Meet Pauline, a Total Bad Ass Who Doesn’t Realize She’s Awesome

Pauline and her dog, Jack
Pauline and her dog, Jack

I meet amazing people to write about for this blog in the most unlikely places. The funny thing is, heroes think they’re normal. Nothing special. Talking people into letting me tell their stories often takes a bit of convincing that others can benefit from their experiences, particularly the life choices that empowered them to become the successes they are today.

For example, Pauline Kinneman, one of my favorite new running buddies in Central Oregon,

Pauline and I running in the Silver Falls Half Marathon last November where she placed third for her age group
Pauline and I running in the Silver Falls Half Marathon last November where she placed third for her age group

doesn’t think she’s special at all, but she’s a total bad ass. Due to her peer pressure, I’m training for the Bend Marathon, my first marathon ever, on Sunday, April 24. What kind of crazy people run 26.2 miles, for cryin’ out loud? Apparently, people like me who admire and respect someone like Pauline, a 62-year-old who has won several medals in half and full marathons, a woman nine years my senior who kicks my butt on the roads and trails. She’s also the mother of three amazing adults: Sean Michael Gion, age 32, father, husband, software sales executive; Lauren Elizabeth Frances, M.D., age 30, and Katherine Rose Sylvia, age 26, wife, writer for Human Resources at Columbia University.

A former manager for a Barnes & Noble in Seattle, customer relations officer for Washington Energy, disc jockey back in the day, retail sales person, and model for Frederick and Nelson as a teenager, Pauline now spends much of her time running with her FootZone friends talking, joking, and offering humble encouragement. When she isn’t running, she hits the ski slopes, braves rocky trails on her mountain bike, and takes 200+ mile trips on her road bike with her husband, Michael, of 37 years.

You might guess, with a such a glowing track record (pun intended), she came from a stable, educated family.

You would be wrong.

Pauline’s father, John Kelty, was illiterate. John ran away from home and enlisted in the army in his teens. As a sergeant in World War II, he was one of the last Muleskinners who saved women and children in the Swiss Alps, and he had a fabulous singing voice.

But he could never quiet his inner demons.

220px-Tennis_Racket_and_BallsPauline’s mother, Sylvia Baker, a professional tennis player who competed at the U.S. Open, met John, a soldier 12 years her senior, guarding the tennis courts in Japan where she’d been asked to play in a “Friendlies” match with the Emperor. A whirlwind romance would have the two married several months later.

And her mother would discover her new husband was a mean drunk.

Still, Pauline’s oldest brother Frank came along, Geoffrey followed two years later, and Pauline Sylvia Kelty, named after her English grandmother, arrived a couple years after Geoff. Her mother continued to play tennis, and her dad worked for Boeing as a plumber. They lived in a two-bedroom house in Seattle where little Pauly slept in a crib in the same room with her brothers until she was five years old.

Meanwhile, her alcoholic father had become physically abusive.

By the time Pauly turned six, her parents had split up. Her dad didn’t pay child support, so the family practically starved while her mom struggled to pay the bills on the meager sponsorship from Boeing to play in tennis tournaments and her secretary’s salary.

Pauly didn’t go to preschool or kindergarten. She stayed home with her stuffed animals while her mom went to work and her brothers went to school. When she got hungry, she’d knock at neighbors’ doors, asking for something to eat. In the afternoons, she walked several blocks by herself and waited for her brothers to be let out of class for the day.

Yet when her mom had a tennis match scheduled, Pauly and her brothers bathed and dressed in clean white shirts and behaved as model imageschildren, seen and not heard. At the swanky tennis clubs, servers brought them food and drinks while their mother battled for another tennis trophy.

“People waited on us,” says Pauline. “We were little princes and a princess – until we went home to our hovel.”

