“I love to see newcomers blossom. It’s like a light goes off when they say, ‘Yeah, I need help. I need it fast and I can’t do this thing by myself.'”
My name is Annie Rivers, and I’m in long-term recovery. It feels so good today to be clean. One of the things that I’m looking forward to right now is my birthday, July 18. I got clean July 18, 1998. I’ll be celebrating eighteen years on the 18th. How about that? I’m so excited. I know I didn’t do it on my own. I had great help. With that, there was a God of my understanding.
To see a newcomer come in and say they want this thing, it feels so good inside because I love watching people come in, even those that are members of ours in city jails, county jails, those that I facilitate. To see them coming to a group, it may be about three or four minutes later [they have] a glow on them because they get it. I love to see newcomers blossom. It’s like a light goes off when they say, “Yeah, I need help. I need it fast and I can’t do this thing by myself.” This is one of the sweetest gifts we can get whenever you mentor someone or you just want to be a listening ear for them [while they] come into their recovery.
“I loved the idea that we lived not very far from the clubbing, folks on the patio, drinking and drugging, and oh man, it was so exciting to me.”
The general recovery can be difficult at times as well as it can be exciting, because life shows up when we get clean. Once we get clean it’s like, “What am I doing now? Am I going to have fun? Will I be able to live?” For me today, this is the greatest life. I’m living better than I ever lived in my whole entire life. As a youngster I thought I was living, but I had things that in my life that I wasn’t satisfied with my whole life. I always wanted something different.
At a very young age I realized that I wasn’t really satisfied with my home life. It wasn’t that my home life wasn’t cool. My friends are really loving and caring people. It’s just the opposite attracted me to what I didn’t have in my life. I loved the idea that we lived not very far from the clubbing, folks on the patio, drinking and drugging, and oh man, it was so exciting to me. Those words that were flying out of their mouth cursing here and there. That was so exciting. Oh God, I enjoyed it.
Something inside of me was a wreck early on to love that, and so I grew up wanting, thinking my life was boring. As soon as I got out of high school or knew that I was going to graduate, I asked a friend of mine, one of my classmates, if she would share one of those funny looking cigarettes with me. At first she did not. I said, “Oh please come on, your eyes are red and your brother sells it, give me one.” She accommodated me by giving me one on a weekend and that opened up a world that I thought was exciting.
I wasn’t going to classes on Mondays. My instructor said, “Okay Rivers, we’ll see you on Tuesday because I know you won’t be here Monday.” I started thinking, “Wow, I got a pattern. This lady is looking at me.” So I had to start going to classes on Monday. As soon as I graduated, like a month later, I felt so free. My mother wasn’t able to watch me [and] my grandmother was in charge, so I just felt like I was grown and I could do whatever I wanted.
“I met someone later on who was using and it just spiraled down. Later on we married…He worked from time to time but he also hustled. I thought, ‘We are living it.'”
Then I met someone later on who was using and it just spiraled down. Later on we married. I just felt the need to just continue on with this life that I felt was good because there were no consequences for me. He worked from time to time but he also hustled. I thought, “We are living it.” We’re paying cash for everything. We have nice cars. We’re this and that. I got money I don’t even have to spend. In fact, I had money and I didn’t have to buy anything. That was boring but I thought, “This has got to be great.”
Later on I had my first child and that’s when I realized I can’t keep on doing this. I can’t go on like this. He went to prison and I was left alone, now with two children. It continued to spiral down. Instead of just getting one DUI, I stopped being able to drive the car because I felt, “Wow, I will not go into prison. No no no, I’m not going to prison.” What did I do? I walked intoxicated. I wasn’t drinking and driving. I was walking and drinking. That really took me for a loop.
Now I got a public intoxication record and so when it’s time to renew my nursing application he asked the question, “Have you been arrested in the last two years?” I struggled with this, struggled with it because I knew honesty is best policy. Finally I said, “Yes. On the application I had been arrested in the last two years.” Where? To make a long story short, the board asked me, “Why did you tell us the truth on this application? We have so many files and we can’t keep up with everybody, why did you tell the truth?”
From somewhere this came out of my mouth: “Because if I lied about giving this to John Doe, his medicine, I’d lie about anything.” Good for me that worked, because they saw that I was trying my best but I had a problem with drugs and alcohol and they wanted me to get help right away. Pride and all this, “No, I don’t have a problem.” Yes, I had a problem but I didn’t think it was bad enough for them to tell me I needed meetings and I need to stop drinking. To be honest with you, I didn’t believe I could stop drinking. It wasn’t that I was drinking on the job, I was drinking when I was off work and when I got off work.
You know as well as I do there comes a time when you keep doing the same thing, you keep getting the same results. I was going to eventually show up at those people’s jobs drinking, drunk, and I couldn’t afford to do that. For about ten years, I did not try to work because I didn’t want to admit that I had a problem with drugs and alcohol. I slowly fell into this depression where I wanted to work out of it. That was my passion to help others as an RPN.
“I remember my mom, who’s deceased now, she said I looked better than I looked in years, just those two days, just because I surrendered myself.”
One day, when it came to my family was in danger and I realized that my family’s house could’ve been shot up, my grandparents and family members, aunts and uncles and relatives could have been killed. I said, “Oh no,” and I stopped just that time, but before I had been given an invitation to go to a meeting. When I went to that meeting, they were on the river boat and we were going up and down the river. I enjoyed it so much because I was the youngest recovering person there. Two days clean. I remember my mom, who’s deceased now, she said I looked better than I looked in years, just those two days, just because I surrendered myself.
I continued on and I got the nursing license back. I was able to work for, I’ll say, about a month. Then arthritis got the best of me, but God had a bigger plan. I started working with the Council on Substance Abuse where I am now. I get to help people who want to stay clean one day at a time. I volunteered for a while and then I came onboard, was offered this job as a program coordinator for recovery support services. I love what I do. I love helping whenever I can because we realize there are different paths to recovery. You just can’t take one path and say it’s a cookie cutter for everyone. Some people need different things.
We believe in whatever works for them, it works for me. You’d like to ask, “How is that working for you?” If it is working for them I support them. This is what the program that I work with does, we support whatever pathway a person decides to take to stay clean, one day at a time.
You ask what was my journey like? I think I’m really just beginning to start. It is so exciting for me. As a mother and a grandmother to continue on this journey, one day at a time. Be blessed.
Photographs taken at the Council on Substance Abuse in Montgomery, Alabama.