“I walked into the house, and the first thing that I saw was his feet. He was face down on my floor. Luckily my kids didn’t come in the house.”
My story begins, really, when I was a kid. I grew up in a home without alcohol in it. I grew up as an only child. My father was sober, got sober in 1970. I was born in 1973. He stayed sober until he passed away eight years ago. My mother didn’t drink. She was a compulsive overeater and that’s how she died, when she was fifty-four.
I grew up in a fishbowl as an only child. I always remember from my earliest recollections of life, feeling like a round peg in a square hole. I always gravitated towards the kids who were doing the wrong thing, but I was essentially the kid who was always doing the right thing. I was pushed, really, in that direction. My parents wanted me to succeed, education was really important, we never had alcohol in our house.
The first time—the only time it was in my house—was when I was ten, and I remember drinking it and I remember thinking, “That’s what I’ve been looking for for the past ten years of my life.” I had to really work it, too, because it was left over from a party. I remember screwing off the tops of the beer bottles with the bottle opener. I had to screw them off and when I drank, I had to refill them with water. I knew my dad was never going to drink any of it, so he wouldn’t miss it. Other people I know, “Where did all the alcohol go?” That never happened.
I smoked my first cigarette when I was ten, I drank the first time I was ten. My parents were actually in the middle of separating and getting divorced. Ten was a rough year for me. I do remember seeking alcohol. I couldn’t find it. I was really not allowed to do things on my own, so when I was fifteen I remember being in high school, I played basketball, I played sports. I got pretty good grades, I was deemed a smart child. [At a] basketball party with girls, I remember getting loaded the first time I got drunk. That really was the beginning of my drinking. Vomited all over my room.
I was the stereotypical drunk. I just puked all over the place and I remember thinking, “Oh my god. If my dad finds out I’m going to rehab.” I only knew what rehab was because I have two sisters from his first marriage, and one sister got clean when she was nineteen years old. I remember watching her being taken to rehab and thinking, “You’re an idiot, you get caught by Dad. You should have hid it better.” Instead of, “My poor sister,” I’m thinking, “What an idiot.” I remember the day like it was yesterday.
Throughout high school, I would drink when I could. It was hard, because I didn’t want to come home to my dad. I started getting into bars in Center City, in Philadelphia. I grew up in Newtown, in upper Bucks County. My girlfriends and I would drive down to the city, we would get into bars at the age of sixteen, seventeen. I was always the drunk one. When I got my license, I was never the designated driver, and if I was, someone else ended up driving my car.
I got into college. I went to the University of Pittsburgh and a very good friend of mine from high school was my roommate. I had it made. My parents got me everything I wanted. They paid for my education because they had to, it was the only way I could go to school.
At the end of my first year, I had a 1.4 grade point average. Alcohol ruled my life at that point. Alcohol made my decisions for me. After I dropped out of college at eighteen, by the time I was twenty-one, it was enough for my parents, especially my father, to ask me, “Is all this craziness,”—I started doing geographical cures, I tried to move around a lot—”Is all this craziness because you’re drinking? I’ve smelled alcohol on you, I’ve seen you look like you’re spent from the night before.”
My option at that point was homelessness or going to a twelve-step program. I had never been camping up until that point, so homelessness was really not the option. I didn’t take the noble way out. It wasn’t because, “I’m a bad person, I need to be better,”—it was like, I need my parents, I can’t really live without the support that they give me.
I ended up going to a twelve-step program at the age of twenty-one and was welcomed with open arms. My dad had been a member and had told me exactly where to go. There was one building in particular that I still go to, where I go to meetings. I walked into the door and I knew some of those people, because I grew up in the program. These people knew me as Cal’s daughter.
When I got sober I was twenty-one, I was single, I had no children, I had no job, I had a nice car, and I came from Newtown and came here to Bristol, came to meetings. I think one of the biggest parts of my story at this point becomes I met a boy in the program and it was boy meets girl on the program campus. It started there. I was twenty-two, he was twenty-seven, we were together, what culminated in a nineteen-year relationship and two children.
