fellow recovering addict and running buddy of Lisa's who lost his battle with addiction, taking his own life. It is Lisa's hope that the funds raised will help prevent another tragic loss like Shane's by sharing Runwell's vision of health options in the fight against addiction and mental illness.