Wednesday, May 4, 2011


The interior of the ambulance is bright - too bright - and it hurts my eyes.  I desperately want to sleep, but I'm strapped to a stretcher and a paramedic's anxious face hovers above mine.

"Don't sleep, Ellie," he says.  "Stay with me now."

I fight to keep my eyes open, but I'm tired.  I'm so very tired.  

"Do you know where you are?"  he asks.   I wish he'd leave me alone.

"I'm in an ambulance," I mumble.   I can hear the muffled sounds of the siren and see flashing red lights reflecting off the shiny machinery that surrounds me.   There is a tube of some sort in my arm, and a beeping device hooked up to my chest.

"Do you know why you're in an ambulance?"

"Yes," I mutter, the past hour and a half coming back to me in a rush.  

"You were too sick to stay at the rehab," the paramedic says slowly, like he's talking to a two year old.  "Your blood pressure spiked.  You were vomiting blood.  Do you remember that?" 

He's shouting at me; why is he shouting?  

I realize I have closed my eyes again; the darkness feels so good.

"ELLIE!" he yells again, and then gives my cheek a little slap.  "STAY WITH ME!"

I open my eyes a slit and see his face at the end of a long tunnel.   His lips are moving but I can't hear what he is saying.   He grabs my shoulders and gives me shake, but my eyes slide shut and I lose myself in the darkness.


I sit up in bed with a start; my heart is pounding and I'm sweating.   What a horrible dream, I think.  

I take a moment to catch my breath and take in my familiar surroundings.  I'm home.  I'm safe.  My husband is sleeping peacefully next to me.   As I pad into the bathroom to splash water on my face, it hits me:   that wasn't a dream.  

That was a memory.

Shaken, I sit down on the cool tile floor, and I let myself remember.  


It all happened so fast; it felt to me like I went from nightly drinking to spiraling into a cycle of addiction almost overnight.  In reality, it happened over about a week.  It took me one week to cross the invisible line from emotional addiction to alcohol to physical addiction.   If I didn't drink I would shake and sweat and be filled with crippling anxiety.   The minute I had something to drink, the symptoms stopped.  I was trying to control it; just a sip here and there to take the edge off.  

Then one afternoon Steve came home for lunch and found me passed out on the couch.

In desperation, he checked me into a local rehab.  Nobody understood how sick I really was, how dangerous my withdrawal was going to be, because nobody knew how much I was really drinking.   Even I didn't know, so deep was my denial.   It only took an hour and a half for the withdrawal symptoms to become perilous, and an ambulance was called to transport me - urgently - to the nearest Emergency Room.

I remember that I wasn't scared at all.   What I felt was relief.  Maybe I would finally slip away, get out of everyone's way, quietly disappear.

The paramedic's name was Mike, I recall.   He fought to keep me conscious all the way to the hospital.   He asked me about my children, where I grew up, what my favorite color was.  He talked all the way there, struggling to keep me away from the dark.

At the ER they whisked me down a bright hallway, still strapped to the stretcher, and administered some intravenous drug to lower my blood pressure and take the edge off the withdrawal symptoms.  Then they slid me into a far corner, yanked the curtain closed in disgust, and left me there.   For hours.    I remember crying a lot.   I remember telling a nurse that if she would just let me drink I would be okay.    And then hours of staring at the ceiling tiles, contemplating the mess I was in.  

Many hours later, a hand drew the curtain back a crack, and a soft voice said, "Mind if I come in?"   Mike stepped up to the side of the gurney and looked at me with kind eyes.   "You look better," he said.  "You gave me quite a scare."

I was a 37 year old mother of two left forgotten in a dank corner of an emergency room, and the last sympathetic voice left in my life came from a complete stranger.  This is where alcohol took me.

"Thank you," I croaked.   "For saving me.  I think."  I gave him a bitter smile.

"Is it worth it?"  he asked without anger or disdain.

"Is what worth it?"

"Drinking.  Is it worth it?"

I looked at him for a long moment, waiting for defiance, bitterness or rage to come.   Instead, I felt something break, something give way deep inside.   "No," I said.   "No, it's not worth it."

He took my hand, gently, and said, "I see a lot of people die from drinking.  And do you know what they all have in common?   They don't think they are that bad.  None of them think they are that close to death.   It's really sad.  Please don't be one of those people."

And with that, he left.