I stayed without alcohol from the age of twenty-one until I was thirty. I made many meetings, I chaired, I sponsored, I didn’t work the twelve steps. I stayed sober on will power. I stayed sober on “I don’t want my dad to be mad at me.” I stayed sober on, “Now you’ve become this person that everybody relies on.” I stayed sober on lies, I stayed sober on fallacies. I stayed sober so people would pat me on the back and say, “Wow, you’re young. You stayed sober.”
The guy and I were together, his name was Steve. We had our first child when I was twenty-four, her name’s Veronica. For the first seven years of her life I was sober, but I was crazy. He began getting high; he was a prescription pill addict. He began getting high when she was about two years old. I still went to meetings, I still had friends. I had a sponsor today that I had twenty years ago, who just wanted me to be okay. Almost nine years sober, I picked up pills out of spite.
It was one of those, “You’re going to do it. You don’t have to feel it. I live in pain constantly, mental and emotional pain. I have done no step work, I have done nothing genuine to help any other human beings on this earth. Everything I really have has relatively been given to me at this point. I’m going to do what you’re doing, because I can’t live like this anymore.” My life was a lie, completely.
For the next five years, I was in a revolving door. This is probably the worst part of my life, because I now have a child. I now have a person that relies on me to live, not just friends who are sad that I’ve relapsed. I have a human being who relies solely on me and her father to provide her with everything that she needs. At that point, I realized what it was like to me [for] those women that I used to judge and say, “How can you do that? You have kids.” And say, “How can you get loaded? You have kids.” And say, “How you can you get high? You have kids.” I became that person.
All of the things I judged people [for], I become. The humiliating experiences that I then went through, which I’ll just say as candidly as I possibly can, I ended up becoming a crack cocaine addict. I judged people who did drugs like that, hard drugs like that. I started to do things to get high that I knew other people had done, but they were all of my nevers. Every one of my nevers came true. I ended up stealing from an employer. I took a check and I wrote it out to myself. I ended up getting arrested for that. I had four felony charges. I did not go to jail because the police officer looked at me and said, “You are so pathetic, I’m going to let you go, and you’re going to have to go to court and you’re going to probably go to jail.”
That day was the first day I really cried out for some sort of help. I didn’t even know that God was there yet. I did the circuit, I went to the hospital, I went to rehab, I went to a halfway house voluntarily. I went to a recovery house that a really good friend of mine owned, and that I had seen get sober, and now was owning homes for recovering people to live in. Then I went to a sober house and I accumulated nearly a year without drink or drugs again, moved out on my own, and I was back with my children’s father.
He came home with drugs one night, dropped them on a table, and that was it. I went off on another tear, and this one would last for about three years. I started stealing, I had sex for drugs, I was in a crack house and I wasn’t even ashamed at that point. I was like, “I have to get high, there’s nothing that’s going to stop me,” and, “I’m going to have to do what I have to do to get high.” We’re together this whole time, like Bonnie and Clyde, but the bad version, because we got caught doing everything.
He’s going in and out of jail, I’m going in and out of people’s houses, saying, “I just need to stop, I just need to stop.” Finally, my daughter had taken a back seat. I wasn’t the kind of drug addict that was like, “Good night, baby, have a nice sleep. Blah blah blah blah.” I’m the kind of drug addict that goes, “Good night,” to my daughter and then leaves her.
I left her with my dad. My dad had custody of my daughter for a year. I ended up leaving her with my sponsor. I went on a ten day run, and I was going to kill myself at the end. For some reason, my sponsor kept calling me and calling me and calling me and at the end, when I ran out of money, I said to her, “You need to come pick me up. I got to go to rehab.”