Win or lose, Sylvia would take the kids back to their little house to carefully stow their pressed shirts and slacks for the next match. On days when Sylvia didn’t have a match scheduled, she and Pauly would go to the track at the local public high school, where Pauly would watch her mom hit tennis balls against a wall and run laps to stay in shape.

track-shoes-9068173“I’d go to sleep at the side of the track listening to the rhythm of her feet,” Pauline remembers. “[The sound] was comforting.”

In addition to the difficulties of day-to-day living, the family lived in terror knowing her father could appear at any time, wasted and ready to bully them.

“We’d hold our breath hoping Dad wouldn’t show up drunk and violent,” Pauline confides. “Sometimes we had to leave to get away from him, which was fun because the no-tell-motel would have a pool, [but other times] the police would have to come and take him away.”

Single motherhood, a struggling tennis career, and an abusive ex-husband ground Sylvia into deep depression, so she tried to lift her spirits by dating. If Pauly and her brothers came home to hear music playing, they knew to stay out of the house. If the music still played after her date left, they knew their mother’s dark mood would isolate her for the rest of the evening. After such nights, ten-year-old Pauly would coax her mother out of bed, assemble an outfit, and help dress her for work in the morning.

“School was awful,” Pauline admits. “I was always sleepy, and I was super thin because I ate terribly.”

At age 11, Pauly found her mother running around the house with a handful of pills threatening to kill herself. Not knowing what else to do, sheimages (3) called the police. When the cops arrived, she and her brothers hid, and Sylvia told the police there had been a misunderstanding. After the police left, the kids crawled out of their hiding places, and Pauly tucked her mom into bed.

The following morning, Pauly ran late for school, so she awakened her mother, set out Sylvia’s clothes for work, and left the house. That day, Pauly got into trouble with her teacher for falling asleep in class, so she decided to go home for a nap. A priest intercepted her and broke the news that her mom was in the hospital. In a daze, Pauly walked home from school. When she wandered into the bathroom, she found bright red blood splattered on the walls, in the bathtub, and smeared on the floor.

“I can still see it in my mind if I’m not careful,” Pauline confesses. “It was horrible.”

Worse, Frank and Geoff blamed their little sister for their mother’s suicide attempt, saying that calling the police the night before had pushed her over the edge.

images (1)Sylvia was taken to the psych ward at the hospital. At first, people from their church took in the kids, but as days turned to weeks, Pauly and her brothers became wards of the state of Washington. Fifteen-year-old Frank went to live in an orphanage, Geoff spent time at the Griffin Home for Boys, and Pauly lived with the Lazaras family in foster care. The Lazarases had a rifle range in their basement, and they taught Pauly how to shoot. They also generously shared their horses and took her on trail rides. After two weeks, Betty Rae and Bud Gross, the Lazaras’s next-door-neighbors, asked Pauly to live with them.

When Sylvia got out of the hospital, she tried to get her children back, but the neighbors testified that she was an unfit mother, so the state wouldn’t allow Pauly and her brothers to go home. Pauly felt guilty to be relieved because, though the bathroom had been cleaned, whenever she visited the house for her mom’s visitation, vivid flashbacks made her heart race, and she’d have to walk outside.

Her mother felt there was little to live for without her children. Sylvia began to drink heavily and take amphetamines to control her weight, all while playing punishing amounts of tennis. Within months, Sylvia collapsed on the tennis court. Geoffrey, now 14, left the boys’ home to take care of her.

Just before Pauly’s 12th birthday in November, her mother died of liver cancer – and Geoffrey suffered a psychotic break.

“[Geoffrey] was never the same after Mom died,” Pauline concedes. “I think part of it had to do with him having to go to the same psych ward as our mother to recover.”

Pauline remembers her mother treating everyone with kindness. “[Mom] would say, ‘You never know what is going on with people. There is always someone who has had more pain [than we have].’”

Beverly and Vivian, Sylvia’s older sisters from California, came to Washington to attend the funeral. Pauly danced and skipped, excited to see her aunts for the first time, hoping these new-found family members would become part of her and her brothers’ lives. But Aunts Vivian and Beverly left shortly after the memorial service. Pauly didn’t know if she’d ever hear from them again.

