Changing Channels
March 2021 | Making Amends

Changing Channels

Though the message of hope came to her through the TV, this mom had one more episode to go

It was late October of 1978 in Novato, California. The weather was cold and frosty. The grandmother of my husband (now my ex-husband) lived nearby and she came over for a little visit. As I rocked my 8-month-old son,  grandmother Nan and I sat there while the soap opera Days of our Lives played in the background. As Nan and I visited, I was straining to hear Dr. Maggie Horton on TV give Laura Horton the 20 questions of Alcoholics Anonymous. I answered yes to 18 of the 20 questions. This concerned me a bit, but I didn’t want to jump to any rash conclusions.

I remember my final drunk like it was yesterday. My fear level had risen to a point where I needed to wear a crucifix on a necklace, telling myself that as long as I had it on, I’d be safe. I knew that if I took the necklace off or lost it, something really bad would get me. I think people call that a sense of “impending doom.”

The day before, my husband and daughter had left for an overnight camping trip. So I got busy cleaning the house. I promised myself that after I got all my chores done, I would reward myself with a drink. I cleaned house and did the laundry, then grabbed my baby and went grocery shopping. I had to pick up a bottle of whiskey and some cola.

When I got back home, I started drinking. I lit the fireplace and broiled a steak for dinner. I kept on mixing those drinks. When it got dark, I put the baby down to do some serious drinking, and I began making long-distance phone calls. I felt I had to call the folks back home because I was so lonely. I told myself that I’d only have one more drink. But then the phone cord knocked over my last drink! So I hung up, grabbed the baby and drove to the liquor store down the street. I left the baby in the cold car, as I was afraid they wouldn’t sell to me because I was so drunk. Somehow I made it back home, mixed the last drink and down it went.

You see, I had to drink. I had lost my choice. I was truly powerless over alcohol. And because of my dangerous behavior, I had to admit my life had become unmanageable. I finished that last, all-important drink and fell into bed.

The baby woke me in the morning, and I soon realized I had lost my necklace. I was so scared that I grabbed the phone book and called AA in San Francisco. They told me of a meeting in Novato the following Wednesday. I white-knuckled it for three long days while I played around with the word “alcoholic” in my mind. I listened to a Gordon Lightfoot song that had a refrain that said, “If you plan to face tomorrow, do it soon.” Somehow I knew I was running out of time. 

The following Wednesday, my husband and I went to the AA meeting in Novato. I remember sitting in the parking lot and feeling like I was of two minds. One half of me realized going inside was the right decision; the other half argued that I was overreacting. So you got drunk. Big deal, I thought.

In the end, I opened the car door and went into the AA meeting, where I met two women in the program, Trish and Gail. Gail became my first sponsor. In the meeting, I raised my hand and said, “How do I know whether I’m really an alcoholic or just a heavy drinker?”

“What are you doing at an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting?” an old geezer responded wryly. That didn’t stop me. I raised my hand again and said, “How do you not drink for the rest of your life? I mean, let’s get real here.”

“You don’t,” my new friend Gail answered. “You just don’t drink today.” That’s when I knew they had me. About halfway through the meeting, I raised my hand for the third time and said, “My name is Kathy and I am an alcoholic.” They all clapped for what seemed like eternity.

I pray I will never forget the love those total strangers gave me. They spoke my language and loved me until I could love myself. They said, “Get a sponsor.” I did. They said, “Work the Steps.” I did. They said,” Keep coming back,” and I did and still do. They told me if I followed their suggestions, my black and white life would turn technicolor. It did.

This all happened 41 years ago. This program works if you work it. By the grace of God, I have changed for the better on the inside and I know peace I had never known before. The fear and self-doubt I live with is manageable now. When old thinking pops up, I have tools that I can use, a sponsor I can call, a meeting I can attend and a loving, guiding God that walks with me every step I take.

I love the people and the program of AA with all my heart. I am so grateful for that day so long ago, when I sat in the parking lot of that AA meeting and made the decision to walk inside.

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