Author Eilene Zimmerman on how ex-husband’s death changed her idea of addiction

Former San Diego resident Eilene Zimmerman describes how she talked publicly, for the primary time, concerning the death of her ex-husband, Peter. He was a profitable lawyer who labored in Carmel Valley.

“For a long time after Peter died, I was terrified to tell anyone the truth about the circumstances of his death,” mentioned the writer of “Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction, and Tragedy.” “My youngsters have been nonetheless protecting of his fame, and I didn’t need to embarrass his agency or his prolonged household. But holding it inside and mendacity about it to individuals on a regular basis — who would usually ask simply how Peter died so younger — began to actually have an effect on me, emotionally and bodily. I used to be actually depressed, and I used to be anxious on a regular basis.

“I made a decision to put in writing a narrative about what occurred and submit it to a storytelling showcase right here in San Diego referred to as VAMP, which is sponsored by the nonprofit So Say We All. My story was chosen, and in October 2016, I acquired onstage on the Whistlestop Bar and advised the story. You may have heard a pin drop once I learn it — it was so quiet. But there was a lot help in that room, a lot encouragement, that I felt monumental reduction within the telling, after which in connecting with others who had comparable experiences. I used to be terrified to do it and afterward felt nothing however reduction and liberation. And that have gave me the braveness to maintain telling it.”

Her new memoir recounts the wrestle she and her household confronted when her husband plummeted into drug abuse whereas sustaining his prestigious regulation profession. Eilene Zimmerman has been a journalist for over three many years overlaying enterprise, expertise and social points for a spread of nationwide magazines and newspapers. She will focus on her journey and her e book at an Adventures by the Book occasion on Feb. 11 and on the San Diego County Bar Association on Feb. 12.

Q: Who was Peter? When, the place, and how did he die?

A: Peter was a accomplice within the San Diego workplace of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, or WSGR, in Carmel Valley. The agency is headquartered in Silicon Valley and has a wealthy and storied historical past there as half of the expertise business. Peter died in his Carmel Valley house, which was a few mile from WSGR’s places of work. I discovered his physique on the morning of July 11, 2015. He was mendacity on the ground between his bed room and the grasp lavatory. The official trigger of death was one thing generally known as acute infective endocarditis resulting from injection drug abuse. Endocarditis is an an infection that usually begins in an individual’s coronary heart, and whether it is untreated, will unfold all through their physique. Peter’s an infection began at a number of of the little injection websites on his pores and skin. Infective endocarditis is one of the most important well being dangers from injection drug use.

Q: What medicine was Peter hooked on, and what do drug addicts appear to be?

A: Although I’ll by no means know for certain all of the medicine Peter was utilizing, I do know he was injecting himself with a mix of opioids and amphetamines — generally known as a speedball. And it appears the opioid might need diverse between the opioid painkillers Vicodin, Percocet and Tramadol. Tramadol works in a barely totally different method than the opposite two. I additionally discovered crystal methamphetamine at Peter’s home, a bit of glass pipes for smoking it, and a spread of different medicine, like Adderall and Xanax, in addition to capsules I wasn’t capable of determine.

I feel many of us have a sure stereotype in our minds of what a drug addict seems to be like, however what I’ve realized in scripting this e book is that somebody fighting an addiction seems to be like everybody. Look within the mirror and also you’ll see what an addict would possibly appear to be. It impacts individuals in all walks of life, at each earnings degree, each shade, each gender. Certainly the opioid epidemic has affected communities of shade and people on the low finish of the socioeconomic spectrum a lot more durable than these which might be prosperous and white, however addiction doesn’t discriminate.

In Peter’s case, he didn’t match neatly into any of my very own preconceived classes. I feel most of us don’t anticipate a rich, extremely educated skilled to be placing needles into his arms. That was one of the explanations I used to be so blind to this addiction that was staring me within the face. I at all times thought of somebody who develops a drug addiction as being determined, having very bleak circumstances and few good alternate options. But I’ve since realized how mistaken I used to be. Being well-off and well-educated doesn’t defend anybody from addiction.