I haven't thought about that night in a long, long time.  It's one of those too-horrible-to-think-about moments.   It feels very far away.  So far away that I tell myself that it probably didn't happen that way.

But it did.

And I need to remember.  I've been feeling really good lately.   Really strong.   My kids are thriving, my business is booming and I'm very busy.    So busy, in fact, that recovery is taking a back seat to things that feel more important.    I haven't been going to many meetings.  It always feels like there is a good reason, and besides I'm doing great.  

That memory surfaced when it did, swam up from the depths of my subconscious, because I cannot afford to forget.    Ever.   That desperate, forgotten woman lives in me still.   I'm grateful she showed up when she did, because I know that I can feel great all the way to a drink.    

It's one of the sneaky ways the disease can get you.

No matter what stage of drinking we're in, how far down the path we have travelled, this is one thing the disease always tells us:  you aren't that bad.

In recovery, the tense shifts, but the message is the same:  you weren't that bad.

When that voice starts whispering in my ear, I know what I have to do.  So I'm doing it.  I tell on myself, I ask for help, I reach out to people who understand.

If you're wondering about your own drinking; if you're reading this and thinking that woman in the ambulance could never be you, if you're telling yourself  'I'll never be that bad', consider this a warning.  

It happens fast, and more often than not we don't see it coming, because we're too afraid to look.

So please look.


  1. AMAZING. You have just described how quickly the disease of alcholism changed for me as well. I'm beginning to remember as well, I didn't realize how horribly some things in my past had affected me until I'd been a year sober. I worked so hard not to feel that I do tend to get overconfident at times. Then something rocks me and I take it for the warning it is. When I have a memory or dream it's usually because I haven't been putting enough focus upon my sobriety.
    Thank you for the reminder today.

  2. Ellie........I swear the EXACT same thing happen to me just short of a year ago. The only difference was that they left me in the open on a gurney for everyone in the ER to see. To sick for detox. It was one of 3 rides by ambulance I took. I have changed so very much this year.
    Thanks for the story Ellie.

  3. You are such a brave soul Ellie--to walk toward the vulnerability and post it here.

    This will keep you out of harms way. I know it will.

  4. I'm heading this way. I'm spiralling. I know I have to stop because this path I'm on only goes one way. I have been reading....and knowing I have to stop....but not stopping..... but I've GOT to put a stop to this madness...this behaviour. I've got to get myself together. Thanks for being a voice.....

  5. Thank you for speaking your truth both vulnerably and vividly. for the impact it has already had on one and the impact it will have for countless others. so much love for you. so grateful for your life.

  6. Thank you again for a wonderful, insightful, honest post. I appreciate you so much.

  7. Thanks so much for this post! I'm 16 days sober and I already have those "you weren't that bad" thoughts. When I have those thoughts, I try to take time to journal about what it was like when I was drinking. The truth is it wasn't really bad, but I was drinking every day and I know where that would have headed. I need to be able to look back and remember. Thanks Ellie!

  8. I really needed this post today. I made 60 days yesterday but have been mostly dry not recovering the last 3 weeks...this was a great reminder how I need to keep my recovery right up front and work on it everyday. Thank you-this was a very powerful post.

  9. Ellie,
    I am so very grateful that you shared this. It has opened my eyes to a world I truly believed I would never have to see. The truth is I was not that far away, I just did not know it until I read this.
    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

  10. Ellie, this post literally took my breath away. Things really were that bad - but I'm so glad you aren't there anymore. After all, this nice bright part of the world needs you too much.
    Thank you for this,

  11. Thank you for sharing your journey to and in recovery, Ellie. You are a gift to so many. The way our "dark past" can benefit others never ceases to amaze me.

    And please keep coming back, Anonymous. To Ellie's page, to, to wherever else you are going to read and to share. You don't have to live that way anymore if you don't want to.

    When I was new to sobriety - wanting to feel better, not feeling ready to stop drinking, and feeling afraid I couldn't - a woman in one of my first meetings told me, "You can get off the (going down) elevator anytime you want." She was right. I didn't have to feel the way I was feeling anymore. But, as much as I would have wanted to, I couldn't do it alone. I needed you all. And I need you all today.

    I needed to read your comment to Ellie's marvelously honest and humble post.