A few weeks after the funeral, Aunt Beverly called and explained Frank and Geoff were too old, but 12-year-old Pauly could come to live with her family in California. Pauly’s first time on an airplane, she flew by herself to live with an aunt she scarcely knew as well as an uncle and four cousins she’d never met. Pauly kept up with her aunt’s strict schedule of activities and mealtimes, but she was in pain over the loss of her mother. In her grief, she escaped by burying her nose in books every chance she got.

Two weeks after Pauly arrived, Aunt Beverly sat her down on the bed and said: “This isn’t working out.”

Sylvia’s oldest sister, Aunt Vivian, came to the rescue and offered Pauly a home. Aunt Vivian had a pool, and she set out the funny papers for Pauly to read at the breakfast table. With lots of swimming and reading and easy conversation, her inner-turmoil subsided. Life began to settle into a secure rhythm – until four weeks later when Aunt Vivian said she’d already raised her children and wasn’t prepared to bring up another child.

Pauly was sent back to Washington. She lived in two foster homes before Betty Rae and Bud Gross got licensed to be foster parents and invited her to come live with them again. She was almost 13. For the next four years, Pauly lived with them, but tensions grew in their home after the Gross’s son enlisted in the army and left to fight in Vietnam.

FHSLibrary
Interior Franklin HS Library

In those years, Pauly’s self-esteem steadily declined. Few of her peers knew she was a foster kid. Most

Franklin High School, Seattle, Washington
Franklin High School, Seattle, Washington

people thought of her as the “nice little girl who worked in the school library.”

Then in tenth grade, Philip Quinn, Pauly’s English teacher at Franklin High School, began to tutor her in the library with a group of other struggling kids to help them catch up in their classes. More important, he told Pauly she was smart, praising her for academic and emotional progress. Slowly, her self-image improved.

In her senior year, one fateful afternoon, she got into a shouting match with Betty Rae, and Pauly ran away. Literally. Being on the cross-country team at Franklin High, she ran miles and miles.

Eventually she bumped into a girl from school. Although little more than an acquaintance, the girl took Pauly home, and the girl’s parents let Pauly spend the night. The next day, Pauly went to see the guidance counselor. When Mr. Quinn found out what had happened, he called his pregnant wife, and the couple agreed to take Pauly in for a while. Christopher, the Quinn’s two-and-a-half-year-old son thought his daddy brought Pauly home especially for him as the two of them hit it off the moment she walked into the tiny, two-bedroom house.

Pauly finished her senior year of high school with the Quinn family, and Philip helped her get into the University of Puget Sound. She earned a degree in psychology, met Michael Kinneman through a mutual friend, and began her journey as a successful adult.

To this day, Pauline and the Quinns keep in touch, celebrating accomplishments, sharing in sorrows, or merely catching up. Betty Rae and Pauline have long since made amends, and the Gross family, too, remain precious friends. Sadly, Pauline’s brother Geoffrey died at age 44 struggling with addiction, but Frank lives in Alaska and is the mayor in the small town where he lives with his wife. Frank and Pauline have done their best to heal from the past. They talk on the phone and visit each other whenever possible.

Pauline (yellow dress), husband Michael (far right), and much of her family
Pauline (yellow dress), husband Michael (far right), and much of her family at Katharine and Tyler’s wedding

Soon Pauline will hang out with her daughter, Katharine Rose, and her son-in-law, Tyler Bischop when she travels east to run in the New York Marathon on November 6. My guess is that she’ll get another medal, but whether she places in her age group or not, Pauline is a hero in my book.

Pauline, thanks for allowing me to share your story as a notable bad ass on Tenacity to Triumph.

Readers, we’d love to “hear” your comments. Hopefully, Pauline’s story struck a chord to give you that extra something you need to get through your personal challenges.

 

If you have a story of grit and determination to share, leave a comment or email me at writetowinwithtrish@gmail.com, and we’ll make that happen.

