“My depression and grief was such that I didn’t want to think, I didn’t want to feel, I didn’t want to dream, I did not want the life that we had talked about, the life that we had planned out. I didn’t want anything to do with it without him.”
I was born in in a small town, I guess a steel mill town some would call it. I’m the youngest of six, but my siblings were much older. The oldest one was seventeen years older than me, and she actually delivered me. My mother was an active alcoholic and by [that] time it was her sixth delivery. She wasn’t even going to the hospital, so my seventeen-year-old sister actually delivered me. So she’s the oldest and then the next youngest to me is eight years older than me.
So as I was growing up, even though my mother was in active addiction, she was I guess what they call functional–a functional alcoholic, because she maintained a job and she went there every day. But as far as me, the person who took care of me was a woman who lived on the street—a woman in her late sixties/early seventies. Her name was Rosie and she took care of me. She’s the one who made sure my shoes were tied, made sure my hair was brushed, made sure I at least ate toast in the morning, and made sure I went to school. So she really became that mother figure. I was out of my house a lot, as far as I would sleep overnight at Rosie’s, because she lived right across the street from the elementary school. So she became that mother figure to me.
I didn’t see my siblings a whole lot—at the holidays I’m sure we would all get together—but that sort of instilled that lonely feeling pretty young. My earliest memories were me sitting in my bathroom crying and looking at myself in the mirror and crying and being worried, “Where is everybody?” That was the first time I recall those unsettled feelings.
As I went into middle school I ended up with an eating disorder. I usually call that my first addiction. You can listen to what all the psychologists say about it, and I’m sure a lot of that’s true—it’s about control, and there’s a deeper issue—and I do not believe that. But one thing that led up to the eating disorder is when I was ten I was diagnosed with Scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine, and going into sixth grade I had to wear a body brace. It went from my hip, up my rib cage as a solid, then it was a thick bar that went from my breastbone up and wrapped around my neck, and then two bars down the back to reconnect with the body piece of it. That was going into middle school, so you can imagine just that feeling like an outsider, feeling like an outcast, feeling like a freak, feeling alone.
Those feelings, turning around, turning around, I remember thinking, “If I could be on the track team and I can be faster that would be great. I would have friends and maybe I wouldn’t stick out so much.” So I thought, “Well to be faster, I need to be smaller. And if I was smaller, I could wear different clothes that could hide the brace.” Then that just turned into that obsession. I was exercising a full workout four times a day. I was eating far less than five-hundred calories a day and working out. I would ride my mother’s exercise bike for ten miles during each workout, so that’s forty miles a day. Then I would ride another ten before I went to bed. So I was working out four times a day, riding an exercise bike fifty miles a day. So I ended up in the hospital with anorexia and I would spend about thirty days in Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.
I was able to start eating again, but there was never any work done. There is never any follow-up as to what’s going on, what is the problem, how do we address the problem. So it’s that thinking. That thinking cycle–it was there, it was not addressed, and as I grew it grew, and as I matured my ways to quiet that turned into the drinking on the weekends, that crowd—the marijuana, the keg parties in the woods. It started out every weekend, and going into college that was just this huge green light because I thought everybody was doing it. Everybody was drinking every night. I knew the bar specials at every single bar in Oakland and I was there every night—and there was always somebody to go with me. I never had to go alone. I maintained good grades and I graduated from college, but that cycle was there. I would go to the library first and then I was out at bars, and then I would go to class in the morning—and not always go to class in the morning.
My last semester of my undergraduate is when I met the person who would become my husband. His name’s Rich and he, to me, filled a certain void. He filled that loneliness void. He became that family, even though I had all those brothers and sisters and we were in touch, but now I’m living with friends in Oakland, meeting this particular person Rich—he became that family to me. He filled that void. He made me feel loved and safe and he took a lot of that anxiety away, but that didn’t stop me from drinking.
He was not a drinker. He had no addictive behaviors whatsoever and he could see that I did. He absolutely could see that I did and he would bring it up to me. That was probably the only thing we ever fought about—how much I consumed—even though now at this point in the graduate school working on a master’s degree. I’m working full time, [but] I’m still indulging every night—overindulging every night—but I was able to keep it in check pretty well because I knew it upset him. I knew it hurt him and I loved him and I didn’t want to hurt him. But he knew.
