Dear Guest House Family,
What an utterly wonderful surprise today when I opened the mail and received your beautiful Peace card in celebration of my 30th sober anniversary!!! Your kindness has touched me so deeply! I thought, “How do I thank you,” and then I thought, “What better way to thank all of you who may still be struggling with alcohol than to share my story with you?” It’s not that my story is so great, but rather I hope it shows you that being sober is simply, absolutely, and positively FABULOUS! Believe me, it is all worth the initial struggle, because everything just gets better and better and better. In time, you each will find yourself becoming comfortable with yourself: becoming comfortable with your world, and-with all that comfort-you will be able comfortably to do things you never imagined you could do. So to begin at the beginning, my adventure, in fact, starts in Michigan. Born to a family with alcoholism (no surprise-research is increasingly substantiating alcoholism to be not only a disease, but also an inherited disease based not on will- power or the lack thereof, but rather on brain chemical imbalances-! also had the good fortune along the way to do post-graduate study in our disease), I remember the parties and the yachts and all the fun, always accompanied with alcohol. After growing up in Grosse Pointe with all kinds of golf: yacht, and country club parties and then spending summers on the Jersey shore with more parties and adult drinking, I was off to Michigan where I immediately fell in love with football Saturdays. Football Saturdays were basically a hundred proof: starting with pre-parties going on to drinking whatever the fraternity of choice brought into the game and then fabulous post-parties lasting until the wee hours. Keep in mind, during this time I wasn’t much of a drinker-but I loved everything that went with drinking-the dating, the dancing, the socializing, all of it. Even as a child, I remember I had, on the one hand, my beautiful, elegant, serene, blond mother and, on the other hand, my Aunt Betty with the yacht on the shore, black hair and ruby nails, and a VO in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Guess which one I wanted to be just like! After college, I taught for a year at St. Gertrude’s in St. Clair Shores and then went off to D.C. for a short lived career in merchandising. Returning to Grosse Pointe, I became engaged, married my husband at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club, and then moved with him to New Jersey, where I returned to teaching. I remember the day alcohol first had an affect on me as clearly as if it were yesterday. I was teaching at a middle school four minutes from my home, and early one afternoon we were done after an in-service day with no students. I invited several teaching friends back to my home, and one came across the back lawn with a gallon of wine in each hand. Now, I had been around alcohol all my life and had had wine many times before, but for the first time in my life-sitting out on the patio on that beautiful day in May with all the relaxed goodwill and camaraderie-! felt the warm glow of wine. And I loved it. Very simply, as a female-as is common to many females-! had later onset of our disease. I note this because later onset was one of the tenets of my initial denial-“How could I be an alcoholic when I drank for so many years without a problem?” the thinking goes. In fact, most males almost immediately start drinking alcoholically, while many females have later onset of the disease, like mine (more of that post-graduate study!).
And from that warm and glowing day in May, my progression started. Buying a bottle of wine for dinner-a little in the pot, a little for me-slowly progressed to buying half gallons. Half gallons became gallons, hidden around the house. I was no fool-I grew up in Michigan and I knew, in case of snow, always have a three-day supply of everything. Of course, now I applied that rule to my wine as readily in June as I did in January. And I became an at-home drinker. Now I was home waiting to start a family, and then having my son and then my daughter. My drinking was still not too bad while I carried my son, but four years later when I carried my daughter and fetal alcohol syndrome was now known, I had to consciously and with great difficulty slow down my drinking. I dragged my four-year old son to novena after novena (yes, I was the mother out there with the four-year old crawling under the pews), praying not to drink. I delivered my daughter and she was all upside down, up all night and sleeping during the day. I needed to relax when she did sleep and, of course, we all know the solution for relaxation-a glass of wine! And now I was off to the races. My children were the anchor in my alcoholic storm. I had to know what time and day it was to get my son to school and to care for my daughter, but I knew little else. I also knew I had to make sure no one knew how much I was drinking. Thus, I went out to get the daily gallon (not quite a gallon a day-I used to figure I got a free bottle every fourth day-only dry, white, and on sale, pink Rose in a