                                                                                                Here’s to bad asses everywhere!

                                                                                                Trish Wilkinson

 

A Band of Brothers: Veterans Helping Veterans

obob-logo-webIn honor of Veteran’s Day this month, I’ve decided to write a series of posts about some amazing people I’ve met in my new town in Central Oregon. They call themselves “A Band of Brothers” although women have joined the organization, too. In 2006, a few World War II Veterans started meeting weekly in Bend, Oregon, and almost ten years later, the group has grown into the hundreds. U.S. Veterans include those who served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Falkland Islands, Germany in peace time (that seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?), and various conflicts in the Middle East. A few years ago, retired First Responders, our “domestic protectors,” joined the organization as well.

The Band of Brothers’ mission statement: “To provide veterans and current members of the military with the opportunity to share friendship, camaraderie and assistance.”

Elk's Club in Bend, OR
Elk’s Club in Bend, OR

Who knew that WWII Veteran, Phil Bellefeuille’s idea to get a few buddies together for coffee in the fall of 2006 would give support to so many? The original group of nine veterans who met at the Elks Club had such a great time swapping stories, they coined themselves the “Old Pharts: A Band of Brothers” and started meeting weekly at various local restaurants. The Bend Bulletin heard about those guys and published an article that included an invitation from Phil for any veteran to attend.

New brother and sister veterans showed up each week. The group quickly outgrew descending upon random restaurants, so Vietnam War10724170_708747482536519_924899253_n Veteran, Lyle Hicks, stepped up to solve the problem.  Hicks owns Jake’s Diner and offered to reserve the back room in his restaurant for meetings, including a reasonably priced breakfast buffet to accommodate everyone.

By 2008, they had dedicated an American flag to the Bend Heroes Memorial and dropped the “Old Pharts” moniker to become the “Bend Band of Brothers”. The organization was granted non-profit status in 2011.

IMG_0632Today, Hicks dedicates the main restaurant on Monday mornings to his veteran brothers and sisters. Although full of good cheer, even the larger space is a bit of a squeeze.

 

 

 

When welcoming back a veteran who has been fighting cancer, Secretary, Treasurer Ray Hartzell quips:

“We’re so glad to have you back, Lanny…even if he is army.”

The diner bursts into laughter and good-natured ribbing until Hartzell blows a whistle, calling the room back to order.

The harmless flirtation from some of these guys has been a crack up, not to mention good for my ego. Others are complete gentlemen, such as 95-year-old Bob Maxwell, the oldest living recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor; Vietnam Veteran Richard Fleming, diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 1966 but wasn’t told until 2013; Captain Bill Collier who wrote his memoir, The Adventures of a Helicopter Pilot: Flying the H-34 Helicopter in Vietnam for the United States Marine Corps, and many more. (Stay tuned for posts of veterans’ incredible personal stories.)

As members have moved away and people from other towns have visited, new Band of Brothers chapters have emerged, first throughoutvet-salute Central Oregon and then in other states, such as Idaho and Washington. Veterans’ family members have also joined as they, too, find friendship and comfort in becoming acquainted with others who have lived through similar experiences.

Besides providing emotional support and companionship, the Band of Brothers chapters raise funds to help veterans in need, provide veteran funerals with the “Flag Line Honor Guard”, donate to projects such as Honor Flight, contribute to Central Oregon Veterans Outreach and other veterans’ organizations. Though founder Phil Bellefeuille passed away in March, 2011, he left a legacy for which many are grateful.

I hope you will join me for individual Band of Brothers members’ amazing stories in the posts to follow in the coming weeks.

How Valerie W. Found that Minding Her Own Business Could Lead to a Great Life

alcoholism-metaphor-sketch-23920506“Terminally unique.” That’s the term I learned in a 12-step program for those of us who think we’re the only ones trapped in the quicksand of someone else’s addiction. Yes. My story is mine alone, but it is somewhat textbook. We grasp how to operate in relationships early, usually by observing our biological parents. From mine, I learned codependency. I also married my father. Not literally, but my husband was my dad in many respects, and he concealed the Hyde to his Jekyll in those years before we gave birth to two beautiful girls.

