By: Dianne Hastings
It is with the utmost privilege and honor, I submit this contribution to Grace Recovery ATX, Women’s Sober Living Home, January newsletter.
I have the honor and privilege of knowing Becca and Leah for several months now. I met Becca through mutual friends in recovery. We’ve all spent some time sharing our stories, vision and missions, personal and professional and I am thrilled to be a part of this family of recovery. These two beautiful sisters help me to remember how precious life and love is, especially the love between “sisters”.
“We came to believe in a Power Greater than ourselves, could restore us to sanity.” Step 3, Alcoholics Anonymous
When I arrived in Austin almost 2 years ago, I was in the depths of hell on earth. I literally spent the previous year begging God to take me. I would pray each night not to wake up, then I would open my eyes in the morning filled with anger, fear, despair, hopelessness and helplessness. I longed to be close to my children, their wives and my grandchildren. This disease took me places I never thought I would go.
It was Christmas, 2016 weekend. I couldn’t afford to get to Austin so I spent the holiday alone, grieving the loss of my entire family of origin- both parents and 5 siblings. At the age of 54 and the realization I was not able to spend it with my sons, their wives and my 4 grandchildren (17,13,10 months and 9 months) due to car and financial issues.
My last relapse.
“Forgiveness is the willingness to give up hope, for a better past.”
Major loss # 1
I was born the sixth child to a Catholic, cajun family, in Port Arthur, Texas. My losses began at the age of 3, when my father had to leave because of alcoholism and the effects it would have on him., it was 1966. He served our country as a Master Sergeant in WWII and Korean war in the U.S. Army. He received two purple hearts, one for being shot in the head and the other in the back and many other medals. He returned home with tremendous pain and the drowning memories of the battles. Veterans didn’t have many programs to combat these types of sufferings, and we sure didn’t know about P.T.S.D.so he drank to ease the physical and emotional pain. He was a carpenter and had built the home we lived in. Unfortunately his disease showed up in terms of domestic violence. He never hurt the children but he and my mother would argue and things were just not pretty.
Major loss # 2
At the age of 5, I awoke to the smell of smoke and ran to my parents room, woke up everyone in the house and we went outside to watch our house burn down.There we were, 6 children, watching our home go up in smoke. The fire was contained and fortunately we did not lose the entire home, but we were all divided in to the homes of our relatives. My first experience of being homeless and my first experience of “saving
people.” We were all divided and stayed with different family and friends. We returned to our home.
Major loss #3
My mother went to work as a waitress to provide for us. Next, my oldest two siblings moved out when I was 6, we had to sell our home and move into apartments. So that left four of us. It was 1968, a true broken home.
Major loss #4
I remember coming home from school in 3rd grade to find out that my 5 had died, at the age of 48, of a heart attack, the sad thing is, I never knew him. So there we were, six kids and my Mom on the front row at#/ the funeral. He was honored with a military funeral. His best friend came up to us after the service and told us “I was with Albert right before he died and he said “tell my kids I love them.” I’ve held onto that my entire life. I was given the U.S. flag. Every time I hear “Amazing Grace” that is the picture that surfaces in my mind and heart. My 3 middle siblings were teenagers `and so began to leave home and get married at a very young age.
Major loss #5
By the age of 12, I was the only child left at home. I stayed with my maternal grandparents a lot, as my Mom worked. I remember being happy and loved, very loved and would spend the night with my sisters and babysit. I had seventeen cousins!!! Some of us would spend weekends together at my grandparents. Three of us formed a bond that would grow into a “sisterhood.” My Mom remarried and my step Dad provided us with a warm, loving home. I loved him so much. When I was 16, he died after complications from an esophagus surgery, leaving my Mom a widow. He was in the service too, so it was a military funeral. Again I was given the flag. She never remarried.
Major Loss #6
I was well like in school, made good grades, was popular, a member of student council, and a cheerleader. I attended a technical school for office administration, where I held the office of President. This would be the beginning of my business career. My family was so proud of me. Then came the next blow, my sister Vickie was murdered by her husband, leaving two little girls, ages 2 and 3, as an indirect result of addiction and alcoholism. The pain and confusion was too much to bare and I started hanging out with kids and experimenting with alcohol and marijuana, but also keeping one foot planted in the mainstream of school.
