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January 1988

Reality Is the Honeymoon

I have always lived with alcoholism, my own and that of those closest to me. At an early age I learned to use alcohol as a panacea to numb my feelings. I left home at twenty to marry a young man as self-centered as I was, and instead of focusing on our own immaturity, we proceeded to bring four children into the world. Our home became a battleground, and through the years, each child joined the ranks of combatants.

Not realizing that I was an alcoholic, I spent years looking for outside help. I exhausted all the usual sources--doctors, psychologists, churches, mental institutions--and entered the blackness of suicidal behavior. Severe depression from alcohol was compounded by pills. I became a zombie. I wound myself up each morning with medication and went through the motions of being a "real person," a functioning member of society. And each afternoon, the effort being just too great, I escaped into the numbing oblivion of alcohol.

In 1974 I got a glimmer of hope when my death wish became so strong, I reached for life. 1 sought help in Alcoholics Anonymous. I know now that this was my first contact with the power of God in my life. I loved the new feelings that began to surface with sobriety. I found acceptance and love in AA, but I could not manage to bring them into my home.

My family continued to disintegrate around me. I sought understanding in the arms of another man and the guilt soon drove me back to the bottle. This time I went to my first detox and a halfway house for recovering women alcoholics. I stayed for one year and the power of God once more entered my life in the form of the loving support I received from the staff and fellow residents.

Soon after leaving the rehab, I met my next husband-to-be, who introduced me to a lifestyle I found fascinating. He also introduced me to marijuana, which I loved and which sustained me until eventually I began drinking with him. Two alcoholics drinking together! And in the midst of this madness and total denial, we built a house and were married. Off we went on our dream honeymoon, shortly to become a nightmare. My husband, too battered by years of active alcoholism to resist an infection, died in an Irish hospital. And I, alone in a foreign country, was driven to my knees. The choice was clear at last. Surrender or die. Once again I became acutely aware of the power of God in my life. I prayed for acceptance and received it. People were put in my path every step of the way. When I returned home to bury my husband of less than a month, I allowed friends, in and out of the AA program, to help me. Although 1 was sick in body and mind, my spirit flourished.

I went through a period of four years where I started discovering the things about myself that many women seem to learn in their twenties. But because my growth had been stunted I learned them in my forties--and am still learning. I learned about men and the differences between love and lust. And the beauty of friendship with women. And new loving feelings toward my children. To say that my alcoholism has not affected them would be a lie. Because of the direct effects of genetics and environment, my children are all alcoholics. I must accept where the ravages of their disease has taken each one of them: two are in prison, another recently picked up a drink after four hard-earned years in AA, and the youngest drank after a year of sobriety. But to the best of my knowledge, each of them is sober today, just as I am.

And what of today? I still live with alcoholism, but what is different since that last drunk on my honeymoon? Gradually I began to want something better for myself. I no longer turn to the bottle for solace. I learned to build trust in the most joyful and loving force in my life--God. The unconditional love that I'd been searching for all my life, I'd had all along. And he has brought me to today.

Recently I got my six-year medallion in my AA group in Munich, Germany. My fiance presented me with this precious symbol of who I've become. It is "but for the grace of God" that I am alive.