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The List – Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, Abuse and Pain

My therapist has asked me to write down a list.

A list of all the traumatic experiences that have happened to me in my life, that have contributed to my Bipolar Disorder and PTSD.

Right now, my therapist doesn’t feel as though I’m ready for the therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). As far as I understand, I have to relive my traumatic experiences, have the proper emotional response, get over it, then have Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) so I can develop some sort of coping mechanism for the future. But until my medications are adjusted and I’m in a better place, I have to wait.

So, here is my list:

Sexual abuse around age 3 by a family member. I repressed this memory until it slapped me in the face at age 12, causing an intense anxiety attack.

Constant arguing between my parents, thanks to my father’s alcoholism, gambling, and pain issues due to needing a hip replacement. The pain issue turned into an anger issue; turned into a power tool being thrown at my mother, missing, and going through the window and landing at my feet; followed by an argument on a holiday with my father resulting in me taking a heavy duty power torch to the head.

As a “gifted child,” I was bullied a lot in primary school and high school. I still carry some of those emotional scars with me.

Funnily enough, my brain is currently trying to stop me from accessing more memories. Suck it, brain; stop being a whiny bitch and let me write this shit out.

When I was 16, my mother – being severely depressedattempted suicide several times. The last time she tried, she had an argument with my father (now a better man, nothing like his days in my earlier life), and downed a ton of pills. I found her and her suicide note. I actively suppress the things written on that note, but if I actively access that memory, the note started with “I no longer fear death. In fact, I embrace it.” That sentence haunts me in my dreams. She is fine now, thankfully, but I refused to talk about it with anyone and pretended it never happened.

I was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder when I had a panic attack at high school so bad my heart rate was 180, and I had to be rushed to hospital for fear of doing damage to my heart. Since that day, I regularly have palpitations.

I had a psychotic episode at 17, when voices told me to stab my mother. I became paralyzed in my own bed while lights shone down from the ceiling, and I was convinced aliens were coming for me, despite my logical brain telling me I was being stupid.

I was diagnosed with endometriosis and told I should probably have children before 25. I’m currently a week away from my 24th birthday.

I moved out of my family home to the capital of my state to attend university. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at this stage, and promiscuity, sleepless nights, shopping sprees, and severe irritability kicked in.

I dated a Muslim man for eight months. Toward the end of the relationship, I was emotionally abused, when he called me a dog. I went running into the arms of a male friend.

I decided I was the worst person in the world and went off screwing any guy who looked my way, drinking myself into oblivion, and eating pills like candy, just to numb the pain. I wanted to be used. I asked my male friend – now my fuck buddy – if he was using me for sex. He replied yes. I cried and said, “good.” Turned out he wasn’t using me: he was in love with me; as a result of my promiscuity, and his inability to tell me how he felt, he quit university, broken-hearted.

I started dating my current partner, whom I have been with for five years now. We lived with his sister, her fiancé, and their daughter. His sister is a lazy bully who cannot look after herself, let alone children (currently a total of three). Her fiancé is a violent, alcoholic gambler. After being made a prisoner in my own bedroom, we got our own place.

My diagnosis of fibromyalgia explained my constant pain and tiredness. Yay for inheriting every single shitty illness my parents have.

Recently, I have started to have feelings for a close friend, who also has a partner. While drunk, we have made  out twice. I have feelings for him, but he is just attracted to me. I have immense guilt over betraying my partner, who is emotionally stunted. I think I’m just attracted to my friend because he has the social and emotional skills my partner lacks.

I was severely bullied at my last job until I began having daily panic attacks and getting into a screaming matches with a higher-up and former friend.

I decided to self-harm and contemplated suicide when the medication I was taking for five years stopped working. Unfortunately, while the medication stopped working, my now non-existent libido did not return.
Have also suffered Dermatillomania (chronic skin-picking) for most of my life, particularly my feet. It is disgusting.

Currently, I am plagued by insomnia, headaches, anxiety, shame, severe depression, guilt, and every other horrible feeling imaginable. According to my therapist, I have feelings of low self-worth. According to my friends, I have a much lower opinion of myself than everyone else does of me.

