Friday, March 25, 2011

Dawn's Story

***Submitted by Dawn, who blogs at Grace Always Waits

Crying out Now was the first recovery blog I found last Fall when I sat down at my keyboard intermittently unable to see the monitor from crying out. For the past (minus three days) four months now, I have been by to read heartfelt, often gut wrenching, entries by women identical to myself. In the same breath that has been both therapeutic and devastating. It has been difficult to read numerous expressions that depicted my very own path, though I had been remiss in sharing. My story has a happy ending, but a harrowing journey to arrive here.

I read your disclaimer regarding anonymity, but promptly knew that it has been the anonymity that has kept me in a cycle of recovery and relapse for decades. This is who I am - I have no need to remain anonymous, only a need to be honest and pray that maybe one thing I might write would keep even one woman - I could not ask for anymore.

Funny thing about addiction and matters of recovery back in the 60's and 70's, which is when I was (supposed to be) growing up. My mother's siblings, five out of seven of them, were alcoholics, as were my maternal grandparents. And only when my aunt shared that with me when I was the age of 20 did I draw a connection. With that information, however, I began connecting dots and memories that had benign, if any, meaning, began taking on a whole new kind of recollection. While my grandparents lived in the same town, which had a population of only about 7,000 people, it was a rare occasion where I was taken to my maternal grandparents for a visit. But after the discussion with my aunt, I immediately focused in a clear image of these small narrow glasses with roosters on them, an image with acute explicability. Looked like apple juice to this impressionable young girl, but we knew not to take a drink of it. With curiosity and this overpowering sense of enlightenment, I was able to identify so much that had been camouflaged as normalcy. The critical information missing in my aunt's revelation was the pure facts of alcoholism, its hereditary nature.

I returned to college that fall placing all of this behind me.

College. Um, ya. For this girl, college was not where I should have been at that given time. Though I had memorized the drink specials at every bar on a given night - had a tolerance level as high as the 14 floor dormitory high rise I lived in, I only walked away with a handfull of credits. Marriage , kids, four to be exact, and an exorbitant amount of volunteer work ensued; thoughts or memories of those few college years were buried as though it never took place. Busy was the goal over those years. Keeping busy, always busy, focusing intently on the needs of others. Pregnant much of the time, drinking took a back seat. Something, though, to recognize about chemical addition, is that, it is an insidious disease and harbors more patience than you can possibly imagine. So much like a hibernating grizzly bear, the disease lay dormant……………………..until the day my fourth child entered all day kindergarten. When I watched my six year old march up those gigantic steps on the school bus and witnessed that bus whisk her away, my identity rode away with her. I walked back into our home and was, for the first time in my life as a 40 year old woman, alone. The nervous breakdown followed somewhere within the next year or so (hazy memory) Finally diagnosed with clinical depression, I was given the appropriate medication and this became one of the the key turning points in my life.

Wow!! Depression, clinical depression - difficult to identify and treat when I am self-medicating.

It wasn't long, though, and I found my faithful friend with whom I had abruptly abandoned years ago. Here’s another pearl of wisdom – alcoholism is a progressive disease; the rate at which will vary from person to person. I was what the professionals call a "binge drinker". This meant that I would drink a case of beer or a few bottles of wine and then refrain for a period of time. That amount of time, the abstinence, well that would depend upon how much wreckage I had created. The damage all had to be repaired before I would drink again. This went on until my parents, who were in Colorado, decided to fly to MN and stage an intervention. I remember one of my first thoughts when I was unsuspectingly led into the room was that they must have changed their philosophy regarding the discussion of alcoholism, it was clearly no longer "something we do not discuss". And God love them for doing so because this was the beginning of what would be a tumultuous road to recovery. I willingly, and with a great deal of relief, entered an in-patient treatment facility, or rehab, as the celebrities choose to call it. Whatever you call it, this place was terrific in the sense that it was a learning process, I was able to give descriptive names to my behaviors, and reasons, I was learning that there are actually other women out there who shared my dysfunctional thought process - WOW. There is power in knowledge. And if I was going to subscribe to the first step, which deems me powerless over alcohol, then I must have every ounce of information ever written on the disease. With that as my purpose, I immersed myself into the process of recovery and learning everything I could from the history of alcoholics anonymous and the twelve steps and traditions to how I ever became afflicted with alcoholism.