Major Loss #7
I was married by the age of 18 and had my first son, my world. The love and joy I had when I brought him into this world was indescribable. I vowed to God and to myself, that he would never see me drunk or high. I was going to give him everything the world had to offer, but most of all a safe, loving home, so I did. A very important thing to note is that I loved and admired oldest sister, with every ounce of my being. She had “gotten out” , married her high school sweetheart and had a beautiful family. I wanted what she had and did my best to achieve this, Unfortunately, my marriage failed. My middle brother suffered from addiction and alcoholism, as well as mental health. He left town when I was 20, the last time I ever saw him. He moved from city to city, staying in touch with myself and my oldest sister. He was the sweetest, kindest soul. He was also a very talented musician and artist. He would call almost every Sunday and visit with my children as well. My oldest brother was gay and since that was not acceptable during this period he chose to not return. We did talk on the phone every weekend and he began telling me about Alcoholics Anonymous and his journey with sobriety. The next blow, he called me one night to let me know he was dying of AIDS. He had 9 years of sobriety and had been with the same partner during this time as well. He died when I was 21 in Atlanta, GA. My sister and I drove to his funeral. My mother was not able to make the trip, due to her declining health. His funeral was filled with happy, loving people, his recovery family. This would be my first experience of what the true meaning of the program looked like. He was in the Marines so he too had a military funeral. Again, I was given the flag.
Another sister had been in a marriage since she was 16, lots of domestic violence and drug use, two little boys whom I adored. I rescued her and my two nephews on several occasions, from domestic violence but one night I was too late. She was hospitalized in an intensive care in critical condition for several days. I will never forget what I saw when I walked in the room, her eye was the size of a tennis ball, a sack of blood. I helped get her and the children get into a home for battered women and their children. Once she got her own place and a job, she met someone and moved to Austin and rebuilt her life and the children had a happy home.
Major loss #9
In 1987, I remarried. On day, I received a call from my sister saying “Have you seen Mom? you need to get over there!” When I got to my Mom’s home, the left side of her face was paralyzed and she had slurred speech and blurred vision. We took her to the emergency room where they ran several test, The next day we were told she had metastatic cancer, she was given 6 weeks to live. My sister and I took care of her and were able to come to peace and forgiveness for any of her shortcomings. She was such a strong lady- She buried 2 husband and two children, prior to dying herself. We gave her a beautiful funeral. I found out I was pregnant 2 months after my mother passed away. I was told I could never have another child after my oldest was born. He was so precious. My miracle baby.
Major loss #10
The next blow, my sister Donna came to visit me when my second son was 6 weeks old. She brought her two sons to live with their grandmother in Louisiana because she could not afford to take care of them and I believe she was abusing. This would be the last time I saw her, 1989.
Major loss #11
The next blow…I was forced to separate when my baby was 12 months old and my oldest was 11. It was not a healthy marriage to say to the least, resulting in another divorce., but this one was bad. I vowed I would never marry again. I weighed 89 lbs.
Major loss #12
I started dating my last husband, the love of my life, six months into my divorce. We dated for 3 years off and on. My 2 nieces came to live with me when they were 15 and 16. Shortly thereafter, I married.
We had the “picture perfect” marriage. I lived for my children and tried to create the best home possible, with the tools I had. My healthcare career expanded, from hospital systems to managing various practices, from family practice to pediatrics, internal medicine, cardiovascular thoracic surgeons, psychiatry and many other. For the next ten years we had a good, happy home, so I thought, that’s where the “delusion” comes in. My two cousins and another close friend and their families spent every holiday, birthday, vacations and weekends together, the YaYa’s. Our family had family dinners all together at the table every night, went to church, the boys were in sports, the all American family. But there was lots of drinking that went along with our social lives. I became a grandmother at the age of 36, 1999, my first precious grandchild. One day when I was at work, the receptionist came in and said “Ms. Hastings, you have an urgent call from your nephew” the youngest of both brothers. My first oldest nephew had been in a serious “drunk and driving” accident. He suffered brain and many other injuries that would leave him paralyzed in a coma for 6 months. He was paralyzed from the waist down and left side. He also had “impaired cognitive abilities.” The next ten years I would be over seeing his care in nursing homes. I began having lots of anxiety and some panic attacks due to the trauma I had endured. I began self medicating with “A” glass of wine at night at the age of 38. Over the course of the next 4 years, my drinking increased to a few glasses. What I could never understand is why I could have the same amount of alcohol as my friends and I would either go to sleep or be in a blackout. My husband’s career had several breaks in it, leaving him what I believe to have been a “mid life crisis’ The arguments about finances put a large strain on our marriage, to the point of it being almost being physical. We had the best of the best and the worse of the worse. Right before our ten year anniversary, It was necessary for my son and I to leave, another divorce, 2004. My drinking “progressed.” I was managing a group of over a hundred ER physicians, covering 7 hospitals throughout Houston and Southeast Texas. Throughout my career have have mentored hundreds of employees, not only with their career, but with life. I’m honored to say that these woman have become some of my best friends. In 2005, my second granddaughter was born. She brought so much light into my life and the world.