He was a local musician so we were always out at a bar. He was on the stage and I was with my girlfriends, and by the time he got off the stage I was certainly not sober anymore. That was an irritant to him so I kept it in check as much as I could, but there was always a time when I was over the top.
We were getting ready to go out to meet some friends one night and I poured a glass of wine—it was a white wine—and I had opened it and poured a glass and put the bottle in the refrigerator. I remember he was just so irritated he said, “Why do you have to have a glass of wine now? We’re going out for drinks.” And I was so angry with him and I said, “I can do whatever I want. I like to have a glass of wine when I get ready and I’ll have another one.” I stormed off into the bathroom and took my shower and I came out with my empty wineglass to get another glass and he had taped a picture of my mother on the wine bottle and I was so mad and I just poured that glass and put the picture of her on the bottle right back in the refrigerator.
I finished graduate school and I started teaching at-risk youth, so I worked in Allegheny County Jail and Shuman Detention Center. I worked with kids who were there as adults, and I did that for a couple years, and then my husband, through his job, he was offered the opportunity to move. It was a lateral move and we could go to Seattle or San Francisco. We had a couple of friends in San Francisco, so we went there. We got there in January of 2001 and at this point we had been dating for about seven-and-a-half years but we weren’t married. We had our wedding plans and we were just getting married in Vegas—that was the plan before we moved so we just kept that plan.
By the time March rolled around, of 2001, we were pregnant with our first child. He had turned 30, we were getting married in June, and then he was diagnosed with Stage IV Malignant Melanoma, which started out as a mole behind his left ear. To look in the mirror he didn’t notice it. It wasn’t something that he noticed or could see, and one day he put on his glasses instead of his contacts and he noticed it hurt. There was something irritating there. He went to the doctor and sure enough it was cancer. It was malignant.
From there the procedures started and he had the first surgery to remove the area and it literally looked like they took an ice cream scoop out of the side of his head. He was a fun guy, he was a funny guy, and he had a great personality. His spirits were so high through the whole thing. He would say things like, “If you look at me sideways you can see what I’m thinking,” while there’s this gaping hole in the man’s head. But they realized through injecting the radioactive dye that the cancer had traveled into the sentinel node or that first lymph node and they removed that as well, which was positive for cancer. So a second surgery was done where they removed about seventy lymph nodes and the incision went down his face, down his neck, chest, across his throat, but the good news was they were all clean and cancer free.
So by the time our wedding date rolled around he was stapled together, I was four months pregnant. We were a mess on our wedding day, a mess in Vegas. But it was a good time. About forty or forty-five or so of our family and friends came to Vegas for our wedding and then we went back to San Francisco so he could start his treatment of Interferon, which was horrible. He lost probably forty pounds and he was a thin guy anyway. The baby was born and he couldn’t even lift her out of the crib. We named her Maddie Rose and she was born in San Francisco. I liked to call her my little hippie flower, although I can’t get a peace sign on that kid these days to save for my life.
I was a teacher out there as well in the juvenile halls, so I finished out the school year and Maddie was about six months and we decided to come home from California to come back to Pittsburgh. he wanted to be near his family and I guess I was in denial. We got home and I went back to teaching and he went back to his job and we had this little girl and things seemed great and then we found out we were pregnant with our second child. This is around the same time that he started feeling sick and called off work a couple of times, which at this point in the nine years we were together I never, ever, saw him call off work. He never complained about not feeling well. He never even took an aspirin.
We had a birthday party for Maddie when she turned two and his family as they came in they were almost gasping. He was green. So that Monday, which was December 23rd, it was two days after Maddie’s birthday and he went to the ER. I went and I joined him there and the doctor walked in and he just said, “Sorry. There’s just nothing else we can do.” The cancer was absolutely everywhere. That was December 23rd and he passed away January 13th of 2004.
I was five months pregnant with Ethan. We knew he was a boy and we named him Ethan because it means strength. He died on a Tuesday in the evening and he said goodbye to everybody. He and I were the only ones in the room and he sat up and he took the oxygen off and he said, “Can you get my mom and my dad and my brother?” He said, “I don’t have much time.” So I ran out and got them and I got Maddie, too. He spoke to each one of them and said he was sorry and said he loved them, that he was sorry that they had to see him like this. Maddie kept saying, “Night-night, Daddy. You rest.” Because we kept saying, “It’s okay. You just rest.” And she kept saying, “Night-night Daddy. You rest.”
