My phoenix feather tattoo
My story is like others in a lot of ways. In some ways, it is different. But it is mine. In all the glorious tragedy and agony, with little bits of sunshine along the way too. My hope for you is that you find little pieces of yourself in my journey, so we can grow together.
My story starts like any normal family story. Mom, dad, sister, and me. My dad worked as a copier repairman. My mom ran a daycare in our home. When I wasn’t in school, I would help my mom take care of the kids, doing what needed to be done.
My sister and I would play with the other kids around the trailer park, and our curfew was when it got dark. We never had much, but always had what we needed. I remember one time, one of the daycare kids climbed into his mom’s running car while she was talking to my mom, put the car in reverse, and backed into the tree in our front yard. Or the time we went to get in the car to go to school and found a homeless guy sleeping in the backseat.
Unfortunately, the good memories end there. After my mom started working at the liquor store down the way from us, things went downhill fast. My parents started arguing late at night when they thought we were in bed, asleep.
I was also bullied every day on my way home from school. I remember one specific time when my New Kids On The Block t-shirt was ripped as the girls were beating me up. I ran to the liquor store where my mom worked and told her about it, and as far as I can remember, she didn’t do anything about it. I believe that was the point where my self-sufficiency began. Don’t trust adults because they won’t believe you. Don’t make a fuss because nothing will be taken care of. Take care of yourself. You don’t need anyone to help you.
I don’t remember how long my parents fought. I only remember the night they sat my sister and I down and gave us their news. They were getting a divorce. I was 9 or 10 at the time so I don’t remember how I felt. Did I blame myself for their breakup? I don’t know. I only remember my mom leaving that night. I hid under my bed with her coat, thinking that if she didn’t have it, she couldn’t leave. Eventually she found me though, and left. I also believe that night was the beginning of my trust issues with women, and the fear of getting close to anyone. That night was also the night my sister and I started paying for my mom’s alcoholism and drug addiction.
Shortly after my mom moved out, my dad found a new job, in a new city about an hour away. I was uprooted from school in the middle of my 4th grade year. Payment number one.
We went to see my mom occasionally, but every time we went to see her she was in a different place, with a different boyfriend. Payment number two.
Since my mom couldn’t be there for us at the time, my grandma helped fill the mom role as best she could. She had my aunt and cousin come over to teach me how to shave my legs. Instead of accepting their help, I figured it out on my own, as well as all the other fun stuff that comes with becoming a woman. Payment number three.
Since my mom couldn’t be there for us, I filled the mom role while my dad worked long hours to support us. I didn’t have much of a childhood because of this. Payment number four.
I paid in little ways for my mom’s alcoholism and drug addiction. Little things you wouldn’t think of unless you grew up like I did. Being bullied in school also made life difficult, so to cope with it all, I immersed myself in books. That was my escape route from the chaos of my life.
Dad did the best he could, but was distant. I remember him being angry a lot of the time. Especially when my sister or I would act up, or not do what he wanted us to do. To cope with raising two girls he brought us to church every Sunday, and made sure we were active in Youth Group. Looking back, this is what kept me from going off the deep end early on.
Because of my church upbringing I stayed away from the drinking crowd at school. Frankly, I was afraid of what my dad would do to me if he caught me drinking. Family gatherings on the other hand were a different story. Our family gatherings were always fully stocked with alcohol. I vaguely remember sneaking liquor at my grandma’s house (mom’s mom). At grandpa and grandma’s (dad’s parents), dad would let us have a very small glass of Mogen David wine. I think that started my fascination with alcohol.
I remember thinking about ways I could sneak a beer, or wine, without anyone noticing. When we would spend the night at the grandparents I slept in the basement. Grandma always kept the fridge stocked with beer and wine coolers, and I remember on several occasions I would sneak beer after everyone went to bed. Calculating how many I could drink without anyone noticing. I also remember on one occasion, when I was in high school, thinking “I’m an alcoholic. I’m drinking alone and sneaking drinks”. Little did I know, that revelation would prove true later in life.