  12. Whoa. Bringing me to tears this early in the morning shouldn't be allowed. But the tears are for that paramedic who took the time to seek you out and check on you--what a blessing! Clearly a man who loves his job and sees it as so much more than a job. Thanks for sharing Ellie.

  13. I am currently in the "not that bad" nightly drinking. I get up and go to work. I struggle thru the fog until I can have more. I'm there. Thank you for writing.

  14. What an amazing story, told so evocatively. I have a few EMT friends to whom I will forward this. They are heros, truly, as first responders and, as in your situation, sometimes the one lifeline a person has. Mike sounds amazing, willing to go past the boundaries of the surface tasks of his job to connect with you as a person.

    I am so very glad you are well now.

  15. I am so happy to see you share your story, and I am so happy to see everyone that it reaches. I think what you are doing is important, and I want to be one of your cheerleaders!

  16. Thank you for sharing, Ellie. Alcohol may not be my demon, but my demons are just as nasty. This is an excellent reminder to take my meds, go to your meetings, ask for help. You are a blessing to all of us.

  17. Thank you for sharing Ellie, your story is so powerful and inspiring. I've heard it said, 'I lost the life that sobriety gave me by living the life that sobriety gave me.' It's important to never forget and never let down our guard.

    Just yesterday I went to the grocery store on my own after work, and as I pulled into a spot I suddenly thought of the taste of Blue Moon beer. I haven't thought of that in well over a year, but suddenly I felt that urge to pick up a 6 pack, like I have so many, many times in the past. I didn't, but I could have. I could have lost my sobriety that easily and quickly. It's a sneaky disease, that's for sure, and the only way to guard against it coming back is to remember what life was really like, back then.

  18. Look at the comment section of this post! The exact reason why your story and this site and are so important. Thanks for being of service. Many people are going to benefit, I already see it so often. :-)

    BRAVE story.

  19. Hi Ellie,
    Thanks for sharing this. I emailed you awhile back w/ 30 days and went back out and am starting again. It's so easy to drink everyday. I don't want this to happen to me. My side aches...and I know why. I'd appreciate prayers.

  20. I just wanted to let you know that this weblog is being featured in Five Star Friday -

  21. My ex was sober for 17 years. The last few years he stopped going to meetings and then one day just picked up right where he left off. It is an insidious disease. After 17 YEARS, in one day he was back to square one. Very scary. It's so important for people like you, who are so brave, to put their stories out there. Thank you.

  22. a thoroughly heartbreaking, yet inspirational tale. thank you for sharing with us, it stands as a warning to those of us who haven't gone through what you did, an inspiration to those of us going through it, and support for those of us who have already experienced it. you're an amazing woman.

  23. What a brave, brave post. Thank you Ellie, for sharing. For baring your soul, your heart. It must be difficult to write this, to draw upon those painful memories, and to see the comments here, you know you did the right thing in doing so. Stay strong.

  24. much said in these words. I am glad Mike was there for you, and I am thankful for your steps in recovery. May God continue to give you the strength and wisdom to continue this walk. Continue to share your walk gives perspective to those who haven't walked it, and hope to those who have!

  25. How much do we love Mike?

    The sips to stop the shaking and the sweating - I remember those too. I called in maintaining to myself because that was what was required at that point to function. Terrifying - that place we were in and thank you for helping me remember.

  26. Gives me chills. Thank you for being so honest.

  27. Oh Ellie! I am so glad I found your site and now this post. I am in "purgatory," as you put it. Have been drinking every night while cooking dinner, doing dishes, more and more frequently getting drunk and then fumbling through the next day. Four days ago i was put on a medication (Flagyl) for an infection and told that under no circumstances should I drink while on this med. I researched the med looking for "exceptions" and read an exchange between someone asking how bad would one glass of wine be and someone else responded "really? You can't just give up the wine for the course of the meds?". And I cringed...thinking that I
    really do have a problem. Telling myself I should stop but not really. Day four sober for me...and so grateful that I have read this post. I feel physically better than I have in weeks. And so much more attuned to my husband and kids.

    I was drinking a bottle and a half of wine many nights. I could have crossed the line...Reading your post and those of the generous writers on this site, I realize, with deep fear, that I WILL cross the line if I keep drinking.

    Now to stay sober. I live in a small city and the thought of running into people from mtgs in the grocery store scares me. Time to go back to therapy and this time admit that I have a drinking problem.

  28. wow! what a great post! i cant be this vulnerable yet. you're amazing.