Tragedy & Gratitude – Grapevine Article by Kris M.

She could never forgive herself when her drinking led to a night of tragedy, but the program showed her how gratitude could help her heal

I arrive at work early, as I always do, so I that I can have some quiet time and coffee before I begin my workday. My quiet time begins with some Bible reading and journaling when my boss walks by and says “Good morning.” and I enthusiastically return the sentiment without looking up from my Bible passage. Then I noticed she had left a card for me on my desk. As I opened it up and read it I was struck with gratitude, which seems to be overflowing lately and let me tell you why…

My butt landed in AA in 2004 when the Intensive Outpatient Program, that I was coerced into attending in order to save my job, told me that I would not be able to successfully complete the program unless I attended AA meetings and got a sponsor. But I couldn’t gather up the courage to go until the very last week of IOP. When I got to AA I told my sponsor how to sponsor me, I didn’t really listen to what was being “suggested” (although at the time I thought I was!) and I did not attend meetings that were not at my comfortable local Alano club.

I didn’t see any problems and for the next four years my life was getting better and better, or so I thought, because I was making more money than ever, my divorce and all of its drama seemed to have settled down to a manageable level and my new marriage seemed to be thriving. I was estranged from my family, but I figured that was in God’s plans…not my own doing. Then came the day when it all came crashing down and I got drunk, but not necessarily in that order. Which came first, the chicken or the egg– and does it even matter?

Like many drunks, once I start drinking I cannot stop. But this time it was so different because I couldn’t stop starting. Once I would wake up, if I weren’t headed to work, I would drink to ease the terror, the fear and the shakes. If I did have to work, all I could do was muster enough courage and will power until I got off work so that I could take that first sip that would ease everything. My life continued on like this until December 13, 2010.

On that day, I called in “sick” with a “migraine” to both jobs I held and headed off to “drink” with my husband (whom I had already left because I felt that I could not get and stay sober if he continued to drink). I should probably mention that I took my new boyfriend’s vehicle to set off on this adventure. That was at 8 in the morning and the next thing that I knew, it was 4pm and I was coming out of a blackout behind the wheel of my boyfriend’s Blazer. This was quite confusing to me because I always gave up my keys before starting to drink, because I knew I did stupid things when I drank. And, being a nurse, I absolutely know the results of drinking and driving.

Today I am convinced that the only reason I remember that moment of coming out of the blackout is because of what happened in the next instant—I t-boned another car. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t realize how bad the wreck was until in the emergency room the officer told me the other woman died. I was arrested for the first time in my life of almost 40 years and put in county jail.

While in jail, I prayed and prayed to God to help me out of my mess and I promised that I would never, ever drink again (sound familiar?). Then, magically 6 weeks later my boyfriend was able pay the huge bail amount and I was released from that horrible place. It was the answer to my prayers. I was determined to stay sober and straighten out the mess I had made of my life. About 15 minutes later, I found myself belly-up to the bar drinking a beer, trying to numb myself to the reality that I had killed someone.

Although the conditions of my release while out on bail absolutely prohibited me from ingesting any alcohol, it seemed perfectly logical that I medicate myself in order to deal with the emotional pain that I was in. I managed to get away with drinking for a year and a half while my case was slowly winding its way through the court system, but then I was caught and placed right back in jail. This time, instead of begging and pleading with my saint of a boyfriend to bail me out yet again, I told him to let me sit. This time I just wanted to get the whole thing over. If I had to go to prison, so be it. I was ready to begin serving my sentence. But God had other plans and I was bailed out of jail again.

I did not drink. But I couldn’t get to many meetings, so I was miserable, fighting this on my own. Then the night before I was to go to court to accept a plea deal, I got a huge resentment and a drink. Let me tell you it was the best drink I ever had! It was the one that told me I was done. It didn’t work and instead of having another I realized that I did not want to go into court the next day with a hangover. This is the only time in my life that I stopped with just one and I pray that I never have another.

The next day, after court, a real friend dragged me back into the rooms of AA. I had to begin serving my sentence in ten days, but I felt a comfort that I had not felt in years. My plea deal consisted of 30 months of periodic imprisonment followed by an additional two years of intensive probation. And for those of you who don’t know what periodic imprisonment is, let me explain it to you: you are in jail all day, everyday, except to go to work (or court ordered treatment, etc.) to earn money in order to pay for the privilege of being in jail. If you don’t pay for your room and board while in jail, you go to prison.

In Illinois, a DUI involving injury or death is considered a “violent” crime for which one must serve 85% of the original sentence and if I screwed up at all while on periodic imprisonment I would have to serve the entire eight year sentence with NO credit for time already served. I do believe that this is the only reason why the prosecutor agreed to the victim’s family’s request that I get a second chance. I guess I forgot to mention that, too. I had absolutely no idea why I got work release instead of straight prison time. For quite some time I thought that I had a wonderful lawyer (actually I did, but that is not why I was given this sweet deal).

As soon as I signed my plea agreement I told my lawyer that I had to do something to ease the remorse and pain I felt for causing the death of someone else. I wanted to speak at schools where I thought I could help motivate others to not to drink and drive. He got me connected to AAIM (Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists), the northern Illinois version of M.A.D.D. They had me write my story, gave it a look and then set me up to speak at schools and Victim Impact Panels.

Just as God would have it, the very first time I spoke at one of these panels the chair at the panel was the victim advocate for my victim’s family. She was with them at every court hearing, in their homes when they needed help and at my sentencing. I did not recognize her at all, but she knew me rather well. After the panel, she introduced herself to me and asked if I knew why I did not go to prison and then she explained it to me. The family was adamant that I be given another chance and the only reason that the prosecutor agreed was because he was certain I would screw up in work release and end up in prison anyway. There was even a pool on how long I would make it in work release before I got drunk and got sent to prison. The longest anyone gave me was 9 months! I wonder who got the money on that pool.

But, like I said, it wasn’t easy. The only job I could find was a nasty, unscrupulous business where anything goes and they treated everyone like crap (understatement of the year).  I endured it for two years before I was fired. Even before I was terminated, I was doing everything I could to find other employment. But who wants to hire someone who was guilty of killing someone in a DUI? It is easy to find my past, my face was on the front page of the newspaper and that’s what popped up whenever my name was searched online. I literally applied to over a thousand jobs without any success. After some time, decided to only apply to jobs that I actually wanted. I decided since I was over qualified to work at fast food joints (their opinion, not mine) that I would shoot for the moon.

Then one day I got an e-mail reply to a position I applied for. Not just anywhere, but one of the largest privately held companies in North America! Not just any position, but one that I instantly knew God had provided for me. Once hired, I learned that they were developing a new position and that I was being hired and trained to fill that position as soon as it was approved.

And that card that my boss put on my desk? Well, here’s what it says: “As of today, our company will never be the same. Because, as of today, you are now part of our company, our family, our culture. I not only welcome you, but I invite you to reach for and grasp your fullest potential. Be a problem solver, take risks and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. We are fortunate to have you on our side. I hope you will come to feel fortunate to have us on your side as well.”

This journey I am on certainly wasn’t my plan, but somehow God managed to make it a great one. I thank God each and every day for all the blessings he has given me and the most important blessing of all: two guys named Bill W. and Dr. Bob who formed an entire society of recovering drunks like me.

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