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Pushed toward the light

MK, Oklahoma

 I learned something at 28 days sober:  “You have to give love to get love.”   It was written on the side of a car at a music festival.  I felt like I had walked into something when I read that.  It just stopped the circus act in my mind right there.   There was finally a moment of stillness.  I felt a thrill of some kind, like goosebumps from the inside out.   I actually felt something good.  

My mother used to say that I had an inherently good nature as a child.  I remember feeling the rightness of that.  How goodness sat soft and warm in my stomach.   I thought it would heal everything.  All the violence would go away.  My dad would look at me being so impossibly good in spite of it all and his anger would just melt into a puddle that the sun could take care of.  And then he would love me.   That’s how I would get love.   Jesus did it that way.  Jesus kept being good when people spewed hate at him.   He kept loving them.  Goodness = Love.  I believed that.  

But that kind of love equation stopped working for me when I was 15.  I made a conscious decision to hate then.  I was sitting in church, barely able to sit because I had bruises on my buttocks and down the back of my thighs, and I said, it’s okay to hate now.  I’m going to hate.  And because I’m going to hate, I’m going to have to turn my back on Jesus because he said it’s never okay to hate people, no matter what they do to you.  No matter how bad it is.  

It felt good to hate, except for the part about Jesus.  I had been loving him since I was 7.  At 7 years, 7 months, and 7 days, my best friend and I, without adult knowledge or help of any kind, knelt beside my bed in my little attic bedroom, and gave our hearts to Jesus.  But I wanted hate more than I wanted Jesus now.  I knew I wouldn’t survive on goodness and I didn’t have a “middle of the road” plan.  In my mind it was pretty black and white.   Darkness or light.  Goodness or hate.  I chose hate.   

I quickly took on the mannerisms of a mistreated dog.  I scowled and snarled at people who came too close.  My mother said I looked like a mad Doberman.  But my biggest defences became silence and isolation.  Especially silence.  I discovered that no one could make me talk.  I relished that.  My dad was a master at the silent treatment too so it wasn’t hard.  And he didn’t like the taste of his own medicine, so it was sweet revenge for me.  

I developed an eating disorder around this time too.  It was another thing I could control.  No one could make me eat.   I had to be careful though.  I was still mostly good on the outside.  A good student and all that.   But that’s when I stopped growing.   I stopped growing right there at 15.  

The first time I drank, I was 16.  There was no alcohol in our house and I was a virtual prisoner there so aside from smelling my older brother’s beer caps – which I loved the smell of - and the one sip of rum that my friend and I sneaked from his liquor cabinet, I had never tasted alcohol.  

For some reason, I had an excuse to be in town that evening, so I borrowed my dad’s truck.  I got blind drunk on some kind of liquor mixed with orange pop and ended up making out with a boy on main street in full view of the world.  I drove home, parked the truck in the garage, and made it to my room without waking my parents.  That first drunk was a pretty accurate predictor of what my future drunks would look like.  

I rallied with a bout of optimism for about a year when I was 18.  I went as far away from home as I could to attend university.  I wanted to be an artist.  But I didn’t fit there, and my eating disorder and the loneliness overshadowed my painting and desire to learn.  I made a second decision to hate after that, when I was 19.  This time it was deeper and more destructive.   I started drinking full time, and just surrendered to the darkness.   

Sometime in my 30’s I realized that I was still 15.  I see it even now.  I’m still that girl.  Over the years I’ve lived, I’ve learned, I’ve been educated, I’ve become a mother, I’ve married, I’ve divorced, I’ve had friendships, relationships, I’ve had careers, traveled, I’ve been places, but I haven’t grown.  

I completed 2 professional degrees while I was drunk and hung over.  I can’t tell you what I learned really except that I finished them both near the top of my class.  I was a pretty good mother when I needed to be.   I shared custody with my ex so I had lots of time alone to drink, where no one could see me.  

People often said how much they admired my life.  How much drive I had, how great my ex and I handled our divorce, how great it was that I went back to school as an adult and went on to have a successful career.  And I was waking up every morning hung over and hating myself.  I was still 15 or 19 years old.  

My dad died of heart disease when I was in my 30’s and we made some kind of peace with each other.  I held his hand while he was dying, still trying to be good.  He never acknowledged how much he hurt me but he said sorry for something.  I was a mother by then and trying to love instead of hate, so I forgave him the best I could so I wouldn’t pass the hatred on to my child.  

Then my brother died of a cocaine and heroin overdose a few years later.  We had reconnected after a long absence and I considered him my best “man friend.”  He had spent most of his life in jail for the kind of crimes that go with heroin addiction.  But he had been clean for 6 years and had started including me in some of his recovery work.  Of course I didn’t admit to having a problem myself, I just went to support him because he was the person with the obvious problem.   

His death baffled me.  I really became unhinged for a bit after he died.  It was then that I went to AA for the first time.  I knew I was going to die if I didn’t stop drinking.  I was living a double life and something had to give.  I “put up with” the people in AA for 2 ½ months but they kept reminding me about a higher power, which I’d turned my back on.  And the reality of everything I had given up so that I could hate was too stark.  The grief and the guilt was impossible.  

I spent the first night after that brief 2 ½ month reprieve on the cold tiles of my kitchen floor, throwing up into a mixing bowl.   I continued to drink daily after that, just more carefully, so I wouldn’t get that sick again.  I went to work with a debilitating hangover 3 or 4 times a week but still functioned “normally” on the outside.   I did this for 2 ½ more years.  

It’s strange but during that 2 ½ years, I made some really positive life changes.  I gave up smoking; I stopped dating so I could figure out why love and pain went hand in hand for me.  The only word I can think of to describe those years is grace.  Something was working in the background while I was physically and mentally powerless.  Something kept pushing me toward the light.  

I started drinking less and less, to the point where I was sober enough to absorb a few life lessons here and there.  I was actually growing, even though I was still drinking.  I tried quitting on my own a few times but that only lasted a week or two each time.  I tried controlling my drinking but that didn’t work either.  

A few months ago, I found e-aa online and started reading some stories.  I signed up for an email AA group.  And then, after all that time trying to quit on my own, one Monday, something different happened.  It was nothing tragic.  I didn’t hit bottom this time; it just felt like suddenly it wasn’t me anymore.  Something else took over.   Something just lifted me up for a while.  

So I went to a women’s recovery group that I had been to 2 years before, and I started putting one foot in front of the other.  I’ve been doing that for 34 days now.  

Before I went to the music festival where I saw the words, “you have to give love to get love,” I asked my higher power for help.  I was driving there, knowing how hard it would be not to drink, and Elvis Presley’s “Come to Jesus” came on the radio.  The last thing I wanted in my life at that moment was religion but when I heard that song I thought, yeah I could probably come to Jesus.  Especially with that Elvis voice telling me I should.  

So I asked the Jesus I knew when I was 7 for help, and I got it.  The name of one of my favourite musicians at the festival translates into “Pure Faith.”  Pure Faith said you don’t play music for the money, you play for the music.  My name means “light.”  Maybe someday when I grow up, and I’m not 15 or 19 anymore, I’ll be able to let my little “light” shine, for the good.  Thanks for listening to my story.  

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