They left the room and I just laid there with him and he told me that he was sorry—and I promised him that I wouldn’t turn to drugs and alcohol, that I’d be a good mom. He said I already was a good mom, but he knew I had that alcoholic in me, and I promised him I wouldn’t do it. He said that I needed to let him go in peace, and I told him that he could go and that I loved him. He said that he needed me to leave the room, and I said, “I can’t leave you.” He said, “Then that’s not letting me go in peace.” He said, “I need you to leave the room and give me five minutes.” So I kissed him, I told him I loved him, and I told him to come and see me at night in my dreams. And as I was leaving—we hadn’t decided on Ethan’s name yet, I had just been bringing it up to him all day and he kept saying, “We have time, we have time to talk about it” —and as I was leaving the room he said, “I love you, I love Ethan, and I love Madison.” That was the last thing he said–he gave me the okay on his name. And that was it.
My family would tell you a different story, but I thought I held it together while I was pregnant. I’m sure I had a glass of wine here and there and I remember the doctor saying it’s better to drink the wine and relax than have so much stress and risk a miscarriage. It was May 10th in the middle of the night and it was just me and my two-year-old, and I went into labor and we called an ambulance. I just couldn’t imagine being in that delivery room without him. Two of my very good friends met me at the hospital and one stayed with Maddie and one stayed with me. I let her cut the cord and there he was. So now it’s the three of us.
My depression and grief was such that I didn’t want to think, I didn’t want to feel, I didn’t want to dream, I did not want the life that we had talked about, the life that we had planned out. I didn’t want anything to do with it without him. I quit my teaching job. I could not speak to anyone without bursting into tears. I was just getting a bottle of wine probably each day. I honestly think I started out drinking half that bottle and saving it, but I have an addiction and it wasn’t long before I finished that bottle, opened the next bottle, then it was I drank the two bottles, and it just escalated from there.
We didn’t have life insurance so I had to go to work and I did get a job at a local corporation. It was Christmastime of 2005 when I started working there and on my first day working in the treasury department there was a Christmas party. So on my very first day there my new boss handed me a glass of wine and I was like, “This is perfect. Perfect.” But I remember I would cry driving there every day thinking, “I can’t believe I am going on without him. I can’t believe I have a new career, a new job, and I can’t tell him about it.”
We worked in the steel building downtown and there was a bar/restaurant underneath, and there was just always somebody going down to that bar after work at 5:00. Now I feel guilty because I’m moving forward, which is causing me more anxiety, more depression. So at this point I’ve got this new job and people are available to drink with me and I could pretend that it was all just something normal. It looked like I was having a couple glasses of wine and going home, which I was, but on my way home I was picking up a bottle. I’d pick up the kids and I would drink the rest of the night.
This went on for months, until I ended up on a Friday night I drove home and I got a DUI in my driveway. The police were following me and they pulled right up behind me in my driveway and I got my first DUI. I was mortified—mortified. Just not enough. I probably didn’t drink for a week after that. That ended up as a slap on the wrist. Yea, I lost my license for thirty days I think. My brother stayed here to make sure I was able to get to work, so I completely inconvenienced him. I just kept drinking. I kept doing the same thing.
It went on until I got my second DUI, but this time after work I left that same bar and rolled my car. I woke up in the ER with no memory of the situation, and I thank God that I didn’t hurt anybody and I didn’t have my kids with me. I totaled the car, there was shattered glass all over the car seats–and that’s when I went into my first inpatient. I went into my first inpatient from there. I went in for thirty days and I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t belong there, I wasn’t as sick as those people who were there, I was misplaced. I was indignant and I left after the thirty days and I was drinking within the week—same thing.
My work was great. I was on FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) while I was there, so I was getting paid to try to recover. They asked me if i would see the EAP—the employee assistance program—counselor which I already had a relationship with because I was already seeing her. I was seeing her for my grief and she had already called me out as an alcoholic—and now she had me. She knew my job was in jeopardy and I was worried about it and I was fearful. That’s why l even stayed those thirty days that I did—I was fearful. I was there out of fear.
