Pushed toward the light
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.