“Sandy” never had it easy. Her mom was an alcoholic of the “pass out on the kitchen floor” variety. Some days, Mom was baking cookies and acting like what Sandy thought a “normal” mom was supposed to act like, but, inexplicably, a day or two of cookie baking and she’d be back on the kitchen floor. Her dad worked two jobs and rarely was around, and, when he was, he seemed preoccupied, angry or actively was battling with her mom about the drinking. It was embarrassing for Sandy, and she rarely brought friends home. In fact, she made friends with a kid down the block whose family was seldom home, and she began to spend most of her time there.
It was at her friend’s house that she began to meet a few other kids like her. They were mostly older and tended to be into partying; something Sandy wasn’t used to. Soon, she was drinking right along with the best of them and, strangely, it was like she had found her groove. She drank as if she had been a drinker all her short life, and it made her feel, well, normal. Maybe for the first time, she felt like she fit in. There wasn’t much she didn’t like about her new life. She was at ease with boys; she had friends and felt comfortable. What she didn’t build into the equation was all those other feelings of embarrassment, unease and anxiety only were temporarily avoided, not eliminated, and they tended to come back with a vengeance when Sandy went without alcohol. The other problem was, while she was busy partying, her peers were growing up, learning to deal with life and getting an education. Sandy didn’t understand what was happening to her, but, as time passed, she started adding drugs and missing school. Before long, the grades slid, the attitude became hostile and she dropped out. Her troubles, she thought, were because her mom was an alcoholic and her dad didn’t care. She rode the blame train into early adulthood.
Sandy married a man she had partied with in school, and they had two children. The marriage lasted three ugly years before he left her for a more functional alcoholic. Because she was living on the edge, unable to stay sober and, subsequently, unable to care adequately for the children, her ex-husband had the kids removed by the Department of Children and Family Services. This was the last straw, and Sandy stood at a turning point. It was either end her life or get sober. She made the call and got into treatment.
Five days of detox and 35 more days of residential treatment and she was sent to a half-way house. She went to all the meetings and did what was required, but inside she was hopeless. She felt she would never be able to stay sober, hold a job and get her children back. She thought she might be the exception to the success stories she kept hearing in her AA meetings.
After three months in the half-way house, Sandy was considering giving it up and leaving. At her meeting that night, an older, put-together looking woman noticed the look on Sandy’s face and said, “You’re thinking about giving up and drinking, aren’t you?”
Shocked, Sandy said the she was and started to cry. She poured out her anxieties and hopelessness as the woman listened patiently. When she was done, the woman said, “I was just like you. My husband divorced me because of my alcoholism. I lost my kids, had nothing and nobody. I kept coming one day at a time and I stayed ‘til the miracle happened. Why don’t you? If you don’t have any hope today, borrow some of mine.”
• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor. He hosts the weekly radio show Straight Stuff on Addictions at recoveryinternetradio.com. He can reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.