I’ve never lived in a gray area when I used or drank. Some people can say that they didn’t know that they were addicts or alcoholics, but I knew.

At the age of 13, I had my first experience with alcohol. I was with my first boyfriend, my best friend and her boyfriend, and we all decided to skip school and go get drunk. It seemed like my life was finally getting more exciting. I was doing things outside of the small life I had been living with just myself and my family in Montana.

We went to one of the kid’s houses who lived outside of town down all dirt roads. We broke into his parents’ liquor cabinet, and I still remember drinking brandy and how it immediately affected me. I felt materially different and better. So the whole bottle could only make the effect heightened! I chased it. Unfortunately, I’m the only person who thinks “I’m a good time” when I’m drinking. I fell over and my boyfriend tried to help me back up, but he had been drinking too. He ended up tripping on me, falling, and hitting his head on the corner of a coffee table. Immediately he slipped into unconsciousness, began throwing up and bleeding profusely from his head. My immediate thought was to save myself and not him. After all, “I’m not going to get in trouble for this”. We stuck him on a sled and dragged him to the side of the road. We left him there. He ended up dying of alcohol poisoning that day.

Even from the jump, I drank like an alcoholic. This experience didn’t make me an addict or alcoholic, but it showcases my selfishness long before I was entrenched in the disease.

By the time I was 16, I was drinking and using meth on the daily and I found out I was pregnant. I was three months along. So I stopped using drugs (excluding pot, because in my mind, it was natural). I was so resentful at the situation. This was not how I wanted my life to be. I didn’t want to be a mom; this was going to seriously interfere with my using and drinking. My boyfriend wasn’t interested in stopping when I stopped, which only compounded my frustration at the situation.

When I had my son, I was so relieved because I could start using meth and other drugs again. I held my son for the first time and I couldn’t feel a thing for him. I wished that wasn’t the case, but I couldn’t get out of myself enough to care about him. I just didn’t feel the feelings others talk about as an overwhelming outpouring of love. It wasn’t there, and I really realized at this point how disconnected and hollow I was and I didn’t want to feel that.

I raised this kid in my disease and all that it entails. I was definitely not the model of what a mother should be, and my shame at my behavior toward my child grew as my appetite for drugs continued to devour my soul. I thought my love was enough–but it wasn’t.

At one point, I bought a stack of notebooks to keep my son busy while I was in the bathroom getting high. I thought this would keep him busy enough while I was trying to make myself right, but too often the short time that I meant to be in the bathroom turned into hours and his knocking on the door went unanswered. Eventually we were evicted and I had to pack all our belongings (once again) and put them in storage. I called his father to come take him so we wouldn’t have to be homeless together again. In my selfish mind that was more than I could handle. I couldn’t do that again. His father came and got him, and I proceeded into the depth of my disease where it could run unchecked. I caused chaos in my wake everywhere I went. I stole, I lied, I cheated, and I did things I swore I never would.

Then I met a drug dealer and made him my boyfriend because that was easier than what I was doing. I didn’t take into account the possibility of violence and of the destruction of the last semblance of hope for myself. Every day started and ended with violence. Increasingly I was feeling that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. I felt the inconsequence of my existence. This lack of purpose filled me with foreboding. I thought I wasn’t long for this world if I continued, yet every day I dove head first back into my active addiction. The mere thought of not getting high made my skin crawl. I couldn’t fathom how I was so utterly beaten down by this thing and couldn’t escape. Death seemed a tempting providence.

My boyfriend and I fought again, this time more violently than we ever had before. I left covered in my own blood, with no meth, no money, and barely alive. I thought I had escaped. But the reality is that my disease was always there.

I went to the storage unit where my stuff was, thinking I could sell something to “come up.” It was there that I came across those notebooks that I had given my son to keep him busy. I realized I had never even taken the time to look at what he had drawn. I guess I wanted some comfort while I was feeling so very lost. I opened one of the notebooks and my heart sank lower than I thought possible. Normal kids draw pictures of families, houses, happy scenes. My son’s notebooks were full of doors. I realized that was our whole relationship. He couldn’t get to me because I was always hidden away and getting high behind closed doors. I was filled with despair.

I went to my mother’s home and broke in. I wasn’t welcome there due to my constant stealing and the chaos I always brought. She had a back bedroom that I snuck into and slept for a couple of days. When I came to, I was overwhelmed with the thought, my moment of clarity, that I just wanted to be normal. I wanted more than anything to be one of those people who wake up in the morning, get dressed and go to a job, no matter what kind of job that is. I wanted to go about my day like a normal person. It was in that moment that I sought God.

