It is amazing to be able to say that! I will say it again, “I am a whole, happy, healthy, loving woman.” I was sick for the first 40 years of my life. Like millions of other human beings I grew up immersed in the family disease of alcoholism. For generations it has plagued my family. The unbalanced life I led is so common in our society; I didn’t know anything was wrong. I was a participant in the chaos, confusion, neuroses, pain and suffering, which is present in dysfunctional families. I call it The Dance of Death.
I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri in the community of Clayton. The only memories I have of my father are when he would beat my brother and me with his belt so severely my clothes would cling to the bloody strap marks on my legs. He would make us wait for our “punishment” in our room before he dealt the ugly blows. My mother closed her eyes to what was happening. Both of them partied on weekends where I would find empty highball glasses scattered all over the living room. I had holes in the soles of my shoes while my mother would model a new diamond cocktail ring, winnings from a weekly poker game. My dad was also a compulsive gambler. He died at the age of 45 when I was nine years old.
My mother attracted another alcoholic to her life soon after my father’s death. They had a symbiotic, codependent and alcoholic relationship. Every ten days they would consume a case of scotch, which was delivered to our apartment from the local liquor store. My mother never appeared drunk but she was distant, selfish and narcissistic. My stepfather’s disease had progressed to the point he was visibly drunk most evenings. His attitude was condescending, nasty and self-righteous. He was verbally abusive and drove his car while intoxicated on many occasions. When I think back to that period of my history I remember keeping my personal life secret!!! I was ashamed of their behavior. I pretended all was well and I began developing neurotic habits for self-preservation.
In my teens I danced several days after school, participated in theater groups, worked in a department store and had creative life in my head. I imagined the way I wanted my world to be and was in denial as to the truth in front of me. I became obsessive, compulsive and an over achiever. Because I worked so hard I accomplished a lot for a young girl but the reality was it was inspired by fear, insecurity and a need for control.
In college I devoted myself to art and earned a B.S. in Education and a M.A. in Painting and Ceramics from the University of Missouri. I was hired as a college instructor soon after graduate school. I felt “happy” for a time because I was away from home and involved in teaching. I took my job very seriously but the loneliness I felt when I was by myself was debilitating.
I longed for love . . . any kind. I didn’t realize it at the time but I had never felt affection. I became preoccupied with thoughts of “men.” I had guys on my mind constantly! I was popular and had many choices but I picked the ones who I thought needed me. Most often they were from dysfunctional families. I dated a lot of drunks during my 20’s. It felt familiar. In spite of my success as an artist and a teacher, I had low self-esteem and I knew something was wrong with me.
In l969 I began a new life in another city. Within a week of moving to Boston, Massachusetts, I was brutally raped and hospitalized. I never received help with this trauma and didn’t properly grieve until years later. I pushed down the pain and was then, more than ever, resolved to create the perfect life for myself, (as if it were in my hands?)
This was made easy for me when Joey Haudel entered my life. He filled the position of my “Knight in Shining Armour,” albeit, distorted. He was young, handsome, and alcoholic and had just been released from prison. We needed each other like ducks need water. We bonded in a codependent relationship that lasted 12 years.
Our experiences together were astounding. What I learned about myself was profound. Our journey is almost unbelievable. I have told this story in a dramatic narrative, I Survived: One Woman’s Journey of Self healing and Transformation on DVD. It is filled with the dark world of illness and moves to the light of wellness. I reached my bottom after years of suffering. I was contemplating suicide but was saved by the Grace of God and the dear voice of a telephone operator who kept me on the phone for over an hour.
I spent years in recovery; beginning with Al-Anon meetings in 1973, several series of Adult children of Alcoholic Therapy Sessions, individual therapy with numerous therapists and devouring self help books. I had the courage to look within and face the demons. It wasn’t easy and many times I wanted to quit. I often felt I was too crazy to get well. One step at a time I forged ahead and never looked back! I visualized a healthy prognosis. Today I am living that beautiful picture!
I am happily married to a man 19 years my junior. I am older than his mother. We just celebrated our 17th anniversary and continue to share the most fabulous life. We have one child, a precious daughter, who we adopted at birth 8 years ago. I was 54 at the time. I am grateful that I am able to be a good parent and relish every moment I spend with both of them as a family. Sometimes I almost gasp for air when I realize I am living a balanced life. Each day I thank God for the gifts I have been given.
Sadly, Joey wasn’t as fortunate as I. He died at the age of 42. My dear friend Debra took her own life in 2002. She too was alcoholic. I feel their presence; they are the angels guiding me in my mission to inspire people to their own healing and recovery. Let’s continue to get well. We are all loving souls on an enlightened path of a new way of being, HEALTHY.