pinch!), and get rid of the empty bottle. To take care of the empties, every morning I would take out two paper towels and wipe off the fingerprints-I was no fool and had seen movies where some guy at the bar smashes a bottle, slashes some guy, and kills him and they come and arrest him. I figured that would be my luck and then the police would tell my family how much I drank, and then I would have to stop drinking. So I surely got rid of those pesky fingerprints. Does this sound like the thinking of a sane person?! I remember, also as clearly as if it were yesterday, standing at the kitchen island pouring a glass of wine at ten in morning and knowing that I was an alcoholic, and also knowing that I would die if l didn’t stop drinking and knowing that I would die if l did. I didn’t know what to do. Finally, my parents thought I was having a nervous breakdown and, since it was easier for them to handle it at home, they packed my children and me up and we went back to Grosse Pointe to have my nervous breakdown. I saw a psychiatrist at Bon Secour Hospital who might have been very bright but who knew nothing about alcoholics. He eventually sent me to an AA meeting, telling if I didn’t behave that’s where I’d end up-which is, of course, exactly where I should have been! He also put me on Antiabuse and told me if l drank I’d get very sick to my stomach. It was Thanksgiving and my children and I headed home. I came home to a disastrous marriage (it always had been, but I didn’t know that then) and the holidays, and I was drinking much less but still sneaking around drinking hidden bottles again. Then on Jan. 5, 1983, my four-year old daughter and I were going to lunch with two of my friends. Now I knew that they were going to be drinking my drug of choice, which was white wine, and I couldn’t drink, so I started drinking before they came. Fortunately, the back of our house then was all glass and, after my not answering the doorbell, they could see I wasn’t responding. The next thing I knew, I was being awakened by the paramedics with my friends and neighbor hovering over me, while my daughter was in silent shock in the comer. They had called the police to break in the front door, as I had slipped into an alcoholic coma. I was rushed to the hospital where I was filled with all kinds of drugs to stop the stroke, heart attack, or convulsions that are the result of combining alcohol and Antiabuse. In my defense, I had no idea about any of these consequences-all the doctor had said was I would get very sick to my stomach. I profoundly believe it is only through God’s grace that I lived through that day.
And now I was off to recovery. I went to Carrier Foundation and there-much like Guest House-they stopped the world and I got a chance to get off and to see my life. I was in profound denial-even after nearly dying. How could I be an alcoholic-! drank for years with no problem; I was a mom; okay, so I lived in robes but they had Dior labels; and on and on and on. And then one night at Carrier, I heard a man say, “If you were drowning and someone tossed you a life preserver, would you tear it up and throw it away? That’s what AA is for the alcoholic.” For the first time, it all made sense. I was clear enough that I could see that my life had become a living, breathing hell, chained to one bottle after another after another. That original glow from the wine that I kept drinking and drinking to find was long gone and never to return. Here I was at Carrier separated from my children whom I love more than life, and here I was given a chance to live without these life-draining shackles. And now I held onto AA. When I came home from Carrier, I felt like I was walking with sea legs. Remember, my kitchen had been my bar. But at Carrier they had told me “First night home, first meeting.” And that first night in mid February I would have crawled to a meeting. I found a meeting at a local parish and-you all are going to love this-! headed over to St. Benedict’s School. I got there and the parking lot was full. I walked in the front door of the school and thought, “Wow, this AA outside of rehab is really something. There are hundreds of people here.” I walked in and asked quite proudly-and quite loudly-“I’m just out of Carrier and where is the AA beginner’s meeting??” A lovely lady took me aside and said, “We are very happy you are here, but this is the PTA meeting. I’m not sure where there is an AA meeting, dear.” I got in the car, found another meeting in the book and then realized I had no idea where that church was, and finally ended up at a local church where I was welcomed with open arms. From that day on, I made a meeting everyday, got a sponsor, made coffee, became secretary for several groups, and did whatever wiser people told me to do. In time, I became a sponsor and then a GSR. In time, I learned I should have gone to the priest’s house and not the PTA meeting and, in time, I relocated that meeting to a church in town. In time, the hospital I almost died in called a friend and me and we were royally ushered in where we created the Sunday night meeting for the hospital. And now the adventure of sobriety began.
