Today I did the hardest thing I have done in my entire life.
I kissed my husband Mike goodbye, and then sat in a courtroom and watched (trying not to let the tears show to be strong for him) while he plead no contest to two felonies related to a car accident in June 2010. Then I watched as he was handcuffed and taken into custody to begin serving a 40 month prison sentence.
If things go as well as you can hope in a situation like this, he will be home with his family again in late-2013 with credit for good behavior.
Today’s court proceedings were the result of a plea arrangement to deal with six felony charges Mike faced as the result of a car accident he was in last June 14th involving three bicyclists. He was arrested a short distance away from the accident for leaving the scene, unaware of what had happened because he doesn’t remember the accident (he was alone in the car at the time). DUI charges were added to the case six weeks later when the blood alcohol test came back over the limit, which we hadn’t expected.
The three victims in the case are all recovered/recovering from their injuries and have been compensated for their medical bills, lost wages, expenses, and trauma by our insurance company in a massive settlement.
Medical evaluations after the accident determined Mike has an extremely severe, potentially life-threatening, case of sleep apnea (remember Reggie White?) that was previously undiagnosed. Mike has an extreme phobia of doctors, who he believes caused the death of our son and caused me permanent injury in the process, and so he hadn’t seen one regularly in over 10 years. Several doctors have expressed the belief that based on his medical condition, Mike was “sleep driving” at the time of the accident. This is frighteningly common in sleep apnea cases as severe as his, and explains his lack of memory of the time around the accident (since his blood alcohol content was nowhere near high enough to cause a blackout).
Unfortunately, I didn’t find out until after the accident that Mike had been secretly using alcohol on and off for several years to self-medicate a debilitating undiagnosed anxiety disorder that was being aggravated by his employment situation. Although I knew he was extremely stressed (and had pushed him to seek medical help for it because he had a history of suicidal depression), he worked very hard to hide from me the extent of his distress and his misguided attempt to manage it. He thought he was protecting me, he says now, by not telling me. He was, essentially, virtually non-functional from anxiety and desperately trying to hide that fact from me. In fact, the accident actually happened because he experienced a complete mental breakdown that day from anxiety and fled his office in a panic and was driving around aimlessly in a state of mental crisis trying to decide what to do (he was not drinking behind the wheel). During that period he apparently started sleep driving and that is when the accident took place.
Immediately after the accident, Mike was evaluated for rehab and entered the recommended outpatient therapy program for alcohol abuse (not addiction or dependence – his therapist has stressed repeatedly there is a difference although much of the treatment is the same). He also began receiving medical treatment for the first time in over a decade. I’m proud to say that he has done wonderfully in the rehab therapy program that was recommended for him, and that his medical condition is now stable with treatment after being in a very scary state initially.
I haven’t discussed this publicly until now partly on the advice of our attorneys, and partly because I really didn’t know how to explain it based on what I was able to make public about the case (due to the ongoing legal proceedings) without making Mike sound like a terrible person. Which he isn’t – he’s simply a fragile human being who imploded under terrible pressures that he was not equipped to handle because of his undiagnosed anxiety disorder, sleep apnea (which caused him to be living in a constant state of sleep deprivation without realizing it) and some other issues.
I’ve been with Mike since I was 18, when we met as residents of the same floor in our college dorm. It was love at first sight – literally like one of those struck-by-lightning moments you see in a movie – and we’ve been together now over 20 years. We celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary last April. We’ve faced some serious challenges in our life together. I’ve been sick since the day we met with auto-immune issues that were finally correctly diagnosed as lupus a few years ago. We lost our first child, our son Parker, to stillbirth. Our beautiful 7 year old daughter, Bridget, is autistic. Mike has put a lot of pressure on himself to take care of me, and to take care of Bridget, through all of these challenges, because he loves us. He took on an impossible burden and tried to carry it by himself. He couldn’t do the impossible, and so he collapsed under the weight of that burden.
It’s now my turn to do the near-impossible: hold our family together while Mike is incarcerated. Why am I bothering to even try, when most women would probably just walk away and start their lives over instead of waiting and putting themselves through this trauma? It’s simple. I love my husband. He may be flawed, but he is also an amazing husband and a wonderful man. He loves me and our daughter with his very soul. He’s a devoted father. It breaks his heart that he will be away from our daughter for so long and not part of her day-to-day life. He has amazing talents with cameras and computers, and no one can make me laugh like he can. I could go on and on…how do I explain the million things that make him my soulmate, a part of me?
Yes, he screwed up, and the whole family is paying the price…but I am not throwing away 20 years with my soulmate…and the potential for 40 more…over this. He’s stood by me through some awful things, and now it is my turn to be there for him.
It’s going to be beyond challenging. I know that. But anything valuable is worth fighting for.
Why am I telling you all of this? I’m sure many people have noticed that something has been wrong – things have been unusually quiet on Scrapbook Update since the summer, my post-CHA Summer editorial plans were postponed indefinitely, and I’ve mentioned repeatedly on Roundtable and on Twitter that I had a family problem. I felt that I owed my friends and loyal readers an explanation of what has been happening. Plus, I hate keeping up pretense, and there is no way I could hide something like this for several years anyway, especially in a community as personal as scrapbooking.
And now, I have to look forward. My life is essentially starting over. It’s not a start that I want to be making. But I’m committed to the path that I am on – to try to keep my family together through this – and I have to make the most of it. Scrapbook Update is going to be a big part of that path. It has to be, because I have to support myself and my daughter now.
I’d like to thank everyone who has offered me their support during this extremely difficult time for my family without even knowing what I was dealing with, and thank all those who have respected my family’s privacy as we have dealt with unimaginable stresses the past few months. I’ve always known I had some wonderful friends in this community, but until now I never knew how wonderful. Many thanks also to the readers who joined in the voting for the tag feud…that project was some of the most wonderful time we spent together in Mike’s last month at home, and it was very therapeutic for both of us.
To those who did know what I was going through – I’d like to thank my friends for your incredible loving support. I wouldn’t have made it this far without you. This goes especially for the ones (you know who you are) who have been the recipients of countless tearful texts, phone calls and IMs in the past few months. Thanks for the shoulders to cry on. I’m glad they are there because I’m going to need them for awhile I think.
All I can say, finally, is…don’t drink and drive. It will destroy not only your life but the life of everyone you love.
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