Unfortunately my marriage did not survive these profound life-changing events, but I was determined to press on and challenge myself to fulfill unmet goals. Or put more accurately, to determine what those goals and dreams were. I returned to my profession as a lab tech and learned how to be alone, how to be sober, and how to know who I am without the varying hats I wore as mother, wife, daughter, aunt, Church Board leader, and friend, to name a few. My recovery, in the past ten years, has developed a pattern much like my drinking pattern. I have sustained years together in recovery, only to relapse. The program of alcoholics anonymous tells us that with each relapse, we'll fall further into that dark, cold, damp lonely place, each time experiencing more consequences, and therefore more pain. And so it went. sobriety. relapse. sobriety. relapse.

If you're reading this and you're an alcoholic, I need not explain that insanity to you. Last November though, I ended up in downtown Minneapolis in a women's holding cell awaiting my options, if I had any, that is. It was not by accident that I ended up in there for the better part of three hours, with incoming newly arrested women roughly every twenty minutes. It all of a sudden occurred to me, as each boasted with seemingly proud accomplishment, what they were "in for." There was a day when I would have not even considered myself "like them." But this experience was different..............

I "am" those women, the girl who was in for prostitution, the girls who were brought in when the car they were riding in was pulled over - they each had warrants, oh, and the meth/crack head who, by her shared information, seemed to be about my age, but looked twenty years older. These women "are " me - we are one in the same, suffering continuous consequences of our disease, doing whatever we could to perpetuate the cycle while chasing that high.

I'll never forget the smells, the feelings, the women's faces, the rude, imposing, and insinuating jailers, the experience in its entirety. I keep a photo out of the crashed Passat from that night. A much needed vehicle my father bought for me after my divorce. A gracious gift, more than I deserved. More than I ever deserved...............

That photo is a constant reminder that all that is left for me is to die along with that car. I've had my last drink. There are no more relapses left in me. None.

Today my college age children hold one of my medallions, a 24 hour, 30 day and a 60 day respectively. They know that as long as they hold that coin, I am sober, as I promised that should I relapse, I will request to have it returned.

I have no intentions of ever holding those medallions again.

The disease of addiction is not prejudice and does not discriminate. The false image of the drunk lying in the park with the brown paper sack must be erased from society’s minds. It is a cunning and baffling disease that requires honesty, willingness, and an open mind in order for it to be placed in remission. In a few months I begin graduate school to become a chemical dependency counselor. If I could save one life by telling my story, I'll have served my purpose on earth.


  1. Good for you, girl!! I too, come from a petri-dish of addiction. And depression ... I never even knew I was depressed until I stopped drinking. I self-medicated well! Have you read "Children of Alcoholics"? Even if your parents were not, so many around you were. It's a very helpful book.

    Keep, keeping on! You're doing great!

  2. I love, love, that your kids hold your medallions. What a gorgeous idea.
    {and I too needed to not be anonymous here... it just felt right...}
    Good luck on your new adventures, what a blessing you will be to those in the same situation!

  3. This is just brilliant Dawn, I especially needed to hear: "chemical addition is an insidious disease and harbors more patience than you can possibly imagine" You are going to ROCK at your job. Thanks for your honesty and shining example.

  4. What an amazing story. I smiled as I recalled my own grandmother's cup of "gingerale" that she always drank out of those old tupperware tumblers. It was, of course, gin - as I learned one day when I took a swig. She wasn't impressed. Neither was I. Relapse doesn't have to be a part of all our stories, but it sure was a part of mine, too. Thank god for where you are today, Dawn. And...thanks for

  5. thank you for sharing your story...I can relate so much to what you were talking about. I was never "like them" ~I was different! Today, I know that I am 'that person'! Today, I'm sober...I picked up my white chip 10/21/01! Living sober well now that takes maintenance ~a daily reprieve. It took me awhile to realize no matter where I go there I am...I have to change the behaviors ~work in progress.