Their words, spoken in earnest belief to their oldest child, fell across my ears and under my radar as the years passed. Conceptually, I referenced the ideas from time to time, but my world was much too complex to be reduced to old-world, Horatio Alger charm.
I did work hard. I did get the coveted college degree from the prestigious undergrad program. I did score the first job in my field two weeks before the commencement ceremony. I did return to my home town in triumphant victory as the first of my mother’s kin to brandish the sheep skin of higher education.
I landed back in Independence, MO, anything but free, as a 23-year- old, full-blown alcoholic with a lot to show for my school career but little recollection of how I got it.
Mom and Dad never said anything about becoming a drunk.
They didn’t say, “Honey, you’ve met your prerequisites and will breeze through Alcoholism 101 with flying colors.”
Or, “Sweetheart, don’t worry about following your dreams, they’ll be waiting for you at the bottom of the toilet bowl.”
And they damn sure didn’t tell me that big girls DO cry little-girl wails when, on each morning after, I swore to any and all gods that I would not drink like that again. I would make sure I ate something that would coat my stomach, something besides beer nuts and pretzels. I would be more aware of my surroundings. If I left a party with anyone, I would make sure I could pick them out of a lineup. I would leave a trail of breadcrumbs so I could locate my car.
Each day found me desperately trying to fit in while setting myself apart from the crowd. I thought myself intellectually superior to the people with whom I interacted, yet I seldom felt worthy of anyone’s attention. I fancied myself a big shot traveling the country on an expense account, but continually placed myself in potentially dangerous situations.
I covered my intense loneliness with a party-girl persona. I felt a vague sense of irritation, sort of like when walking on the beach and a small pebble gets lodged in your shoe. You try to continue walking but ultimately you end up with a big blister and a hurting foot.
Life was good. I had arrived. What then was gnawing at me? Instinctively, I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know until a God-moment on a spring day in 1991. On a whim, I made a phone call to an old friend; ended up seeing that friend after no contact for several years, and as we caught up, listened to her describe her son’s battle with drug and alcohol addiction.
Her son had just been released from a treatment center. I knew him well and wasn’t at all surprised to hear that he was messed up with drugs and alcohol. I figured he would eventually end up with a problem, because I had partied with him. I had seen him in really bad shape.
My friend planted two seeds with me on that day. Something rang familiar with her description of her son’s behavior and resulting consequences. That was the mustard seed. The bigger seed, one more like that inside a peach, was that she spoke about his spiritual awakening, about how he came to understand that he was powerless over his addiction and that by admitting powerlessness, he was able to embrace a new way of life that included an awareness that God was guiding him to become a better person.
He admitted he couldn’t control his life and with that admission, gained a new way of living.
I’ll be forever grateful that my old partying buddy connected with a higher power because his connection led me to mine.
And my spiritual connection—what I call being “plugged in”—is my lifeline in this day-to-day crazy world. I’m learning at a turtle’s pace that there is very little in my existence that I can control, including the people who grace my life, the circumstances in which I find myself and the places where I appear (or don’t).
There is one thing, however, that moves me to feel a little bit of heaven in each day. It’s the God current that flows freely and readily through me whenever I seek the outlet and become willing to connect.
That connection has made all the difference to me.