My mother endured years of physical abuse from my drunken father before my parents 79166763divorced. I was three years old, and my sister was seven. While I was in college, at age 19, my mom died of cancer. It had formed in her chest around her heart, as if her anger toward my father and her parents literally suffocated her. She was only 48.

After putting myself through college, with the help of student loans, I volunteered with AmeriCorps, a domestic form of the Peace Corps. The organization sent me to San Diego, California to train tutors who would help struggling elementary school-aged children improve their reading skills. Being a small town girl, new to the big city, I filled out a survey that arrived in my mailbox from a dating service.

A few months later, Mike requested a date with me. I accepted after seeing his shy,images humble demeanor in his video. He was classically handsome – resembling Patrick Swayze in the “Dirty Dancing” years. Although Mike wasn’t college-educated – a “must have” on my preference list – he owned his own plumbing business, which meant to me that he was motivated and financially stable. We met the following day and instantly hit it off. By the time he took me home after a holiday party the next evening, I was off the market. I knew I had met the man who was destined to be my partner in life.

We bought a home together before we married and entertained often. Then came the wedding. A year-and-a-half later, we had a baby girl. Our lives together seemed right on track. Except his drinking steadily increased, and his anger would flare. I began walking on eggshells. He raged over what he perceived to be my eyes on other men. My connection with certain friends, even my relationship with my sister set him off.

66When we fought, it often became physical. By then I was teaching high school, and I went to class with bruises and scratches more often than I like to remember. I lived a double-life. At work, I was a dedicated, empathetic teacher. I felt purpose in my work and strove for excellence from myself as well as my students. My friends saw me as a successful career woman, mother, and wife. I wanted nothing more than for everyone to believe that I was juggling my responsibilities with ease. But at home, Mike and I were drowning in our disease.

He drank nightly, and I kept a watchful eye on how much alcohol he consumed. If his mood turned irritable, we sometimes ended up in a brawl. I always fought back. No way would a man beat me the way my father had beaten my mother. I used my fingernails as weapons to push him off me, and I slapped his face. The police were called a few times. Mike was booked for domestic violence twice. The following day I would go pick him up from the downtown jailhouse and tell the police I didn’t want to press charges.

After our second child was born, Mike’s drinking escalated. He passed out on the couch more often than he slept in our bed. He blamed myimages (1) breastfeeding our baby in the middle of the night, but I knew his beer meant more to him than sharing space with me. Sex became routine and uneventful, a chore. As our daughters grew, so did the frequency of drunken nights.

Mike hid bottles of Bacardi in the garage. He drank on his drive home from work to get a beer down before I could see him. I began all the classic co-dependent manipulations to get him to stop – I threatened to leave, I pleaded, I cried, I yelled. I thought if I made his life miserable, surely he would make a change. Which he did. He spent longer days on the golf course with friends and returned home sloshed. More often than not, when he walked in the door after work at 5 o’clock, he was already wasted. When he saw disappointment on my face, he shouted at me and called me names. Our children would cry and tell us not to fight. I would call his mom, who lived six hours north of San Diego, and plead for her to talk with him.

Once, I called to talk with his mother after a fight, and I got his stepfather instead. His stepdad told me to try Al-Anon, a 12-step program for friends and family of alcoholics. Desperate for help, I went to my first meeting in December 2008 with my disease at its height. I was a nervous wreck, trying to control everyone in my life. I vigilantly assessed what everyone else was doing, saying, and thinking. I couldn’t socialize without being hyper self-aware, scanning others to figure out what they wanted me to say and be. Friends told me I was overbearing and pulled away from me.  Everything felt like a chore. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I was only 33 years old.

