By: Michael Murphy, Alumni Coordinator
Before I begin, if you are expecting a blog on marriage, this ain’t it. Sorry, but this is what I immediately thought of when I decided to write this. Well, now that I think of it, I did have an almost two-decades-long tumultuous, violent, and unhealthy marriage. Her name was Bottle. And as the late Norm MacDonald would say, “She was a real battleax”. When we think of the health consequences of alcoholism, the usual suspects pop up. Cirrhosis of the liver, kidney issues, heart problems, the DTs, etc. But, what about the health problems we don’t know about? Or should I say that we don’t WANT to know about?
For almost 15 years, I avoided doctors like the plague. I got out of the Marine Corps in 2005 and never looked back. At first, it was because I kind of figured, “Well, I got out with a clean(ish) bill of health, what do I have to worry about?” Then, as the years progressed and I began treating my body and life like one big Pantera after party, I became afraid of what the doctors would tell me. If I went to one, that is. To be totally honest, the biggest thing I was worried about was a blood test. For years I led what some may call a “promiscuous lifestyle,” and believe me, that’s churchin’ it up. So, like most things in my adult life, if I pretended it wasn’t there, it wasn’t a problem. I also had a tendency to do this with my mental health as well. If you just ignore it, it goes away. Right? RIGHT??
WRONG. When I made the decision to go on this journey called “sobriety,” I knew I had to finally be open and honest not only with myself, family, and friends; but also with Doctors. This all started at the VA down here in South Florida. After a few brief consults, I was admitted as a crisis case. The VA viewed me as a danger to not only myself but others around me.
My mental health was priority number one for them. I began one on one sessions the next day along with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) Therapy the following week.
Then, my physical health. One of my biggest problems was sleep. If I did not drink myself to sleep, I did not sleep. Anxiety would keep me up for days. And even when I did sleep, I was always still exhausted the next day. And we all know, blackout drunk sleep is not actually sleep. A sleep study was ordered and the results were pretty shocking. I was diagnosed with Severe Sleep Apnea. During the study, I averaged 93 breathing interruptions an hour. So, even if I were to get the recommended eight hours, mine would be the equivalent of about 1-1.5 hours of actual sleep. Now, couple that with blackout drinking sleep, I had not actually had a full night’s sleep in who knows how long.
For someone of my size and frame to have such aggressive Sleep Apnea, the doctors immediately asked if I had ever sustained any form of significant head trauma. I thought about it and only the usuals came up. Some fender benders, some fights here and there. OH. And this time in Iraq when my face tried to eat my.50 Cal and my head became best good friends with the roof of the HUMVEE I was riding in. Remember when I mentioned earlier about denying and not thinking about things until they go away? This was one of those moments.
After a few more tests and an MRI or two or three, it was determined that that little oopsie in Iraq? Yeah, it caused me to sustain a pretty nasty little TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) on my frontal right cortex. The area responsible for sleep, emotional regulation, and impulse control (amongst other things). So now, the Sleep Apnea was making some sense. And I got prescribed one of those really cool Bane masks to wear at night. Well, it looks like a Bane mask bought on WISH.
And the hits keep on comin’! *Ba Dum Tiss* They also came to the conclusion that my TBI had caused me to suffer a minor stroke at some point. When we tried figuring out when this may have happened, the doctors asked me questions like, “Do you remember a time where your speech was slurred, balance was off, memory was shaky, or maybe had trouble reading?”. Ummmm. Hey Doc, I have been an absolute alcoholic for the past twenty years. What you just described? That’s a Tuesday afternoon for me! I laughed, they laughed, we all laughed. Nobody laughed. Tough crowd at the VA.
I guess what I am getting at with all of this is; everything in my life took a backseat to drinking. Including my health. Both physical AND mental. From physically not realizing I have a dent in my brain to mentally coming to terms that I would be dead by the age of forty so none of this matters. That would be my legacy. Death by the bottle.
But, that’s not how the cards played out for me. That one night of clarity changed all that. That was not my legacy, and this is not how it ends. Now I know what is going on with me physically and mentally, and I take care of both. And I gotta tell ya….It’s WAY easier dealing with them rather than not knowing or denying their existence. And, I get to do some pretty cool stuff, to boot!
Through a friend I met here at TTC while in Treatment, I was put in touch with a foundation called The 22 Project. They help Veterans with TBI and PTSD through the utilization of Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber Treatment (HBOT). And for the past two months, I have been going in every morning, Mon-Fri for hour and a half long “dives” in a pressurized tank with 100% oxygen. The HBOT helps promote the flow of healthy, oxygenated blood to the impact area of my TBI. We are hoping that this will help aid me in better sleep, emotional regulation, and a few other things.
AND, while doing treatment with them, I got to meet the inspiration behind Forrest Gump’s character, Sammy Davis. Vietnam Veteran and Medal of Honor Recipient. In the movie, when Forrest is getting his M.O.H., that is Sammy’s actual body. Pretty cool, right?!
Had I not made the decision to get come to Transformations, I don’t know where I would be right now with my life. Hell, if I would even still be alive. Between the damage I was doing to myself and the damage I didn’t know about through my own ignorance, I don’t think I would’ve made it to that 40-year mark. But, I did. And now I get to think about what I will be doing at fifty.
Here’s to the second half of my life. Pretty excited to remember this one. Even if it still is a little fuzzy, sometimes. But, the chamber is working on that. OH. And those blood tests I was so afraid of? Well, I’m not afraid of them, anymore. Clean and smooth sailing from here on out!
I need a nap.