By Abbie Wirick
I am an adult child of an alcoholic/addict, a codependent, a survivor of domestic violence, and I qualify for most 12-step programs. Additionally, I have endured many years of depression, ADD, OCD, and PTSD. Today I am an OVERCOMER.
This is my story.
What it was like…
I was born in a small Midwestern town. When I was a very small child, we moved out to the country near a Pennsylvania Dutch (think: Amish) community where we stayed until I was about eight. My Mom and Dad were the typical 20-somethings of their day, kind of a mix of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show” meets “Green Acres.” Dad was a charismatic salesman – winning awards left and right – selling, among other things, encyclopedias (kids, ask your parents what those are), while Mom was the Stay-at-home Mom that every little girl of that era was expected to become. She was outstanding at it: cooking delicious meals, sewing our clothes, and taking care of the home, and of us. My earliest memories are of our farm, where we had a large yard and a big, old house. I used to go down the street to the neighbor’s place and play with his pigs, and I even had a pet pig for a time; I thought I was living the good life.
When I was 5, I enjoyed going to school and meeting other kids. It was a relief not to be expected to be perfect, like at home. Dad was “strict” and quick with a belt. He had all of the “ism’s” before he ever began drinking alcoholically, and I would do ANYTHING to please him. For the record, I know that dad never maliciously hurt me. He genuinely thought he was doing what he was supposed to do. He was raising me the way his Dad had done him.
When one of my classmates asked me if it was true that we had a (gasp!!) tv at our house, it went around the classroom quickly. After that, I was aware of being “different.” When I was an adult, a Dr. told me that I had A.D.D., which explained a LOT of things about my childhood. In Kindergarten, kids began to tease me about things over which I had no control (A.D.D., at this time). One day, I went home crying after being teased and called names, AGAIN. Mom took me in to tell my Dad, expecting him to make me feel better, I’m sure. He was in the living room with some friends, and instead of giving me a hug and comforting me, when we told him why I was so upset, Dad laughed at me. A lot.
I was devastated. Unlike the bruises left by his belt, that was a wound that never healed.
My brother came along when I was about seven. By the time I was eight, Dad was telling us goodbye, and to me, “take care of your Mom and brother.” Mom stood by the front window for months in her housecoat, waiting for him to come back. He never did. Dad wasn’t interested in the responsibilities of having a wife and kids, and so he divorced Mom and freed himself. However, no matter where he went, there he was.
By then, I was about to enter 4th grade. Without Dad’s income, we had to leave the nice big farmhouse. We moved a total of four times that school year. Until that time, schoolwork had been pretty easy for me, but after Dad had left, and we moved away, my grades suffered, predictably. It’s challenging, being the “New Kid”, and I was an easy target for bullies. I desperately wanted to be liked and accepted, so I made up stories about myself in an attempt to impress my peers. At one school, I said I was an Indian Princess; at another, I was on the popular PBS show “Zoom,” and at yet another, I claimed to be a Martial Artist. That one turned out badly when the class bully asked me to show her some moves. Thankfully, we moved again soon after that.
We eventually landed in Indianapolis, and Mom bought a house in a small town just outside of the city. I went to a nearby religious school for a couple of years, until Mom was no longer able to afford it. (Child support was sporadic at best.) During my stint at the religious school, I continued to get into trouble for lack of impulse control, forgetting homework assignments, and talking in class. Let’s just say that I became well acquainted with the paddle.
The finances kept getting tighter, still, and I began attending the local public school. The teachers at the new school were understandably frustrated with me (distractibility, impulsiveness, and forgetfulness, etc…). I was bullied more often than not, and my grades had continued a downward spiral due to the emotional and mental differences I had developed. I know, now, that Mom was too exhausted from her 2-3 jobs to have much energy left for PTA meetings, but at the time, I just felt alone. She worked her ass off to provide for us, and Dad was almost nonexistent in our lives.
