Billboards are a big deal in my life. And I’m not talking about ones you might pass along the interstate, like: “Honk if You Love Jesus, Text if You Want to Meet Him” or “Hot Naked Girls, Next Exit.”
My billboards are allegorical, but they always come to me as crystal clear signs from the universe. They basically demand I take certain actions, or not take them, as the case may be. For example, I was presented with a mile-high, neon billboard that told me without the slightest flicker of doubt that my marriage was over. I heeded the sign and never looked back.
On some occasions (though just as impactful), a billboard appears as simply a quiet reminder that I am on the right path, or that I should be grateful for all my blessings. This week, I saw several of them in Technicolor.
First, Mork returned to Orson. I am not normally affected by a celebrity’s death, but in the case of the brilliantly funny Robin Williams, my heart broke. It was a chilling reminder that if such a gentle, sweet soul could find himself in an emotional chasm so deep he couldn’t see a way out, it can happen to anyone.
Most news outlets are talking about how his recent bout of depression contributed to his suicide, and while I don’t want to detract from the seriousness of mental illness, I think people need to remember Williams was also a recently relapsed alcoholic. Falling off the wagon after many years of sobriety can hurl even the most solid person into cloying darkness. Far too many people never find their way back to the light again, and I am devastated that John Keating was one of them.
As it happens, I know a thing or two about alcoholism, both from my own experience and that of others close to me. Not only did my favorite comedian’s sudden death bring the perils of this powerful and cunning disease to the forefront for me this week, two other, similar billboards were summarily erected in my path just days later.
Two people (separately and independently) asked me to share with them the details of how I quit drinking. They don’t know each other, and I only know them as acquaintances. Each had read my blog and social media posts related to my nearly five years off the bottle, so when they found themselves in similar pain, they reached out.
I was honored and humbled they asked, and because so many people unselfishly shared their stories and support with me when I was at my most despondent, I was more than willing to do the same. I know how hard it is to ask for help (sometimes it’s actually harder than the not drinking part), so I also know what a big deal it was to make themselves vulnerable like that.
It’s said in my circles that if you like what someone has (in terms of serenity), ask them how they got it. Knowing my life seems like a positive example of serenity to at least a few people overwhelms me with gratitude. How lucky am I?
In the simplest terms (and to protect the integrity of my recovery), I finally put down the bottle successfully by taking 12, specific (ahem) actions under the guidance of other sober women who had also taken those actions. I went to a lot of meetings where others were gathered to battle the same affliction, and I prayed. I didn’t mean it at first, but eventually, I began to believe in a higher power who could do for me what I couldn’t do for myself.
I told both struggling souls that my core problem was this: I had a hole inside me that I tried to fill with alcohol. Toward the end, no quantity was enough, and I realized that I had to start filling it with something else. For me, that was spirituality.
It was crucial for me to acknowledge that I will never again drink like a normal person. At some point in my 30s, a switch flipped in my brain that no longer allowed me to have just one glass of wine and walk away. I also had to completely remove myself from situations that involved alcohol for that first year or so, and I had to distance myself from toxic people.
Bottom line, the stories of both the people who reached out to me sound eerily similar to my own. They’re miserable and scared, just as I was five years ago. Seeing the pain in their eyes reminded me that, if I’m not careful, I could find myself back in the abyss. All it would take is one, isolated choice.
What neither of these people understand (at least not yet) is that their calls to me helped me far more than anything I shared could ever help them. Telling my story not once, but twice in one week, reminded me how lucky I am to have the gift of sobriety today, and how hard I still need to work to keep it. Part of that work involves helping others. So, to the two folks who reached out this week, and anyone else in pain, for that matter… when you call my name, I’ll be there.
Oh Captain, my Captain. I hope you have found some peace on the other side, though I wish you could’ve have seen that it was available in this life. All you had to do was ask.
As for me, I’ll never stop asking. Your passing has shown me that my own life depends on it.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After 10 years, she's still just saying.