“I went out there and I saw him. They had put a sheet over him, so I asked my assistant, ‘Why have you covered him up? He’s not going to be able to breathe.’ She said to me, ‘Pam, he’s dead.'”
I‘m Pam M. I’m Pam, an alcoholic I am. I was born here in Jackson, Mississippi, the fifth of six children. I always thought I was pretty special. I was born on Thanksgiving and I thought, I guess, I was God’s gift for the world, particularly for my mom who didn’t get a chance to enjoy her Thanksgiving meal. I noticed after that I never enjoyed Thanksgiving meals until recently, and a lot of things have changed of course. My childhood was very, very good. The six of us attended a private Catholic school and life was just wonderful.
I was very shy. Very shy. I’d get home from school and stay indoors, and the rest of the kids would go out and play. It’s not something I wanted to do. I guess my creativity started flourishing as a child, because in school, the teacher would ask all the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up, and you get the common answers from the little girls—nurse and teacher. Well my childhood ambition was to be a Las Vegas showgirl. That didn’t seem to go over too well, so I learned to start being dishonest with myself at a very young age. I always gave the standard answer from then on, saying I wanted to be a teacher or a nurse. I had no desire to be those things.
“I was bullied for some years. Never any violent actions towards me physically, but emotionally I carried a lot of fear everyday.”
Something quite traumatic happened [in my] childhood. My family moved. My father owned his own business as a cement finisher and he started flourishing in the community, so since he’s a cement finisher, he can lay a foundation really good for a house. He moved us out into a rural area outside of Jackson, and that was a major blow for me—having to start all over again. Everything was foreign to me. Riding a big yellow school bus to school. Living on a road and not on a street, and wearing regular clothes, which we were wearing uniforms and the whole uniform deal wasn’t in place as it is today. I got to wear regular clothes. I liked that pretty much. Being quiet and shy and bashful was not perceived as such. I came across, I suppose, as being snooty.
I was bullied for some years. Never any violent actions towards me physically, but emotionally I carried a lot of fear everyday. I loved school, but I hated going to school, so I was conflicted there. The girl never did anything so bad to me, but it was enough. I was very active in school. I’d win most popular as quiet as I was. I’d win class favorite. Played in the band. I became drum major of the band and I liked participating in extracurricular activities. I could shine there. That’s where I felt like I needed to be.
I didn’t take a drink until probably at the age of sixteen. My best friend’s father had a bar in their house and there was alcohol there all the time. She brought a fifth of gin to school one day and I brought the juice, so I guess I was prepared for a little gin and juice. We would go to our locker and fix ourselves a little cocktail in between breaks. It wasn’t all the fireworks and everything I thought it would be. I thought, “Hmmm…” Later I thought maybe I had too much juice and not enough gin, or I thought maybe that was just the start of who I was and who I was becoming—potentially an alcoholic.
“I did want that girl to know that maybe I had a little rough side to me after all, since I was drinking alcohol at school, and maybe she would back off me.”
The main thing I wanted to happen from that, I did want that girl to know that maybe I had a little rough side to me after all, since I was drinking alcohol at school, and maybe she would back off me, but that didn’t happen. I did not continue drinking at that point. I got the opportunity to skip a grade, which would have been my senior year of high school. I thought, “Well God is smiling on me. I have prayed for relief from this situation and here’s my answer.” My parents were split on whether or not I should do it. Senior year is very important, and on the other hand, your freshman year at college is just a repeat of your senior year of high school. Okay, let’s go with that one. I like that one. That’s what I did.
I went to college at the age of sixteen. In college, I experimented once with different substances. Did not like it at all. By the time I was eighteen, I was introduced to beer and I rather liked it. I liked it. I would not drink until the weekends and a six-pack would last the weekend for me. Then I’d go back to school because I was pursuing a degree. After my dreams were dashed from the showgirl thing, I decided I wanted to be child psychologist. I majored in psychology and planned to get my degree. I was going to show them because I skipped a year. I’m fitting in, sixteen years old, in college and doing very well. I did. That was the goal—to get a degree in psychology—and that’s what I got.
With that degree, being very young I thought, “Oh they’re going to all be pursuing me for employment. Everybody is going to want me to come work for them with my degree.” Those dreams were dashed also. I tried, I tried, and I tried, and I could not get hired anywhere. I felt myself getting sadder and sadder, and I guess I would diagnose myself with depression. However, I know what makes depression feel a little bit better. I started to drink. I had a notion, because it was just so natural, and it just felt so fine and I just felt like, “It’s okay that I’m not employed yet. My day is coming. My day is coming,” and so it did.
