We are about to have an AA (Alcohol Anonymous) meeting. I thought it was kind of strange for us to be in an AA meeting when some of us are not even alcoholics but hey, I might get something out of this since it’s my first AA meeting, who knows. Three Caucasian men sat in the front of the room facing towards the patients. The leader of the group John, sat in the middle spoke with sincerity and sense of comfort. The way he spoke made the room feel like it was a safe place to share and be transparent with each other.
“Hello, my name is John, and I am a recovering Alcoholic.” The room then said, “Hi John.” Hearing the unison caught me off guard because I thought people only said Hi and whatever the person name was in TV shows and movies. I never thought they did it in real AA meetings. Shows how much I know about this. John then went on. “Hello. I am fifty-two years old, and I have been drinking since I was sixteen years old. I have been sober for a little over fifteen years. Now I would like for each of you to introduce yourselves and tell us why you are here. Of course, it started with me since I sat right next to the men in a group circle. I looked up from my journal as the leader waved at me to go ahead and introduce myself. I looked timidly around the room and said, “Hello my name is Queen, and I am here because I have suicidal thoughts.” The room replied “Hello Queen.” The leader of the group looked at me with a smile and said, “welcome.” “We are so glad to have you here with us, and I know you feel kind of strange being in an AA meeting, but I am sure you will be able to take something with you out of this session that will be able to help you along the way.” I then smiled and nodded my head and said thank you.
As the other patients began to introduce themselves, I began to hear why each patient was here which I was caught off guard once more. Some of them didn’t even look like some of the things they said they were struggling with. I knew my face was telling what I was thinking in my head, “Oh my God I'm in the room with a bunch of drug addicts and alcoholics.” I not judgmental, but I never experienced being in a room knowingly know what each person was dealing with privately. These people who had careers, families, businesses, degrees, were doing things you wouldn’t even think they would do. Some were addicted to meth, crack, heroin, alcohol, opioids, I also heard someone say they did something called Spice or K2, which is a type of fake weed. I never even heard of that. I discovered people around the room dealt with common issues that I deal with on a daily basis. People admitted they were suicidal, have Major Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Personality Disorders, Psychosis, and Schizophrenia. One older gentleman said he has been drinking alcohol since 1976 and has cirrhosis of the liver. He has about a year left to live.
When I look around the room, my heart sank, and all I could do was feel a sense of pain and sadness because these people are individuals have lives, families, careers, and each one of them suffer from a behavioral or chemical dependency issue. All I can ask myself is how in the world did I end up here. I know some people were probably thinking how did they end up here as well. Some may be looking at me thinking how did I end up here too. Some of them probably wish they could trade places with me, and I can trade places with them. I think to myself when I look around the room; you have a husband or wife. You have children. You have a career. You're in shape. You're making money. You have a big house. You have a car. Maybe even two cars. You got money in the bank. You've traveled around the world, or at least been out of the country once for a family vacation. What's wrong? They may be asking me some of the same questions. You're young and single. You don't have any kids, two degrees. You're beautiful, and not addicted to drugs or alcohol. You have a pretty good chance at having a great career with whom you work — great benefits. You are free as a bird. Go fly. What's wrong? Instead, they see a beautiful young lady in front of them who hates herself, the way she looks and does not want to live. She is brokenhearted and stressed out, but from the outside, she looks like she has it all together. However the truth is she is falling apart on the inside, and ready to explode at any minute.
Once everyone introduced themselves the leader of the group John stated he wanted to tell his story as to how he began drinking and share life lessons he has learned throughout his experiences. He appeared to be in his fifties and weighed about two hundred and thirty pounds with a beer belly and dark brown hair that slicked back which touched the base of his neck. John wore tight blue jeans, a striped red and black plaid shirt with brown cowboy boots. He also had on a black leather jacket that motorcyclist usually would wear. Looking at the outside of him, I was thinking to myself, what could this cowboy/bad boy wannabe possibly teach this black girl in an AA meeting in the middle of a nut house. I just sat back on the couch, and begin to try to look like I was taking notes in my journal as the man began to speak. I figured I might as well listen to what he had to say since I was stuck here with nowhere else to go. John then sat up in his chair, looked around the room and began to speak to the group that surrounded him in the circle.
