“What’s a Nice Girl Like Me Doing in a Place like This?”
Startled awake by her yelling, I spotted a tray of food and a woman slamming cell bars behind her. I noticed my knuckles were scraped and bloody, and there were bruises on my arms and wrists. My body was stiff and achy, and my head throbbed, as I tried to pull myself up off the concrete floor. I tried to figure out what the hell I was doing in a jail cell. I had put the cocaine down in October and had sworn that I was never going to drink to the point of blacking out ever again. I could control it!
I placed my hands behind my back, and she cuffed me and led me to the elevator that would lead to the court room. My heart raced, and panic flooded my body, as I caught a reflection of myself in the shiny elevator walls. My face was either bruised, had mascara smeared all over it or both. My hair was a mess. And I was on my way to see a judge? Oh my god, what had I done?
The judge walked out and read the officer’s report of a drunk, violent and out of control woman who broke her mother’s hip and jaw, because her mother attempted to take her car keys from her to keep her from driving under the influence.
“At this time, we’re uncertain of her mother’s condition,” the district attorney piped in. I couldn’t believe what I had done! With nowhere to go, my ex-husband offered to drop me off at the treatment center.
“So Kim, have you ever used cannabis to get high?” The lady asked.
“Well, yeah, but…”
“What about cocaine?”
“Well, yeah, but I quit smoking it back in October on my own,” I replied, trying to prove to her that I didn’t need to be in treatment. I could quit on my own.
“What about amphetamines?” She continued, almost robot-like.
“Well, yeah, but…”
“Quaaludes? Valium? Xanax?”
“Well, yeah, but the Xanax was prescribed. I had a spastic colon from the stress of being my father’s restaurant-slave.”
“Did you take it as prescribed?”
“It wasn’t working anymore, so I increased the dose,” I responded, trying to legitimize my self-prescribed increase.
“What about LSD?”
“PCP? Other Psychedelics?”
I finally blurted out, “Of course I used those things. If you had my family, if you were married to my ex, if you lived the life I did, you would want to be wasted as often as possible too! Sure, I blacked out a few times. Sure, I passed out a few times. It’s not like I was lying in a ditch with a bottle of vodka in a brown paper bag or lying in some sleazy motel with needles hanging out of my arms. I purified my cocaine with baking soda, not ether or other chemicals. I don’t even use every day! I really don’t have a problem. I came here voluntarily. My dad’s the alcoholic not me!”
“Okay, Kim. Okay. I hear you! Just take a deep breath. Breathe with me, okay? I have one more question to ask you. Are you listening?” Of course I was listening. She was the one who wasn’t listening!
“Were you in control when your mom tried to take your car keys from you?”
And my journey to recovery began…
I had been in detox for several days and was learning a lot about just how messed up my family truly was. At the age of 22 I still wasn’t sure about never drinking or using drugs again. Yes, every time I picked up a drink or a drug, I never knew what was going to happen. I guess if one considered that unmanageable, I could admit to that, but I certainly was not powerless over anything! And now these treatment people were telling me that I had to sit through their stupid meetings as part of my treatment?
My dad had dragged me to a few meetings, after he got sober. He did seem to handle things better than he used to, but my anger toward him still raged. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind the recovering people, but I certainly didn’t want anything to do with those old fuddy-duddy meetings! And then there were those recovery club people who used to come into our restaurant. They’d sit around drinking their coffee for hours, laughing and pretending they were all happy and shit, but they were lousy tippers! Whenever they were around at the end of my shift, I would pour myself a beer, sit in a booth close to them and raise my glass and toast them. I knew that they couldn’t possibly be that happy, and, since they couldn’t drink anymore, I would happily do it for them.
Now I tried to hide as these and similar people came into the treatment center to help us poor saps by forcing us to attend their stupid meetings. Then Frank spotted me. Frank was a regular at the restaurant who I had always suspected had real mental issues. He was always so damn happy. No one could possibly be that happy.
“Hey, look, it’s Kim! She made it!” He exclaimed, loud and excited. His entourage followed him over to me, and he hugged me. He told me all of their names, and they all hugged me too, but the whole time I was thinking, “Just get away from me! I don’t want you people to see me here!” I responded politely, but secretly I wanted to get up and run out the nearest door.
A younger girl named Karen, who came to the restaurant frequently, spotted me too. I always thought she seemed really nice. She gave me a hug, sat down next to me and said, “You’re looking pretty rough. This disease has really taken a toll on you, huh?”
I nodded in agreement, but thought, “A toll on me?”
“I’m so happy that you’re still alive. I remember watching you slug those beers down at the restaurant and thinking, ‘She’s one of us. I hope she makes it out alive.’ Here’s my phone number, please call me.”
One of you? Make it out alive? Was there something Karen and the others saw that I wasn’t able to see in myself? If it weren’t for blacking out, I never would have hurt my mom! I just needed to figure out how to stop blacking out.
The chairperson began the meeting with a moment of silence and a bunch of readings from their apparently sacred text. As I listened to others share what it was like for them before they made it to “the program” and what life was like for them now, I heard pieces of my own life, before I came into treatment. I even began to believe that maybe their happiness wasn’t just a show. Maybe they were actually having fun and enjoying life without being high, drunk or both. Could that be possible?
As the meeting was wrapping up, the chairperson held up a white poker chip and announced, “If there’s anyone here tonight that would like to try this way of life, one day at a time, we offer you a white poker chip. After 90 days of continuous sobriety we offer you a blue poker chip, and after a year or multiples thereof we offer you a red poker chip. Is there anyone here tonight that would like a white poker chip?”
