There are only two ways to live your life. One is though nothing is a miracle. The other is though everything is a miracle. – Albert Einstein
I’m guess anyone who has not been personally affected by substance abuse isn’t aware that September is National Alcohol and Addictions Recovery Month.
Don’t feel too badly; recovery from addiction, while not the taboo subject that it was 20 years ago, when I got sober, is still not openly discussed by the general public. There is still stigma and shame directed toward people in recovery from folks who believe that being addicted to a substance is a choice, one that with the right amount of willpower, can be reversed.
My name is Beth; I’m a recovering alcoholic
I’d like to share a bit of my story with you in hopes that during this national month of recovery, you’ll see that addiction–definitely not a choice for me–holds within its grasp the promises of a fulfilling life.
I grew up in the Kansas City, MO area, the older child in a middle-class family of four. My parents were hardworking, blue-collar folks who wanted the moon and stars for my brother and me but also made sure we knew that the celestial skies weren’t free.
My dad was a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of guy, a man’s man. His daily mission was to provide for his family, and come day’s end, when his job was done, it was his deserved right to kick back with a few cold ones.
Alcohol was a part of my home life as far back as I remember
When I was old enough to reach the refrigerator door, Dad asked me to bring him a beer. My reward was to stand by his side as he popped the top on the can, pulled off the tab and let me drink what he called “the poison,” or the first swallow.
Little did I know how prophetic those words would become 25 years later.
I need to say that I do not blame my alcoholism on my dad; the disease permeates both sides of my family and I believe I was born predisposed to be affected. My brother and I have had long discussions about how we were raised under the same conditions and he is able to have a beer or a cocktail–one, mind you–and not want anymore.
That’s the difference between my brother and me
I cannot have one beer. Oh, I can intend to–with every fiber of my being–and I may even succeed. But I can guarantee that if I do have only one, I will obsess about when I can have more. I will connive and manipulate and perhaps even lie and cheat to ensure that I do get what I want, which is more alcohol at any cost.
The repeated scenario is one in which I consume as much as I possibly can of mine and yours, I end up doing something physical that, at a minimum causes severe embarrassment, and have no recollection of the next day. I start out as the life of the party. I am witty, people fawn over my stimulating conversation and groups gather around to see what’s happening with the in crowd.
That is only the start.
If I’m lucky, I’ll make it home without injuring myself, or God forbid, harming someone else. If it’s a bad night, your guess is as good as mine where I’ll end up. There will be consequences, perhaps even severe penalties.
But I don’t care because without alcohol, I am a woman with a hole in her gut the size of Texas. I’m a little girl in a woman’s body whose maturation process was severely impacted by introducing poison to her developing brain and nervous system (Science has proven that a child’s brain does not finish developing until the age of 25).
Alcoholism is known as a disease of perception
I perceived I was different because I felt different as a child. I perceived that I was the square peg in a round hole because I felt different growing up. I perceived that alcohol filled the empty places inside me because when I drank I became different.
Active addiction to alcohol was a way of life for me–through high school, college and eight years into working in my chosen field. I desperately sought to fill the gaping hole, even as I fought my own stigmatized thinking that said alcoholics were skid row bums who couldn’t hold jobs and certainly didn’t own homes.
You see, I didn’t lose any of those things.
I became the successful professional my parents wanted me to be. I became the first person in my mother’s family to graduate college–never mind that I don’t remember my classes, professor’s names or the commencement ceremony because I was in an alcoholic blackout.
I had a job waiting for me when I graduated; I traveled on an expense account; by all outward appearances, I had made it.
And yet, I was slowly dying inside, a diminishing death perpetuated by no self-esteem, so sense of pride, no belief in my own worth.
How did a girl from the suburbs of Kansas City, adored by her family, reach this point of wanting to die?
To me, that question is not nearly as importantly as this one:
Why on May 20, 1991, did I suddenly want to live?
There were no sudden burning bushes of religious conversion. There were no ultimatums of “get sober or else.” I did not experience an intervention–loving or otherwise. I did not get carted away to an inpatient treatment center. I did not face a judge or a jury.
I simply surrendered to a power greater than myself that I still suspected existed. I gave in to my disease after watching and listening to a surrogate-mother figure describe how her son was trying to get clean from drugs. I connected with the description of his pain and I let a seed be planted.
I knew I was through “handling” my drinking.
It was no longer working. I will forever believe that God graced me with the intuition that now–May 20, 1991–was my chance, perhaps my one chance, to get sober and begin to rebuild my life.
I had no clue how I was supposed to even begin to think about what that process looked like.
But my heart knew it was time.
Every recovering person’s path to sobriety is just a little different because our paths of destruction are each a bit different. If we’re lucky, we get to arrive at a point of hopeless despair because that is the point in which we can say without any further reservation, “I can’t. He can. I think I’ll let Him.”
I believe that without God’s intervention in my life–through my surrogate mother and her son’s story 20 years ago–there is a good chance I wouldn’t have survived to experience the fabulous life I live today.
Here’s the part that is hard for non-alcoholics and addicts to grasp:
I am singularly grateful for every ounce of alcohol, every demoralizing stunt, every disgusting morning after and every price I paid in the name of “having fun.”
Why? Because each of those things had to happen just as they did so that I can experience the miracle of recovery.
And that is why Recovery Month is precious to me. I get to celebrate, along with millions of others, the rebirth of people who were once written off as useless losers who “could stop if they really wanted to.”
Please know that recovery takes much more than desire. If you know someone actively addicted, please educate yourself about the disease of addiction along with the hope of recovery. A great place to start is www.drugfree.org. Who knows? You could plant a seed that one day helps someone like me begin a life that is incredible beyond our wildest imaginations.
Miracles happen every day. Mine did. Many more await their opportunity.
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