It is a tough road....but worth it

Peggy Lipton

I think it was around 1976 that I remember my first encounter with alcoholism. The Police Department sent a car out to my house to arrest my father once again. My father was a Vietnam Veteran, and according to my mother he was a responsible young man that barely took a drink when he left for the War. When he returned home, his violent outbursts kept our family in constant fear. The only solace we found was the fact that dad only drank every other day and was home with a hangover on the alternate days. I watched, as alcohol slowly tore our family apart day after day. My parents divorced in the early 1980's and alcohol had won. I swore I would never be like my dad, but as I got older I found that I carried a lot of the same fears, doubts and insecurities. Little did I know, I would follow in his footsteps for the first 27 years of my life. In my early 20's I knew I had a problem with alcohol, but did not want to do anything about it. In the past my mom made sure I attended many Ala Teen meeting and I even spoke at AA meetings as the child of an alcoholic. My mom was, and is, an amazing woman to me. Her strength was, and will always be, an enormous inspiration to me. In addition, and much to my benefit, I discovered that one of my high school teachers was in recovery. I am sure he will never know how much it helped me that he took a personal interest in me by letting me know he was there for me if I ever wanted to get sober.* May he rest in Peace- and I am Positive he will do just that. Jerome T. Belcastro, my surrogate “dad”, sponsor, school teacher, employer etc., passed away a few hours after I had lunch with him and he set me up with my list of goals in life, on April 27, 2011.I have just added this part, as he left us before I completed this paper. Jerry made such an impact in my life, and I am finally seeing all of the things he taught me from the time I was the age of 14 in his paint shop class in High School, until now and I am 41. I will be forever thankful and grateful. I am sure he saved my life quite a few times while I was actively drinking, using drugs, and making a horrible mess of my life. So, to get back to my story: I was only a teenager, but was armed with all of the tools of sobriety. And in addition, a mom, step- dad, sister and lots of other friends and family that loved me unconditionally. It was just a matter of me making the decision to admit my problem and get some help. I knew would have all of the support in the world. Lots of addicts have burned every bridge and are alone. I am a very lucky woman as I see it today. Not realizing what I had, I continued on my mission of self-destruction and went through my own living hell for quite a few years. I married a guy that was violent and drunk, because that life style was the only one I knew. It was a terrible few years that aren’t even worth talking about, but thank God for my family and friends that were there for me when I finally got out of the marriage. It really didn’t matter where I was, or who I was with, being an addict for me was a miserable existence. After I divorced that monster, my main goal in life was sitting on a bar stool every single day. I made sure it was a bar that you should wipe your feet on your way out. There I could surround myself with what I thought to be people that were “a lot worse than me” with their own daily drinking. I could justify my own drinking by doing this (in my mind). As the years moved on, I found myself in quite a few jackpots and I am sure there were many red flags that went un-noticed by me. My own drinking had taken off full scale, I was “just like my dad”, remember I said that was someone I never wanted to be. Alcohol won….again. The events I will tell you about next caused the most horrific parts of my life I hope to ever endure. It was January 1st of 1997 and I was sleeping off another New Year’s Eve hangover. My phone started ringing at five in the morning, and I knew it was likely an emergency to receive a call at that time of day. I could barely function enough to answer, and when I did, I wished I hadn’t. It was my Grandfather on the other end of the line, and I could tell by his voice right away that it was the call I had long been expecting but hoped would never come. He called to tell me that my dad had committed suicide and died that New Year’s Eve. I was aware had attempted suicide eleven times before, but this would finally be the end. As with an unacceptable amount of other Vietnam Veterans, he used a firearm and died alone without leaving a note. His PTSD, depression and addiction to drugs and alcohol had taken everything from him. He couldn't fight the battle to try and get sober any longer. There were few things that happened not too long before he died that caused me to live with a lot of guilt, for a very long time. You see, my dad and I would talk quite often, even though he was in Tenn. It was before the world had cell phones, so I would call him collect from bar room pay phones while drinking as much Jack Daniels has he had at the time. I am going to get a bit off track for a minute, because there is a bit of irony involved. The last time I spoke with my dad , I was on the payphone of a very busy local bar. It would be years later before this happened, but my husband (second) and I purchased a house that faces the back of that building. Exactly where the pay phone was. Buying the house alone would be enough of an almost unbelievable event, but it got even better. That bar went out of business and was re-opened as “Marty’s Bargains”. My dad’s name was Marty, and that is not a super common name that is heard every day. So, I will forever look at the exact place I talked to my dad for the last time. Coincidence? Hmmmm. The topic of our last