I don’t know if it was the people, the coffee-clutching restaurant crew or that I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired, but I wanted to feel happy like Frank. The next thing I knew, I was out of my chair, and people were cheering me on. As the man hugged me and gave me my chip, he addressed the group and announced that I was the most important person in the room as a newcomer to this way of life. All I knew was that I certainly didn’t feel like the most important person in the room. I felt worthless! I felt undeserving! But what I had been doing certainly wasn’t bringing any happiness and joy to my life. “What the heck,” I thought. “I’ll give this a shot—for today anyway.”
With nowhere to go, go to a meeting…
Frank was standing in the parking lot, and in typical fashion he appeared to be the life of the party. His hands and arms were moving as much as his mouth was, and others in the group were smiling and laughing right along with him. After a month or so of listening to what he had to share I concluded that he didn’t have mental problems like I had previously thought. He was just that happy and wanted to share what he had found in the rooms of recovery with others.
When Frank saw me, he opened his arms wide and yelled, “Kim! You made it!” and proceeded to almost sprint toward me. I opened my arms to hug him back, and he picked me up and spun me around. Releasing me, he kept his arm around me, introduced me to even more people and offered me a cup of coffee. It seemed like Frank knew everyone in this program. I didn’t see any other familiar faces in the meeting, but I knew I never wanted to use again. I never wanted to hurt anyone again. I never wanted to wake up in a jail cell again, and I knew in order for those things not to happen again, I needed to go to these meetings.
The meeting began just like it did in the treatment center, and there were the familiar poker chips sitting on the table. As silly as it would have seemed to me when I first went into treatment, I wanted to earn one of those blue poker chips. The chairperson asked if there was anyone attending this meeting for the first time, and I raised my hand and introduced myself as an addict. Since I was new, the chairperson decided that the topic would be for others to share how they were able to stay clean. When someone was ready to share, they raised their hand and the chairperson called on them. I didn’t know if it was appropriate or not, but I took notes. Things that I wrote down from that first meeting were the following:
1. When wondering how to stay clean, remember honesty, open-mindedness and willingness
2. This is a simple program for complicated people, and I need to remember to Keep It Simple Silly (KISS)
3. FEAR is nothing more than False Events Appearing Real
4. If I’m feeling too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired, I need to HALT and get myself to a meeting or pick up the phone and call another person in recovery
5. Don’t pick up a drink or a drug no matter what, regularly attend meetings, regularly work with my sponsor, read recovery literature daily and work the steps
Then Betsy spoke. While looking at me from across the table she spoke about her difficulties in the beginning with admitting that she was powerless over her compulsions, obsessions and desires to use substances. She originally thought she just had issues with a particular substance and explained that it involved, “Blacking out on hard liquor and thinking, if I just switched to beer, I could avoid a blackout. I was always trying to find the right combination of different types of alcohol and/or drugs to take me to that place, but I always ended up in some stranger’s bed, in jail, passed out in my own vomit or in the unemployment line. The results that I ended up with were never the same as my intentions. I was just going to stop for ‘one.’ What I discovered was it wasn’t the tenth beer or the fifth shot that lead to the consequences I experienced. It wasn’t the whiskey, the wine or the combination of drugs that I took, with or without alcohol. It was the first hit, the first snort, the first shot, drink or drag. It was always that first one that set my disease into motion resulting in the negative consequences that I experienced. For me, one is too many and a thousand is never enough.” Betsy had my attention. I had never thought about it that way and it made sense to me. Betsy spoke of how the solution for her was in the steps, but, when she first came into the program, she had a problem with the word “God.” Me too! At that point I stopped writing and just listened to what she was saying. She was sharing my experience, and I wanted to know how she overcame this God issue. If it had worked for her, maybe it could work for me.
“Someone shared with me the concept of using the word God as an acronym for Group of Drunks or Druggies but to make sure they were drunks and druggies that were in the rooms of recovery. I also thought ‘I’ could do this on my own until I heard someone in the rooms share that they hadn’t developed a lifestyle of drinking and drugging on their own. If I wanted recovery, I was going to need others to teach me how to do this as well. The first word in each step is ‘We,’ and I have to remember that I can’t do recovery alone.”
While reflecting on Betsy’s words I thought about how I needed others to teach me how to smoke pot. I needed easy access to alcohol as a kid. I needed my friends to teach me how to make a pipe out of a toilet paper role, how to mix drinks, how to cook and smoke cocaine, where and how to find drugs, how to weigh and package them and more. I had never thought about that either. In that meeting I realized I didn’t know how to live my life without using something. Just like Betsy I was going to need this group of drunks and druggies in recovery, the “we” of this program, to teach me how to live a happy life without using something.
Betsy became my first sponsor. She was my sponsor for the first two years of my recovery. I learned a lot from her. Prior to her moving we worked together with Paris, who would become my next sponsor. I have continued to follow the original “recovery prescription” that I learned that day.
One of the most profound things I’ve learned is that recovery isn’t just about not drinking and drugging. I don’t blackout anymore, hurt anyone or get arrested, and by continuing to “work it,” I now have a life that I love! I have health. I have purpose. I have passion. I have a wonderful family life. I have true friends. I’m active in my community. I have a job that I love, and “the promises” are prevalent in my life today. I know a new freedom, a new happiness, I comprehend the word serenity and know peace and my whole attitude and outlook upon life has changed for the better. If you’re contemplating this “recovery thing,” please give yourself a break! If it worked for me, I know it can work for you too. My sobriety date is February 5, 1987. Keep coming back! It works if “we” work it!