Major loss #13
The next blow, my “first love” died suddenly following complications from a shoulder surgery. We were high school sweethearts at the age of 16. We remained friends through life’s ups and downs. He also became a mentor to my son in golf. I helped his parents and siblings with the funeral planning and it was the most beautiful “golf ceremony” Celebration of Life. He had 21 pallbearers and I was one of them, so was my son. I lost my “best guy” friend. By this time I was up to a bottle a day, still functioning but barely. I was recruited to Austin and I thought “this was my ticket to sobriety”. I would be close to my oldest son and rebuild my life. I went to my first AA meeting, got a sponsor and began working the steps.
Major loss #14
The next blow, my oldest sister had been exhibiting signs of memory loss for a couple of years but they insisted “nothing was wrong.” It was 2007. I went home to visit and finally was told that she had a rare terminal neurological disorder, known as Cortiobasil Gangliotic Degeneration a disease that is similar to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, at the same time and results in a slow death. Watching her die was probably the hardest thing I have ever been through. No known cause, no treatment and no cure. I remember I couldn’t breath. I returned to Austin in complete pain and agony. How could God do this to me? I couldn’t bare the loss of my sweet, sweet sister.
Major loss #15
The next blow, was the economic crisis of 2008 and I lost my job. For the first time in my life, I was unemployed and after 10 years of being my nephew’s caregiver, he passed away after complications from having his legs amputated. Twenty eight years of healthcare, single, children grown and nowhere to go. My dear friend’s Mom said I could move in with her for 2 weeks and it ended up being 18 months. Over the decade she would become my confidant, my saving grace. Not only did she give me a place to live, she helped me through some of my darkest days, finally sober, and having the memory of the losses of a lifetime flood my mind and heart. She was a best friend, mother, sister, mentor and a retired L.C.D.C. so I had daily counseling and tough love when I needed it.
I had reached a point where alcohol quit working, the invisible line that we learn about in the program. I went to AA, got a sponsor, worked the steps and managed to put together my first 18 months of sobriety, however I was on medications. I went back to school to pursue my dream of being a Massage Therapist. I did everything I could to make my sister’s life as happy as it could be during the next few years. I was able to bring her shopping, her favorite and help as much as I was allowed to. I graduated and passed my state boards. My oldest sister passed away and we put her to rest January 20, 2013, leaving me to be the “only survivor.” She was my rock. When she died a huge
part of me died with her. I thought I could never go on without her. The days, weeks and months following her death were mixed with highs and lows. Watching her die was probably the hardest thing I have ever been through, 6 years. I have people ask me which is harder, tragic sudden death or death from illness, my answer is “it’s all hard”.
I rebuilt my life again and had a successful, private practice. The following year both children were married a month apart and the following year both were pregnant. The next blow, I woke up one morning and couldn’t hardly get out of bed. My back pain was so severe. After 2 months of diagnostics, it was discovered that I had suffered 2 thoracic vertebra compression fractures, resulting in nothing short of being bed bound for five months. My medication use and repeated relapses increased, yet again. I had absolutely no tools to deal with life and nothing could ease my pain. I had a successful corrective surgery, but was unable to return to that type of work. I thought I had went through the darkest depression and drinking days of my life until then. My two next grandchildren were born. I was not able to be their for their births are much of their first year of life, due to my fractured back. More pain and grief.