Around age 13, I started to wonder why I felt so different inside. I felt abandoned by any family, and I didn’t have any friends. Anxiety was my constant companion and self-worth was practically non-existent. I discovered a paperback book that gave me some insight. The book was about a teenage girl who had two different sides to her personality, and how she went from bubbly and gregarious, one day, to sullen and wearing only black clothes, – and showing all the signs of depression -the next. The book was called “Lisa, Bright and Dark,” and it gave me a little bit of understanding of what I had been feeling. While not diagnosed for years after that, unbeknownst to me, I had stumbled onto what part of my problem was: I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and depression.
Several years later, I was diagnosed with depression and began taking an antidepressant. Up until that time, I’d thought that it was normal to feel the way I did. I thought everyone was dreary and felt like Eeyore every day. After I had taken the medication for a while, I was stunned one day when I went outside and saw that THE SKY WAS BLUE! The birds were singing like something in a Walt Disney movie! It was amazing! I don’t recall why, but I stopped taking the medication after not too long. Looking back, it may be because we couldn’t afford the medication or possibly we thought that I was “cured.”
But that’s not how it works.
So, I was left to fend for myself, as far as finding some kind of relief. When I was about 15, I found the answer to all of my problems.
I had babysat for a neighbor and he paid me with a bag of weed. EUREKA! I was about to find what life was all about. It’s always been interesting to me, how that panned out. I somehow fashioned a kind of a joint from the bag and smoked it with my best friend. She didn’t get anything out of the pot, and so she decided that it wasn’t interesting to her, and she never tried it again. I, on the other hand, also got nothing out of it, but my reaction was entirely different. I was pretty sure that there HAD to be more to it than that, and I went about finding out what all the hubbub had been about. Soon after that, I was hanging out with an older crowd and through that association, I was introduced to (much more marijuana and) alcohol. I don’t know if I was born an alcoholic, but when I tasted that drink, an alcoholic was born. I never drank for anything but the feeling. It tasted like fire, at best, and I was violently ill nine times out of ten, but it took “me” out of me, and away from the pain that I was so familiar with, so it was worth it to me. Not long after that, I began taking diet pills, in excess (of course) and then graduated to acid before I was out of the 10th grade. In high school, I remember (kind of) smoking pot or doing acid before class as often as I possibly could. Lunch money wasn’t used for lunch after 10th grade, like, ever.
I should mention that around my 15th year, Dad started taking some interest in us again. Maybe Mom got ahold of him because I was such an absolute b*tch to her, but I don’t know. I know that the teen years were really bleak for me, and I did my best to share the misery with her. Between ages 16 and 22, I moved in with my Dad and step Mom when I couldn’t stand living with Mom anymore, and then back to Mom’s again when I realized how Dad ran things. I went back & forth between the two for several years. The problem was, wherever I went, I was there. While living with Dad, I wasn’t able to come and go with the freedom that I’d enjoyed while I was in a one-parent household. I was actually clean for a year or so a couple of times while living with them. While in school, I was allowed no outside interests, save Church Youth Group, and I had no friends. I was allowed to do nothing but work on homework (usually 3-4 hours a night after school) or housecleaning (averaging 6 hours a day on the weekends) while living with my Dad and stepmom, so my grades were actually pretty good. Needless to say, with that kind of restrictions, discipline, and responsibility, I ran back to Mom’s house as soon as I could.
The period from 10th grade into I was 27 is largely a blur. I can fill in some of the blanks from the few pictures taken then, but otherwise, like so much of my childhood, those memories are nonexistent. After discovering the magical transforming powers of drugs and alcohol, I spent as much time as possible pursuing these necessary forms of escape.
As my addiction progressed, as many of us do, I was more and more inclined to do things that were against my moral beliefs, (what morals I had) because they seemed to lessen the “soul sickness” that was so much a part of who I was. Stealing from Mom when I didn’t have enough to buy drugs, acting out sexually in order to feel “accepted” (and because that was the only value I felt I had), and of course, lying just about any time my lips were moving. These were all part of the requirements of my addiction. Using, drinking, and boys were the only things I’d found that could stop the fear, self-loathing, humiliation, and sadness, however temporarily.
