“I’m telling you, if you would’ve saw me December the 9th, you probably would’ve thought I could never put together eight years and some change.”
My name is Doreen Kennie and I’m a person in long-term recovery. What that means to me is that I haven’t had any mood or mind-altering substances for eight years, eight months, and a couple of days. My journey for recovery started December 10, 2006. I remember clearly where I was December 9, 2006, which was in a hotel. I wanted to stop and I couldn’t stop. There was more left, and I didn’t want to pick up again and I didn’t want what was on the table.
I had already been introduced to some other recovery programs, so I knew there was somewhere I could go by 10:00 that morning. Instead of waiting to check out, I got up, I got dressed, I looked in the mirror and said, “I have to just walk out the bathroom and go to the front door and leave.” There was no stopping or I thought that I would probably die that day. I had started going to some outside twelve-step programs in April of ’06, so it took me to December to finally come to a decision that I didn’t want to pick up anymore.
I identify myself as drinking alcohol and a heavy weed-use smoker. That’s what I did. I’ve been drinking since I was nine, which was in about the fourth grade, and I started smoking weed when I was in the sixth grade. Back in New York, which I’m originally from, the elementary school used to go up to the sixth grade, and the seventh and eighth grades started in middle school. Before I got to middle school I was already smoking weed and drinking. The biggest part of my recovery story is I lived in New York and there was a big fire in Port Chester, New York, where I [was] originally born, and we had to move to Rye.
I was in the middle of the fourth grade. I had already started drinking because I left school to go to lunch with my cousin, which is in a four-block radius of school. We just could go around the corner and go to my cousin’s and at that time, we could actually go home for lunch. I didn’t go home. I went to my cousin’s house, had lunch, and was walking back to school, and I actually looked down the block and saw that our apartment was on fire. My mother was standing outside and at that moment, [but] because I’d already been drinking some Budweiser beer at my cousin’s house, I was more concerned about my mother seeing that I was out of school and not at home eating lunch. I chose to go back to the school, even though I knew that our apartment was on fire and my mother was standing outside [with] the fire trucks and everything. So that lying at a early age, trying to cover up what I was doing, started in the middle of the fourth grade. I remember it clearly because we had to move in the middle of the fourth grade because of that fire.
We moved to Rye, which is the next town. Rye, New York. Where we moved was on Midland Avenue where I could make a left and go to the elementary school or I could make a right and I could walk a couple of miles and get back to where I originally was from. So sometimes I did one, some days I did the other. I did that a lot. When I got to school, I just hooked up with the people who were doing what I liked to do. There was already people there, even though it was a different culture, who had access to alcohol. They used to bring it to school. They actually used to hide it in the back of the playground behind these rocks and trees and we used to go back there during recess and drink and go back to class.
I did that for a long time, fourth, fifth, sixth grade, and then got to middle school. That’s a long story that I’m going to cut short, but up to the tenth grade I had already been drinking, smoking weed, did mescaline, sniffed coke, was hanging out in the park. I was a part of cheerleading, color guard, played the flute. Rye High School was a big thing with football, so we did the bonfires and just I was a part of the… I didn’t really know about the ‘a part of’ part. I mingled with what, at that time, we called the greasers, the preppies, some of the black people. There was only like six black people in our whole school, so some of them mingled. I love to write, so I liked to go to English class. I did all that, but in the middle of that, in the bathroom, at the playground, at the tennis court, we did what we did anyway, even the football players. Everybody did.
Then we moved from New York to Connecticut, where I spent my junior and senior year. When I went to Connecticut, it was a melting pot of cultures. I met Haitians, Jamaicans, black, Latino, white, and everything. I used to always call myself a chameleon because I could fit in. I could go to a preppy school, go to golf clubs. I was a part of one of the first couple of black people to go to this golf club that was in Rye and in Harrison. I had run into some drama over it. Some of my friends was cool with it. Some people who they were cool with were not, so I was around some discrimination. Some people got out of the pool when I jumped in. One guy called me a nigger one day, so I called my mom to come and get me out of the school and was like, “I’m leaving and I’m going back to my old school,” whether she assigns me to it or not. I started walking back to my other school and skipping with my cousins and my friends, so that was a big part of my story.
