As I See It... By: Liz Lucey
As I See It... By: Liz Lucey
Any way that I tell my story it will be a lie, because every time I reflect on it, my perception is different. It’s like when you are reading from the Big Book and, no matter how many times you read it, you see or learn something you don’t recall seeing before. And because I spent at least twenty years in an alcoholic haze, bits and pieces of it are hidden and scattered amongst some moments of vivid recollection or moments of abrupt clarity. It is amazing what the mind chooses to lock away and what it will never let you forget. I am on a “need to know” basis with my memories. There is always someone, however, who is willing to fill in the gaps of my story for me (usually one of my victims) and therefore much of my history is a conglomeration of perceptions and biased opinions. I am guilty of everything they have accused me of and more, and made amends for as much as I can remember, as well as what I forgot.
My name is Liz, and I am an alcoholic. The words roll easily out of my mouth, without any hesitation. I am not ashamed of being an alcoholic; it is my greatest asset and my most important identifier. My time in recovery is very minimal compared to my twenty plus years in active addiction but I would not change anything about my journey. I don’t remember much of it, and I didn’t feel any of it. I didn’t feel a thing because I had no feelings or emotions, at least not in the way I do today. Because I acted out emotions and verbalized feelings, it appeared that I had them. What I had however, was a self-centered fear of either losing something or someone that I had or not getting something or someone that I wanted. All “emotion” centered around these two things and never around love, compassion, or empathy towards another human being. So even when I was crying and pleading my case in a courtroom for my children, it was not because I loved and wanted to raise them; It was because I did not want to face the shame and scorn of being an alcoholic mother who chose alcohol over her children. I had no home, no money, no job, and no car, but I stood in that courtroom in my prison garb with shackles on my feet explaining to the judge why my child would be better off with me. Twice! I replayed this scenario with both my children, born five years apart. I did not learn anything at all and ended up losing custody of my daughter and my parental rights to my son. Today I am appalled at my behavior, and in retrospect I see the selfishness and sickness. At the time, my only excuse is that I truly believed I was going to stop drinking and be a mother to them. And so, this was how I lived my life.
One of my earliest memories is of asking my grandfather if he was an alcoholic. Before he could respond, my mother grabbed my arm and told me never to say that word. At that point, an alcoholic was something to be ashamed of, and I did not say it again for many years. My cousin married an alcoholic and I remember judging him, along with everyone else. I could not understand why he did the things he did, causing harm over and over again, seemingly without remorse. I considered his inability to stop a weakness and thought she should leave him. I condemned and judged something I knew nothing about, so I understand why so many people do that today. Addiction is extremely difficult to understand, even for the one addicted. It is probably more so for the person addicted. We often have no idea why we do the things we do, becoming more and more desperate when we find we cannot stop. That is the main reason I talk openly about my story and the fact that I am a recovered alcoholic; to do my part in ending the stigma.
The first time I took a drink, I was a very young girl and it was Schaffer beer. It was in a small, cold, glass and it tasted wonderful. I felt very grown up, and knew I had to have more of it. Many of my clearest memories involved alcohol and the way it made me feel whether I drank it or not; just being around alcohol created memorable feelings. Little did I know about the important role it would play in my life. It became my master, and I eventually gave it everything I had, including my children, my family, and my dignity and self-respect. By the time I went to prison in 2007 I had nothing left except the hospital gown I was wearing because they had to cut my clothes to get them off me when I was brought in. I had slammed my car into a tree the day I got out of seven months in my eighteenth rehab, a futile attempt at ending my life. The judge (the same one I had since 1997) sentenced me to complete the Key Village at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institute, and due to drinking at work release after the TPR of my son, I did not leave BWCI until May of 2012. Five years in prison was not the culmination of my drinking story, I was still not finished. They say the same mind, if not changed, will drink again, and I did. It is not that I did not have enough pain, but that I was in so much more pain when I was not drinking. Drinking was my only solution, my only option besides suicide. A true alcoholic, without alcohol, and without any other solution, is an untreated alcoholic who has limited options. Once again in front of the same judge, he asked my probation officer how long offenders were typically put on an alcohol monitor worn around the ankle, and she said 60-90 days. He gave me 10 months, added a GPS to my other ankle, shook his head and wished me well.
Sitting in my apartment alone, day after day, permitted to work and go to meetings, I daydreamed about how to end my life. That seemed to be the only thing that brought me joy, although I did not have the guts to do it. I had gone to enough meetings in my life to know I could not do this alone, so for the first time in my life I prayed for help. I prayed in a way I did not understand, knowing only that it was my last option. Little did I know that the sincerity of that prayer was coming from this “gift of desperation.” I was at the point where I was willing to do anything to stop the painful feelings and thoughts. I wanted peace without alcohol and would do whatever I had to do if only He would help me. I got up off the floor and then I waited. I didn’t have any expectations about what was to happen next because at that point, the jumping off point, something was definitely going to happen either way. Either way, I knew my life as I had known it would either change or I would end it.