When I was high, feelings of rejection from Dad weren’t as painful, and my feelings of worthlessness and never being “a part of” weren’t as pronounced. I was able to ignore the depression and pretend to be “having a good time” when I was under the influence. Many times I found myself in dangerous predicaments, and I was raped more than once. So I used more.
I continued living a fast and dangerous lifestyle until I discovered I was pregnant at age 27. I was married, but since I was a REAL alcoholic/addict, it wasn’t my husband’s child. I knew that I needed to make some changes in how I was living, so I stopped dropping acid as soon as I knew about the baby and cut out the drinking soon after.
The pregnancy went easily enough. I loved the idea of having a baby growing in my belly, and I had dreams of finally being loved by someone who wouldn’t leave or betray me.
I began attending IOP classes at about 4 1/2 months pregnant, and after that was over, I moved into a residential Mother/Baby program. My clean/sober date fell on the same day as when I was six months pregnant (I wasn’t ready to give up the weed at the same time I quit everything else, so that took a little longer), on Thanksgiving of 1992. I wasn’t elated about going into the program, living with so many other (CRAZY) women, but it sounded to me like it was my best option. I had enough sense to recognize that my child was going to need the best that I could give (him), and getting clean and sober in a place that would take care of us both sounded like a brilliant idea.
A week after my son was born, I was out at a meeting picking up my three-month chip (colored poker chips represent various amounts of time sober/clean, and create a reward system for the addict). We were still living at the Residential treatment place, and I was starting to become familiar with the little guy.
I came in and found the woman who ran the place, sitting with my boy, laying under blankets on her chest. She said, “The poor little thing just can’t get warm.” So she instructed me to take him and lay down with him on my chest, under some blankets until he got warm. She was a Nurse, and I was learning to take directions. It was probably around 10 pm. I did what she told me and we tried to go to sleep. At about 4 am, after a sleepless night, I went to the office to see the staff on the night shift and see what she thought. I found out later that she used to work at the local Children’s Hospital, and it was no coincidence that she was working that night.
She took one look at my baby and told me to get my coat on.
We went to the closest hospital, and they swept him into the Emergency Room quicker than I’d ever seen anyone go in. He didn’t even go through triage. After a few minutes, the nurse told me that he was going to be taken to the Children’s Hospital by ambulance because they couldn’t help him there.
I followed the ambulance so that I could stop by Mom’s and tell her what was going on. I still didn’t know anything except that something was wrong with his heart.
When I got to the hospital, they had him in the room prepping him for surgery.
My son underwent his first heart surgery (of 3, to date) that night, and I began to see miracles, left and right. I called my Dad, who had gotten clean and sober several months before I had, and told him what I knew. Between my sobs, he pieced together enough to know that this was serious trouble. He asked if I wanted him to fly in (he was living in Florida), and I said no. I’d learned from years of wishing Dad would step up and take care of me, not to ask. He hadn’t been capable of connecting with me emotionally until he’d gotten into recovery. I told him not to worry about it because I’d rather have him tell me he wasn’t coming than to hope he would, and then have him not show up. Again.
I was taken to a room inside the hospital to sleep for a few hours. My baby was in surgery for 5 or 6 hours, and there was nothing left for me to do. Besides, the terror and hysteria of the day’s events had left me exhausted. I had cried until I had no tears left.
I’m not sure what time it was, but in the middle of the night, there was a knock on the door of my room. Through the darkness, I saw the outline of a figure. It was Dad. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and relief. I really didn’t have to go through this alone. I cried that time, for joy. I was absolutely taken by surprise, seeing him there.
I mean, I had already seen (and would continue to) that the recovery community was going to be there for me, and along with all the fear and pain, I felt that I was not alone. God was with me, and He was using people to demonstrate His love to me.
That was the night that I learned about faith, and about redemption. I learned through that experience what hysteria feels like, and that feelings won’t kill you. I learned that the program was true, and the process could be trusted. I learned that I never had to do anything alone.