While I was there my children went to Canada because I have a sister who lives there. So they stayed up there and my daughter went to first grade there, even though she was only in kindergarten, it was first grade out there. My son went into preschool up there. After I left my first inpatient I went back to work. I was doing three nights a week outpatient and I wasn’t listening, I wasn’t working, I wasn’t doing any of the suggestions, and I relapsed. Not only did I relapse, I decided to have a glass of wine at lunch one day at work—the same day that I had an appointment with the EAP counselor. She knew immediately and took me down to the medical department that we had on-site, and I did not blow a zero, and I was suspended for one month without pay. I could only return if I got treatment, so out of fear I went to partial inpatient. So I was doing the five days a week partial inpatient. I said what they wanted me to say, I recited what they wanted me to recite with one goal in mind—to not lose my job. With one goal in mind, and that was to not lose my job.
I left the program, I graduated successfully, and I was back to work at this point now I’m on a last chance contract, which happened to be my second last chance contract with them. That’s how much they were trying to help me. They were randomly drug testing me, which was humiliating, just humiliating. The only people that were supposed to know was my boss and his boss. Well I got a call one day to go down to be tested and it was from another employee that had the same position as me and I was so upset. My boss was out of the office, his boss was out of the office, and they called somebody else. I was so upset and embarrassed that I went home and I drank myself to sleep and said, “Who were they to tell me that I can’t?” When I got to work the next morning they immediately tested me and again I did not below a zero and I was fired. I was fired. I remember they wouldn’t let me leave until I sobered up a little. Not that I was drunk, but I had enough still in me from the night before that they wouldn’t let me leave. So I just snuck out and left, got a bottle wine, I went to the daycare, said, “My kids won’t be back,” took them home and I was off drinking.
So I finally had to go to court for my second DUI. At this point I’m kind of going to some treatment on my own and I met another woman there with a very similar story. Her husband happened to be a criminal defense attorney and she said, “He’ll represent you free of charge.” So I fired my first attorney, who was my attorney from my first DUI. I fired him—nicely, I’m sure—to work with this other attorney. There’s lots of appearances one has to make before the actual sentencing and he made a few of those appearances for me. Then I had a falling out with the wife and she sent a letter that she had overstepped her boundaries and that he can no longer represent me, and he withdrew from the case. Now this is about three weeks prior to my trial and I still had a pretrial conference to go to. So I called my attorney who I had fired and I told him situation, and of course he didn’t want to help. He didn’t want any part of it. But he looked into the case and he told me that another person’s name, another lawyer’s name, was on my paperwork. He said the name of this attorney and I’ve never met him, I did not hire him, he was not a public defender, and I don’t qualify for a public defender. He was a private attorney and his name was on my paperwork.
So I call this person and of course he has no idea who I am. He didn’t sign up for the case. It was just a glitch in the paperwork. He said he would show up to the pretrial conference. He said, “I don’t represent you, but I’ll show up so I don’t leave you hanging. But we will straighten it out.” So I went to the pretrial conference and he was a no-show. He was a no-show and the DA there [was] glaring at me, “Do you have representation?” And I told them the story and they don’t believe me and they sent me to the public defender’s office, which I already know I don’t qualify for, and the public defender told me the same thing. [They said,] “This person is on your paperwork.”
So in true alcoholic fashion the day of my trial I went with no attorney. I’m in this full courtroom and I hear people being sentenced and impact statements being read, and I’m just sitting there crying. Then I heard the judge say my name, I hear her clerk say that attorney’s name, [and] the judge got off the bench and went in the back, and the next thing I know this person comes bouncing up to me and introduces himself as that same person who blew me off and said that he was officially appointed to represent me. So I was able to proceed and get my punishment, which there’s no wiggle room. I lost my license for eighteen months, I had a $3,000 fine, I was on probation for three months, and had to do ninety days of house arrest. This is November of 2008 that this is going on and that attorney asked if I could do it. I was a single mom, and he asked if I can at least get through Christmas and then do it starting in January, and the judge agreed to that.
Now In the meantime I’ve changed no behaviors. I’m still drinking the way I want to drink and now I’m up on Facebook all night. So I look up this particular attorney and I say, “Hey, you better be careful. Anybody can find you online, any criminal can find you online” trying to make a joke, and we ended up being Facebook friends. Yea, that’s where it’s going. He ends up at my house in the middle of the night and we begin a relationship. I’m still on house arrest, he’s my attorney, he’s bringing wine and beer to my house. This is a person who clearly does not understand addiction, but I’m telling him I’m fine and he’s taking my word for it. But he drinks the way I drink and I like that.