I am both numb and emotionally unstable. I can’t cry, even though I really want to let it out. I think of myself as selfish and horrible, a terrible person who doesn’t deserve what I have. I theorize that I have some subconscious need to sabotage myself.  Every time something is going well, just to add some drama in my life. Why I do this, I don’t know. And as I have written this list in such a cold, emotionless manner, I find it odd that I can be so numb and feel so many negative emotions at the same time. I feel like a robot.

I don’t want sympathy. At least, I don’t think I do. I am just tired. Tired of struggling through every day with these issues. I want the problems to just magically disappear because I’m tired of fighting.

I know it’s a long road ahead to my recovery. And as much as I don’t want to relive the aforementioned memories, I am also excited for the first time in ages because maybe, finally, with proper therapy…

…maybe I’ll finally get some peace and closure.

Child Abuse Awareness Week: Fields of Purple Flowers

April is child abuse awareness month and we at The Band intend to highlight the stories of those who’ve suffered from this form of abuse. There damage child abuse leaves in its wake can last a lifetime:

This is her story:

Her first memory became her second memory once they started coming back, a piece at a time.

The old first memory, in her words:

“My stepfather has brought me into the back part of the house that we used as a living room.  I am maybe four years old, maybe younger.  I am very happy, as the Monster is being nice to me.  I have a dress on, black patent-leather shoes with buckles and white ankle socks with ruffles. The couch is plaid – brown, yellow, green.  His hand is on my knee and he is rubbing my leg, smiling at me. I don’t remember him taking off my panties, but they are gone.  I am not concerned, I am just happy he is not hitting me, he is not yelling at me, he is smiling at me and I feel safe for the first time in a long time.  His hand is under my dress and he is rubbing me and I have this strange feeling in my belly.

Out of nowhere, the most tremendous blinding pain I have ever felt.  I try to scream, I try to move.  He has his hand over my mouth and is holding down.  The pain is unbearable.  He is smiling.  I can’t breathe.  The pain is excruciating.  Am I dying?  Is he finally killing me?  What is he doing?  Why is he hurting me like this?  As suddenly as it started, it is over.  He gets up and leaves the room and I curl up in a ball sobbing.  He returns with a washrag and rolls me over on my back spreading my legs again.  The rag is moist and cold, he wipes me.  I lay there terrified the pain will start again.  When I see the rag, it is covered in blood and still he is smiling.”

She ran away then, into the fields of purple flowers. She ran and ran, finally falling down into the tall grass.  The sun went down, it got dark, and though she was afraid of the dark, she was more afraid of him.  Later she hears voices calling her name.  Her mother, her aunt, her brother.  Her mother crying for her, she stands up and hollers “Mama!”  Her mother runs to her, crying, saying “My baby is OK!  My baby is OK!”

Back at the house, her mother asks her why she ran away. She tells her.

“She slapped me so hard across the face that I was knocked several feet backwards and fell to the floor.  She screamed at me, that I was a liar and sent me to my room. I sobbed, hurting from the pain in my bottom and the pain in my heart, knowing that I was going to die.  He was going to kill me.  There was no one to stop him.  So I did what all good Christian girls did:  I prayed to God that I would die in my sleep before morning.

That was the longest night of my life. Somewhere in the night I fell asleep.  When I woke up, the Monster was smiling down at me once more.  My heart was racing and I knew I was about to die and he just kept smiling.  He puts one hand on either side of my head holding me down by my long brown hair, and smiling the whole time, he said, ‘She didn’t believe you, she never will and if you ever try to tell again I will kill you.’  Then, like nothing ever happened, he walks to the door, opens it, and calmly says, ‘Breakfast is ready when you are.’”

She later remembered a time in the car, when she was much smaller.  Three, maybe, almost four.  Her mother was asleep in the back.  She was on his lap, “driving”, a policeman is yelling at her Daddy.  “Where are your shoes?  Why are your pants unzipped?  What is going on here?”  She had a little dress on.  He hadn’t hurt her yet.

How did her mother sleep through the policeman, through the yelling?  Or was she asleep at all?

