I grew up in the 70s when parental units were scarce, but drugs and alcohol were not. But I didn’t drink for either of those reasons. I drank because I lived in fear of everything. Every. Single. Thing. I never felt I fit in to any group even though I hung out with a group of 30 kids on the front steps of my very own house!
When I took my first drink at age 12, it was already after I had a suicide attempt. My dad died when I was 9, leaving my mother with 3 kids under 12, alcoholism of her own and a refillable prescription for Librium. Not that it’s that strong, but a 12 year old doesn’t have much of a tolerance level for anything, and a handful of Librium, I thought, should have been enough. However I woke up with a headache about 15 hours later and not a single person knew what I had done.
There were also a number of things that went on in my early life that shouldn’t be a part of any child’s story, but recovery through the 12 steps has given me the freedom to properly grieve and tuck these tendrils away. And most importantly it has given me the ability to forgive.
When I was 12 and in 7th grade, there was no Internet to Google ways to use illicit substances, so it still surprises me today that I inherently knew to take liquor out of a bottle and replace it with water. I’m pretty sure Sesame Street wasn’t giving those directions out. This went on for many years. I had no idea I could be an alcoholic. I had an uncle who slept in the car in my driveway wrapped in newspapers. He had become the family albatross having lost his marriage and the respect of family members. He was no longer allowed at family functions, yet I was. My actions when I drank were tolerated.
I finished high school, went to Berklee College of Music for a few years and played piano in clubs in Boston. But I only played after I had enough alcohol in me to allow me to sit in front of people and actually play. I thought I was better than I was when I drank, but I would get up in the middle of a song because I lost my composure, couldn’t remember the song, or just plain needed another drink. I had a job, got married and quickly had two daughters. My husband had no idea he had married an alcoholic until that fateful night in 1994 when I was arrested for OUI.
It would be wonderful if I could say that was when I got sober, but it’s not. I was able to put down alcohol, but after so many years of squashing fear with booze and drugs, I was a mess. I had no understanding of the 12 steps of recovery and thought if I just went to enough meetings, I would get well. I stayed sober, but I became increasingly crazy. The Big Book describes it as RID – restless, irritable and discontent. I lived like that for fifteen years.
Through those fifteen years I spent two whole years reading every self-help book the Malden Public Library had in its collection. One book actually told me I had a right to resentments and that life had indeed thrown me some curve balls. I went with that one for years. Then there was the book that taught me how to run. I ran every single day for 2 years. When you see me, you’ll know I don’t do that anymore. Then I started exploring my creative side. Piano was out, too many memories, so I began painting. I made whimsical paintings with bright vibrant colors and tons of hearts. That lasted about 2 years as well. I now have a basement full of old windows that I used as canvasses, some painted, some not, but also a case of paint that probably won’t ever be used!
Next came illnesses. I honestly believe in the mind body connection in not only the disease model of addiction but also the connection between a sick mind and physical illnesses beyond addiction. In that time I was diagnosed with Graves disease, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, severe anxiety and depression. I was also diagnosed with two separate cancers within 2 years.
After four operations and multiple prescriptions for painkillers, Xanax (God, was I anxious) and various antidepressants, after the cost of therapy that probably sent 10 of my therapists’ kids through college, I was also being faced with the destruction of my family. My daughters were trying to grow up with a mother who was chronically crazy and a dad who was increasingly disappearing from sight.
This was 2009. My youngest by now was suffering from anorexia, my oldest daughter was in college and my husband had just about checked out. Even though alcohol wasn’t my problem (so I thought), I was a raging prescription drug addict, ripping out the hearts of the people who loved me most. I couldn’t see it. I had spent years grayed out. I thought I was present, and I was, physically, but I was emotionally destroyed. I used to say my pilot light went out. It did. I had no source of strength within me. I honestly wanted to die.
In June of 2009 I decided to take a boatload of Xanax (by now I was deemed “The Benzo Queen”) and the disease inside told me some vodka would make that go down nicely. Apparently I didn’t want to die enough. I told my family what I had done and ended up at McLean Hospital, Proctor I.
I panicked when I sobered up. The fear of giving up Xanax was intense. It took a little while and ultimately a 10-day hospital stay in July, but McLean tapered me off Xanax and Ultram completely. I knew I couldn’t go home. I felt it was unsafe, and my husband needed for me to be away. He was as sick, if not more so, than I was. Our youngest daughter was being treated, so she was safe and my oldest daughter boarded a plane for California. A place she had never been – she was trying to get distance as well.
I went to a 12-step retreat in New Hampshire. There are no doctors or therapists there, and everyone who works there is a recovered addict/alcoholic. I was handed a big book and notebook and pen. I was read the Dr.’s Opinion, something I had never read in all the years I read the Big Book. I was shown the mind/body connection and how the obsession and compulsion works within me. I was given hope.
When it comes to God, here I was stumped. I was brought up Catholic, had an uncle who was a Monsignor and went to Catholic school. I converted to Judaism and then studied Buddhism. Nowhere in any of these places could I find a loving God. Then I was told about spirituality. I was asked if I was willing to believe in a power greater than myself. I was. I am.
I spent five weeks there and wrote my fourth step. It took seven hours to read. I then sat and reviewed my character defects and asked my higher power (who I do choose to call God) to remove them. I went home. I didn’t know if I would be welcome, and, for the first time in my life, I stood at my front door and prayed to God for the people in that home rather than myself. That if they needed me to leave, and let them heal – even if it meant I would never to go back – I would. I meant it. I still mean it. I made amends where I could. I needed to go to my mom’s grave, as she had died a few years earlier. I asked for her forgiveness. I came to see she was the only mom she could be. She might not have been the best, but it was the bet she could be.
I went back to work in a law firm I had been at for a very long time. But God was telling me there was something more I needed to do. I meditated every day, still do. I asked to be shown, and I was. A year and a half ago I was reviewed at this law firm, and though one of the reviews was a little harsh, it wasn’t what was written. It was how I reacted. I stopped short in my tracks that day, gave my notice and applied to a local college in the course of Certified Addictions Counseling.
From there I am here. Every day I wake up I thank God first, then ask what I can do. Thy will, not mine, be done.
I have a women’s meeting at my house every week, for almost two years now. I have been given the gift of working with women. And though I may work in the field of addiction for my employer, my real employer is God. The 12-step work I do pays me more than any amount of money ever could.
I write 10th step inventory the way I wrote 4th step inventory. I have been returned to sanity, but that’s contingent upon my spiritual wellbeing and I know that. My pilot light has been rekindled, and my pilot has always been God!
My family is healing and we are together. I am humbled by their strength and love, by the gift of God within me, and so very grateful for every breath I take.
“What you are searching for, you have always been searching with.”