pay-phone conversation was quite an unfortunate one. Dad was telling me if anything happened to him, his paperwork stuff was in the closet etc. It was clear to me he had given up the fight, and I was pissed. My final words to him are so unspeakable and rotten that I will not repeat them, but that was the end, as he said it would be. He did not leave a note, and that was the icing on the cake to set my rage and anger into super high gear. Alcohol was a winner once again -And it sucked! Not back then, but in my life today, I try to keep the good memories of him in my mind. While cleaning out his house, I found “proof” of his effort to get sober. I brought home with me the 24 hour and 30 day chips he received at AA meetings. I knew he attended AA randomly over the years, and was proud of him for not drinking for just one day. Even before I got sober I realized 24 hours was a true miracle for any addict! It’s a shame though, in his case he could just never get the program to stick. I still carry those chips on my key chain to remind me how lucky I am to be sober, and what the alternative was for my dad in the end. You would think that after seeing my dad be destroyed by alcohol, I would have made the decision to get clean myself. But I didn't draw a sober breath for the next six months. I spent every waking moment that I wasn't at work, at my favorite bar with my so called friends. The anger I had inside of me was tearing me apart. I spent quite a few nights throwing, breaking and destroying things for no reason. Just like I watched my dad do for so many years of my life. I was slowly self-destructing. The thing I never realized was there were other people I was hurting. I had an incredible family and awesome friends that I loved to pieces. It was much to my error, but really thought I was only hurting myself. Boy, as I write this paper with a much healthier state of mind, I could not have been any more wrong in my thinking, and there will never be enough sorry’s I could say. I guess I can just try to stay sober, for me and for them. After the death of my father, I carried on each day not caring if I lived or died. As long as I was drunk I could handle life, barely. However, my next life changing event is something that will always stay fresh in my mind. I never want to be in that frame of mind again. June 24th of 1997 I found myself aiming my car at a tree. The tree was at the “T” at the end of the road. I would have to cross it from the road I was on to accomplish my death. I backed up my car pretty far, and put it back into drive. The tree even has big red arrows that are there for safety, but I was using them as a “target”. It was 2 or 3 in the morning, on a very quiet night in the middle of the week- a car drove in front of my car as I had just hit the gas to aim for the tree. I thought “Oh my god I don’t wasn’t to hurt anyone else by accident!” Through the heavy tears on my eyes, I decided to head home. When I got there I smashed and destroyed just about everything I owned. The fact I decided to call my brother, instead of completing my plan, is something I could never explain. He called my awesome parents, and was still able to keep me on the line till my parents got to my apartment. That call saved my life. In the middle of the night my mom and step-dad found me some help. Not sure how they did it, and don’t remember much, but I ended up in the psych ward of a detox facility. I was in Brookside Hospital for the next ten days. I could never state in words how much they mean to me, as I said before, I realized I was a very lucky girl. It was while I was there, that I finally started my road to recovery. It was there that I learned I only had two feelings due to my alcohol use. I could only feel fear and anger, I was numb to everything else. I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me, but was ready, willing and able. Many things have happened since my first sober day on June 24th 1997. I stayed clean for nine and a half years, and have to mention that Jerry (that teacher from school) was an awesome AA sponsor for me. He guided me towards many things that would help my sobriety, and although I didn’t always take heed to his information when he gave it, I definitely try to implement his “sobriety teachings” in my life now. Having that nine plus years of sobriety felt great, but this disease is cunning, baffling and insidious. My addictions snuck right up on me and bit me in the a** (so to speak). It was about six years into my recovery that I literally started falling down at random. The falls were accompanied by quite a bit of constant pain in both of my hips. I saw specialists and doctors all at many Boston hospitals, and none could find what was wrong with me. I was given prescriptions for Vicoden and other pain killers, but was sent on my way as having no medical issues wrong. According to the dr.’s, the extremely long lists of tests, and even a minor exploratory surgery, revealed nothing. I even tried all forms of physical therapy, and none helped even a small amount. My demise started this time when it was too hard to work the pedals and found I could no longer drive a car. I had to do nothing but lay on the couch all day with my hips wrapped in ice packs if I wanted the pain diminished a little. My husband was amazing during this time. No matter what happened, I knew he was there for me. Taking care of a “house, or should I say, couch bound” wife is not an easy task. I will never be able to say thank you enough. The fact that ,not long before, I could handle quite a bit of the physical labor required in construction, and worked on most of the tasks that were required to put the addition on my house, and now being able to do not much on my own without help, slowly broke me down and I felt useless and helpless. I