Her words:

“After the first night when I was raped by my stepfather and ran away, two things happened.  Because I had run away, a lock was placed on the outside of my door.  Every night when I went to bed I was locked into my room.  From then on, when mother passed out at night from her ‘nerve pills’ and alcohol, Monster was guaranteed easy access to me.”

The abuse came from her mother as well.  She wasn’t “Vicki” anymore, she was “bitch, slut, liar, whore.”  Any infraction of any kind was met with blunt force, blows to the head, back, ribs, whatever was closest.  Her fingers were held over an open flame until the skin bubbled and blistered.

In a few years, it was not just Vicki who was being sexually tortured, it was her two brothers.  And then the brother and sister that her mother had with the Monster.

When did it end?

You want to know how long it went on?

Vicki was fourteen years old when her stepfather finally went to prison for his crimes.  A caring neighbor finally heard her, believed her, and confronted her mother.  Her mother had the option to help provide evidence against him or be charged as an accomplice.

Perhaps worst of all, her mother did not leave the Monster.  When the Monster got out of prison?  He left HER.

Vicki is my sister.

Vicki is my hero.

Vicki has spent most of her life overcoming the most horrific kind of abuse imaginable and despite it, despite every bit of it – the foster care, the beatings, the years of alcohol and drug abuse to blur and erase the memories – she has not only survived, she has overcome.  She has raised a son who is now in college.  She was married to the love of her life until she lost him to a sudden heart attack.  She is the strongest, most self sufficient woman I have ever had the privilege to meet in my life.

I thank God for many things, but most often I thank Him for two things:

That Vicki is my sister.  And that I?  Was relinquished by her mother at birth to adoption.

My sister thanks God that I was given up for adoption.  Which makes me weep.

My sister is a survivor.

The Story of Me

My story all begins in August of 1976. My birth mother was 17 years old and pregnant with me. My mom already had one child, my sister who was four years older than me, so my mother was 13 when she gave birth to my sister. My sister was taken by the state and was considered unadoptable because she sat in the corner and rocked back and forth.

Fast forward to 1976. I have been told that my birth mother’s parents informed her that she had already made one mistake (my sister) and if she had me they would disown her, so she threw herself down two flights of stairs. She went into labor from the fall and, because she was only seven or so months along in her pregnancy, I only weighed 4 lbs. 5 oz. at birth, but I survived.

My birth mother took me home and life began. It was said she was a drug user and abuser, and while she was under the influence, she would hold me underwater to watch the bubbles come up. I was told she used my bottom as her personal ashtray, and that she used her food stamps to buy drugs (at that time food stamps were like paper money, and were traded for real money or drugs).

Elsewhere, my adoptive mother was telling her best friend that all she wanted for Christmas was a baby. The best friend had a sister and that sister knew my birth mother. One day, when my future adoptive mother’s husband was at work, he came out to his car and there I was. I was dressed in a dirty T-shirt that had been used as a makeshift diaper. He zipped me up in his coat–it was winter in Charlotte, NC–and took me home. He walked into the house and unzipped his coat to show me my future adoptive mom.

Adoption proceedings began, but I was returned to my birth mother. She burned all the dresses my adoptive mother bought and didn’t use the burn cream for my bottom. My birth mother tried to stop the adoption because she would lose her welfare benefits. The judge approved the adoption and at 14 months old and 11 pounds, I was finally adopted.

When I was about two, my mother’s marriage ended; her husband threatened to kill me because I wouldn’t stop crying. We moved back home with her parents and we lived with them until my mom remarried. Her husband adopted me to give me his last name.

Every time I was adopted, my birth certificate was legally changed to represent my current parents and their respective ages at the time I was born. However, many years later I told my mother than I had been abused by a family member and she confided in me that her father, my granddaddy, whom I called daddy for years, had molested her. Only after she returned home with me after the end of her marriage, did she confront him and say it was over. I think she got pregnant by him, moved away, remarried and had me.

Every time I tried to talk about my adoption and wanted to search, she would tell me to talk to my granddaddy; he was supposed to have all the paperwork. When I asked him, he would tell me to go see my mom, that she had the papers. This man never threw anything away, so it’s odd to me that the papers were never found, which also makes me think something shady happened. But no one in the family who is left will talk about it.