During this time, my father had gotten terminally ill with cancer, and I was getting high while my dad was dying. When he finally died, I knew I was never going to be able to forgive myself for being high when he was dying. My dad meant everything to me, and I couldn’t even bring myself to go visit him every day, he didn’t live that far. His wife had told me, because my mom had passed away since. His wife had told my sponsor that he had passed away, and I didn’t even see him for I think about a week before he passed away.
I got a pretty good slice of money from an inheritance; it was gone within four months. I smoked through all of it and my children’s father is still in and out of jail. He beat me up a couple of times, because crack makes you do crazy things and act like a crazy person. I finally had a moment, and this was my moment that I would get sober and stay that way, to this very day.
I had a moment of willingness and God’s grace at the same time. That’s what I believe is what happened to me. Nothing in particular happened that day. It wasn’t like I had just robbed a bank and I was going to get arrested and I was going to jail. What had happened was, I looked in a mirror at myself, I had that moment of clarity. It wasn’t sanity yet, it was definitely clarity. There’s a big difference to me. Where God said, “Look at yourself.” I looked at myself, and I think I ate a piece of bread in two weeks, my poor daughter is staying at my sponsor’s house the majority of the time. I looked in the mirror, and I said, “I can’t do this any more.”
I started going back to meetings, and that was [seven years] ago. My sobriety date is September 20th of 2008. I started to work the twelve steps, with the willingness that only dying people can have, because I was dying. I felt it and I saw it. I looked at myself in the mirror, and my eyes were all sunken in, and I looked back recently at what I had been doing. I had been killing other people, I had been manipulating and stealing and lying and prostituting myself so I could get high.
I looked back, and I said, “I’m not ready to look back yet. I need to trust God.” I started working the steps. Once I trusted God I then decided, “It’s really time to clean house,” because I had never cleaned house up to this point. We’re talking nine years without drinking alcohol, white knuckle sobriety the entire time. I was restless, irritated, discontented. I know that when I got sober when I was twenty-one I had no obsession to drink. I had never done any hard drugs.
When I got sober, clean and sober, this time, I had an obsession that pounded me for nine months minimum. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. I worked the steps and I started to clean house. I got a job. I was living at my sponsor’s house, because we had gotten evicted from the apartment. I had gotten a job, and I felt like I was becoming a productive member of society. All the while, though, inside feeling like, “I want to get high, I want to get high, I want to get high, I want to get high.” This whole time, the dichotomy of, “I want to get high” but, “I want to a normal person.”
My daughter’s grown up, I’m still with her father, we ended up getting a place together, which is where I still live now. I’ve been here at this apartment for six years, and I live in Bristol Borough. Coming to the wharf was always a solace for me, because I got sober but their father did not. My kids’ father did not ever get sober. We moved into this apartment and what I ended up doing was I stopped working so hard at going to meetings, I stopped helping other people, and I really ended up focusing on this sick, sad relationship that I was in.
I had fallen out of love with this man ten years ago, but he was my child’s father. We ended up having another child who is now four, he’s about to be five next week. Through God’s grace, this child will never see me get loaded. It’s the four of us living in an apartment, he’s still a prescription drug addict, he never ever moves onto heroin, he was fine taking 1000 mg of Percocet a day.
I was not going to meetings, so I was living the life. I was talking to all my friends, I have an amazing network of women that I associate with that I’m still super tight with, and my sponsor who’s been with me for ten years. These women have saved my life and they saved my life in the relationship, because what was once the, “I’m the sick drug addict alcoholic, I want to kill myself,” became, “I’m in a relationship with a man who’s never going to get clean, I have two children, I have absolutely nothing, I want to kill myself.”
I was going to strap the boy into the back seat of the car every night and run my car into a bridge, run my car out into the middle of the highway, so that something would kill us because I couldn’t leave him behind with his father. My daughter, at that point, I figured was old enough that she’d be able to do what she needed to do.
What I ended up doing was isolating myself again through someone else’s addiction. I’d go to a meeting, and it’d be like a reunion, like, “Where you been?” People thought I had relapsed because I had before with them. The sadness that I started feeling was nearly as desperate as the sadness I had felt when I had gotten back into the program.
