Even despite 36 years of sobriety, it’s impossible for me to take my freedom from addiction for granted. As someone who struggled for years with alcohol addiction, my heart truly aches for the millions of people who continue to face addictions in all their forms. The sad truth is that each generation faces its own addiction crisis, the most recent being the widespread epidemic of opioid drug abuse in our country.
According to The New York Times, in 2015 alone, nearly 33,000 Americans died in the opioid epidemic sweeping our nation–more than half the number of U.S. soldiers killed over the course of the entire Vietnam War.
Today’s crisis is exacting the same type of horrific devastation to human potential and to families as those from earlier generations. In my day, prescription opioids didn’t exist, but addictions did. My drug of choice was alcohol because it was widely available and I was naïve regarding other drug options. But for the grace of God, there go I.
When I finally embarked on my journey to sobriety, I began attending meetings, where I got to know Old Ira, one of my favorite wise old codgers. He would caution others in the group not to judge some of the younger addicts for their use of hard drugs. Because of Old Ira (not his real name), I understood if those drugs had been available to me, I might very well have used them. I learned an addiction is an addiction is an addiction. My addictions just happened to be alcohol, binging and purging and cutting.
Along my path to getting sober, I also encountered a gruff, older woman who became my mentor and was for me, the personification of tough love. She would repeatedly admonish me when I resisted attending meetings, saying, “Read the Book. Repeat the Serenity Prayer out loud five times. Go to the meetings.” She lived by example, holding me accountable by making plans to meet me there, or insisting we ride together. “Hearing the stories of other addicted people will make you grateful,” she reminded me.
My grandmother, Nennie, had taught me the Serenity Prayer when I was just a teenager because she believed I worried too much. Attending meetings with my mentor and repeating the Serenity Prayer made me feel close to Nennie over time, going to meetings felt like going home.
Before my daughter, Laura and I moved to Illinois from Kansas, Old Ira died. His funeral was packed with recovering alcoholics with years of sobriety under their belts, along with others just beginning on their path to recovery. Old Ira was a loving, yet tough mentor who gave his life to helping others after he had got sober and even more after he retired. When he passed, I cried like a baby and I still miss him to this day. Even today, all these years later, when things feel especially hard, I can hear Old Ira’s voice in my head, “I hope we’ll see your dragging ass around here again.”
This Saturday, August 12th, I’ll be presenting on a panel at the Pathways to Hope Conference in San Antonio. I’ll share my life story and path to recovery, in hopes of inspiring others, just like Old Ira inspired me. It will be an interactive session, interspersed with writing and storytelling tips from my forthcoming workbook, Writing to Heal. The event is free and open to the community; I’d love to see you there. The details are below. To register, click here.
Date: Saturday, August 12th
Time: 9:00-10:00 am
Session: Peers Unlimited
Location: East Rotunda — Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, San Antonio, Texas
Panel Moderator: Perri Rosheger, Executive Director of Constituent Relations, H.E. Butt Family Foundation
Panelists: Dr. Tyra T. Manning, speaker, and author of the memoir Where the Water Meets the Sand and Andre Bowie, Rap Artist, Music Ministry Victory Gospel Church