I also remember one night my senior year when my friends brought peach schnapps in cola to the bowling alley. I was tired of being the “good girl”, and that night I imbibed with my friends. The problem with that was, my sister and her friend were with me. After we dropped my sister’s friend off, my sister told me she knew I had been drinking. She also said she was telling our dad. I had worked so hard to project the image of being the perfect kid, and now that image was potentially ruined. In the end my sister didn’t tell. I wonder what would have happened if she had.
Because of my church upbringing, and fear of my dad, I stayed away from alcohol for the most part. I had one stint in college when I went with my roommate to her boyfriend’s house to drink. I learned that alcohol took away the feelings of inadequacy. The feeling of not fitting in. I was “cool” when I drank. That was the only night I drank outside of family gatherings before I turned 21 though. The fear of getting into trouble kept me from pursuing drinking any further.
In 2003, when I turned 21, I was working as a camp counselor at a Lutheran summer camp. The staff and I went into town to Applebee’s for supper, and I had my first legal drink – a margarita on the rocks. It was horrible! But of course, I didn’t say anything. I wanted to look cool and adult because I grew up watching my family drink. I thought drinking made you cool.
After supper, the six of us who were 21 and older piled into the car and drove to a bar. We had three shots and I still remember to this day what two of them were – tequila and 3 wise men. That moment in the bar, doing shots, was the first time I felt the infamous glow. I was in heaven. Finally, the fear was gone. I could talk to people. Converse without feeling like a fool. I felt like I fit in that night. It was like the missing piece of the puzzle finally slid into place and I was whole.
Over the next few months I experimented with alcohol. It was a new world for me. I could finally drink without the fear of getting caught. I saw drinking as a way of socializing. It covered the fear of not fitting in. It turned me from a shy introvert to an outgoing extrovert.
On March 17th, 2005, my world got turned upside down. My mom died.
We had never been close before this. As I found out later, she was battling her own demons of alcoholism and drug addiction. A week before she died I had talked to her on the phone. She’d just had surgery and she sounded great. I thought “now I can finally get to know my mom as an adult.” As it turned out, God had other plans.
A blood clot went from her leg to her heart and she had a heart attack.
The day after my mom died, my sister and I went to our grandmother’s house to stay until the funeral. I learned that alcohol and self-harm were great tools to numb my feelings. That night I drank half a bottle of wine, took the fold out nail cleaner on my nail clippers, and scraped a line into my arm until it bled. Anything to take the pain and sadness away.
Two days later my dad called and said he was coming up. He had bad news.
I found out that my cousin was driving through the mountains, took a turn too fast, and crashed her car. She wasn’t wearing her safety belt that night. She died shortly after. This was the night of March 19th, 2005. Two days after my mom died.
The following days are a blur in my memory. My mom’s funeral was Tuesday, 8 hours away from where I lived. My family and I drove down Monday, went to the funeral Tuesday, and drove back the same day. My uncles needed to get back for work. I didn’t get a chance to grieve, but looking back now, I don’t think I could have if I wanted to. My cousin’s funeral was the next day, Wednesday. I don’t remember much from those two days. I think I blocked everything out because it was too painful to remember.
The year following my mom’s death was one of great difficulty. I was grieving, but not in a healthy way. Alcohol became a coping mechanism to deal with this grief, and my faith in God declined in the process. I blamed God for taking my mom away. Many nights spent lying in the grass, drunk, begging God to end my pain. Thoughts of suicide and half-assed attempts followed. When I say half-ass, I mean I took 5 or 6 Benadryl because I didn’t have the courage to go through with killing myself.
A particularly bad night took me to the parking lot of the church I was attending at the time with a 6-pack of beer. As I was drinking, crying over the loss of my mom, I decided to burn my ankle with my cigarette. Although it was temporary, it was still relief from my inner pain. After I finished my beer, I decided to go inside the church, and drink some of the communion wine. Not enough to notice, but my paranoia was enough that I stopped going to church shortly after that night.