My mother had experienced some trauma in her life. My aunt had been killed when I was five and she was drinking heavily and had never got any help. She was in a domestic violence situation with her husband and she ended up being found murdered and so my mother started drinking a lot and kind of spiraled and she decided to go get some help. The reason why I say that is because we were exposed to some other religions and the religion that she was in at the time, they didn’t agree with getting outside help. So she got dis-fellowshipped or told if she had to go to an outside thing that she was shunned. She made a choice to get some help, so the religious background that I had and was used to going to and being a part of, we separated from. My mom started going to some outside programs and she got sober.
I used to go and I used to watch my mom in some other outside programs. In those programs, I actually used to see some of my friends who I used to hang out with who were court-ordered to go to some of those programs. They, at the time, were told that they needed to stop hanging around with people like me. I was going to help celebrate my mom, so I think felt some resentments and some issues about something that was taking a lot of my mother’s time, and it was also taking some of my friends away from me. I didn’t think I had a problem. I just thought, based on what my grandfather told me, “If you can hold it, you can do it,” so if I could hold my drinking, I was good.
I did that for a long time. When we moved to Connecticut, that’s actually where my father’s family is from and my mother thought it would be a good thing because we had interacted with my aunt on my father’s side, who was a part of that religion. So I really started being a part of the religion again through my aunt on my father’s side, but my father was absent from our lives. We would connect to people on my father’s side in the family. When we moved to Connecticut I was happy because my aunt had ten kids, eight boys [and] two girls. It was me and my brother. We would go over there and it was like a big part of the family and great.
What I didn’t know [was] that when my mother moved there, the person she had met when she got into recovery was going to be moving with us. If I just told you about some of the discrimination and the stuff that I dealt with when I moved to Rye, which was an all-white town, now we moved to Stamford, which was a mixed town. We moved there around my father’s family, which was very close and part of a religion and I moved in with my mom and her white, female, gay lover. That added to my using and drinking and being embarrassed and wouldn’t have anybody come over to my house.
I spent a lot of time out and still going back to New York. I would hop on the train. I’ve been a real free spirit for a long time. I will get on a train, a bus. I can’t live anywhere that doesn’t have public transportation because I feel like I just have to get where I need to go. I did that for a long [time] and what my mother did was, because somebody’s living there with her and wanted some rules and regulations, she started putting curfews and stuff on me. She said if I’m not home at a certain time, the door will be locked, dead-bolted from the inside, and she got the key, too, and that I couldn’t come home.
For my junior and senior year, when I broke my curfew and I actually came home and she had locked the door, didn’t let me in. I came home, I missed the curfew, and she kind of opened the blind and closed the blind back and went back in. That spiraled me to do more and feel unwanted, feel unloved, embarrassed, all of that. Went through all of that, but I spent most of my junior and senior year in hotel rooms because I was a part of a lifestyle where we was selling and doing drugs. There was a stigma in that life because we used to think as long as we were smoking weed and drinking, but were selling the other stuff, [there] used to be a prejudice in that around where people are strung out and we’re not doing that. We’re just selling that.
A lot happened for a long time. I got to talk about my grandfather because I said something about him earlier when I was in New York. He decided to move to California and I was devastated because like I said, my father wasn’t in the picture. He was in the picture when he wanted to, like when there was funerals. Mostly, he used to come get us, me and my brother, when there was funerals, so I had a real resentment about funerals and death because I was like he doesn’t come for my birthday. He doesn’t come for when I played the flute. He didn’t come for any of my games. He didn’t come for any of that stuff, but he will call my mom and say, “We need to get the kids together and go to a funeral.” That would be like a family reunion with my family, my father’s family.
So when we moved to Connecticut and I’m with some of my family from my father’s side and my mother’s in this relationship that, at the time, I didn’t agree with and I was embarrassed about, I met some new friends and I let somebody spend the night over at my house. This was significant, significant. I had to go to work because I’ve always been working. I was either babysitting, but when I got to Connecticut, I started working at a cleaner’s because that’s where my aunt worked and she hooked me up. So I started working at the cleaner’s and I let a girlfriend that I had just met… her mother kicked her out. She wasn’t following rules or regulations. I let her spend the night. She knew the girl downstairs. They wouldn’t let her stay there, so I let her spend the night at my house. She found my diary and she read my diary. I had just started the diary, so I was writing that I just moved to Connecticut and found out that my mother was gay, living with a white lady, and she’s gay and I’m never home. I’m usually working, at school when I go, or I stay at the hotel or usually just started not being home. The girl went and she told the school.
