This is a guest series by Phil Cate. If you missed previous chapters, you can read them all by clicking on ‘Phil Cate’ under the Categories heading in the right panel. Watch for new installments every Friday.
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Let’s Nuke It
Now the marriage is in deep trouble, and go figure. This was a relationship that started out with an intoxicating level of that “in love” thing. It had been healthy, spiritually-rooted, fun, and we had everything in common; now we couldn’t avoid a daily fight.
I was having trouble sleeping and was worrying about money, even though we were still making tons of it. It never occurred to me to insist on any changes or make any changes myself or get help financially. I was just a hard-working victim in all of this, right? In my mind, that’s the way it registered; and I wasn’t having any fun at all. “They” (everyone around me) seemed to be having all the fun.
I’ll fix it, though … Hey, I’ve got an idea, let’s get drunk. I’ll get drunk so I can sleep through the night. And it worked. After seventeen years of not drinking, I had three or four smacks out of a bottle of bourbon and slept like a baby.
Once again, I was a genius and found a way to survive the grief caused by everyone around me. I had to get clever though; Kay and the girls knew from my war stories that alcohol and Phil didn’t mix well. I set up a very elaborate hidden inventory control system.
Over the next three years, I took hiding bourbon to an art form. Anywhere Kay wouldn’t go, my bourbon did go. It was in my tool cabinet, my golf bag, the shrubs outside where we had seen that snake. There was no way she’d go there. It was in the basement behind storage boxes where we’d seen a mouse, in my table-saw, and anywhere in the garage, attic, or basement where those hairy spiders lived.
For two years it was three huge blasts per night right before bedtime. The biggest problem I had was getting rid of the empty bottles and replenishing the inventory without anyone seeing me do it. But I got pretty good at timing out when the girls would all be away for a while.
The bedtime blasts really started to escalate the third year. Kay woke me up once at about two in the morning and asked me if I had been drinking. She said she smelled something. I responded with, “Of course not, honey. Go back to sleep.” I didn’t think she bought it, but I didn’t much care.
It was only a matter of time until my system was uncovered. Our youngest walked around to the back of the house once and surprised me and asked, “What are you doing, Daddy?” I had been trying to grab a bottle from under the holly bush behind the house. I stood up abruptly and a holly sticker stuck right in my eyeball. I’d felt pain before, but not quite like that. I really needed booze then to cut the pain.
Kay finally told me she knew I had been drinking. At this point, I didn’t really care, and I thought it best to go on offense. I told her, of course I was drinking; I needed to sleep because she had spent me into oblivion.
Even though I began drinking in front of everyone, I did continue to hide the booze. I would drink a manageable amount in front of them and then buckets more behind their backs. My innovative approach amazed even me, and it worked. They thought I was only having a couple smacks per night, for a while….
I was starting to really suffer physically from my addictions. I was smoking a ton and drinking nightly, hung over all day and barely able to function. The small business I was involved in was struggling, as I was responsible for most of the revenue and they counted so much on me. Another key player in the business was also struggling privately with addiction himself, and our endeavor was soon to fail.
I asked a buddy of mine from Florida to come up and take over the Georgia operation of the business, which was still profitable despite my condition. He had no idea what was going on with me, other than that I was under financial pressure. Chip is a wonderful human being, and I couldn’t have landed in a better place for what was about to happen.
Everyone around me by now knew I was totally out of control, yet I was still able to sell. I have no idea how, but I was.
Both older girls were off in college, but our youngest was really on me to quit smoking. She had been hearing in school how life-threatening smoking was, and it scared her to death. I reluctantly made an appointment with my doctor who told me of a treatment that was a one-time appointment; three small injections were made, one behind each ear in the neck and one in the arm. I told the doctor I’d consider it, and she ran some blood work on me.
Her office called me every day for five days, reporting other health concerns showing up in my blood work. I finally went back in to talk to her.
I’m not a doctor and not a good listener, but what I remember sounded something like this: “Phil, your cholesterol is up (must’ve been the gravy), your triglyceride levels are concerning, you’re pre-diabetic, your blood pressure is quite high, your liver and kidney tests are showing some distress, and I’m seeing an enzyme that may indicate if you have a heart attack it would be massive. Are you drinking a lot?”
I answered, “Not too much. Why?”
