July 28, 1992
Bill weighed 285 pounds when we dropped him off at Harmony Foundation treatment center. He was bright red and sweating like a butcher. His kidneys were shutting down and his liver was protruding out his side. His blood pressure set a world’s record and with no sign of intoxication, he blew a .045, drunk by anyone’s standard.
So how did it ever come to this? Going back in time to Christmas 1991, we can trace the final steps to this inevitable conclusion. We are not invited to the annual, traditional Christmas get-together with Sandy’s family, instead we are invited to dinner with Sandy’s mother and stepfather – just the four of us in a public place, a nice restaurant. We were baffled but we went anyway, we wanted and needed the gifts that would be given. We brought presents too. In our complete delusion and denial, we had decided to give portraits of ourselves to our friends and family. Although we couldn’t see the truth at the time, this portrait was terrifying. Bill had gained weight despite or maybe because of the blood pressure meds he was on. He looked like he might just burst if pricked with a pin. Sandy looked baffled and scared. There was no light in our eyes and we thought we looked great! We made every effort to appear and act normal and managed to escape the scene with the gifts and without having offended anyone too badly, but even we were starting to sense that there was something very wrong.
After Bill’s birthday on January 11th, the “holidays” were officially over and we could back to “normal”. Well, our normal anyway, we continued to try to prove that all was OK in our house. In February we bought a 1985, new to us, Subaru wagon. As we drove to Denver in Bill’s old Scout to pick it up, it got later and later and soon it was full dark. Sandy drove the new Subaru and Bill was to follow in the Scout. What a terrifying drive for both of us. We had both been drinking all day. Bill’s night vision was non-existent as he stared out into a wall of headlights stretching across the windshield. Sandy couldn’t find the lights, heater, defroster or windshield wipers in the new car in the dark. Dangerous for us and all those around us. Still, we were OK! Everything is fine! We just bought a new car.
Early April 1992, an old friend from Minnesota called Sandy’s mother to say, “Bill has been calling me in blackouts, something has to be done about his drinking or he will die or kill someone else very soon.” This friend had been sober for 5 years. During a conversation to plan a family wedding to take place in Telluride, CO in late June, Sandy’s mother confronted her with this information, asking, “What is really going on with Bill and you? Is everything OK in your house? Can we trust him to behave at the wedding festivities? Do we need to stage an intervention?” Sandy broke down and at last told the truth. She said, “Yes, we need to have an intervention but not until after the wedding.” Now there are two events being planned for that summer. One just as much a beginning as the other as it turned out.
Now how can/does Sandy behave with this secret information? She had to withdraw from the contest with Bill that she had been engaging in prior to this decision. That behavior included asking constantly, “Have you been drinking? How much?” She had to control her own drinking lest she spill the secret about the intervention to take place three weeks after the wedding (July 28th). She still drank with Bill but something had changed and he was vaguely aware of this. He would look at her and inquire, “What’s going on?” It was extremely difficult to keep the secret. There was still the wish that it really wouldn’t be necessary to actually have an intervention, that everything would somehow magically get better on it’s own. Sandy continued to plan for both events.
We decided a camping trip to the Utah desert would be fun before the wedding. We would make it a full week of celebration including the wedding. As it turned out, it was our last hurrah with drugs and alcohol.
The first full day started with drinks all around as we packed the Subaru in the rain. That summer we needed to go to the desert to have any summer at all. We argued and drank all the way to Grand Junction, CO. We arrived drunk, tired and hungry, found a motel and ventured out for some food. The first restaurant was so busy that after an hour and more drinks, it became obvious that our food order had been lost, so we left. After threatening an employee at the next restaurant with bodily harm, we decide to return to the motel to eat some of our camping food and drink the rest of the vodka and rum we had brought with us. We finally pass out after an emotional and hurtful argument. In the morning, filled with fresh resolve to have a great time, we replenished our booze and beer supply, and we are on our way again to Utah where we planned to camp along the Colorado River near Moab.
Drinking beer all the way, we finally find a campsite deep in the tamarisk and high above the river. The only access to the river was down a 25-foot mudslide, the tamarisk was dark and creepy, and there were spiders and bugs all around. We didn’t like it but again we were drunk, tired, hot, irritable and hungry so we had to set up camp fast. After a quick meal, many more cocktails, and a loud argument that echoed off the canyon walls, we passed out in the tent with the agreement that we would buy no more alcohol the next day, we were sure that we could make do with the supply we had left.
Awakening with vicious hangovers, we found a new campsite on an open bend of the Colorado River, a beautiful spot. We pitched our tent under a small tree where we could see the river coming and going. There was an easy to get to small, sandy beach. We spent the day setting up camp, drinking, swimming and sunbathing. By early afternoon we were out of booze, even the beer, and we were starting to feel the effects of withdrawal from alcohol and dehydration. Bill was shaking and sweating a dry sweat. Neither of us felt well at all. We vaguely sensed that this was more than just another hangover. We somehow made it through an extremely strange and long, hot night. After a violent windstorm that sounded like a freight train coming down the canyon to slam into our tent and nearly roll us into the river, a large group of young campers arrived after midnight to set up camp next to us. We were jolted awake to lots of noise and activity. We, of course, thought we were about to be attacked. In the morning we broke camp in a hurry to get to Moab and find the liquor store, a difficult thing to do in Utah.
We restock with beer, vodka and rum and off we go to the grocery store for ice, dry ice, mixer and some food. For our next night we decide to visit Arches National Park and then camp at Dead Horse Point State Park. Dead Horse Point was a natural spot to corral and catch wild horses in the 1800’s but some horses had been left by mistake to die of thirst. We felt about the same way even though there was a gorgeous view of a horseshoe bend in the Colorado River. We looked longingly down at the river far below and thought, “The Subaru has four wheel drive and the map shows a four wheel drive road leading to the river from here, let’s go!” We pass a large sign warning, “ POINT OF NO RETURN, CHECK BRAKES HERE.” Sandy tapped the brakes and off we went, straight down the side of the mesa. The only other vehicles we see are huge, high, four wheels drive Jeep touring cars whose occupants all look at us like we are crazy and well, we are. Three hours later we reach the river bottom, the Subaru is overheating and pushed to its limits and so are we.