It’s February 2004, and I’m sitting outside of my Aunt’s house in Marietta. My life is a mess, and the prognosis is not hopeful. I live in the finished basement downstairs. I am very sick.
I actually made it into work today, so I’m rewarding myself with the usual- straight whiskey, coke chaser, and an endless chain of cigarettes. I’m 24 years old and I haven’t gone one single day without a drink in about four years.
I stumble inside around 11 pm and notice a letter on my coffee table from my Aunt. “Raegan—you need to find another place to live. You have a serious drinking problem, and I hope you get the help you need—but you cannot continue living here. I love you.”
“She’s right,” I say to myself. “I do need to find another place to live. One where people won’t judge me and be all in my business. I’m a grown woman. I don’t need this bullshit.”
It’s February 2011. I’m sitting outside of my sister’s house, while my two-year-old daughter naps inside. My life is completely out of control, and there is no foreseeable hope for our future. We live in the finished basement downstairs. I’m sicker than I’ve ever been. My daughter went down for a nap without a fight today, so I’m rewarding myself with swigs of cheap vodka (straight from the bottle), juice chaser, and too many cigarettes. I’m 31 years old and (besides my pregnancy and the month after my daughter’s birth) I have not gone without a daily drink in 11 years.
I wander upstairs for more juice, and see a note on the refrigerator from my sister.
“I told you what was required to stay here and you just can’t do it, can you? Start planning your move. I can’t do this. I won’t do this anymore.”
“She’s right,” I think. “I need more freedom—I’m a grown woman—this is driving me crazy.”
It’s February 2012, and I’m hiding behind my grandmother’s house in Statesboro. My life is a disaster, and the prognosis is extremely grim. I’m 32 and I live in my Mema’s downstairs guest room. I am very, very sick. Two days ago I was released from a six-day stay—sectioned there after a suicide attempt. I’ve lost custody of my daughter, and I just want the pain to go away. I don’t care how. I am at Death’s door, one way or another.
I come inside and see a note taped to my bedroom door by my grandmother. “Raegan—I love you honey but I can’t do this. You need to move out. You need to get HELP for your alcoholism.”
“She’s right,” I say to myself. “I do need to move out. I can’t live under such scrutiny any longer. I’m a grown woman.”
It’s February 2014, and I’m sitting on my couch. My life feels unbearable without my child. I’m 34 and I live in a tiny apartment with my now husband. I am extremely depressed. But this time—I reach out for help instead of a bottle. By the grace of God, I stumble upon a group of women on a site called “Sober Mommies.”
This time, I write a letter. I send a private message, and the publisher responds within two minutes. Her words, and the words and support of other women who read my letter after it was posted anonymously on the site, give me something I have not had in years—hope.
“They’re right,” I say to myself. “I’m worthy of giving myself a better life.”
It’s February 2019, and I’m sitting outside of my Aunt’s house in Marietta. We came here to visit my grandmother. Her cancer has returned, and the prognosis is not hopeful this time. She lives in the finished basement downstairs. She is dying.
I venture down the familiar stairs leading to the basement. As I walk up to her recliner to chat with her I see the dozens of cards and letters she’s received displayed throughout. Sitting beside her on the end table, I notice a letter. It’s dated December 4, 2018. I smile. It’s from me.
It’s all the things I’d hoped to say to her in person when we visited in November for her 90th birthday, but never had the time alone with her because she’s just so popular. It’s the beginning of my amends to her. I included a copy of the poem I wrote and read aloud at her party:
Rises with the sun
And uses each day’s promise
To live a life well done
Doesn’t fret over or “things” or money
Needs no band-aids for boo-boos
Stitches wounds with magical kisses and, “Oh, Honey”s.
Personifies resilience, strength
It is her same indomitable spirit
I summon during personal trials and angst
Loves her some Jesus!
And has been blessed with so many gifts
Her writing, her smarts, her kindness, her drive- the “distinctly Mema” smile that dances on her lips
Is my hero
And I know that it isn’t just me
That believes if we all try to follow her lead
What a wonderful world this would be.
I hold her hand, and we talk for a while. My Aunt and sister join us, and we reminisce, laugh, and cry. It’s time for her to lie down, so we say good night. “I’ll see you in the morning,” I say. The words catch in my throat because I realize that is not promised to me. I kiss her forehead and go.
Upstairs we sit and visit—me, my sister, my Aunt, and my daughter. I am fully aware of how fortunate I am in this moment, and my heart swells with gratitude.
A lot happened in that five-year span between my new found hope and my repaired relationships with those my alcoholism hurt. I excelled, I slipped, I grew, I face planted- improved, bawled, laughed my ass off, broke my own heart, found purpose…. and so much more. And I’m still doing all of that. I’ve heard that “the best apology is changed behavior,” and that’s true. But it doesn’t happen overnight. I’ll spend the rest of my life making amends to my harmed loved ones simply by living the kind of life I know I deserve and treating them the way I know they deserve.