even ended up in a wheel chair if I had to go anywhere that required even the slightest bit of walking. As my physical pain got worse, my Doctors wrote me scripts for a slew of different pain medications. I began to use the medicine to escape not only the pain, but also the situation. At first I was very stringent, and only used the pills as prescribed by the Dr.. As I said, the pain killers snuck up on me. My depression and the pills took me right back to a drink and ,I relapsed for one day. I put another year of sobriety together, but just could not get back on the right track. I felt I was living a sorry excuse for a life, and not much mattered anymore. Even my friends and family stopped calling or coming by my house. It was clear that the Dr.’s found “nothing wrong with me”, so they no longer tolerated listening to me bitch about pain, being disabled, and life in general. They all questioned the validity of my ailments, and I couldn’t blame them On June 24th of 2008 I again found myself in the back of an ambulance. This time, I had filled a new script for Vicoden, and over a period of 24 hours I could not take enough medication to numb my pain. I took pill after pill (about every 20 minutes it seemed) over the course of the day. When they EMT arrived he took my bottle and counted what was left. He then informed me I had taken 90 Vicoden. He was amazed I was conscious, especially after I told him I had also ingested a six pack of beer, taken a couple of Zanex and finished with a shot of Jack Daniels. I spent another few days in the Emergency Room of a local hospital. They were baffled as to why I had done no severe damage to myself, it is only now that I realize just how lucky I was. Once again I was off once again to another psych ward/ detox facility. Need to mention again, I am very lucky to be alive. God was also good to me. I got out of that hospital, and I also finally found the Dr. that would change my life. He was a specialist at Mass general Hospital, and diagnosed my hips as needing to be replaced. In November/December of 2008 I had both of them replaced. I was on the path to recovery; both physically and mentally. I not only jumped full force back into my AA world of recovery, but decided I would help others to fight this disease as well. I started helping the residents at Lowell House, a half-way house that a friend of mine was living at. I spent lots of time sponsoring woman, driving people to meetings. I just tried to be there for anything they needed. Today, I really feel that over a lifetime of experience I have learned to listen to, and understand, people that suffer from addiction. I speak at meetings, and whenever possible. I make sure to mention how I learned that I only knew those two feelings I spoke about earlier; fear and anger. I do this with the hope that they will start to melt some of the numbness and feel feelings for the first time in their lives. Those feelings untreated, have the power to take them down. Last winter I worked at the Lowell Homeless shelter it is usually a “Dry” shelter, but when it's cold out they run a program called Winter Protocol. It is meant for homeless people that are active addicts. And it saves them from possibly freezing to death when the “nod” out from the heroin that runs ramped ( I had no idea), or “pass” out from alcohol. I saw lots of tragic things there working the night shift. Mental illness, drugs, alcohol, and lots of angry people, ensured my need to call a Police car and/or an ambulance during each one of my shifts. As a matter of fact, although I no longer work there, the man I worked side by side with most nights was murdered by a resident. His throat was sliced, and he died on the way to the hospital. The kid that did it was already named as a dangerous person when he attacked someone while in high school. The shelter takes in these people, while knowing they need to be in a psychiatric facility. No beds due to funding, and can’t turn them away to the streets. That’s a whole different topic needing public awareness. It was much to my disbelief to find out most people that live at the shelter full time, have been there for years. I saw quite a few of them struggle and a few even died. But also saw a couple that were getting sober and trying to get their life back on track. If I helped them be inspired to do so during my many nightly talks with lots of different residents, I feel I served my purpose. I pray I helped people to stop suffering, as that was my only goal. Today I wish I could say my life is perfectly the way I want it to be. Being sober doesn't mean all of the problems in my life went away. I once again had medical issues no one could diagnose. My neck and arm were in constant pain, and my mobility was limited again. Dr’s brushed me off again, and one of the visits made me crack. It was about 7 months ago I found myself leaving a doctor’s appointment in tears. I was overwhelmed with emotions and didn't think there was a thing in the world worth caring about. I found myself drunk again for one day. My sobriety date is now October 5, 2010. I am very lucky to have a husband that chooses not to drink even though he's not an addict (I will never understand that), and two roommates that are in sobriety with me. My medical issues are still there, and sometimes my depression is unbearable, but I know for a fact that a drink will not make a difference, other than taking the good stuff I do have in my life and replacing it with chaos and misery. Since starting this paper, I have now found what I hope to be the end of my new medical issues. I feel pretty good most of the time, and I am trying to “take in” all of the amazing things that are happening around me. I feel different, but cannot explain how-I just know it’s good.

Last Updated: 11/01/2017