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August 30, 2013


An essay by SJ Holmwood

After a particularly nasty period of my life, major stress on my nerves which brought on PTSD, restless leg syndrome, skin rashes, anxiety and depression, among other things, I never thought I'd be writing about all of this, since it is something I try hard not to think about. 

Recently, a writer friend who knows about some of the trauma I went through, asked me to write about it as a guest blogger on his site.  We both have the hope that it may save a few lives, or at least make people stop and think before picking up that alcoholic drink. 

Early in 2003, I met a wonderful man on a dating site.  We were both 48 years old at the time.  We had both been married before and we both had the profits of real-estate sold to the ex-spouses. 

We fell in love and bought a house together in a rural area not far from Manchester, as he worked in Nashua, NH.  We moved in to our new house in May.  We adopted a couple of cats as we are both animal lovers.  He had a high powered IT job at a major defense contractor,  with top security clearance, won awards at his job, got good bonuses and good pay. He worked hard and loved his job. 

Life was really good for the first time in either of our lives for a long time.  We happily had a lot of  fun together.  I still have fond memories of that three year time period.  He used to be in a professional rock band for 13 years in his younger days.  So he had a lot of vintage equipment and we both love music.  He played keyboard so we bought him a new one to play at home.  He played often and was very good.  He could hear a song, then go to the keyboard and play it.  He was very gifted in that way.  He was also a bit of a wizard with electronics both musical and computer.

Little did I know that the other shoe was about to drop.

He started having what I thought as an excessive amount of minor accidents like a bloody nose that won't stop, ending up in Emergency at the hospital for 11 hours.  Another time he stubbed his foot so badly he broke a few toes.  Another trip to doctor and hospital.  At the time you think, well this could happen to anybody, right?  But when you start adding it all up, I had missed some of the warning signs when I met him.  I knew he drank but it didn't seem excessive and he rarely appeared drunk. 

Then his firm decided to fire13 or 14 people in his department.  He was one of them.  He knew months before that something was going down but he never told me until the last minute.  The pressure must have been incredible those last six months and he started drinking heavily, although he hid it from me most of the time, I had no idea he drank that much.  Stupid me.  The bottles were mostly hidden in the cellar and garage, by the end, we had conducted many searches and found many bottles, each of which he had an excuse for.

Apparently a new manager had taken over and was unbearable to work for.  It was like the company was deliberately trying to pin stuff on people they wanted to get rid of so they stalked their employees. His firm even screwed us out of about $100.00 mileage reimbursement that he rightfully deserved, but he was too sick for us to fight them.  The stress was unbearable day in and day out at work, and during the busy commute to work. 

I noticed he was losing muscle at a rapid rate and was becoming just skin and bone.  When I mentioned it, he would blow it off, saying he'll get it checked.  His family offered little help.  I felt really alone.

Anyway, by the time he was fired in March of 2006, his abdomen had started to fill up with fluid, as his liver was backing up, no longer able to process the alcohol at that rate.  It's a condition called Ascites. He was drinking whiskey straight from the bottle at 7:00 A.M. one morning when I walked into our computer room.  I'll never ever forget that look of pure desperation on his jaundiced face.  He looked like a scared rabbit.  It broke my heart to see him that way.  Here was the man I loved and respected reduced to nothing in a very short period of time.

We couldn't afford to pay the $900 a month for Cobra health insurance, but couldn't afford to lose his insurance in the condition he was in.  Our bank account was drained, my pension from my old job had to be cashed in to pay off his car.  If it weren't for my parents, we would have lost the house.  I believe it was about this time that I was having a complete nervous breakdown.

He tried to collect unemployment and even went down to the unemployment office on a sweltering hot summer day.  His clothes barely fit because his abdomen was too swollen.  It was very upsetting to see him this way.  We didn't know at the time what was wrong with him but after that awful day in the heat, we saw his doctor and he was sent to a gastrointestinal specialist.  One morning the fluid had built up so much that he couldn't breathe, it was pushing on his lungs, he had to sleep sitting up.

He was diagnosed with “End-stage Liver Disease”.  He didn't have too long to live.  They drained his abdomen at the hospital a couple of times a week, which meant constant trips into Manchester.  I was thankful it wasn't Boston.  They said he might have to go to the Lahey Clinic in MA, but were doubtful he'd be put on their list for liver transplant.  A really bad nightmare was raining down upon us.  I suddenly find out my husband is going to die soon, and we will probably lose the house as well too. 