"My father was a farmer, and I would help him tend the fields and the livestock that he raised. I despised working the fields but my family was not wealthy, and that was our only means of making income. I started drinking at a very young age because my father was an alcoholic and I would sneak and steal some of his beers out of the fridge that he had in the garage. I was curious as to why he drunk them so much and what they caused him to feel like when he was done drinking them. He would also drink whiskey but I wasn’t ready for that. When daddy started drinking whiskey, he would turn into a different person and be very angry and abusive towards my mother. I hated seeing him like that because I knew how much my mother loved him. She never wanted to leave me their alone with him. So she just kept taking the beatings. My father would never hit me, but he would always take his anger out on her. Even if he looked like he was about to come at me, my mother would step in the way and take the blow for what I did. It ate me up inside seeing my mother being beaten right in front of my own eyes, and I wished there was something I could have done about it. It was nothing I could do because I was terrified of my father and I was scared he would eventually turn his anger towards me. I was too little. I wish my mother would have been able to get us out of there, but he said if she ever tried to leave him he would hunt her down like a deer and blow her head off. When he said those words, he had a look in his eye I could never forget.
One late night I decided to sneak to my dad's fridge in the garage and steal one of his beers. He kept a full stock of them so he would never know one was missing. I figure I start small; it shouldn't do any damage. At first, I would just take one beer a day and sneak out into the field and drink it. We grew corn so the corn fields were so high you can barely see if anyone was out there. When I took my first sip of beer I thought it was kind of gross but I continued to drink until I got used to the taste. I heard other kids at my school would drink, so I figured why not go ahead and do the same. I thought it would be kind of cool to go back and tell them I drink too you know. Maybe it will make me bigger and stronger like my dad, that way I can take him on one one one when he tries to hurt my mom again.
Well as time went on, one beer became two, and two beers became three, and three beers became four. The constant drinking happened over some time and until my senior year of high school where I would drink a case a day. My dad eventually caught on because his beer supply seem to disappear faster and faster each week and he had to refill up more than usual. He didn’t care that I was drinking, but he said if I was going to drink I needed to buy my own damn beer, which is what I eventually did. At seventeen I had a part-time job on the side at a local motorcycle shop in town and the money I made from there would go towards my drinking. I started getting a little bored with beer so I decided to move to straight liquor. My favorite was Vodka. I started drinking a bottle a day. There were days I would drink from sun up to sun down, and I would even sneak a drink in while I was working. I would be so wasted some days I wouldn’t even make it to work. But because the store owner knew my dad they never fired me. Just gave me warning after warning. I never paid them any attention of course. I decided to move in with my girlfriend at the time which I later found out was addicted to crack. We eventually had one son while we were together. My son was a one-year-old, I found my girlfriend dead from an overdose while holding him in her arm and a needle stuck in the other arm. I knew I couldn’t raise my son on my own, so I took my son to his grandmother's, her mother's house where she agreed to raise him. Her only request from me was to get sober and live a better life then I had been living.
Her words didn’t stick with me too much at that time, and I just went back out into the streets and began drinking again. I eventually dropped out of school. Around the age of twenty-two, I decided to move from Alabama to Georgia because I heard one of my buddies from high school was planning on starting his motorcycle business out there, and he wanted me to tag along with him. I thought why not, shit I don’t have anything else going on out here. While I was in Georgia, my drinking picked up heavily, and there would be times where I would be found in the middle of the street or in an alleyway where the homeless went to sleep. I had a blue Ford pickup truck I had purchased with the money I saved from working at the motorcycle shop, but I eventually totaled it from a night of drinking. I have had so many DUI’s, the police officers and judges know me on a one on one basis. One day I was waiting to post bond, and I started thinking about my mom and how much I missed her. It had been five years since I last spoke to her and I only spoke to her once to let her know I was moving to Georgia. I tried to call her but the phone lines were disconnected, so I decided to take a bus ride and surprise her. When I arrived at the house, it looked abandoned. The windows were boarded up, the fields hadn’t been tended to it seems like in forever, and there was an enormous hole in the roof. There was no truck in the driveway, and it appears no one lived there in years. I was in shocked because how could they move. They lived here for since I was a baby and owned the land. I could never think of them leaving here. I decided to walk down to Charlie’s house which was our neighbor and see if knew where my parents had moved. He and his family lived about a mile down, so it wasn’t too bad of a walk. I remember my dad use to go drinking with him from time to time and sometimes go to the lake and go fishing.