What ended up happening was Friday the 13th, June 13th of 2014, it was like every other day. I had this thing where I would pick up my son, my daughter may have already been home already, but she would go directly into her room. I for some reason knew something wasn’t right. I picked my daughter and her boyfriend up from the mall, I picked my son up from the babysitter.
Normally, what I would do was if the porch light was off, I figured that their dad was high and that I would have to go in first and take care of everything, make sure that I could get my kids in, and I’d kick him out, or whatever I would do. I walked into the house, and the first thing that I saw was his feet. He was face down on my floor. Luckily my kids didn’t come in the house.
My daughter had seen him in various states of high, nodding, for most of her life. She had seen what that stuff does to people for most of her life. My son, who loved his dad, I couldn’t imagine if he had to go into the house and see him laying on the floor. He was face down, I knew he was dead, I touched him, touched his back, and I called 911.
What I’ve learned over nearly the past year is that God did for both of us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. The sickness of this disease, the sickness, the denial is the worst part. The night before he died, he told me, “Sarah, I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to stop.” It’s almost like he had a premonition and knew he was going to die. He was on a methadone maintenance program, he had taken Benzos, and it turned into poison in his body, and it killed him.
As soon he left, I redoubled. I looked at my life and I said, “The only reason I’m alive, and I’m not the one laying on the ground is because of the program, is because of God, is because of these women.” As soon as I knew he had died, I called nine-one-one, and I called one of them, she came running over. The other one was doing something, she left and came over. These people just came to me. What ended up happening was I had to bury him. Well, he didn’t get buried, I had to make sure he got cremated. I had to make sure that the arrangements were taken care of. His ashes are in St. Mark’s in Frankford, in the bell tower. I didn’t have any money to bury him, and he hadn’t worked for fifteen years, so there was nothing to bury him with.
I went back into the program and right now, I wrote another fourth step. I’m sponsoring five women. I want to go into the field. I want to actually be a drug and alcohol counselor.
Through this process, my children are happy. My daughter doesn’t have to stay in her room all the time. My daughter trusts me again. My daughter didn’t trust me, even when her dad was alive and I was sober, because I wasn’t protecting her from him. My son misses his dad, but nine out ten days he’s absolutely 100% the happiest little child I’ve ever met in my life.
I actually got into a relationship with a woman who I befriended who I met right before Steve passed away. I’m in a relationship now that I had dreamed of being in my whole life, and she’s sober as well. My life today, because of the program, because of God, is truly happy, joyous, and free. I have an amazing job, I’m going back to school, I’m in this fabulous relationship, I’m sponsoring these women. My life can be 100% attributed to carrying the message, listening to the message, sharing experience, strength and hope.
I’m a woman who was a drug addict, who had a child, didn’t care about anybody on earth, but I didn’t care about me, I cared about drugs, I cared about alcohol. I cared about getting loaded, I cared about getting out of me. Today, I know that deep down inside of me, deep down inside of everyone that I come into contact with is the fundamental idea of God. I know this with all my heart, and I know that God has given me the ability to live through the hell that I went through and put others through, purely to help other people.
I hated people, especially when I was in that deep, dark world of drugs and alcohol. Even when I was in that relationship that was killing me, that killed one of us, I hated people. I didn’t want you around me, I wanted to be isolated. Now, I truly, I say this all the time, I love the people. I am in love with people. I love humanity. I want to constantly be around people and I want to constantly be trying to help and see what I can do to get the best out of life that I can.
Today, I sit here with [seven] years sober. Could have twenty years in July, but I do not, that was not my journey. I’m truly grateful for what God has given me. This is a beautiful day, I’m super happy, this is great.
Photographs taken at Bristol Wharf in Bristol, Pennsylvania, where Sarah would go to find solace while her children’s father continued in his active addiction.