Q: How did his drug addiction have an effect on you and your kids’s lives?

A: In “Smacked,” I chronicle precisely that — how Peter’s more and more weird and nonsensical conduct within the 12 months to 15 months earlier than he died impacted my life, my youngsters’ lives, and the methods we scrambled to manage day-to-day. Also, to clarify the weird conduct, to search out some foundation — something in any respect that may very well be even remotely true — to rationalize Peter’s conduct. To assist us assume of it as “normal” ultimately.

At one level, my son expressed to me that he simply figured his father cherished his sister greater than him, as a result of as quickly as my daughter left for faculty, Peter grew to become fully absent and began unraveling in one million methods. One of these methods was to spend virtually no time with our son, to overlook to select him up at college, or at my home, to say issues like, “I’m going up to the Mobil station to get a diet soda, and I’ll be back in a few minutes” after which be gone for 4 hours. That type of inexplicable conduct, over and over, pressured him to give you a purpose why it was taking place. It made him doubt his personal value and doubt his father’s love.

Despite this, my kids, from the get-go, have had monumental empathy and compassion for his or her father, and so they miss him terribly. My daughter used to name me from faculty a number of instances every week that first 12 months after Peter’s death, simply sobbing on the telephone from faculty, saying “I miss him so much it hurts. It physically hurts.”

Q: In the e book, you referred to as your self naïve, racist and classist? Why?

A: I feel I answered this considerably in query two, however once more, as a result of I imagined a drug addict as somebody that was homeless, poor, maybe mentally unwell — the veteran with the cardboard signal standing on the entrance to the 805 freeway. I believed that was what an addict appeared like, not somebody like Peter. His death and the analysis for this e book has fully changed that for me, of course. I didn’t even notice I had these biases — that’s why they’re known as implicit biases — however certainly, I’m ashamed to confess, I had them in spades.

Q: What do the indicators of addiction appear to be? How can somebody assist a struggling cherished one?

A: The indicators of an opioid addiction or an opioid and amphetamine addiction, are usually weight reduction, sleepiness, nodding — which is falling asleep out of the blue, even whereas doing one thing — constipation, temper swings from melancholy to euphoria, confusion, irritability and insomnia. The troublesome factor about recognizing the signs is that they may very well be signs of so many alternative issues. Peter had most of this, together with sugar cravings — additionally an indication — hair loss, yellowing pores and skin and enamel, incoherence at instances, lack of ability to prepare himself or observe by with something — besides, of course, acquiring medicine.

It’s very troublesome to assist somebody within the throes of addiction. One method is to easily ask about what you believe you studied, with out judging, with out lecturing or threatening. I feel maybe an important factor we will do is let a cherished one know that we actually need to assist — not choose, blame or threaten. In normal, individuals fighting addictions hardly ever change until there’s a destructive consequence to their conduct. You can definitely allow them to know you’re keen on them, and when they’re able to attempt to cease utilizing, you may be there to do no matter you possibly can to assist them.

Q: Please describe the tradition at regulation places of work. Are there typical lawyer personalities? What are the unintended effects of the career?

A: The tradition in Big Law — and by that I imply the most important 100 regulation corporations within the nation, as ranked by American Lawyer journal — is hard-driving and aggressive, with little or no autonomy, particularly for associates. Between 2008 and 2012, the authorized career skilled layoffs, wage decreases and hiring freezes and the business as an entire has by no means fully recovered. That means there’s an growing competitors for a smaller quantity of partnerships. And that may make for a ruthlessly unforgiving agency tradition. You don’t need to be seen as weak, it’s essential to be — or no less than seem like — on the high of your sport on a regular basis.