When I got to Charlie’s house, he was sitting outside in a rocking chair smoking a cigarette. Charlie had gotten much older with gray hair that surrounded the sides of his head but not at the top. He was clean bald up their now. He wore an old pair of overalls with no shirt underneath, an American flag bandanna around his head, and some brown boots. When Charlie saw me walking up the dirt road to his house, he immediately stood up and said, "John is that you?" I yelled out, "yea it's me." Charlie face lit up with a smile, and he began walking toward me to meet me halfway from his house. When we finally met up, he gave me the tightest bear hug. "Man where have you been?" he asked. "I moved to Georgia about five years ago, and have been down there ever since" I answered. "Oh really? I hear Georgia is pretty nice out there. I always wanted to take a trip down there myself. I hear they got a lot of pretty ladies down there" he chuckled with a slightly devilish grin. I smiled “yeah they got some nice peaches down there.” He grinned and direction his hand to come on up to the porch where I can have a seat in the chair next to his. Charlie then yelled out to his wife and asked her to bring us some lemonade. I was glad to be sitting down after that walk, but I wanted to find out where my parents were. I leaned over and said, "Hey Charlie, I went over to my parent's house when I got here but the place was boarded up, and no one was there. It looks like no one has been there in quite some time. Do you know where they had moved too? I wanted to pay mom a visit, so I decided to surprise her you know.”
Charlie then hung his head down at the floor and took a deep breath and exhaled. He paused for a moment while I stared at him and tried to read his expressions as to what he was contemplating or thinking but I was clueless as to what was going through his head. He looked kind of shocked and troubled at the same time. I then asked Charlie again, “do you know where they are?" Charlie slowly lifted his head and turned towards me. He then slowly said, “John I’m sorry to tell you this, but your parents passed away four years ago. It was about a year after you left for Georgia.” My heart dropped, and I was left speechless as I sat there and tried to look for some sense of cruel joke in Charlie’s face. However, it was nothing but sadness and regret that he had to be the one to tell me my parents are dead and after so long. How could I not know they were deceased, and after four years. I knew I hadn’t called or checked in, mostly because I was drunk most of the time. I didn't want to remember the pain I felt being in that house, but I never thought my parents would die when I left home. The days, months, and years slipped passed me and before you know it’s been five years since I last seen my parents. My heart began to pound, and my eyes started to swell with tears as I struggled to take in the thought that my parents were no longer here. My brain went into overload with so many questions as to why they were gone. I needed answers, and I needed them now.
I looked up at Charlie and asked him, what happened to them? I was scared to ask this pertinent question, but I had to know why were they gone. Charlie’s eyes began to fill up with tears, and he looked down at the wooden floor and said your father shot your mother in the head when he caught her packing her suitcase to leave. He then turned the gun on himself and killed his self as well. When the words came out of his mouth, my heart felt like it had shattered in a million pieces. I loved my mother dearly, and to hear that my very own father shot her cold-blooded because she was trying to leave him, put so much anger and rage in my heart. I felt so much pain as if someone had shot me in the chest. Charlie reached over and grabbed my arm. "I’m so sorry John; I had no idea no one told you." "It's not your fault. No one had a way of contacting me because I moved from place to place and didn’t have a way of anyone being able to reach me." I then asked Charlie, “where are they buried?” Charlie answered gently, "they both are buried behind the house right before you get to the fields. They are laying side by side." "Thank you, Charlie, but I better get going it's getting late, and I would like to go see where they are laid to rest before I head on back to Georgia," I said. "Sure thing, would you like for me to run you over there?" Charlie asked. I declined and told him I prefer to take this walk alone because I needed some time to think. He understood and let me know if I needed anything just let him after slipping me an old fisherman business card with his contact information listed. I stepped off his front porch and proceeded down the dirt road back towards my house.