My granddaddy was a raging alcoholic for years and only stopped drinking when the doctor told him if he didn’t he would die. He abused my uncles and my mom.

My records are sealed, as it was all considered a private adoption, and unless I have a terminal illness or need an organ that my children can’t provide, I’d have to petition the courts to unseal my records, and they can still deny the request.

I don’t know the truth for sure and it doesn’t really matter, I guess, other than to finally have answers. I hold no ill will toward anyone involved, no matter which story is true. I feel bad that my mom suffered that abuse. I’ve been abused sexually and I know how that feels. I just wish I could know the truth just so I’d know where I belong. I have an awesome husband and three great kids, so I have a family. I’d just like to have medical information. So there it is my story I hope it helps.

A Letter I Can’t Send: Edge Of Crazy: Lesson #12

my dad was, and still is, a serious control freak. he wants everything to go his way, all the time, forever. His need to control + my rebellious streak – any display of love or affection = a seriously fucked up child.

dad,

i’d love to write this on my regular blog, but it would upset the people who know me (and we both know that i shouldn’t upset others, right?), so i’m writing it on the down-low. anyway, this is more for me than for you, because you would never admit to fucking up. mom has put up with a lot of shit to stay married to you for 44 years, but i don’t feel sorry for her because we both know she loves to play the martyr. you two are a textbook case of how not to raise a daughter, and i’ll get to mom in another blog. this one’s for you-

i know that you and mom “had” to get married. i know that you weren’t thrilled about it. i also know that you really wanted a son, but you got me instead. while i made do with the john deere tractor and matching wagon, you and i both know i really wanted the barbie corvette. so barbie and her friends went on lots of hayrides, no biggie. because i loved you.

lesson #1- be happy with whatever i get and don’t be disappointed; any affection i may receive depends on this.

we had fun when i was little. we played football with pillows in the trailer that i grew up in, you pretended to be a horse so i could ride on your back. except you always bucked me off, every time. you’d hide in the bathroom down the narrow hall and call to me and when i came to you, you’d jump out of the dark and scare me. i hated that game, and tried to refuse, but mom would insist i go every time. when mom called that dinner was ready, you’d always hold me back and say that i didn’t get to eat. even though i knew it was a game, i didn’t like it. now that i think about it, your sense of humor was somewhat sadistic. but i didn’t see it that way at the time. because i loved you.

lesson #2 – play along, even when i don’t want to.

when i was small, and did something wrong, you whipped me. you had that fucking collection of belts and always made me pick one. i took a long time choosing, hoping you would change your mind, but you never did. i always chose the red, white, and blue one, because if i had to get whipped, it should be with a pretty belt. and it wasn’t just one or two times. no, you beat my ass. and bare legs. and back. and arms.

i stole some of your coin collection to use in the gum ball machine at the trailer court. it was only a couple of wheat pennies and a dime, but you found me at the gum ball machine and my heart got stuck in my throat. you had a wire coat hanger in your right hand and it was summer and i was wearing shorts. you beat me with that wire hanger all the way to the trailer and that was a long way and i couldn’t run fast because i was only 4. and still, i loved you.

and that time you got mad ’cause mom made chili in july. i was still in a highchair, even though i was 3. i dumped my chili onto the metal tray and you swore at me for wasting food. you grabbed me by my shirt and pulled me out of the highchair. my legs got all cut up because you didn’t take the tray off first. then you threw me on the floor of the living room, and that’s how my favorite top got ripped. then you grabbed a belt from your collection and started beating me and you wouldn’t stop. mom finally pulled you away and threw you out. she let you come back, though. because she needed you more than she loved me. i asked mom to fix my top, but she threw it away instead.

lesson #3 – i am bad, and being hurt by someone i love is acceptable. in fact, i should expect it. i need to learn the art of survival, nobody else is going to protect me.