What it’s like now…
After I had got clean & sober, the relationship with my Dad was gradually restored, and when he died in 1999, I considered him my best friend. Part of his making amends was giving me a book called “Toxic Parents,” and later asking me what I thought about it (And listening to my thoughts and feelings when I told him.) I was blessed to be with him during his last months of life, and I was sitting beside him on the bed when he graduated to Heaven. It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. I look forward to seeing him again.
The first several months of my sobriety felt like I was in the middle of an ocean, during an intense storm. I was only able to keep my head above water because of the women in the fellowship and the grace of my Higher Power. I didn’t have any time to consider much of anything besides survival, from one day to the next.
My boy and I came home (to Mom’s place) from the hospital after a few weeks. He was on medications that had to be administered every two hours around the clock, which meant I didn’t get to sleep a lot. The sleep deprivation was almost like being wasted, at times, which was NOT what I was looking for. Once I was warming a bottle up for him and when I opened the microwave to get it out, pulled out the nipple, instead. The bottle was sitting beside it, in plain view, but I didn’t see it until after I saw the nipple in the microwave. I thought about how utterly ridiculous it was that the doctors sent this tiny, fragile infant home with ME. And for me to be responsible for keeping him alive. I wonder now if my Sponsor and other support members were aware of the incredible job we had in front of us. Them: helping me through the insanity of early sobriety. And me: doing everything required to keep this gift alive and make sure he thrived. And it didn’t help anything, I learned relatively quickly, that I was no longer going to access to the throne that I sat on in my old life. “King Baby” had to step down, and it was not without a lot of screaming and crying that I did so, one day at a time.
By the time I stumbled into a Twelve-step Program, I’d endured years of physical, emotional, and psychological abuse, followed by still more self-destructive behavior. I sought acceptance and love, and I went “looking for love in all the wrong places.” When I didn’t find it, I settled for a fleeting imitation. I felt that I deserved no better treatment than to be used and thrown away, and I acted out in ways that perpetuated the cycle. I felt helpless and hopeless. I became what the AA Big Book calls “morally bankrupt,” and without the desperation that made me willing to go to any lengths to change the life path I was on, I’m sure I would not have lived to tell my story.
In the span of my time in recovery, I’ve experienced births and deaths, marriages and divorces, and joys and despair. Many of my worst experiences have been of my own making, but once I started finding the courage to face my demons, one small step at a time, I was able to re-learn how to live. I didn’t grab ahold of all of the principles the program taught me at once, and thankfully, I didn’t have to.
A final note:
To anyone contemplating this astounding life of recovery, I suggest:
1. Make up your mind. If you have any reservations, it’s not likely to work. This is an “all or nothing” deal. “Half-measures” are almost guaranteed to land you right back in the mess you’re trying to get out of.
2. If you’re going to meetings with a Judicial Scholarship (aka – court mandated), keep your mind open. The people in the rooms are actually clean and sober, for the most part. The laughter is not an act. They can teach you to enjoy life again!
3. Go to meetings until you WANT to go. And when you “don’t feel like it,” go anyway.
4. If you are not willing to go to a Recovery meeting (12-step or otherwise), all is not lost. What is most important is that you find a group of like-minded individuals and begin to get to know them, and let them get to know you, too. The Recovery Community online is an amazing thing. Bloggers (like yours truly) abound, and you just have to find one, and you’ll be able to connect to many more.
5. If at first you don’t succeed, get a Sponsor/Accountability Partner and follow directions. 🙂
After so many years living as a reckless and irresponsible party girl, Abbie eventually woke up to begin the difficult work of sobriety. As a woman in long-term recovery from addiction and mental illness, she is delighted to be able to help anyone whose life is touched by alcoholism, addiction, or mental illness; she is not a professional, yet as such, she has ample life experience. She shares her experiences of over 23 years in continuous addiction recovery in her blogs and has her eye on writing a book when she grows up. You can find her at https: www.abbieinwondrland.wordpress.com