That happened that Saturday, so somebody called me that Monday. She didn’t even go to the school we went to. I was livid, mad, went crazy, and my mom was like basically, she was living her recovery out loud to an extent and living her own life and she was not hiding about anything she was doing, not about not drinking, not about being in another relationship. I had never seen my mother with anybody. I didn’t even see her with my father, really. I knew she was with him, but I never saw her with him. Never seen her with another man. When I saw my mother’s interaction with somebody, it was with a woman and she was living with us. That led to me not being home even more because my mother really didn’t take my side in even acknowledging that how embarrassed I was.
I say all that now because now I realize she’s grown. She has a life to live. Now this woman, is also in long-term recovery and she’s got like thirty-something years, because that’s where my mother had met her. She’s been a part of our lives, been a part of my daughter and son’s life. We have renewed our relationship. She’s just wonderful, even though her and my mom are not together anymore, but to go from me hating her to where I am now to where I just went up to Connecticut like two years ago, spent time with her, is a miracle.
So to get into recovery, like I said, I was all over the place, but when I came into recovery, I was working a very prestigious analyst financial job on the 45th floor of a corporate building in Georgia. Just like my grandfather said, he didn’t want to be in snow anymore. He moved to California when I was in Connecticut.
I was tired of shoveling snow, so I took my five-year-old and my one-year-old, I packed up everything in August, and I moved to Georgia on a friend’s recommendation because she had just moved here. She had called me in December of ’98 and said, “It’s seventy-five degrees,” and I was shoveling out of snow. I said, “I’ll be there in August.” I literally packed everything away from my family, moved down from that girl I said who used to live downstairs from where I lived in Connecticut. She moved out here and I packed everything, brought me with me. I was still drinking. I was still using. God, all the cars I drove, all the tolls, bridges, pathways that I’ve gone. I got a DUI here when I first got here. That was in 2001 and I still did not get into recovery until December of 2006.
The job that I was at, I was introduced to the employee assistance program. They told me that I cannot come back to work smelling of liquor, looking like I’m drunk, acting like I’m drunk. To me, that was “Okay, I’ll stop drinking,” but I was still smoking weed. I was like, “There’s still enough mints and mouthwash that they shouldn’t smell the weed,” but sometimes they did because I can’t camouflage it. That’s when I spiraled out. Even though it’s an at-will state, they could’ve fired me. They asked me if I wanted to get help. I called the employee assistance program again and I got into counseling. The counseling suggested I try a twelve-step program. I started a twelve-step program, which introduced me to this higher power. I didn’t think there was no power greater than me.
Then I started saying there was my mother’s religion, my cousin’s religion, my aunt’s religion, my father’s religion. They were like, “It’s not a religious program. You just need to find something that can help you stay sober today.” I found that and I tapped into that. The people they connected me to when they say, “You don’t have to drink even if you want to,” that sounded foreign to me. I was like, “Even if I want to I don’t have to? How do I do that?” “You can pray and you call somebody who has done it before.” That’s what I started doing. It worked and it has worked for coming [up] on like nine years and I’m amazed.
I wasn’t really happy with that job anymore. I started embracing a faith that I wanted, which is Islam, so I started covering and wearing scarves. I interacted back with some family from New Jersey. My cousin, who is also my sister in faith, said, “Just start wearing your hijab again and you’ll feel more comfortable,” which I did. I think the job that I had, where I was, didn’t really embrace that. They didn’t embrace that on Fridays, I need to go to jumu’ah and I want to go to jumu’ah, because it’s not on Sunday like regular people worship or some people do Sabbath from Friday to Saturday. They didn’t embrace that.
I was going through some depression because some other things had happened. I had a boyfriend who was killed by the police. He was stopped by the police. He [was a] mistaken identity, dark tint, he was pepper sprayed, tasered, resisted arrest, and he suffocated and died in police custody. That happened August of 2006. So by the time I got to recovery, which was December 2006, that’s why I say I was spiraling. That was the first funeral. I talked about my father and taking me to funerals. I didn’t go to funerals anymore when I was growing up, but that was the first funeral I went to from what they call the beginning to the end, which is the service before, during, a wake before. [I] had never been to a wake like that, and then the whole service and then go to the graveyard and see the person get buried down.
That was the first time and it seems like from that, when I was five and my aunt passed, to all the stuff that had happened to me, it seemed like it hit a head when my boyfriend got killed. I couldn’t function at work. I was in a depressive state. I was a workaholic too. As you see, I’ve been working since I was a little kid, so I just kept working.