I had to move to Memphis to accept a job working with what was, not politically correct today, but working with mentally retarded adults and that’s how they were referred to at that time. I got employment there and life started becoming very good. I could drink on the weekends. I could quit and go back to work on Monday morning and all was well. I never had a thought about it during the week. I was disciplined, I would say. I got into a relationship years later and fell in love. My mother would always tell me that what glitters isn’t always gold and so she’s correct. There is such a thing as fool’s gold. I think that’s what I found.
I got stuck in this relationship and I was very unhappy in it, but I knew a solution and that was drinking. Drinking eased the pain. Then it became a way of life. I started depending on it more and more. What went from weekends, to a few week nights, then after that, pretty much every week night. Then of course it started interfering in my daily activities. Well, at this job I had where our clients are, we’d try and work with them on getting jobs in the community. They’re borderline or mildly in the range, so they can gain employment and work along side of normal citizens.
“That day, the whole drinking game accelerated. I just did not care anymore, and every morning I had to walk into that office. The blood stain never left the carpet.”
A couple of my clients had taken the bus to work one day and one was a bit of a hot head, I should say, and the other was pretty laid back and a really good guy. We were trying to help him get an apartment and to live independently. Just with a little coaching and all, he could be trained to function and live independently. Well, the other guy had a cup of coffee, and the first guy I was speaking of had an unsteady gait, and he accidentally bumped into this guy with the cup of coffee and spilled it on him. He got very angry instantly. He took a box cutter he had taken home from work and he cut his neck from ear to ear.
Well, at that point I had not been so disciplined in my work habits. I had been going in late pretty much everyday. Someone was riding with me to work that day. Someone needed a ride. For that reason, I wanted to get them to work on time, so I pushed myself to be at work on time that particular day. As I walked in, there was the aftermath of the guy with his neck cut from ear to ear. I saw him and I went into hysterical shock and asking, “What’s the problem, what’s the problem?” All I see is blood. They say, “Get her out of here.” They take me out and so I just lost time. I lost time. The next thing I knew it was quiet, and this is on the other side of my office.
I went out there and I saw him. They had put a sheet over him, so I asked my assistant, “Why have you covered him up? He’s not going to be able to breathe.” She said to me, “Pam, he’s dead.” Something went through me at that moment that just seemed to take all the life out of me. I’m in my office, and he’s on the other side of the wall waiting for them to pick him up. Just chaos just ensued. That day I had to provide a lot of grief counseling, not as a professional, but the clients didn’t know to handle things such as that. We have to remember who we were working with. I did that. That day, the whole drinking game accelerated. Changed pretty drastically. I just did not care anymore, and every morning I had to walk into that office. The blood stain never left the carpet. They got rid of the couch and all.
My drinking increased a lot and needless to say, life just started going downhill. I had been promoted. I was supervising several people. I got demoted, so I was working alongside the same people. That brought a lot of embarrassment and shame and eventually I was terminated, which was very shocking, believe it or not, to lose my job. I thought they should understand and I would put it on Larry’s death that that was the reason and they should be understanding. The truth was, I had been spiraling out of control for some time because I couldn’t cope with life. They had tried to send me to a program to talk to someone about whatever my issues were, and I would tell them about this relationship and the other person and how I was the victim of course. That’s a lot that I’ve learned about myself from reviewing my past.
My parents heard about how my life was going in Memphis and basically they sent my big brothers to come up to visit. I got in the vehicle with them and back to Mississippi I came. They sent for all my stuff and had me move back. Well, they don’t have a very good understanding of alcoholism. They thought if I was in their home, if I had a few drinks, a few drinks a day, then I’d be okay. They didn’t want to deprive me of it because I loved it so much, but they didn’t understand they had to go to bed at night. I never considered it a party.
“I had grown to the point where I felt like I was drinking to survive. I’m getting up in the morning with the shakes and didn’t even need an electric toothbrush like I use today.”
At one point, I had grown to the point where I felt like I was drinking to survive. I’m getting up in the morning with the shakes and didn’t even need an electric toothbrush like I use today. I had the shakes pretty bad and it was a necessity, not just something that I wanted. That’s the way life went. I did not work for six years. It didn’t look so good to the rest of my siblings to be home at my age with my parents taking care of me. Eventually I got a job, which was seasonal, working for the census bureau. I did like what I did for a few months. I did like taking part in that. I was a part of society. Making a contribution and having my own money to drink on that also.
