I remember the week that I stopped drinking in 1988. Early in that week, I remember praying. I prayed to a God that I wasn’t sure existed. I wasn’t thinking of recovery at this point, just trying to save myself from loneliness, anger, and resentment. I prayed for an alternative to my bleak future.
During that week I had evacuated all the patrons in a Shelton restaurant. I had tried to make a drunken speech, complete with strings of expletives. Everyone cleared out. I had thought expressing my built-up anger would help. Instead, the day of reckoning had finally dawned. I received a wake-up call.
As I look back, I have been carrying around my nasty childhood for a long time. I even had a name for it: “my dead tiger.”
When I was a kid, I lived in nice homes, in PA, NJ, and NY. I summered with my grandparents on the Connecticut shore. My father was an Ivy League-educated engineer who held dozens of patents. My mother was an RN turned stay-at-home mom.
However, inside that facade was every kind of abuse you can think of. My parents were arrested on child abuse charges; I grew up being taken to the doctor’s every week where I was inspected for bruises, loose teeth, and other injuries. I knew from a young age what the red flashing lights of emergency vehicles meant as they headed for my house. It meant a quieter night for me because one of my parents would either be arrested or hospitalized. Yet, at every chance, my parents blamed me for making their lives miserable.
During my childhood, there was a brief period of hope when I was 12. My dad joined AA and our family enjoyed a year of peaceful recovery. One night, my father relapsed and died from alcohol poisoning. Soon after, I was targeted by a neighbor. And soon after that, I started grabbing onto anything that took me out of my PTSD and depression.
For a decade plus, I used whatever substance I could find to give me a minute of release. I threw away a scholarship, I threw away a Mensa invitation. I had been ignoring every warning that I was drinking and using too much, and I undermined every attempt at intervention.
After my “emotional release” that emptied that restaurant, I staggered over to the bar. I begged for a drink, but the bartender simply refused to serve me any alcohol. In fact, as fate would have it, he was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. He offered to take me to a meeting. One day later, my desperate prayers, my drunken rant, and my chance encounter with a bartender landed me in an AA meeting, sober but barely.
With little hope, zero confidence and a brazen stare to keep everyone at bay, I stayed sober on my pride and not much else. I slowly found acceptance among the fellowship at 12-step meetings.
Decades of showing up and giving back resulted in the promises of AA coming true, but the process was gradual growth: I evolved and evolved and evolved. For my 12-step friends, I was a big project to take on but they didn’t flinch.
Decades into my recovery, I ran into a friend of mine who shared with me about her experience with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Response). It seemed to benefit her, and I was in a growth mode. I wanted the obvious warmth and freedom I felt from her. I found a therapist and tried EMDR myself. It made a huge difference in my approach to all facets of my life. I was gentler, and even more compassionate. I had looked straight into those “dead tiger” experiences of my childhood and was the better for it.
Now, 36 years later after my Shelton awakening, I own and operate three sober living houses in Madison and Clinton. With my sponsor, therapist, family, and friends to help me, I have learned not to be so hard on myself. My 12-step sponsor reminds me that my kind of thinking had brought me to the brink of death and now my recovery is thriving because I’m open to learning new things.
Finally, I am free of my crazy entitlements and resentments. My life is full. My children share their lives with me and my husband. With family and friends—including my AA friends—I refill my heart every day. And to think it all started with a despairing