After the funeral, I kept working. During the funeral my boss called me and was like, “This number needs to be changed,” because I worked in numbers. So I came in after the funeral to pick up the flowers that they had sent me that went to the wrong place, and I just robot-ed my way to… thank God I got into recovery to that day before when I was in the hotel, December the 9th and I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.” I felt like whatever was left on the table, half a blunt on the table, I had stopped drinking, but I was still using. I was. I was still trying to mask what was going on with me.
So the day I went to that ten o’clock meeting that morning instead of staying at that hotel, it started me on a journey of facing my fears, letting go of the façade that I can work through everything, going on this journey of self-care. It took a long time to get to it, but I’m so glad I did.
I’m so grateful today because I get to work in a company where they do respect my religion. I can leave most Fridays and go pray. They believe in self-care. We advocate for self-care. If something happens to my granddaughter right now or my daughter, I know that I could go to my executive director and say, “I have to go.” We believe in the family and the community.
I’m just grateful for the women in these other programs because I go to conventions. I go to these woman-to-woman conventions where we talk about secrets women don’t share, what’s really going on, letting go of the masks that we have in our life. We have these workshops and stuff that we do.
I actually just got nominated for the scholarship. It’s a scholarship that they do for the people who have passed on and they randomly pick somebody to get the scholarship where they cover your registration and your dinner and everything. I just got a call two weeks ago that I was nominated for one of those. I’ve been to Del Rey. I’ve been to Boca Raton. We went to Washington because there’s a southeast region and a northeast region. There’s an international. They were in Hawaii and I didn’t go to it because I just started with my full-time job here.
This job here, which is not like a job because everything I do here I would do for free. I got introduced to Georgia Council through CARES because I’m a CARE 7. Once I left the financial world, I started working at a treatment facility place and the person there went through CARE 6 and recommended me for CARE 7. Then because I was a contract worker, they were asking for people to come and do the writing samples and the written reviews and just review the process for the next CARES. That was September of 2012 and I just started full time here in January.
I just got put on a new project called Recovery Foundations Transformation where we’re going to selected regions for community service boards to help people from the inside of community-based transition centers or people work in a recovery to start from the inside out to help individuals who want to be in recovery. I was going twice a month to the mental institutions, the Georgia regional institutions where we would speak to new employees. So the first face they would see is somebody in recovery who has possibly through an institution or been to a twelve-step.
I like to write, so I do some poetry too and showing them that there could be multiple ways to get into recovery. But the first face that we see, whether it be the intake, whether it be processing, whether it be part of the nursing team, whether it’s the human resources team, that that could be the, say, ‘go or no’ to somebody in recovery. If you look at them with a stigma like they’re never going to get better, well I’m telling you, if you would’ve saw me December the 9th, you probably would’ve thought I could never put together eight years and some change. Probably would’ve never thought that I would know now not to leave my kids at home by themselves, that I’m conscious, and that I’m aware.
My daughter just had an allergic reaction Saturday and she called me and she asked for help and I was able to go help her, where before, she might’ve been left by herself or on her own to call 911 and get where she needed to go by herself. She had me. She had her grandmother, but the point is that she was able to call me and I was able to come and be present when before, I was living a life of MIA and kind of like how I thought I felt my mother did was, “Do your own thing, fend for yourself.” I respect my mother now. Now I see my mother as the adult having boundaries on the other side of the door instead of that fifteen-year-old girl on the outside feeling like I’m abandoned and put out. Now I’ve switched the roles now, but I still think I’m a parent with guilt.
I get to go to my place of worship today and be present for my kids, present for myself. With all the stuff going on in the media now with people, and the police stuff that’s going on, it could trigger a lot of emotions for me because I’ve experienced somebody dying that way. So my self-care has to be on the upfront, but I’m glad I get to come to work and interact with people and talk about it openly and cry sometimes if I need to cry, get upset if I need to get upset, [or] go to a outside meeting. I’m glad I know that resources are available to me and I can go get help. I’m trying to extend that to my children so they know that they don’t have to just close the door, close the blinds, or harm themselves or harm someone else for the attention that they might be seeking.
Now I seek to help others because I know somebody was there to help me. That was really big. I know I could call that sponsor. The one I had my first seven years, I could still call her today if I need to. The one I have now. I have a network that is awesome. I have a job that is awesome. God, it’s just amazing to me. I always say this because I used to work in finance dealing with numbers all the time. All they cared about was the end of the day if you got a return on your money. Now, the return that I get is priceless. It’s better than any money, any stock, anything that I could get on a piece of paper. In my own personal consciousness, I’m just glad that I can be present today.
Photographs taken at the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse in Atlanta, Georgia.