you have never told me you loved me. never. not once. you have never told me you are proud of me. not ever. not when i graduated from college, or grad school, or got straight a’s, or stuck with my crappy marriage for so long, or left said crappy marriage when it was time. i craved your approval like an addict craves that next hit off the pipe, knowing it will never be enough. and i chased after your approval the way a child chases their shadow, knowing that they will never catch it but always hoping against hope that this time might be different. and i never hated you for it. instead, i hated myself for not being enough.

lesson #4 – it’s not you. it’s me. and it will always be me, even when it’s you.

you had a girlfriend on the side, beginning when i was 5, and ending around the time i went away to college. i know this because i rode the bus with her son in high school. he told me all about how you’d come over on christmas day when he was little. i always wondered why you left after we’d opened presents. you were going to your other family. the one with two boys.

remember that time when i was a senior in high school and my friend viki and i saw your truck at your girlfriend’s house? i rang the doorbell and asked your girlfriend if you were there and i told her who i was. after viki and i drove away, we hid in a driveway and watched you speed past us in your truck, racing towards home. and we laughed because we knew you couldn’t touch me. not unless you wanted to tell mom what you were so pissed about.

mom still doesn’t know about that time i called your girlfriend at work and called her a whore and a bitch and demanded that army picture of you back. the one that mom kept asking about and you kept telling her that you’d left it in your locker at work. only it wasn’t in your locker, was it? it was on your girlfriend’s tv, because her son told me. you brought the picture home that night. that’s when you stopped looking me in the eye and started hating me. because you’d been caught by your daughter. and i began to hate you right back.

and when you suddenly decided not to pay for grad school, i became a stripper to pay for it myself. because i had learned the art of survival.

lesson #5 – i have nothing to lose and it feels good to be a bitch.

you stopped hugging me when i turned 10, and i’m pretty sure it had something to do with my going through puberty. especially when you went on a trip and brought me back that cleveland browns sweatshirt, threw it in my general direction while averting your eyes and said, “here, this will cover up your bumps.” nice way to encourage a young girl to have pride in her body. so i started covering up my bumps, all the time. when i was in my late 20’s, i got rid of my bumps altogether by developing anorexia. then i had to cover up my bones. i began to loathe myself.

lesson #6 – my body is sexual, and sexuality is bad.

the only birthday of mine that you ever came to was when i turned 5. i still remember it because that’s the birthday i got my first barbie. you took her away and wouldn’t give her back. you thought that was funny and i played along so you would stay. to this day, i occasionally find myself playing along, for fear of being abandoned or pissing someone off. when i was 17, you never came to my high school graduation. i know this because when i got home after the ceremony, the ticket i’d left for you on the kitchen table was still there. you were still pissed about me finding you at your girlfriend’s two months prior, and calling her at her job. because i’d stopped playing along.

lesson #7 – when i stop playing along, you will hate me.

in high school, you started to have me followed, instead of sitting me down and asking me about what was going on in my life, you got kids from the trailer court to tell you shit about me, a full $5 for each bit of information. that’s how you found out i smoked, drank, got high, and had a black best friend. you even sent two guys on my fucking spring break trip to daytona beach. i know this because on the last night, we all got drunk together and they told me. then they proceeded to tell me your name, my full name, where i lived and what you wanted to know. i wasn’t even safe from you 1,000 miles away.

can i just tell you how fucked up that is? that is seriously fucked up. i was the most paranoid teenager i knew, even without the pot.

you made me stop being friends with kim, you beat my ass when you found out i smoked and you grounded me for three months for drinking. fuck you. i started getting high with my dealer’s 16-year-old wife before school, i went through the bottle of vodka you had hidden in your cupboard, filling it with water instead. that’s right dad, the more you tightened the screws, the more i fucked up. i went to school drunk every day, or high, or both. i hid beers in my bedroom and drank them when you were asleep. i smoked in the bathroom after you and mom left for work. i feared getting caught, but the rush was incredible.

lesson #8 – my father is out to get me, and he will always find me.

you wouldn’t let me date the same guy twice, because you didn’t want me to get pregnant, the way mom did. you wanted me to get an education and be someone. or something. not for my sake, but so that you could say you had a college-educated child. and i was so terrified of getting pregnant that i didn’t had sex until i was 19. and then i slept with every guy i wanted to when i went away to college. because i could, and you had never taught me to respect my body. you had only taught me to get away with whatever i could. i never enjoyed the sex, but being sneaky felt awesome.

