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July 1994

A Long Way Down

My name is Nell. I'm an ex-inmate, a recovering alcoholic, and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I've been sober since December 7, 1984. That's the longest I've been sober since I was a teenager. I was introduced to AA while incarcerated. I finally found a glimmer of hope that I'd never known. I finally found understanding, unconditional love, hope, and real friends.

I never felt like I fit in anyplace. My dad abused alcohol and was my drinking buddy. There was lots of fighting and turmoil between my parents. I was abused terribly and I wanted to die beginning very young.

I was born the fifth of nine children. The first child died before Fifteen months of age. No medical attention was sought by my family. I was the oldest daughter and I was placed in the mother role at the age of eight when my youngest sister was born. My mom had addictions other than alcohol and was a very sick person.

I was made to go to church and what I seemed to hear about was a punishing God. I begged God to let me die. I felt different, looked different, and was treated as different. I asked many times if I was adopted. I didn't understand why I was ever born.

I never got to be a child and play as other children did. Lots of responsibilities, work, punishment, and abuse of all kinds were what my life consisted of. I lived in fear hut I was never allowed to express my feelings. I learned early on to keep my mouth shut and stuff my feelings. I was never believed, it seemed, so I learned early not to trust anyone. I was incested severely by the time I was eight years old. It continued longer, much longer.

My mom didn't want alcohol in the house, so my dad made me hide his moonshine for him. I'd sneak around and drink out of his bottle. Alcohol gave me courage and made me feel like the adult I was forced to be. I ran away several times and was beaten unmercifully when I was found. I couldn't feel safe anywhere or with anyone. I continued to want to die.

I ran away at fifteen years old and married a man twenty years my senior--one of my dad's drinking buddies. I found myself worse off. That marriage was a real nightmare which seemed endless and hopeless. I finally managed to escape that situation--two daughters later.

My first serious suicide attempt (one among many) was at sixteen years of age. My husband abused alcohol and was constantly drunk. It was like living in a concentration camp. I was beaten and tied up in the nude off and on for at least a year. I passed out from pain several times. My husband sold my body to buy booze. I begged God to ease my pain. My husband poured booze down my throat to quiet me. That was the only relief I had.

Drinking, suicide attempts, abuse, and getting in trouble with the law were a way of life for me all those years. When I finally left my husband, he said he'd kill me if and when he found me. I believed him and hid for years in fear.

I felt so empty, dirty, worthless--a nobody with a hole in my gut. I was always looking for something to fill that emptiness. Booze eased my pain, but only temporarily.

My life consisted of shoplifting, stealing, lying, hot checks, and daily drinking. I got into another relationship and had two more daughters. I was institutionalized in jails and mental hospitals countless times. Everyone who said they loved me hurt me; so I was real confused and afraid of love. I never found a gleam of happiness, love, or hope. By the time I was incarcerated the last time, I had attempted suicide at least twenty-two times, been in jail at least thirty-nine times, and was in and out of various hospitals. I had tried everything. I couldn't die and didn't know how to live--nor did I want to.

That day in December 1984, I came to in my own vomit and a pool of blood. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I finally had that moment of clarity we talk about. Taking a big risk, I called my parole officer pleading in desperation for her to help me. I could have been sent back to prison that day. I'd been drinking since I was released in December 1983.

My parole officer suggested I go to a halfway house. I'd try anything by this time. I was beaten down to complete demoralization. I went where she suggested, leaving behind every material thing I owned. I was penniless with only the clothes on my back. I was bankrupt in every area of my life.

AA meetings were being brought into the halfway house from outside. The first time they were announced I didn't hesitate to attend. I knew my life was unmanageable and I was powerless over alcohol. I really surrendered and admitted complete defeat. For the first time in my life, I was able to see a tiny light at the end of that dark tunnel I'd been in for over forty years.

I didn't know what AA was; I thought it could teach me how to drink successfully or control my drinking. But I was willing as only the dying can be to do anything suggested. The eight-year-old girl in me began to live instead of merely exist. Somehow I knew I was finally safe. I was shown a new way of life--one I never dreamed that poor, abused, neglected child would ever have.

AAs loved me sober and loved me back to health. They really cared and I had never known anyone who really cared. I was afraid of their "I love you's." I wondered what they wanted from me. But somehow I trusted a tiny bit. I began to feel freedom and peace.

That empty feeling in the pit of my stomach has now been filled. It's been filled with a loving, caring, and a forgiving God of my own understanding. I'm starting to learn a little about me, and I accept myself most of the time. I've had to obtain some extra help to work through my past. That's okay. Without AA I couldn't have done it. It's been painful, but worth it.

Since coming to Alcoholics Anonymous I've always had someone to take me by the hand and assure me that "this too shall pass." I want all there is in recovery. I started with a sponsor, working the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and applying the principles of the program in my life. I call my sponsor or another alcoholic daily, go to at least one meeting, read the literature, write daily, and thank my Higher Power for another day of sobriety. I'm involved in my home group and go to lots of service meetings, as well as sponsoring other people. It's very important for me to go into jails and prisons and work with inmates and ex-inmates. I seek in prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God and I make a lot of gratitude lists. I can never find the words to express the depth of gratitude for my newfound happiness and freedom. I'm even learning how to have fun and not take life too seriously.

My life is full today. I have all I need and most of what I want. I'm learning to be a mother, a friend, a grandmother, and a sister. My friends are as near as the telephone and they're a close-knit support group. I have my own apartment, thanks to God and my AA friends. At first I found it hard to accept these gifts because of my pride and ego. I didn't know how I could ever pay it back. My friends told me to "pass it on."

There are still lots of life's problems. I have a grandson in jail and a granddaughter who attempted suicide and is in treatment for emotional problems. I fell and broke my wrist (lots of pain). But no matter what there is today, nothing is so bad that a drink won't make worse.

I never knew I had choices. Today I have choices.

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