We then were told to go to the town we lived in to get some food (welfare).  I can remember the social worker being 20 – 30 minutes late, us sitting in the waiting room, then me crying my eyes out in her office.  She was very unsympathetic, saying “don't worry honey, other people have it worse than you!”  I was insulted and felt very let down.  Unfortunately most of the food they gave us, he couldn't eat because of the extremely high sodium content.  His doctor put him on a very low sodium diet.  They gave us a $50 food voucher and specified that it could only be used at the Raymond Hannaford, which is actually further for us to drive than the Hooksett one.

They couldn't get his medications balanced at first and he was starting to fall a lot.  He fell out in the yard, smashed his new glasses.  I was at the end of my rope by then,or so I thought.

He fell again while walking up our road and rolled down an embankment, under the trees, lost his glasses.  A neighbor getting into their car saw him drop out of sight.  He then pulled him out from under the trees.  He had hit his head and blacked out for a minute.  He was bleeding on his elbow, head, and legs when the nice neighbor dropped him off at our house.  Embarrassing! 

Then he fell off of our front porch and landed in the shrubbery about 3 feet down.  I wouldn't have seen him, but I had the window open and heard groans.

He also has fallen with his bicycle one day and the cops gave him a ride home. 

One other time the cops picked him up off the road where he was walking (and drinking) – he had fallen, and he was taken to hospital.  Half of his face was black and blue and the other half was bleeding.

Another time he fell down the inside steps, hit is head on the breakfast bar splitting his head open so bad he had to have 14 staples put in his head at the Emergency ward.

Yet another time he was convulsing on the Emergency room floor whilst having a diarrhea attack.  It seemed like everyone was in a dream that day because no one seemed to be moving very fast to get a bucket. 

Then he fell in the upstairs hallway onto the edge of the blanket chest and broke a couple of ribs.

Over the six year period that I was his caregiver, he had stopped drinking (or so it seemed) for a while and was actually putting on weight again. The color came back in his skin and eyes.  His hair had started to grow again.  He was looking healthier. 

It was my love of the guitar that led me to reading his email that day.    He wanted to buy me a guitar because I want to learn.  We ordered one from out west where they make that particular brand.  It would be a few months as they are made to order and were waiting for a shipment of a certain wood. 

Then my husband ended up back in the hospital for another fall.  He was due to get an email from the guitar company as to shipping date and we were looking forward to getting it.  So I checked his email, while he was in hospital, to see if it had been shipped on schedule.  I think he even said to check it.

That was when the first betrayal bomb went off in our marriage.  As I was checking his email for the notice from the guitar company, I come across a whole ton of letters from him to this woman across town who he went to school with. 

In the letters he is telling her how beautiful she is and how he owns land in England (a lie) that he is going to fly over to put up for sale and that he flies a private jet (another lie). 

I was devastated.  I confronted him.  I send her a letter explaining that my husband is sick and to leave us alone.  Reading the letters I realize he is delusional from the alcohol poisoning. This woman he was seeing and corresponding to wrote me a very nasty letter back.  All I could imagine is another story like Joey Buttafuoco's wife who was shot in the face by her husband's lover!

My stress level shot right up and I felt horribly betrayed by him.  Here I was busting my butt trying to help him so he can cheat on me?  That was when I told him to leave.  He claimed he wanted nothing more to do with her, so I stupidly reconsidered, realizing he really is delusional from the alcohol.  He had earlier told a similar lie to our friends about how the company wants him back to do this top secret thing.  I later found out that wasn't true.  His doctor told him he has nerve damage in his feet and has dead brain cells from the alcohol.   

He went to see his school friend at her apartment at least twice and emailed and phoned her nearly every day (after I went to bed) .  What a fool I had been to trust him.  I was so distraught and had no one to talk to except a couple of friends.  I even talked with his 2 best friends and they both agreed that none of that sounded like “him”.  They knew him well since high-school.  So I gave him a second chance. 

He told me to clear off this woman's emails and delete her information.  He even asked me to type a letter to her saying he was not going to see her again and that he wanted no contact with her.  He asked me to shut down his email account, but I later found out he reopened it the very next day.  Deception was running rampant.