7_9caa2793658f3cc387f216157300b1ce_mMike allowed me to attend weekly meetings because he saw a positive change in me. He said I had been softer and friendlier. He didn’t know I was trying to practice detachment; that is, learning to keep my attention off others and on myself. This included self-care and how to avoid creating a crisis, while not trying to prevent one either. I got reacquainted with spirituality and was reminded that I had a Higher Power who I could lean on. I came to understand that the alcoholics in my life had their own Higher Power and had to walk their own paths. I learned about humility and how not to take others’ choices personally because it wasn’t all about me, which was a relief as well as a blow to my ego. All these things helped me to let go of trying to control all aspects of my life. It was a 180-degree turn from what I had been taught.

I had always believed the old American adage: “When it doesn’t work, try harder.”

Now I was trying to practice: “Let go and let God.”

I got a sponsor within six months of being in Al-Anon and we worked the steps together. She was kind and gentle and loving. She didn’t wince when I told her my shameful secrets. I learned to trust God and another human being. I learned to trust myself. I made amends with my father who immediately recognized the eighth step. He had also been working a program in Alcoholics Anonymous.

I began to pray for a sign to show me whether I should leave my marriage. Mike’s drinking was getting worse. He kept passing out on the living room floor. I took pictures of his drunkenness, so I could prove in court that he was unfit to take care of our girls if I left him.

IR wireless flash 3The last time I took one of those photos, he was laid out in the hallway, snoring in front our children’s bathroom after a spring day of golf. The flash woke him, so I sprinted to our bedroom and locked the door. He yelled obscenities and threats and banged on the door. Then suddenly it was quiet, and when I mustered the nerve to peek outside the bedroom, I found him on the couch, sleeping off the drunk. The following morning, he was waiting for me on the other side of the door, and he attacked me. I called 9-1-1, reported the abuse and obtained a restraining order. After that day, Mike was no longer allowed in our home without a police escort.

Today, our children are eight and eleven years old, and they call me on a cell phone if they believe their father has been drinking. They know their father loves them, but he has a brain that tells him to consume alcohol as a form of medicine. When our youngest was asked by her counselor whether or not she believes her father might stop drinking if she were a better-behaved child she replied, “Of course not. He has a disease that has nothing to do with me.” When asked if she thought his drinking is a reflection of his lack of love for her, she adamantly disagreed. She knows her daddy loves her; he just has a problem.

I realize my daughters have learned these things from me, but I can’t take credit. These responses are typical of Al-Anon’s teachings and11054852_887171214681896_4915416769333871011_n healing. I would never have discovered these concepts on my own. My children will grow up with a different set of tools than I had before Al-Anon. They will know about the disease of alcoholism and how to not engage in codependent behaviors with alcoholic friends and family members. Hopefully, they will refrain from attracting this kind of relationship in their futures. In the meantime, we pray for their father daily and put him in God’s hands because we have to mind our own business and take responsibility for ourselves.

It seems so simple: “Mind your own business.” We hear those words all the time. Now, I can honestly say I know what they mean.

(If someone reading this post would like to get in touch with Valerie. leave a comment, and I’ll make sure she gets your email address, so she can offer her experience, strength, and hope.)

Former Prison Inmate, Barbara Baker, Helps Women to Recreate Their Lives

Barbara at work at the Center for Women in Transition
Barbara at work at the Center for Women in Transition

My childhood in St. Louis, Missouri was a happy one. My mother had seven sisters, and when they began to have children, they continued to live at home with my grandmother.   Four of my first cousins and I grew up together. We were normal kids who played and got into trouble sometimes, and when we got out of hand, my grandmother was the one who punished us.

The first school I remember attending was Laclede Elementary, which was in walking distance from our house.  In third grade, I got suspended because I hit another student when she refused to give my cousin a piece of candy. I was afraid to tell my mother, so I left for school  the next day as I normally would and walked around the neighborhood. This lady asked why I wasn’t in school, so I told her what had happened. She offered to write a letter to get me back in school, and I left her as happy as I could be. When I got school, though, I found out she had written that she did not know me, but I had been walking around outside by myself, and she was concerned. Of course the principal called my mother and told her to come pick me up. I can’t remember if I got a spanking, but I do know I was glad to return to school.