As I was walking back so many thoughts had run across my mind. So many feelings and emotions were running through me. Mainly a sense of guilt as to why I left my mother here alone with my father knowing how abusive he was, and how could I not come back to get her. I remembered my father told her he would blow her head off if she tried to leave, but I never thought she would leave because she stayed so long. I remember she stayed because of me, but since I was gone she had no reason to stay so she might as well take a run for it. Why didn’t I come back, why didn’t I get my shit together in Georgia instead of spending my entire time drinking, getting arrested every other week and laying in alleyways. Apart of me was upset that mom ran because she knew she was risking her life leaving him, but a part of me understood because I moved to get away from him and the pain he caused our family. I couldn’t blame her for wanting to be free from it all. Now she's free, but only in death was she able to be free from him. I finally arrived back to the house and walked around the back, and there I saw their headstones side by side. The left was my fathers that said Joseph Smith and the right was my mothers Josephine Smith. My knees went weak and buckled below me, and I hit the ground and began to cry out for my mother and at the same time develop hatred towards my father. One part of me loved my father because he took care of our family and was a provider, but the other part of me hated him because of how he treated my mother and caused her life to be a living hell. As I kneeled in front of their graves, I remembered the time my father picked up a metal frying pot and swung it across her jaw causing two of her teeth to fall out. He did it because dinner was not ready on time when he got done working in the fields. I have so many memories of my dad and mother fighting. The only way I was able to blur them out of my mind was drinking. I walked over to the side of the house where I saw some wildflowers growing and pulled them out of the ground. I walked back to my mother's headstone and laid them down beneath it. I leaned over and kissed my mother's grave and told her I loved her, grabbed my carry bag, and left to head back to Georgia.
For another twelve years, I drunk myself into a coma. I was drunk nonstop, and anytime it started to wear off I downed some more. Drinking was my exit to escape what was going on in my mind and my heart. You see we all have different symptoms, but we all have the same diagnosis which is pain. We just chose to deal with our pain unhealthy methods. It took me a long time to finally get sobered up and also finish attending the AA meetings and completing all of their required steps. It wasn’t overnight, but I finally was able to get a sponsor that was able to see something in me that I didn’t see in myself at the time. He saw that I had a purpose in helping others who are still out there drinking their lives away. I could relate to them because I was once their myself. Once I sobered up, I was able to finally able to have a relationship with my son, and I was eventually able to forgive my father, although that was the hardest part for me to do. It was easier to stop drinking than to forgive my father, but I knew it had to be done. I didn't want his mistakes having any power over my future.
My son means everything to me now, and it wasn’t anything but Gods grace that kept me alive so that I may be able to see him again. Our relationship is stronger than ever, and we are spending much more time now getting to know one another. I wouldn’t trade any bottle in the world to be away from my son again. It’s not worth it. Just as I was able to forgive my father for the pain he has caused me, my son was able to forgive me for the pain I have caused him by not being there to raise him. I don’t know if most of you all have a relationship with God or have a higher power you turn to, but I know God for myself, and I have a closer relationship with him more than ever before, and because of this, I can stay sober. Without God, I would be right back in those streets drinking my life away. I want you all to understand that we are in a spiritual warfare, and it is for our lives. We are all in a battle, and we are fighting now to live in this gigantic world. I want you all to know that your life is worth fighting for, and each one of you has a purpose in your life. I am a living testimony that your life can change, no matter what you have been through or experience.
Everyone has encountered some pain, but each one of us can change what our pain does to our future. You have a destiny, and it is up to you to reach out and take hold of it. We are here to help you, and so is the staff and doctors here to help you. There is help out here, but you have to reach out and grab hold it. Even if you fall short, don't give up. Getting over your addiction is like a baby trying to learn to walk. In the beginning, you keep falling and hitting the ground. But with practice and determination, you eventually can balance yourself and hold your self up to take those first steps and start walking on your own. Keep trying and learn to love yourself. There comes a moment in your life where you just become fed up with the way you are living your life. You have to become sick and tired and want change to happen to you. You have to ask yourself, when is the moment for change? I make it my duty to pray every single day. Prayer is like taking a Tylenol. You don't know when a headache will go away, you just know and trust it will go away eventually. Right now you are standing in front of two doors. There is door one which is life, love, and happiness. Then there is Door two, which is destruction, sadness, and death. It all comes down to whether you want life or do you want death. You decide. When you pray, you ask God to keep you from your addiction or whatever issue you are up against facing. You must be accountable, and allow someone else to help you along the way. Don't fight this journey alone. Your mind can be like a war zone, so do not go there by yourself. Take someone with you to help get you through those tough times so that you can overcome and be victorious.
While I was sitting there listening to John wrap up the group session and asking the group if they had any questions, all I can think to myself was wow. This man has been through so much, and yet he is here to tell his story and how he made it over. We are both different based on what we each struggle with, but we are both the same because we both have encountered pain. We both received pain, and we both have given hurt to others. We have our struggles, but there is a way out of them, but if only we make the choice that we want a way out. No one can make that choice for us; we solely have to make it for ourselves.