As time went on the pain subsided. Periods of sobriety followed by bouts of drinking continued over the years. When I drank, I couldn’t control how much I drank. I remember many times going to the bar, telling myself it was only for a couple of hours, or only for “a few”. But, those couple of hours and “a few” turned into staying till I ran out of cash, or it was closing time.
I remember many times over the years buying vodka and getting wasted. Waking up the next morning, saying I’ll never do that again. I would pour the liquor down the drain with every intention of quitting. And then something would happen, or nothing would happen, and that itch to drink was upon me again.
During this time, I fell in love with the movie “28 Days” with Sandra Bullock. It became my drinking movie. I would drink enough to get a buzz going, start the movie, and proceed to get drunk. I fantasized about being Gwen. Getting into trouble. Going through 28 days of rehab. Finally turning my life around. But I wasn’t Gwen, I was little old Mindy. The good girl who never got into trouble. The self-sufficient girl who never asked for help. The girl who thought asking for help made her weak, and made her a burden on those who would help. The girl who also didn’t know she had a potential drinking problem.
In 2010 I moved back to my birth city. I had been searching for a job for months because I got fired from my last job for poor performance. I thought if I found a job in a new city, away from the prying eyes of my family, I could make a fresh start. I was feeling like my life was going nowhere, so a change of scenery would be good.
After a couple of years, and a few job changes, I met my neighbors across the street. Up until this time my drinking was sporadic. So, when I met these new neighbors I felt like I was finally fitting in to this new, big city. And, they drank like I did. Once again, I felt like I belonged.
During this period, I went from an occasional drinker, to a daily drinker. I remember many times going over there with every intention of staying for one or two drinks. But, every time was like time travel. One minute I’m walking over, next minute I’m wondering how the hell I stayed so long.
Then one night things went from fun, to scary, quick. A “drunken mistake” by my friend caused me to think twice about what I was doing. After that I decided it was safer to stay home. From that day until the day I got sober I was an isolated drinker. Over time my tolerance for alcohol grew more and more. I didn’t need any excuse to drink now. A break-up and fights with my family were just excuses to justify my drinking.
Money problems began to occur with more and more frequency. I remember going to the store to buy more beer. I would remember having more money in my account than I did. My card would show declined, and I would leave, embarrassed. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop me. I just found more creative ways to find the money. A few times I tried selling some of my stuff at a pawn shop just to get a little extra cash. Or I would raid my piggy bank looking for change to buy a bottle.
As the days grew into weeks and months my depression deepened. Thoughts of suicide, and prayers to God asking Him to end my suffering, became more frequent.
Then finally, in July of 2013 my drinking started to scare me. Blackouts and morning shakes became an almost everyday thing. Night sweats and not eating followed. Most nights I was either too drunk or just not hungry for supper. I didn’t have my family telling me I was drinking too much, but my gut was telling me something wasn’t right.
I kept in touch with my step-brother. He had been sober for a 1 ½ years when I reached out to him for help. He told me I would quit when I was ready, and that he was there for me if I needed him. I had also reached out to my pastor and asked him for help. Unfortunately, it would be months before I saw any lasting sobriety.
Finally, in November of 2013 I was at my bottom, or so I thought. I had a meeting with my pastor and he suggested an alcohol evaluation. I wasn’t too sure about it, and I started to wonder why I had reached out for help. My brain was telling me I didn’t have a problem. But I set the appointment, and faced the fear out of desperation.
I filled out the necessary paperwork. Afterwards I found out it would be a month before I could complete my evaluation. I told myself I would quit in the meantime, but every effort failed. I would vow sobriety in the morning, and by 4 p.m. I was ready to drink. But even at that time I didn’t believe I had a problem.
After I did my evaluation I hit part 1 of my bottom. I blacked out after drinking all day, put my picture CD and flash drive away, and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning I couldn’t find either one. Location unknown. I wish I could say that scared me into getting sober, but by that time I had crossed the line into alcoholism. No amount of will-power could keep me sober.