lesson #9 – sex is about power and revenge.

when i was in my final year of grad school, i met my future husband, only i didn’t know it at the time. i was smart and i knew about birth control. but when you should have taught me confidence, i learned fear. where self-esteem should have been, there was an empty well, waiting to be filled by someone else’s ideas and beliefs. fear of abandonment took the place of knowing my own worth. standing my ground was replaced by an aching need to please, at any cost. so when my future husband said “no rubbers, please” i said “ok”. because i needed to be loved, and i was afraid of losing him.

lesson #10 – do whatever i have to do make other people happy. my thoughts and feelings don’t count and should be kept to myself. they will only make others stop loving me.

and then i got pregnant. your biggest fear. and because you were my biggest fear, and because i didn’t believe in myself, and because my boyfriend didn’t want a baby and because i didn’t want to be abandoned, i had an abortion. then the self-hatred really kicked in.

lesson #11 – all decisions should be based on fear.

it has taken me 20+ years to undo what you did to me. everyday i untangle a bit more of the knot, trying to smooth out the yarn. it’s still good yarn, and everyday i knit myself.

lesson #12 – you made me stronger, smarter, tougher and braver. so fuck you.

My Situation Does Not Define Me

I’m so glad I found this place.

I was feeling so alone. I freeze when I meet people I don’t know. My parents have messed me up big time. My mother, who I no longer have anything to do with, is a bisexual, bipolar mess. My father is an alcoholic who gets in touch to ease his own conscience. I’ve been doing it alone for years. Some days, I am strong for my two girls; others I’m a mess and feel like a failure who yells.

My brother, who is now disabled after being attacked in jail, cannot speak: he can only say yes and no. My mother decided to kill him “for his own good,” or so she says. Her only punishment was home detention and supervision.

I’m getting off track….

I feel I’m the only sane one in a big storm that’s only just starting to subside. I get lost in the mess or drama at times. I am more than that. I am not just a product of two alcoholic parents. I am my own person. I am a young woman who has endured too much in her short life. I want to be free of it all. I keep myself going by keeping busy with cleaning, gardening…I’m an artist who has an opinion.

I want to say to anyone out there who has a messed up family life that you are not alone: it does get better. Your situation does not make you who you are. I would love to talk to anyone who feels the same in this life. Please
feel free to share, too.

Sober October #35

She knew I was home by the trail of vomit that started at the front door and lead to the bedroom where I had passed out. My mother, her fiance, and my brother had been out all day. They did some family bonding outing that I had no interest in. Think vampires in sunlight enthusiasm, I did not want to go. I had better plans, with an empty apartment for several hours, I could party.

Now the term “party” was pretty inconsistent. I didn’t have much money, a place to go, or any kind of real plan but that did not deter me. I found some other bored teens to hang out with and we decided to find some trouble. So in our quest to “party” with no plan and no funds, we decided to hitchhike. Sad part is this wasn’t the first time we used this as a means to get high or drunk, it was “party roulette.” We never knew who would pick us up and what adventure awaited us. I cringe at the old memory, the sheer stupidity of it, and the absolute lack of self-preservation. Pure insanity.

The details are a blur. They were a blur 35 years ago and they haven’t sharpened with the passing of time. I know I got drunk with strangers. I was in and out of a black out. I remember asking the driver to pull over so I could vomit. Somehow I stumbled up the steep wooden steps to our shabby apartment above the local hardware store. I don’t know how much time passed before my mother found me and insisted I was drunk.

I was a good liar then. I could think up shit on the spot like my life depended on it. I feigned the flu, a stomach bug, so many classmates had it. I convinced my mother’s fiance and my brother that was the case. Mom wasn’t having it. She took me to the Emergency Room to confirm her suspicions, I was busted.

My mother knew a thing or two about drunks, she was in the infancy stage of getting sober and it wasn’t her first attempt. I like to joke that my gene pool is polluted and it is, mostly with alcoholism and heart disease. At 15, I was pretty safe from heart disease but alcoholism doesn’t have a minimum age, that bastard.