Then another trauma to hit – my Dad was suddenly diagnosed with lung cancer.  (He quit smoking about 15 years before!)  They said he had 3 – 5 years to live.  He died within 6 months!  It was extremely devastating for my Mom and I, and my husband too.  He really loved my Dad.

My husband went off the wagon again.  Then he fell against our wood-stove and burned his arm really bad from his wrist to his elbow a 4”wide swath.  He didn't tell me until several days later and I was worried infection had set in.  It was so bad I couldn't understand how he could stand the pain and had covered it up, when I couldn't even bare to look at it.   

I spent an entire spring and summer trying to get him into alcohol rehab, whilst worrying about my elderly Mother who is suddenly alone since my Father died.  (I am an only child since my sister died at birth).   I had enough on my plate, besides not being that well myself and having no health insurance.  The ambulance medics and police were on a first name basis with us because of my husband's alcoholism though.  It was mortifying.

He finally agreed to go to rehab under the condition that if he didn't, he had to move out.  We went into Manchester (stressful enough just getting there!),  paid the $40 sign up fee and he was enrolled and taken on a tour of the facility along with a few other people.  A couple of months go by and he is going to his AA meetings and attending his rehab appointments, as far as I know. 

He was also in and out of physical rehab up in Concord too.  Then took him to a cancer doctor and he was diagnosed with lymph node cancer...caused by the alcohol. 

Then his counselor called to tell me he hadn't been to even one appointment since I first enrolled him.  It was like a kick in the gut.  I was wasting my time! I confronted him again and told him I wanted him to move out!  He begged me to let him stay until the end of the year.   

Then, the time before he went into the hospital for the last time, I found more love letters to that woman on his computer, written since he made such a big show of wanting to delete her from his life!  More of my time wasted trying to help someone who really doesn't want help.  That was the final straw for me.  By then it was October 2011.  He was definitely going to be out of our house and my life by the end of the year. 

Little did I know he would die before he would ever pack a single box.

He died November 30, 2011 in the hospital.  His liver and kidneys had finally given up the fight.  I loved him in spite of it all but I hated him for the betrayal, lies, and getting us into debt.  But most of all I hated him for leaving me alone, exhausted and ill, no job, penniless.

To add to my misery, his SSDI and pension was cut off the day he died.  He left no life insurance.  My Mom paid for the whole funeral (since I had no money, just lots of bills) and his family didn't offer a penny.  I don't think I've ever felt so devastated and betrayed in my whole life.

For those of you less informed who think marijuana (cannabis) is worse than alcohol or tobacco, take a closer look because alcohol and tobacco are killers, and yet we continue selling it and worst of all promoting it!  You folks who are afraid of an herb put here by nature should be worrying about the real wolves at the door.

I can't tell you how sick I feel when I see an alcohol commercial on television or in a magazine.  I want to puke.  Alcohol killed another talented, wonderful person.  How many musicians, poets, and artists has alcohol stolen from us?  Everyone knows at least one alcoholic in their family. 

Alcohol and tobacco are heavily taxed by our Government.  It's well accepted into our society as long as you're making money for the Government, big tobacco, and big alcohol. 

If my late husband did nothing but smoke a little cannabis, he would still be here today.  I firmly believe that.

    by SJ Holmwood
August 2013


  1. A mite long, but right on and that's SJ's story, concise. I'd like to thank SJ for sharing her story. It probably wasn't easy to say, but I'm sure she's glad to get the story out there.

    I had a good friend years ago, an alcoholic, which isn't uncommon, who got drunk one night, age 24, and fell, walking home, into a puddle where he laid, unconscious, breathing puddle water. Yeah, he died.

    As SJ says, people aren't dying like this on marijuana. They are getting demonized and arrested, for something far safer.Something that is far less costly and taxable.

  2. We fell in love and bought a house together in a rural area not far from Manchester, as he worked in Nashua, NH. We moved in to our new house in May. We adopted a couple of cats as we are both animal lovers. He had a high powered IT job at a major defense contractor, with top security clearance, won awards at his job, got good bonuses and good pay. He worked hard and loved his job.

    It's this part that gets to me. This is life, and if this doesn't work then we're a doomed species. This is it!