He’s got two kids that are the same age as my kids and I like that. We immediately became a toxic little family. We would do fun things with the kids during the day, so that alleviated my guilt. They at least went to the museum, they went to the zoo, and then me and the boyfriend could drink the way we wanted to at night. Now the difference is I’m still on house arrest. I have no job, I have no insurance, I have no license, and he’s my attorney. I could not see that difference in power. I could not see at the time that there was probably something wrong with that situation, but the way I like to tell the story now is I’m charming on a good day, but that day in the courthouse? With two DUIs in one hand and my first inpatient discharge in the other? For him to be like, “That’s the girl for me!” Right. Yes.
Slowly but surely he became part of my addiction. He became part of my fantasy almost. It was just not a reality. He was this giant bottle of wine. I wanted the same results. Take the pain away, take the fear away, protect me, let me hide, just let me hide. And I could hide like, “Look, he has his life together. He’s an attorney and he’s this and he’s that and he wants to be with me. I must not be that bad.” I just wrapped that right into my addiction and over time it became, “You’re pathetic.” And, “Why can’t you just have a glass of wine?” And, “Why can’t you get a job?” And, “What’s wrong with you?” It became like that.
My identity—and I’m not blaming him, this is where my addiction took me—I could not tell you my favorite color. I had no opinion on anything. I thought that I was at the point in my life where it’s as good as it’s going to get. I just need to get these kids through high school and I can check out again. I didn’t think I’d ever be hirable and I didn’t think I was datable. But he and I spent three years together. He almost moved into this house. I think I’m hiding and I think nobody knows that I have these issues. Meanwhile my mailman, my neighbors, McCandless police department, my kids’ school—they know that something is not quite right with me.
So we’re dating and I’m here alone all day. My kids are in school and I’m drinking all day because the guilt of dating someone, feeling like I have no power, no identity, feeling stuck, I have no car, no job, I can’t move. I’m off house arrest, but there’s nothing I can do. In my mind I feel like there’s nothing I can do. I’m drinking during the day and my younger child is in kindergarten and that’s a half day so you have to go pick them up. So I’m driving over there to get them from the school with no license, but I passed out one afternoon and my phone’s ringing off the hook. My mother-in-law’s calling, my sister’s calling, the boyfriend’s calling, and I finally wake up and realize it’s still the school day, but his piece of it was over. I ran over there and I ran into the school and he was sitting in the principal’s office and I just grabbed him and ran. I knew I was in trouble and he and I got home and I lied to everybody and said, “It was just a misunderstanding, just a misunderstanding.” I brushed all the purple off my teeth and made sure the house was clean. The boyfriend and his kids came over that night and I just pretended like everything was totally fine. I’m okay, I’m put together, it was just a misunderstanding. And CYS (Child Protective Services) knocks on my door.
Of course I invite them in. He sits down and talks to me, he speaks to my children individually, and there’s no problem. He sees no problem. False alarm. No report filed. Thank god. A month later? I did the exact same thing. I passed out, didn’t pick him up, school’s calling, mother-in-law’s calling, boyfriend’s calling–and I knew that I really messed up again. I went over, went in. At this point I’m feeling defeated. He wasn’t in the office. They didn’t even have him where I could see him and I just went into the principal’s office and I said, “I need help.” And she said, “I’m so glad to hear you say that.”
From there I went to my second inpatient. My friend Kelly came and got the kids. She stayed with them for that two weeks that I was there. So that’s how I ended up in my second inpatient. So they stayed with her for those two weeks, I came out, graduated successfully because I can say all the right words at the right time. I can quote anything I read. That’s all I had to do. Now I’m in fear of losing the kids and I’m in fear of losing the boyfriend, so that fear is back. That fear is the only reason why I’m trying to get help or pretending to try and get help. I think at the time I really thought I was trying to get help.
I came out, the boyfriend calms down, everybody’s calmed down, everything’s okay. Kids are with me. Yea, I’ve got an open CYS case, but that’s okay. I’ll prove to them that I’m fine, and things continue on. Same thing. Kids are busy during the day, I’m drinking through the night—well I’m drinking all day and all night—and there was a particular evening that I’m in his home and there with the four kids. I used to have this thing where I would say, “I need a Diet Coke,” and he would give me the keys to his car. I have no license and I would drive down to the Giant Eagle, park the car, and go across street to a bar. I would drink as much as I could, run to Giant Eagle, get my Diet Coke and go back.