I liked school, but I couldn’t resist being the class clown and getting into trouble, even knowing that my mother would whip me for it. As a young child, I liked to skate, run, dance, play baseball and volleyball, and meddle with adults. Why, I don’t know, but upsetting them made me laugh. At any given time, I always had a bag of something sweet, mostly candy. In fact, looking back, I realize candy was my first addiction. If my mother or someone else in the household did not give me money for candy, I would steal the change laying around the house, or I would cry and throw a fit until I got it.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, my mother met a man who would later become my step dad. I did not like him and did not want him as part of

Pruitt Igoe Projects, St. Louis
Pruitt Igoe Projects, St. Louis

our family. Although he was a good person, I did not realize that until many years later. He worked hard to support us, but I wanted nothing from him. To this day, I do not know why I did not like this man, except that he and my mother moved us to the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects. I fought tooth-and-nail to stay with my grandmother, but in the end, I had to go with my mom.

In time, I grew to love the projects. I met other teens who were as confused about life as I was. Around the age of 16, my friends turned me on to cough syrup with codeine and weed. I loved the way I felt like I could take on the world if I wanted to, and we could just walk into any drugstore and buy this cough syrup. Then the FDA began to require a prescription to buy it. I guess I was about 18 when this happened, and someone suggested we get some heroin because they said the high was the same as the syrup. Like a fool, I tried heroin and my life was a roller coaster from that day on.

Addiction caused me to be in and out of jail until I was about 45 years old. Drugs had such a grip on me that sometimes when I got locked up, I would be relieved. I was caught in a revolving door where I would get out of prison, get a job, get a house, get my children back, and then relapse again.  I wanted to be drug-free but had no idea how to make it happen. Treatment was not talked about at that time. The mindset was that addicts chose to use drugs, so they had to suffer the consequences.

In my mind, I was not a bad person because I did not steal from my family. I had given myself permission to steal from stores, my rationale being that stores were insured, so no one got hurt.  After going to prison for the third time, I started to look at myself, but I still had no idea that I was an addict or what I needed to do to change.  When I went back to prison for the fifth and last time, I knew I had to do something different.

The day I had been arrested, my family was in the process of moving on a Saturday morning. While my son and daughter, who were living with me at the time, went to get the second load of belongings to take to the new house, I decided to run downtown to Macey’s. I was dope sick and could hardly help with the move, so I had planned to steal something quickly, so I could get my fix.

But I got busted.

inside prisonMy daughter had no job to support her two small children. When she came to see me in jail, I told her that I had violated my parole and would not be getting out. I could see the fear and hurt in her eyes. She didn’t know how she and her children would survive. The pain in her eyes that day, along with my desire to escape from the revolving door, finally got me to seek the help I needed.

I wanted to change and make a better life for myself.  My daughter and grandkids were also a big factor as well as the prison warden. I worked in administration as the Institution Activities Clerk in the same building as the warden’s office, across the street from the prison.  She and I would talk about my life, my children, and my addiction to drugs. She respected me and the way I carried myself while I was doing time.  We met the first time I landed in prison. She was about 5 feet tall, very intelligent, and she dressed smart. She talked to me plainly so I would understand in lay terms what she said to me. Don’t get me wrong. I was not a goody-two-shoes in prison, but I kept up the appearance that I was.

The last time I got high was in prison, and that is where I made the final decision not to get high again, and to this day I have not. I made this decision because I was on work release and close to getting my good time to get out in three years rather than seven. Then me and two other women had used heroin and crack on a Friday, and the next Tuesday I was asked to give a drug test. I prayed as hard as I could asking God not to let those drugs still be in my urine. Cocaine and heroin can clear in 72 hours if you just use them once. Well, I did not drop dirty, and I was grateful.