She said, “Look, you’re using alcohol and nicotine to manage your stress, and you need some exercise, good nutrition, and you’ve got to dump these bad habits. Did you look into the smoking shot treatment we talked about?”
I said no, and I told her of the various stresses I was under. She was a very good listener and really urged me to deal with this before it dealt with me. I promised to book an appointment for the shot, and come back for a full physical to get ready for an exercise regimen.
Physicals are really not necessary are they? After all, I’m a risk taker, and a better use of time and money would be to just start exercising, right? I went to the bike store and bought a hybrid bike to get started with my self-prescribed exercise program. Who needs a doctor’s advice? They are just overly cautious invoice generators anyway.
When I got back from my first bike ride, I noticed my left eye had some shadows and spots in my field of vision. I figured it would go away by the next day. I woke up with the same spots and clouds in my eye and was quite concerned.
This was clearly a potentially critical health situation, and I didn’t hesitate to make sure I was okay. I couldn’t be too careful; I simply had to check out the situation in my eye. I had to make sure I was going to be okay, and I had to do it now.
So I drove quickly to the golf course to make sure I could still play. I found I could play fine, but I couldn’t see through the left side of my left eye, through all the junk floating around in my field of vision. This really affected me on the putting green. I thought, Well, I was never a great putter, anyway; so I was fine.
I drove to my office, relieved. Finally, Kay came by to check on me, and insisted I go to the eye doctor. She is always overly cautious.
The eye doctor gave me the once over and wrote out a referral to another guy down towards town a bit. I said, “Why do I need a referral?”
Some answers you just don’t want. He said, “You have something called floaters.”
I asked, “Well, what do you do about them?”
He said, “Nothing really.”
“Then why the referral?” I asked.
The doctor said, “I’ve never seen floaters quite like yours.” I asked him how long he’s been in the eye business and he answered something like sixteen years. Uh-oh; the guy’s been doing this sixteen years, and he’s never seen my problem before; that doesn’t sound good.
I explained the urgency of the putting situation, but only drew a blank stare. Doctors really should be more sensitive.
I went down to the specialist who did all kinds of things to my eye. I was dilated, tested, and photographed and they told me to come back in a week or so. In the meantime, I had to get used to all this junk floating around in my left eye’s field of vision. Maybe I could putt left-handed and look at the hole out of my right eye. I’m brilliant; who needs doctors?
Kay made me go back to the eye doctor though. She really needs to get her anxiety under control.
I went back to the eye specialist under duress, and was told to bring someone to drive me home as I wouldn’t be able to see well enough to drive. I was dilated again and the doctor came in looking at my photographs and said, “I can fix it without surgery; you don’t have a detached retina or anything requiring anything other than medication.” He said it was a burst blood vessel in my eye and the spots and shadows I was seeing was actually blood that had escaped into the center of my eye.
Hallelujah, a pill will fix it, I thought.
Kay, being the nosy one she is, asked what caused the problem. He said, “Well, it’s a condition we see almost exclusively in smokers.”
Great… now this is just over the top. First I putt like a four-year-old for two weeks; now the eye doctor of all people is trying to fan the flames of the no-nicotine fight. I really need a drunken, chain-smoking golfer to drive me to these appointments.
Just then a nurse walked in with a needle. I thought, An eye doctor giving a shot; I’ve never heard of that. He said, “Open your eye wide and lay back in the chair.”
Now wait a minute, you’ve got to be kidding. You’re not going to stick me in the eye with that thing. I said aloud, “Am I going to feel this?”
He was most comforting; he said, “Oh, yea.” Don’t you just love a doctor with a good beside manner? He said, “I can have the nurse put some numbing drops in.” I thought, And you really make that optional?
That was the most intense pain I’ve ever felt in my life. The holly bush had been bad, but that was not even close to this needle. It felt like somebody drove a very hot nail through my eye and into my skull.
After I got back up off the floor and tried to put my lungs back in, the doctor explained it was a steroid shot that would accelerate the healing. I had never been on a steroid before, and it had the most wonderful side effect. Kay never looked so good; I chased her all over the house and tackled her wherever she stood. Our marriage got remarkably affectionate again. I was having my eye treated, yet something changed in her eyes. She looked defensive every time I walked into the room; nothing a good tackling wouldn’t fix. Steroids are wonderful; I’m surprised marriage counselors don’t prescribe them.