Fast forward a few days and I was greeted with “you’re going to rehab” when I got home from school. I had 12 hours to say my good-byes and then I was off. I had no idea what to expect but I figured I could get some street cred from the experience. To say I was flippant is an understatement. I had no intention of getting sober. I was just doing time, garnering pages for my future memoir.

My mother drove me to the place which was a little more than an hour from where we lived. It was in Long Branch, New Jersey and was billed as an adolescent rehab, it formerly served as school for troubled boys. Part of it looked like an old house and part of it looked like a dorm. Guys and girls were separated by common rooms. There was a cafeteria in the basement with intake, detox, and a nurses station on the second floor.

I remember getting asked a series of personal questions in the intake office. Based on some of the questions, I didn’t think I belonged. I mean I never lost a job or drove drunk (psst…still 15). I was focused on finding the “not me” which I later learned would be “not yet” if I continued on the path I was on. The place was only open about a month when I arrived, the smell of fresh paint still lingered in parts of the sprawling building.

I remember the first time I walked into the Day Room, “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash was playing. There were maybe a dozen residents there all between the ages 14 and 17. They came from a range of backgrounds and they all had way more experience than me. Most of them had been arrested for a variety of similar reasons and almost all came from broken families. It was misfit island for teens with a fairly structured daily schedule. We had job assignments, group therapy and some type of meeting, AA or NA. On Sundays a couple came in to bring us their version of Christianity.

The place was so new it was still working out the kinks. Kids were pairing up and couples could be seen holding hands in the Day Room. Most of the staff there were sober an average of 2.5 years and were deep into the zealot phase of recovery (that usually winds down sometime after the 5th year). I don’t know what qualifications they had beyond early sobriety. The counselors were more skilled and had some credentials.

I learned a lot in that place and much of it has followed me all these years. I remember reading the Twelve Steps of AA on a poster. Foolish girl, I thought I could get through a chunk of them just by reading them and giving them a moment’s thought. These steps provided a road map for living and I still abide by them.

THE TWELVE STEPS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

*Copyright  1952, 1953, 1981 by Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing (now known as Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.)
All rights reserved.

I know there’s a lot of God stuff in those steps. Relax, it’s a God of your understanding, a Higher Power (HP). I have heard some interesting spins on HP over the years….some people have used their home AA/NA group as their Higher Power. I once heard someone speak that stated Jack Daniels was their Higher Power because it was stronger than them. Another friend chose Good-Orderly-Direction as their G-O-D. I stopped judging this stuff decades ago and life got a whole bunch simpler.

About three days into my stay something remarkable happened. I was in the bedroom that I shared with a roommate but I was alone. I can still see myself sitting there with my white jeans and favorite scarf, a beam of light shone in through the window closest to my bed, near where I was sitting. People call it a spiritual awakening, for me it was an awareness that changed my life forever. In that moment, I got a clear picture of the destructive path my life was on. I also got an intense soul deep understanding that it did not have to stay that way. In that powerful moment I felt the presence of something greater than me and I made a decision to get sober. I have been faithful to that decision for nearly 35 years now.

This longevity of sobriety is somewhat rare. What’s really exotic is getting and staying sober at such a young age. I can only take partial credit for that. That loving, crazy and ever vigilant HP that watches over me has done most of the heavy lifting. I have also met a thousand sober angels along the way. People that guided me through different phases of my life. The ones that told me the harsh truths but always with a solution or helpful suggestion. I’ve also met people that determined I could not possibly be an alcoholic because I got sober so young. I don’t try to win them over with stories of the stupid shit I did for my brief time using. I do remind myself of something I learned long ago in that rehab….”it isn’t how much or how long you drank that matters, it’s what happens when”. When I drank I always put myself in harm’s way, always.

If I can pinpoint one thing that has kept me sober it’s probably the realization that being sober is actually the easier, softer way. That probably sounds nuts to people who aren’t familiar with alcoholism but it’s the truth. If staying sober was harder than being drunk, I would have gotten drunk long ago. Down to my toes I believe that this is the best path for me and that’s why I’ve stayed on it so long.