Well this night, I blacked out. I was supposed to be on my Diet Coke run in his car and I blacked out in the bar. I woke up with ripped jeans, bloody knees, no memory of how much I drank, how I got back to his place, and he was just this fuming red. I jumped up because we would drop his kids off first because they went to the city schools and we had to come back up to the suburbs to get mine and I was sort of running their things out to the car because he’s got to be in court, and there’s no car. I lost his car. I just broke down and I ran all the way back to the Giant Eagle and thank God the car was there. I didn’t drive it. I had the keys in my pocket and I was able to drive it back and get the kids to school. But now at this point my kids are late and I ran in and they can tell I’m a mess. The principal followed me out and she’s like, “Are you okay? Are you driving?” I’m like, “No, no. I’m not driving.” She said, “Were you drinking?” And I said, “Yea, last night we had some drinks with dinner.” And she said, “Was he drinking?” I said, “Yea, he drank. He drinks with dinner.” And she called CYS again.
Now he’s furious with me. He drops me off at home. I pass out or continue drinking—who knows what I did. This was a Thursday. Then the kids come home from school, everything’s fine, they go to school the next morning, and there’s people knocking on my door, which I ignored. I’m hung over, I ignored them, I thought they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. I went down and there’s a paper, a notice, on my door that Allegheny County has taken emergency custody of the children. They went over to the school, they took my kids out. They were in first and third grade. They took them out, took them to the ER to make sure that they were okay and no actual abuse was going on other than the neglect from their alcoholic mother.
I had to be in court on Monday, and then I showed up in court and they didn’t give them to me on Monday. They said, “Thirty days.” Child Protective Services now has a case open on me again, so for that thirty days I had to submit to random drug testing and I had to get an evaluation to see if I needed treatment—and of course they said, “Inpatient.” And I went out of fear. I didn’t want to lose the boyfriend; didn’t want to lose the kids. I don’t even know at that point which order that was in because I was such a mess, but I did go back. I spent the two weeks there, went back to court, they’re still not giving me the kids. I actually lost legal custody and they went to their late father’s uncle, who lives in a whole different township, a whole different school district, but my school district sent a van to pick my kids up to make sure that they can keep their routine and go to their own school, which was awesome. But I lost custody from February—this was 2011—until mid-August.
There was a breakup in there somewhere. Got him back, got the kids back. Now I’m sober and now I’m following the suggestions and the people, places and things that they suggest, I’m doing. Then I find out I’m expecting. I remember thinking to myself, “I’m just getting healthy. I’m just getting some courage back and I want out of this relationship, but I’m so afraid to end it.” Because now I feel like I need him. I don’t want to need him, I want to be healthy, but I’m not really healthy because I’m not really doing the things I should be doing. But I feel like I’m doing the things I should be doing—if that makes any kind of sense.
I remember telling my sister I was going to throw myself down a flight of stairs and I’m with this person and we’ve got these four kids and we’re out to dinner because we’re out to dinner every night, and he’s drinking his two martinis and he’s checking out the waitress’ ass, and then he looks at me and says, “I can be monogamous, but can you give me something to work with?” I’m pregnant, I’m sober, and I just wasn’t strong enough. That’s no one’s fault. I just wasn’t doing what I really should’ve been doing. I was trying and I was taking baby steps, and I ended up relapsing. I miscarried and then I ended up relapsing.
I woke up in an ER, again, and the doctor said, “What happened last night?” And I said, “Oh well, I had a couple glasses of wine.” And he said, “Your blood alcohol was six times the legal limit.” He said, “You had more than a couple glasses of wine.” And the boyfriend had to come get me out of the ER because I had snuck out of his house to go do that—to go drink—and then that was it. That was the final breakup. He had finally had enough, which is a God thing, but I couldn’t see it at that time that it was God doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself thing.