We decided to sell the house and pay off a bunch of debt to help our situation. Both of us wanted to save the marriage, but we were stumbling with how to do it. We both knew money was a constant source of conflict and something had to give. We were making enough to support four or five households quite nicely, yet we couldn’t seem to make it.
The market was overheated and the house sold at peak market value in a matter of weeks. The biggest problem was getting rid of enough stuff to adequately fit in the new house we were moving into. I borrowed a trailer and hauled stuff to Goodwill, the warehouse where I worked, and the dumpster. I literally hauled stuff for weeks, after work and on weekends. I would sell all day, as best I could, haul stuff till dark, tackle Kay, then get hammered and go to sleep.
My eyes started acting up again, and I was back to the doctor for some more injectable juice and a lecture about smoking. Same routine, get up off the floor, put my lungs back in. Have Kay drive me back home, get ready to move, get hammered, go to sleep.
One big change though; the whole team managed to coerce me to get the appointment for the stop-smoking shots, and I finally complied. I made the appointment for Monday night before Thanksgiving, and really committed to quit smoking. I had been smoking since my teen years, and to make that commitment was a huge step forward. I was ready to quit; it was affecting me horribly by this time. Not only had my eye blown up, but my stamina had been cut down; and I knew that beyond forty a lot of health issues could come into play at any minute. I was really done with the cigarettes and looked forward to quitting.
I showed up at the clinic to get the quit-smoking shots, and they had me watch a movie first about what to expect. They told me I’d get a euphoric high and that I’d barely make it home awake and to be prepared to be very thirsty. They explained that they were using a concoction of atropine and a few other drugs to fool the brain into thinking I’m full of nicotine and don’t want any more.
This was all sounding great so far, but then they told me they discouraged alcohol consumption for the next ten days. My antenna went up immediately.
Being a good loophole-finder can be a great asset sometimes. They said alcohol often impaired judgment and while under the influence, one might carelessly smoke. Then they moved on to another subject. I thought, OK; is that it? No further warnings other than that? Great, I can drink all I want as long as I don’t have cigarettes nearby! See how smart I was? Not everyone would’ve spotted that loophole.
The evening went as planned. I got the shots, got buzzed by the drugs, Kay drove me home and tucked me in bed, and I slept until the next day.
I woke up and had an appointment for marriage counseling with Kay but felt a little strange; actually, very strange. We fought all the way to the marriage counselor. (By the way, what is it that makes people fight on the way to marriage counselors?) I went back to the office and my staff later told me I was acting strange, walking in circles, and talking about a turkey fryer.
I don’t remember much of that day; I was on heavy steroids for the eye thing and now we’d added whatever narcotic it was for the smoking thing. I remember I was going to mount my grandfather’s vise to a workbench in the garage that night and needed to go buy the bolts. I don’t remember buying the hardware or where I went, but apparently I did. I do remember getting home and continuing the fight with Kay and it was a bad one. I had started drinking heavily in the garage while I was mounting the vise. I don’t remember much of anything that night.
I woke up in jail, wondering what on earth had happened. Apparently, I had ripped the front door off of the house and threatened Kay with violence in front of our nine-year-old and had actually been physical with Kay. Thank goodness, I was so inebriated I was unable to hurt her. It scared her to death, and she called the police and they took me away. I came to, in jail, not really remembering anything.
I think at that moment Kay threw in the towel. She arranged to have me served with a restraining order and divorce papers while I was in jail. She was done.
I have never hurt like that in my life. I was so filled with grief and remorse I could sit here all night and not be able to explain it to you. I had lost everything in my life in one evening. The pain was excruciating. I remember explaining that it felt like a shark was biting my torso. I had never grieved like this, ever.
For the next month or so, it took quite a bit of strength not to harm myself. I was unable to contact Kay in any way even to apologize.
All seemed to be lost.
Next: The Fight of My Life
Phil Cate is a resident of the Atlanta, Georgia, metro area and runs a small medical equipment resale business. He is available for speaking engagements and can be reached at PhilC@ER3.biz or by phone at 678-429-0901
Printed by permission from Phil Cate, Mama told me Jesus saved my soul, but who was gonna save my butt??? Confessions, lessons, and revelations of a born rebel, © 2008.