I had told my roommate I was never going to use again when I got to the streets, but after risking four more years of incarceration, I told her I was not using again in prison either. When drugs came my way, I passed them on to another friend. Had I known what I know today about addiction, I would not have given the drugs to anyone else either.

I came home October 3, 1995. My family would always welcome me back with open arms each time I got out of prison. Like so many families, they hoped I would stay away from drugs. Before this, their dreams had always been dashed when I had gotten involved with the same old people, places, and things. But they never gave up on me. They always did what they needed to do for my children. When I disappeared, they hoped and prayed that the phone call they would get would be that I was in jail and not dead.

That October in 1995 began a new way of life for me, though, because I joined a support group called Let’s Start which is dedicated toletsstart_logo assisting women in transition from prison life to society. I began to find out what I needed to do to stay clean, and I learned about myself and my addiction. I finally let go of those old people, places and things. No one besides positive people and family members knew how to get in contact with me.

After eighteen months of sobriety, my family gave me a birthday party. A woman in my support group had told me to stop counting the days, so I had not realized that I had been out of prison for that long. The most painful thing about getting clean was to learn that my children had suffered the most from my addiction and incarceration. My son is a heroin addict, has been to prison, and is now on probation. My daughter stayed away from drugs, but she struggled as a young single parent who could not depend on her mother for help in any way.

For the first two years, I had an apartment out in the country, so none of my old influences would find me. After I felt people knew I was serious about changing my life, I moved back into the city. During that time, Let’s Start taught me how to approach judges, legislators, probation officers etc. I had no idea how I was going to use any of this information at this stage in my life. I was just desperate to stay clean and out of jail. My way of life had never worked for me, so I listened and took suggestions. I’d always known the God of my understanding had a plan for my life because I survived two overdoses, so there must have been a reason for Him to keep me around.

Then I was hired by the Center for Women in Transition and was given an opportunity to use my past to help other women struggling withlogo-side-gold3b addiction and advocate for alternatives to incarceration. I did not come out of jail with an ideal that I was going to work with other women who had been in my situation, nor that I would become a role model for them. I am so comfortable in this job. This had to be God’s plan for my life. No one could have told me that I would have judges calling to ask my advice about clients, or that judges would reschedule clients’ court dates to accommodate my busy schedule. The God of my understanding has blessed my life so much. I could not be here without His grace and mercy.

My future goals are to live a simple life and be there for my grandchildren. I can’t get back the special times and events that I missed in my children’s lives, but I can give back through my grandkids. I turned 64 at the end of April and am getting close to retirement, however, I still plan to continue to help women get their lives back on track. Supporting other mothers in recovery means that fewer children will have to go through what my children experienced with me drifting in and out of their lives.

“My motto is: A closed mouth don’t get fed.”

             My Advice: If you or a family member struggle with addiction, don’t hesitate to ask for help. I don’t care how well you know a person, when their addiction is active, you are not dealing with or talking to that person. You are talking to their addiction, and it won’t hear you. You have to be ready to show tough love. Don’t get caught up in the fear that if you put them out of the house, they will die out there. If you let them stay and they continue to use, one thing will surely happen: death, jail or another institution. Addiction affects the whole family, but the fact that someone in your family uses drugs has no reflection on you. We can give our children the best upbringing possible, but we have no control over the paths they choose. Tough love is not saying, “I don’t love you.” It is saying, “I’m here to support you in getting help, but I will not watch you DIE.”

If you are using and trying to stop, it can happen, but there are things that you must do.

  • Get involved in some type of support group.
  • Change people, places and things. You can’t have a relationship with anyone who is still using. You won’t get them clean. They will get you high.
  • Go to treatment and get a sponsor.
  • Seek out the help you need.  Look up resources on the Internet.
  • WE DO RECOVER.

In working towards your goals, no matter what they might be:

 

The links in this article provide lots of great information and resources. We’d love to hear your thoughts and welcome experiences you’d like to share. Your comment could be the tipping point in someone seeking help in dealing with a loved one or setting personal goals to recreate their own lives.