In my e book, I inform the story of a lawyer I name Sarah, a feminine lawyer in Southern California who labored at one of the most important regulation corporations within the nation. Sarah believes she was not promoted to accomplice as a result of she took maternity depart for every of her two kids. She was pulled apart by a feminine accomplice in the course of the first trimester of her first being pregnant — in her fifth 12 months at this regulation agency — and was advised that if she didn’t have an abortion, she in all probability wouldn’t make accomplice. Sarah had her baby and two years later, a second. She was by no means promoted to accomplice, and was advised she had “taken too many leaves.”

Q: Is drug use outstanding within the office now, regardless of occupation? What two medicine are the commonest?

A: It relies upon on the office. I can communicate to what I discovered in white-collar professions, like regulation, finance and expertise. It appears in these very high-power, extremely aggressive, nerve-racking professions, drug and alcohol use and abuse ranges from occasional use to very prevalent use and abuse. I interviewed and heard from many professionals at start-ups and in tech firms who felt they wanted stimulants reminiscent of Modafinil, which is meant for use for a sleep problem generally known as narcolepsy, Adderall and Vyvanse to remain productive throughout lengthy days spent sitting in entrance of a pc display. After work, they used hashish, alcohol or a benzodiazepine like Klonopin or Xanax — alone or together, to return down from the day and have the ability to eat and sleep. I met a number of tech professionals that micro-dosed LSD for enhanced creativity. Many used opioids like Vicodin or OxyContin for ache, initially, after which continued utilizing them as a result of the medicines helped their melancholy and stress.

Q: What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing remedy, and was it useful for you?

A: It is normally shortened and referred to as EMDR remedy, and it’s a therapy initially designed to alleviate signs, particularly distressing ideas, related to post-traumatic stress dysfunction, or PTSD. During remedy, a consumer will take into consideration the nerve-racking occasion or reminiscence and be particularly attentive to how their physique is reacting, bodily, to the thought. While that’s taking place, the consumer can be partaking in bilateral eye motion. In my case, and really generally, the consumer watches a light-weight transfer forwards and backwards rapidly throughout a black display. According to the EMDR Institute, “These new associations are thought to result in complete information processing, new learning, elimination of emotional distress and development of cognitive insights.”

For me, EMDR allowed my mind to reprocess recollections of discovering Peter’s physique, and the situation of his home, the medicine in all places, my kids’s response to his death — all these very troublesome experiences and recollections. In my case, EMDR remedy made these very visceral recollections of that horrible day in July, and the loopy 12 months earlier than that, appear extra distant, extra like one thing I dreamed than one thing I truly skilled. And that helped me to maneuver previous the traumatic recollections.

Q: What are you doing to maneuver forward together with your life?

A: I not reside in San Diego, although I come again steadily to go to with the chums I had there for many years, and with whom I’m nonetheless very shut. After my son was off to varsity, I left and moved again to town of my beginning, New York, the place I now reside. I wanted to get away from San Diego and all of the troublesome recollections that lurked round too many corners. And I wanted distance in an effort to put issues in perspective and start my very own grieving, one thing I delay for 2 years as I handled probate and helped my kids.

I additionally determined I wished to enlarge my skilled world, and though I’ll at all times write, I’m additionally pursuing a graduate diploma in social work.

Smacked: A Story of White-Collar Ambition, Addiction, and Tragedy” by Eilene Zimmerman, Random House, 272 pages.

Conversation with Eilene Zimmerman

When: 6:30 p.m. Feb. 11

Where: Hosted by Adventures by the Book at Women’s Museum of California, 2730 Historic Decatur Road, Suite 103, Point Loma.

Tickets: $29.10 contains one e book. Additional visitor ticket $5, with no e book; should accompany simultaneous buy of occasion with e book ticket.

Phone: (619) 300-2532


When: Noon Feb. 12

Where: San Diego County Bar Association, 401 West A St., Suite 210, San Diego

Tickets: Prices differ (test on-line for alternatives)

Phone: (619) 231-0781


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