Things got pretty progressively worse at that point. I had no ambition, no desire to do anything but stay home. One thing I did like about myself, I was not one for jumping in the car driving someplace. If I had to, then I would. For the most part, God has spared me from any legal consequences. I will look at it like that as a blessing because there were many times that, every time, I should not have been operating a motor vehicle, so I’m very grateful for that today.
My family had an intervention in the home. Well, it didn’t take. I made promises as I had done, to stop, and do better. The fear maybe helped me keep that for maybe a day, or at least not get caught drinking. I broke a foot and I also suffered with pancreatitis for a week. At that point, my dad asked me to promise him that I wouldn’t drink again. I looked at him directly in his eyes with all my heart and I said, “I promise.” Well, after I broke my foot I was cooped up in the house for a couple of months, and they wanted me to get out and get some air one day. They said, “Why don’t you go to town and pay the bills?” You can tell this was long ago. I did go and do that for them. The thought came, “It’s been a couple of months. One won’t hurt. Why not?”
I got a six-pack. I didn’t want to take it home. I certainly wasn’t going to throw it away. The one did hurt. The one turned into the first of many more to come. There was another intervention my family had, “We want you to go to the hospital tonight.” “Oh, I’m not feeling well. I’ve got this, that, and the other going on. I’ll go tomorrow.” “No, you will go tonight.” I did go to the hospital that night. I went into detox for six days. Very excited on the sixth day, “I’m going home.” When they picked me up, they were headed in another direction that wasn’t home. Once again, I’m trapped in a vehicle and someone has decided which way I’m going.
They took me far away to some place I hadn’t gone before in North Mississippi, and I went into a treatment program. They said, “Why don’t you try it out for a couple weeks? If you don’t like it, we’ll come get you.” First night there, I heard someone tell their story. I looked up and said, “Thank you. This must be the place I’m supposed to be.” I gave myself to that program that night and stayed into that program for ninety days. Eventually, I moved into another program there and stayed in that town. A small town with very, very good recovery. There was really nothing else to do. For an alcoholic like me, that was the perfect place to be. I got busy doing some things that I was told—I was promised—that would keep me sober. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. There it was—the start of something very wonderful.
“First night there, I heard someone tell their story. I looked up and said, ‘Thank you. This must be the place I’m supposed to be.'”
I got hired as a counselor at the same place where they had provided me services. I was hired there and worked there for some years. I went on vacation one year and while my friend was at work and I was staying at his place, I did my prayer and meditation and somewhere in there, I talked with God and I made a decision. I’m ready to move back home because my parents are getting older and I expressed that to my sister and the next thing I knew, had an interview in Jackson just coming off of one week vacation and I need to leave again because I had an interview. It was for the exact same position that had just opened. I was maybe one of the first to be interviewed, but I was hired right then.
I was able to move from one place to the next place with all ease. I know absolutely when God has taken control, when I have given him my will, and I expressed my need. If it’s his will, then he provides. I was able to move back home in the exact same position, and it was the only one that’s in the agency. It’s one that I love. One that I did not choose, but it gives me an opportunity to help others on a daily basis. However, that is my job that I’m paid to do, and there are other things that I do to share my story to help other people.
This is God’s plan for me and I try to stay on course, which means the things I do from the time I wake up in the morning and throughout the day. It’s very, very interesting and I think it’s a God wink that this morning my meditation talked about attaining success as my way of making God known. I liked that very much that I would get this opportunity to make God know today and say all the wonderful things that I’m blessed with today were very little effort on my part. When I do as I’m instructed to do and that way, I have to keep in touch with him, very much so.
When I was in a program to try to address my alcoholism, they asked one day, “What is one thing that you think would make you relapse?” I’m pretty confident and I think this thing worked. I hear people sharing their stories all the time. If it works for millions of people, then why wouldn’t it work for me? I think it will work. “Well, if you had to identify one thing, what would that be?” I said, “It would have to be the loss of a loved one.”
Last year, April 15th, my mother unexpectedly passed away. I got the word on one Wednesday morning and some series of things happened that morning. They had to call the ambulance and they were taking her to the hospital. I was alone at work and I prayed, and at some point, something came over me to say that everything is going to be all right. When I found out the time of death, it happened right about that time, so I know that God was with me and went through the grieving process and all.
People tend to think that catastrophes or tragedies and devastating things, but there is absolutely nothing today, because if there was anything, that would have been it. My mother got a chance to experience me twelve years sober. My sobriety date is May 13, 2003, and I’m thirteen years sober today because of my change in the way that I’m living.
Photographs taken at Engaged Recovery in Jackson, Mississippi.