So we’re broken up and I’m in relapse so I’m just spiraling—spiraling out of control. The kids are with me. Now I have a limited license. I have the thing that you blow into. I have to take a breathalyzer to be able to start the car. Obviously I can’t, so I’m walking up to the state store, which is right up the street from my house, and apparently I was staggering and the police picked me up and brought me home. My daughter was here alone—she was ten, so that really wasn’t illegal—but I was very intoxicated and that police officer had to call Child Protective Services. It took them about two weeks to get here and when they did I was terrified. Terrified. But then here’s where God stepped in and he sent me a caseworker that understood addiction. He sent me a caseworker that didn’t feel that I needed to lose my children, that didn’t feel that I needed to be punished. He really understood that I needed help. He knew that I loved my kids and if the love I have for them could keep me sober, it would—that just wasn’t the case. I had some really deep, underlying issues that needed to be addressed.
We came up with a family plan. I had a couple of friends and a couple family members and we all met at a different location that was neutral to everyone and we put this safety plan in place that I agreed to and I agreed to work a program. I agreed not to drink, and if i did, I agreed that my friend Kim could come over and visit me unannounced just to make sure. If she found anything not be okay—if I was drinking—I agreed that I would let her take the kids.
Well, I relapsed on the plan and Kim came and I was not sober and Kim took the kids. Kim called my caseworker, which she should have, and now I’m in serious danger. If I lose custody again I don’t know if I can get them back. I had to agree to go for the evaluation, which I couldn’t even drive to, the morning that that was due. I had to call a neighbor and they drove, and of course the evaluation said, “Inpatient.” And I went in terrified—terrified that I was going to lose them.
I can’t tell you exactly what happened, but in that two weeks time, when I was able to calm down and think and really decide what I wanted to be and decide that I wanted to be sober for me—I needed to be sober for me—but what did I want? I wanted to be a good mom. I wanted to be the mom that I started out as, the mom that I wanted to be, the mom that I promised to be; the mom that they deserved. And that’s who I wanted to be. In a sense that was doing it for me because I wanted to be that mom.
This caseworker from Child Protective Services, he said, “POWER. Pennsylvania Organization for Women in Early Recovery.” And I went. I did my two weeks in inpatient, and I’m still a mess of course. Thoughts are everywhere, I’m fearful, I need a job. I’m thinking, “I need a job!” I was completely unbearable. And I went to POWER and I went to the evaluation and they were telling me about the program and I was such a skeptic. I said, “There’s nothing you can do for me. There’s nothing here for me.” She said, “Let’s just take it one day at a time. Let’s just get you plugged in.”
I ended up going there five days a week and I listened and I listened and I stayed quiet and I listened and I followed the directions—and now I’m showing up. I’m showing up on time and I’m doing other things that they’re telling me to do. They’re telling me what worked for them and I’m doing it and I’m doing it and the next thing I know, I’m feeling better. The next thing I know, I remember what my favorite color is and I remember things that I like to do and thoughts are coming back and my head is clearing and my children are happying up.
I spent about a year in outpatient there and I’m still not sure about my criminal record. What I can possibly do as far as employment? So I started volunteering. I did some volunteer work at my church as a receptionist. I had to answer my phone and I had to talk to people and it was the best thing I could do because now I can have a conversation. Then I went to the library and I started filling out applications and I put my resume together and I actually wrote a cover letter and I started mailing them. The next thing I know, I’ve got job interviews.
There’s an organization out here in the North Hills called North Hills Community Outreach, which is a social services outreach, which I am now fully employed at.
The kids are thriving. My daughter’s on teams and my younger one, so much of his fear has just melted away. He’s silly and he’s funny and he’s sweet—he’s not scared. They’re in their own beds at night and they know they’re coming home to a mom who’s okay. Just every day things get better and now there’s this excitement, “What does God have planned for me today?” I don’t know what’s next, but I’m excited to find out.
What I would say to a newcomer is, “Just hold on. Just hold on. Just hold on. Do what they’re telling you to do even if it doesn’t make sense. Even if it doesn’t feel good. It all will come together sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. But it comes together and you can think again and then you can see, ‘Wow. What was I doing?’”
Now I can make a decision with a healthy mind, “Do I want to have that drink of wine with dinner?” I know exactly where that’s going to take me and it’s not worth it and I don’t want it and I don’t need it, and I don’t have to have it. That’s my decision and that’s my control that I have, and it’s so much better on the other side.
It hurt like hell to get here, but I never want to have to go through it again and I don’t have to. As long as I don’t pick up that drink I don’t have to ever do that again.
Photographs taken at Deni’s home in Pittsburgh, PA. Click here to read more about Deni’s experience.