And so it changed. I am well aware of the opinions regarding AA, and believe me, for many of us it was a last resort. I have heard people say it doesn’t work, it brainwashes people, and it is a cult. All I know is that it worked for me, I apparently needed my brain washed, and I would gladly drink the juice if it is indeed a cult. But it has caused less harm than the vodka so I will continue on this path. Being self-supporting, they ask a dollar if you have it, and would even let you take one if you don’t. And unlike a cult, my family knows where I am, and does not want them to send me home. We do not solicit anyone, and actually encourage newcomers to go back and try some controlled drinking if they do not feel as though the program is for them. Many believe it is old-fashioned, out dated, and unwilling to adopt new ideas and that is why it no longer works. Actually, the success rate was tremendously greater in the beginning, before we started adding in rules that are not found in our basic text. I would never reveal another member’s involvement in AA, but I choose not to be anonymous. It is common knowledge to those who know me that I am an alcoholic; I can hardly come up with a web of lies large enough to explain my whereabouts for twenty years. I lived on the streets or someone’s couch, one of the mental institutions in this state (including the state hospital), at one of the rehabs in the tristate area (19 times), or at the women’s prison (where, to this date, is the longest I have held an address). I lived in a Pentecostal Church parsonage when I was pregnant and had nowhere else to go. I lived in homeless shelters when I could but inevitably got thrown out for drinking. So if I lived shamelessly in my addiction, how dare I have shame now in my recovery? AA was my last resort, and the only place that would still allow me to join. And so I went.
I am still an alcoholic, I cannot change that, and I must follow a simple program every day to stay sober. I can do this, although I sometimes try to go out on my own or get lazy. I have paid the consequences dearly. I have believed I was immune to other substances and stayed silent about it, and I have suffered. Silence and isolation kill me and my spirit. I prefer solitude but am not allowed that luxury anymore. I must coexist with other addicts and alcoholics and be a part of, rather than apart from. I have found women that love me unconditionally and support my choices, but I can count on them to tell me I am wrong. I do not feel as though I don’t fit in anymore, I have found my home. I once thought that no one could possibly feel the same way I have, and have realized I do not stand out. I sometimes call the rooms the “land of nod” because no matter what you say that you think may be unique, someone (usually all) are nodding in agreement and smiling. It is a haven and a refuge for many who have found their way there. The reason I am not anonymous is for those who have not found their way.
I believe the reason so many of us are dying from this disease is because we live in a society that does not understand who we are and what is happening. It becomes shameful for an addict to seek help because to admit to being an addict places an unfair label on the addicted person. Since heroin overdoses have become an epidemic recently, everyone has an opinion and solution to the problem. Addicts are dying unnecessarily and in epic proportions every single day. More often than not, society blames the addict themselves. “That’s what they get for taking drugs. They should have known better…”, “prison will be good for them, get them off our streets and neighborhoods.” To the blamers and the judgers, I must say that you should know better too. Tell that to the parents and the loved ones, that they should have known better. Or better yet, blame the parents. And if you don’t love an addict right now, the time will come when someone you love will be an addict. And it will happen to you. It is not a moral weakness, or lack of willpower. It would not be so shameful or painful if we had no morals, that would make it easy. We have some of the strongest wills and survival instincts than any other population, living in conditions where “normal” people would likely die. And we love deeply and completely when we are not actively using, which is the reason the program works like it does, with one addict helping another. But I do understand how this disease looks from the outside, I remember how it looked before it happened to me, and my family. It is hard to comprehend how a person that seems, by all standards, perfectly normal, will throw their entire life away. I come from a wonderful family, have no abuse or traumatic childhood events, my parents were not addicts or alcoholics. I have a bachelor’s degree and am currently working towards another. I never wanted for anything and was well loved. Yet I somehow became addicted to something that created a reaction in me that defies logic. I am one of the few who has seen firsthand both sides of addiction. I have travelled from total ignorance and judgement to a place of recovery and gratitude. The years in between were spent in the belly of the beast. The beast does not discriminate on who it devours and feasts on…and we are not junkies, drunks, and crackheads…we are your children, your mothers, fathers, husbands, and wives. We are sitting next to you in restaurants and in churches, and we are growing in numbers at record proportions. And we are dying too. I believe the major problem is fear, and we fear what we do not understand. It is an underlying fear that it could happen to you, or someone you love. Something written in the appendix of our literature is applicable to us all, and that is this:
“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which
Cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”