Over the course of the decade of 2007-2017, my children, daughter in laws, cousin, lifelong friend and “new friend” loyalty never waiver. They loved me, forgave me, supported me in every way possible. But no one but no one could save me from myself, but God.
“Made a decision to turn our will and our power over to the care of God as we understood him.” Alcoholics Anonymous, Step 3
I entered Texas Star Recovery January 20, 2017. On this day I finally completely SURRENDERED! I had nothing left in me to fight, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I told myself, I didn’t know anything and I was going to listen to anything and everything they told me to do, because I knew I didn’t have one more drink left in me. I had to become WILLING, to take direction. They recommended I move into sober living so I could establish friends and people that were living in recovery. I hired someone to pack my home, my children went and brought it here to storage and I began a new design for living.
“Came to believe in a power greater than ourselves to restore us to sanity”
Alcoholics Anonymous, Step 2.
Since doing so, my life has changed dramatically. The Austin Recovery Community embraced me in a way I never thought possible, with recovery, unity and community, as well as acceptance, love and compassion. I got a sponsor, work the steps honestly and thoroughly, began building a fellowship around me, service work and attended classes in PHP, IOP, DBT and EMDR, to process my losses and develop coping skills. My sponsor was my role model. She was active in meetings, had sponsee’s, did service work. Every time I would be in a difficult situation, she would tell me the same thing “you never have to drink again.” It took time before I came to believe and trust this.
“Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” Alcoholics Anonymous” Step 8
One by one, I was able to make amends, not just saying “I’m sorry” which was very different for me. My sponsor told me, “they’ve heard this a million times, ask them “how has my drinking hurt you, then be silent and LISTEN.” then ask “what can I do to make it up to you?” most all of them said “keep doing what you’re doing.” So I’ve attempted to make a living amends by being the person I truly am. A loving, giving, compassionate human being, who has spent a lifetime helping others, but now it is different. I have no hidden agenda. “Entitlement has left me.” The Big Book tells us that we had to be rid of selfishness and self centeredness, 2 of the many character defects of alcoholism.
“Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly.” The Ninth Step Promises. Over the course of the past two years I was able to process and heal the wounds of my past. I shifted from being the victim to being the victor. Every one of the promises has evolved in my life. I have healthy, happy relationships with my children, my daughter in laws and most all other relationships have been restored, which I never thought possible. “We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us, what we could not do for ourselves.” I get to participate and be a part of in my grandchildren’s lives on a regular basis. These are the true gifts I have received from God.
Then this happened, a few months ago I was asked to be a volunteer for an amazing organization, Communities for Recovery, a non for profit that provides education and resources to promote long term recovery, to be a Family Recovery Program Facilitator,. Upon completing the classes, I educate family, friends and allies of those who suffer from mental illness and substance disorder. Through this endeavor, I was offered another opportunity to become a Certified Family Recovery Peer Coach Specialist, through Recovery People, a non for profit. A nation wide initiative in the recovery movement was developed to promote long term recovery for the family as a whole. The basis on which “Peer” has helped increase the success rate of those in recovery, is by sharing our “lived experience.”
“Having had a “spiritual awakening” as a result of these steps, we tried to carry the message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Alcoholics Anonymous, Step 12
I try to apply the recovery principles in every aspect of my life. In the past, I kept my pain as well as my recovery private; today I share my experience, strength, and hope whenever the opportunity presents itself. In doing so, I try to exhibit hope, love, trust, honesty, courage, integrity, willingness, humility, spirituality and service. My program consist of all three sides of the triangle, recovery, unity and community.
I practice self care on a daily basis which includes prayer, yoga, meditation, massage, healthy eating, rest and sleep. I continue to be active in individual therapy and access
healthcare services as needed. I try to practice healthy boundaries, which can sometimes be difficult for me, but I find if I talk to another alcoholic, my sponsor or my therapist about any given situation, they help me sort out the situation and give me insight to where my part ends and the other person’s responsibility begins. The tools I have today have allowed me to move past the darkness and into the light.
I owe my life to the grace, mercy and blessings of God, my children, my aunt, friends, family, the fellowship and program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
January 20, 2019 will mark my 2 years of sobriety, and the 6th anniversary of my sister’s death, I know that she, my parents and other siblings are my angels. I am deeply grateful to be alive. Today, my life is beautiful. I have a clear mind, love in my heart and peace in my soul.