There, but for the Grace of the Holy, Go I, Again (Part I)

23 Apr

Ephesians 5:18 – “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit.”

A recent story in the Washington Post about how former NBA great Allen Iverson has fallen on hard times really got to me. I could write a dozen blogs on different topics after reading this article – the scandal that is the National Collegiate Athletic Association, friends who are not really friends, there’s always room for redemption, etc. But this story really hit my heart when it comes to alcoholism and alcoholics.

Unbeknownst to my parents, I started drinking when I was about 12. The father of my best friend at the time made homemade wine. We’d drink that occasionally, but most often we’d get our booze by giving a few bucks to someone outside the town liquor store to get it for us. The liquor store was conveniently located within walking distance of our junior high school, and we favored the types of sweet, syrupy drinks you might imagine pre-teens and teens would go for – cherry brandy, crème de menthe. We did it because a) it was wrong and b) that stuff tasted good.

Before you judge my parents too harshly, it is important to note that during this time my mom was in effect a single parent of four, including a newborn. Due to changes in base structures, my dad was forced to work at JFK airport in NY for several years instead of in Albany; he commuted home on the weekends. What better time for a rebellious oldest child to get into trouble? (I am grateful that considering this was the early 1970s, I never dappled in other drugs that were plentiful.)

Due to more airline changes, my family relocated from upstate NY to Western PA the summer before I entered 9th grade. I went from being able to walk to school, to most of my friends, to Pizza Hut, to the liquor store to an almost hour bus ride just to get to school. Talk about culture shock! I didn’t drink in high school, but when I got to college, all hell broke loose. Fraternities, in order to draw more women, charged for men to attend parties, but not for women. They lost a lot of money on me. I pledged a sorority, which only added to the alcohol culture I was now part of. I would go out with the goal of drinking at least 12 beers. When I transferred to a college on the West coast, my drinking did not subside.

I moved in with my then boyfriend and while I was with him I only drank a few drinks occasionally. Then I started coaching adult softball and I was back where the alcohol flowed freely, along with drugs. I began to smoke pot and snort crank as well as drink. In a moment of drunken honesty one night, I told some of my players I thought I was gay. Through my foggy haze, I will always remember the words, “If you don’t love him and you stay with him, you are hurting him, and that is wrong.”

Within two years, I was living in a new town, with a new job, with a new life. I was going to bars looking for “people like me.” These trips always left me lonely and depressed. One night driving from NJ back to my apartment in PA, I thought about driving my vehicle off the bridge. This would fix the problem permanently that alcohol could only fix for a few hours – the pain. The unbearable pain that had been building for years. The pain of being popular but never feeling like I belonged. The pain of loneliness even when coupled or surrounded by dozens of friends and family. The pain of a hurting the person who was my best friend, my now ex-husband.

That night, it all came crashing down on me. Somehow, somewhere, someone was watching over me. I got home and called the police non-emergency number. I asked where the closest hospital was. The very astute operator instead told me she was sending help. Not long after, help arrived and I was whisked away in an ambulance to the psych ward of the local hospital. I kept myself there voluntarily for 10 days, during which time I was misdiagnosed and given medicines that do not coexist with alcohol. I stopped drinking that day, July 3, 1988.

Part II will post in a couple of days.

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