In time, I returned to teach at my local school. I now had the sheer joy of watching my children grow and being there for everything, good and bad, in their lives. Between raising children and AA, in time I returned to school and got my Masters in Literature. A local university tapped me to teach, and I left the local school and, in time, became a full-tenured associate professor. About the time I was going to start my doctorate, what would become the gigantic Pearson Education contacted me and offered me my first book contract. So much for the doctorate–I was off to become a textbook author whose books now go around the world teaching people how to read and write in English. I say this with all humility because I am still amazed by it-but I want all of you to know what can happen once you get sober. Literally, ANYTHING can happen! I held on to God and to AA, profoundly believed that God would never give me anything more than what I could handle in a day-sometimes a minute!, became rigorously self-honest, devotedly worked the steps-especially 1, 2, and 3-and did the necessary work to learn how to live–and, ultimately, live well!-without alcohol. It started with little things like admitting that I didn’t want a glass of wine–I wanted 3 gallons lined up that I would have to hide and that would make me sick, and admitting all that would force me to remember the horror my life had become, a horror I never want to go back to (and, yes, fear works! I don’t ever want to return to my drinking days!). I need you all to know that all the original struggle is so worth every second of struggle. This is when you lay your foundation and get honest about all the fun you were NOT having. None of us got into rehab because we were social drinkers! And you have to know that “sober” isn’t boring-it’s dynamic and alive and fabulous! Boring is a drunk babbling on and on.
“Sober” is the sheer equivalent ofbeing alive! Watching my children grow and graduate, marry, and now have their own children-these are the greatest things that could have ever happened to me. When I was at Carrier, I asked, “But what will I drink at my daughter’s wedding?” (Remember-she was four at the time!) Well, twenty years later my daughter was married at St. James Cathedral in Orlando and then celebrated at Disney’s Grand Floridian and, for my daughter’s wedding, I was sipping cranberry-on-ice poolside under palm trees-it doesn’t get better than that! Today, I go anywhere and do anything I want. And I drink all the time-I just don’t drink alcohol. I put alcohol and ammonia in the same category-either one will kill me, so I don’t drink ammonia and don’t drink alcohol. Sometimes, this disease is a great inconvenience! go to conferences that end up with wine-and-cheese get-togethers and I still don’t belong at those, not because I want to drink but because they are now outside my comfort zone. Believe me, once the desire to drink passes-and it will-This Too Shall Pass means something-it all becomes easy. And the entire world opens up to you. What gets better is you. Life goes on and stuff happens. Since I’m sober, I have buried both my parents. I’ve heard the doctor say, “It’s stage three squamous cell cancer.” In time, I found out that my husband’s father was a verbal and emotional abuser and that my husband tried to do the same to me. In recovery, I learned how to fight for myself At five years sober, I divorced my husband and was working with my priest on annulment. After my husband finally went for counseling, at ten years sober I remarried him. Our marriage is not the greatest but it’s doable-he’s mellowed and I have learned to create my own happiness and draw my own lines. With a six-year old grandson and two granddaughters on the way, I absolutely revel in life. And through all this-losing parents and cancer and a problematic marriage–I’ve never found a reason to drink. Life doesn’t get better-life happens. But we get better-we get better at meeting problems and we don’t wallow in them anymore. We move on to solving problems, one little piece at a time. Always trust in God-He will never give you any more in any day, sometimes any minute, than you can handle. Talk to God and, if you need to, yell at God. I know I did a lot of driving to meetings yelling at God. I like to think He heard me. In time, all life just gets better and better and better. So I hope I can leave each one of you with the promise that life-all of the life, the good and bad-gets FANTAS TIC! The bad becomes manageable and the good—oh, the good-the good becomes something you relish and savor and utterly celebrate. I hope you can find all the sheer joy that is sent in this missive–recovery has given me a life filled with a wondrous adventure that I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined. Stick with the beginning because it all just gets better and better and better! Thank you all again for your beautiful card. I now pray for all of you and for the safety and health of my family, and for my little grandson and my two granddaughters on the way. Since the proverbial picture is worth a thousand words, I am also enclosing my Christmas letter from this year-here we all are on the trip we took the kids to in Hawaii, a trip I can afford because at 68 I am still vibrant and healthy and alive and able to teach and enjoy a profession I love. I should have been dead that afternoon in the hospital thirty years ago. Instead, since I’m sober I’ve toured Europe with my son, prayed at the Vatican again, dined nightly outside Santa Maria Maggiore, cruised the Caribbean, built and sold a house in Naples, FL, traveled bimonthly back and forth to watch my grandson grow up in Florida, have everyone closer now, had this wonderful Hawaiian visit, and now look forward to a summer by the beach with new baby granddaughters. Life doesn’t get better than this!
Thank you, thank you, thank you!