ONE DAY - ONE STEP
I was home alone when I read it. It was heart wrenching. She had handwritten it in VERY dramatic detail.
At 39, I was facing the early warning signs of "empty nest." With our oldest son in his first year of college, our second son finishing High School, the high stress of moving into a management position on my job, being the wife of the Pastor of a growing church, and facing my 40th birthday. An exciting journey was on the horizon. We were getting our passports and paying a deposit on our first missionary trip.
Having to have an original birth certificate from the county where I was born, I made application and finally received the document in the mail. A quick glance confirmed it was me, but a second look puzzled me. I tucked that question deep down with all the others I had collected through the years.
At first I didn't say anything, filed it away with other important papers for the missions trip and proceeded to worry about other details for several days.
In the midst of all this planning, we received a phone call that my grandfather had fallen, broken his hip, developed pneumonia and probably wouldn't recuperate. This started a whirlwind of activity. We had been stripping the wood floors of years of dirt and grime in our home - literally - everything was moved out of the rooms into the halls, so we could use the sander on the wood floors. Sawdust was all over everything. My parents were heading to town to sit with Grandpa, and to plan the inevitable funeral. Our visits would not be at our home. The evening Grandpa died, we had visited the hospital one more time, and I remembered my birth certificate question - courage rose up, and inquired.
After keeping it with other legal papers for days, I had decided to pull it and have Russ look at it. He noticed immediately, also. He had a good friend, who was a detective. So, we arranged for him to do some investigating. Human fingerprints are relatively impossible to determine at birth, so hospitals use the baby's footprints. My left footprint when I was born, and my left footprint when I was released from the hospital did not match on this certificate. I truly felt I was in the middle of a conspiracy drama. The questions that arose were unbearable. It verified every sick feeling I had had all my life.
I was convinced.
I was switched at birth. Having my parents in town for Grandpa's funeral gave me the opportunity and the courage to confirm the feelings I had always had.
Based on these repetitive occurrences in my childhood home:
I confronted my Mom with the legal piece of paper. She went back home.
The funeral was over, we finished our floors, we had a disappointing cancellation of our missions trip, and, I was back to a normal day's routine at work, when I got the letter.
I was home alone when I read it. It was heart wrenching. She had handwritten it in VERY dramatic detail. My mom jumped right into the 39 year trauma.
It was a 3 page letter that confirmed every fear I had had for 39 years. The deep emotional pain of never knowing, and the sick-sick feeling that my real family and I had to connect.
I was undone, incomplete, lost and scared.
When Russ came home, I showed him the letter. He was kind and caring, but realistic and a bit sarcastic!! He told me that he was concerned that my mom had maybe had a breakdown or wasn't living reality because I looked just like her. Oh, my word. He brought humor to painful situations with ease.
After phone calls to my sisters, who basically said the same thing as Russ, and a call from my Dad who offered to help me find my birth records and said, "I know I'm the Dad, we just don't know who the mother is!" We all had a few good laughs and I burned the letter, and basically stopped talking to my mother. Receiving a letter like this, is an ultimate rejection and abandonment, but it only confirmed all of the emotions I experienced and sensed growing up in her home. I wasn't hers, she was always looking for another, I was an interruption to her life, and a distraction she couldn't resolve.
The Day I Took That First Step
I'll be honest - my first "meeting" was after more than 20 years of being clean and sober from alcohol and drugs. The reason I went was by invitation, the purpose of the invite was to see the format before my husband shared our story at a meeting. It was Alcoholics Anonymous in a church basement at Sturgis, SD in the early 2000's, maybe '02 or '03.
We had told our story many times in churches, we knew of Alcoholics Anonymous, but we had an experience with our addiction that was rare in many circles. We were able to walk into a church, have prayer, and walk out with no desire to go back to our old lifestyle. This was so powerfully life changing for us that it rescued our faltering marriage, changed the lives of our children forever, and rapidly propelled us into Christian ministry.
So this balmy evening, after parking our motocycles in the church parking lot, and walking up the long narrow sidewalk to glass doors, being greeted with handshakes and smiling men, we turned to go down stairways and hallways to a meeting room in the basement. Others were there getting their coffee and scraping the legs of metal chairs to better possitons on the tile floor. The room was utter chaos, lots of chatter and little clusters of people who seemed to be well acquainted, friendly enough, turning and shaking our hands as we entered, but I was sure I would not fit in, and sure they'd be judging me quickly as they heard our story. The room had a rank odor of leather, damp air and cigarette smoke on clothing, the smell of coffee is what I focused on, so - I helped myself to a cup, adding some sugar and opening then emptying a paper packet of powdered whitening (which I detest), but I disklike black coffee even more. It must be brown. Silly habits we form. Entitlements I call them.
I remember some of the tales of woe as people went around the room and opened up their hearts to tell what their week was like, telling why they were in this particular meeting, talking some of their struggles and victories throughout the week. It seemed strange, because I really hadn't thought a lot about going back to my old lifestyle, it had been so long, and, naturally, since I had completely changed who I hung out with when I was addicted, where I lived, and the additional habits I had formed, I didn't see living as a struggle anymore. I knew the next time we attended and my husband shared our story, it would be an inspiration, and maybe lay down a path of hope for others.
That was it, lots of hugs at the door, then walking out to smokers lining the path back to our motorcycles. I remember the haze in the air.
My first Step was at an altar in a church, my first "step study" was many, many years later. You see, with prayer, and God's help and some really supportive people in my life, I was able to walk away from drugs and alcohol, which were both a part of my life for 11 years before I quit. But, when I was ready, I got into a step study, where each of the 12 steps was studied intensely, to the point of writing out my answers to very difficult questions, and this is when I discovered why I went the way of drugs and alcohol, escaping life by coping - using instead of facing life's inevitble trials. One Day - One Step is an opportunity for me to give you snippets of what I learned - not only from the Christians I met, my first trip to an altar in a church, but, also, from people along my journey who had struggled with addiction and relapse for years, with multiple set-backs. This is why I'm writing my book, "A Way of Escape, the 12 Steps I Never Took."