When the therapist completed my evaluation, he suggested IOP – Intensive Out-Patient treatment. I was shocked to say the least because I still didn’t believe I had a problem. He also told me that if I didn’t follow treatment with a 12 Step Fellowship, my odds of staying sober were slim.
January 16th, 2014 is my sobriety date, and the day I started IOP. After completing IOP I continued with Out Patient II treatment, and lots of 12 step meetings.
I wish I could say that everything was peaches and rainbows after I got sober, but it wasn’t. Life as you know happens when we go with the flow, and even when we don’t. I had to learn how to live life on life’s terms, sober. Quite challenging when up until this point I had used alcohol to cope with life’s stress. But by listening to people around me, I learned how to stay sober.
For the first year and a half I struggled with the idea that I was a real alcoholic. I heard horror stories of people going to jail, getting stopped by police, DUI’s, and probation, but I couldn’t relate. I had never experienced anything like that. Someone even asked me one time if I was sure I was an alcoholic. I thought I was, but began to doubt myself.
It wasn’t until I was 1 year and 9 months sober that I fully conceded to my inner most self that I was a real alcoholic. Up until that time I had been using O’Doul’s to cope with stress in my life, or other less healthy things like shopping. Anything except working the Steps.
Then, one night I was finally at part 2 of my bottom. I had reached the jumping off place that the Big Book talks about. I couldn’t imagine my life with alcohol, but I also couldn’t imagine my life without it. I had been struggling off and on with thoughts of suicide. Struggling with thoughts of drinking. Depression off and on. I was miserable for much of that time.
The night I hit my sober bottom I was done. I did decide to go to my meeting, but also told myself I would drink after the meeting. On the way to the meeting I was willing cars to hit me, just so I didn’t have to feel that way anymore. But, for some reason my Higher Power decided it wasn’t my time to go yet. I was spared, and I didn’t relapse.
That night I realized how important the Steps are to me. That I cannot stay sober without working the Program. I cannot stay sober without a relationship with my Higher Power. And, I cannot stay sober without my sober support group of friends. It’s a package deal.
From that time until now I’ve made working the Steps top priority in my life. I stay teachable and open-minded. I read books on Spirituality so I can build my relationship with my Higher Power. I read information about my disease and stay informed. I share my experience, strength, and hope with others in meetings, and through my writing.
Today, Step 1 is still a part of my life. I am no longer powerless over alcohol because alcohol is my drink of no choice. I don’t think about drinking today, and when I smell it, I am revolted. But, my life can still be unmanageable. When I worry about things out of my control, instead of relying on my Higher Power, my life gets unmanageable.
Step 2 is where I remind myself daily that there is a Power greater than myself that can restore me to sanity. If I am willing to let that Power into my life.
I take Step 3 when I make the decision to turn my will (thinking), and my life (actions) over to the care of my Higher Power. That decision is my willingness to work the remaining 9 Steps.
Steps 4 and 5 come into my life when something from my past crops up. A resentment or fear that I thought I had overcome. I call it an extended 4th Step.
Steps 6 and 7 come into my life daily because I can always find old ideas or character defects that are no longer pertinent in my life. There’s always room to grow.
Steps 8 and 9 come into my life after I do an extended 4th Step. Making amends and admitting I am wrong are still difficult today, but I always feel better afterwards.
Steps 10, 11, and 12 are my growth Steps. By taking inventory during the day, and at night I find ways to grow. I find opportunities to right wrongs in my life. I continue to build my relationship with my Higher Power through prayer and meditation. And by sharing what I’ve learned by working the Steps, I grow in my sobriety. If I want to keep what I’ve been given, I must give it away.
I’ve also learned in recovery that I only have today. If I keep it simple, stay in today, and trust my Higher Power, I will be okay. When I start worrying about what happened yesterday, or what will happen tomorrow, I get myself into trouble. I must remember to take things one day at a time.
Sobriety can be a wild ride. And life sucks at times. But sometimes we must struggle before we can grow. A wise man I know once said “Pain comes with the gig.” We must walk through the tough times of fire so that our inner strength can be born from the ashes.
Originally published January 16, 2017 – medium.com