I said a prayer that was nothing awe-inspiring, but it was authentic. I asked God to help me be normal. As I sat in the room, in a house I wasn’t supposed to be in, in a life that I had mismanaged, and felt dismay at the way I derailed everything. I was once again confronted with my disease. I went back to the guy who I had just gotten into a fight with because my disease (when it re-awakens) cannot be denied. So even though I swore I was done with him and the abuse, I fled straight back to get high with him again. Since God didn’t answer my prayer in the time frame I thought was necessary, I immediately jumped back into my life with meth and other drugs. God did answer my request though, and within a couple of days I was arrested behind a grocery store. I remember the police officers pulling up and I just stood there frozen. It was almost like God’s hand held me in place so that I could get arrested that day.

I went to jail to face what I had long been refusing to acknowledge. Even knowing that I was looking at prison time, I still felt a sense of peace and the realization that I had asked for God to help me be normal, On the other side of this, He was giving me just that. I didn’t have a choice now. They were going to send me to prison and I would have to stop using meth and other drugs. I could start over when I got out. Strange to think of my life like that, but it was really the only way I knew I would be able to stop. I couldn’t comprehend the idea of stopping on my own. It filled me with a panic and my thoughts would race. Here I was, going to jail and actually feeling better.

The judge decided to reinstate me in the drug court program as well as send me to a halfway house. I checked myself into the house and started this path of recovery. I didn’t come to the program of CMA thinking that this would be my solution. I didn’t see how these Steps could change my life, because internally I thought I was too broken. I couldn’t see how simple Steps could actually make a difference. There were things I was so ashamed of I could barely look in the mirror. I figured that eventually, I would be able to stay sober, and then once the trouble passed I would be able to start drinking or using meth again. So I decided to give this program a shot and do it 100%. If it didn’t work, I would prove my point that this didn’t work. In the meantime, it would keep me busy until my probation was over and then I could go back to what I knew. I dove in.

I picked a woman to sponsor me who gave me my first words of encouragement. She asked me to do some things differently and allowed me to have an experience with the Steps. The book came alive as we discussed it and she brought up her experience. As I saw my life begin to change, I began to feel more free, and even though I had a lot of things I had to accomplish in this recovery thing, I knew that if I just gave it my all, I would continue to see things change. It was like at the moment that I had finally given up swimming against the current I realized how much better the view was as I moved with the current. I worked my Steps and began this way of life, and I have not seen fit to go back to that lifestyle for over 12 years now.

I was one year sober before I spoke to my son again. His father didn’t want me to have anything to do with him, telling me I was a horrible mother who didn’t deserve to have her kid. Though the words hurt to hear, they were the truth. The fact was: I wasn’t a good mother before this and didn’t know that I ever would be. I was afraid of being a mother again. I just wanted to check on him and maybe have some summertime visits so he would at least know who I was. His father didn’t want that or anything to do with me.

God worked in my life and after getting a travel pass, I flew to Montana. I picked my son up after school (where I wasn’t supposed to be). As I drove out of the town, I called the police to let them know that I had picked him up and he wasn’t kidnapped. God had it all planned, and we just executed it. The courts determined that I would have custody.

I was terrified I would screw this all up. I didn’t know how to act or how to treat him. I didn’t know how to live this new way of life and be a mother. I learned all these things in the rooms, being taught by both men and women on how to walk through being a parent and much more. I spoke to God constantly for guidance. I made mistakes and made corrections to my own actions and thus evolved into a better mother. My son was raised in the rooms, and there was no place I would rather have raised him.

He hasn’t had to see me do anything crazy in many years and is now an adult on his own. He called me the other day to tell me that he is thankful for the way I raised him and that he was proud of me. Knowing I had been down so low, he knew that if anything was ever that bad for himself there was a way out. He saw me walk through it and come out the other side.

At seven years sober, I flew back to Montana and was going to pick up my son after he was visiting his father. I went to a store and spotted my first boyfriend’s mother. I was prompted by God to walk up and ask her for the chance to talk. I gave her my information and said that I would like the chance to speak with her to which she agreed. As I sat walked up to her home filled with fear, I talked to God. She invited me in and I felt calm and knew that God was with me. I sat across from her and explained what had happened to her son the day that he died. I explained my part, my selfishness and my shame at the way I behaved. I told her the reason I was here was to make it right, and that my life today was a gift, but only if I managed to make the mistake of my life right with the people I had harmed.

I wasn’t sure what she would say or do, but when I finished talking and gave her the chance to share, she thanked me. All those years she didn’t know what had happened to her son and no one had any information, at least that made sense to her. She forgave me, which was not something I was expecting. She only wished that I continue on this path of recovery. I left her house feeling a freedom I didn’t know existed. I had a weight lifted from me that I wasn’t aware that I was carrying. Amends are important if I want to remain free. I leave the outcome in God’s hands and confess humbly to people I have harmed while making reparations.

The gifts of this program keep on coming. Not only am I a mother like I never thought I could be, but I am a daughter, I am a partner, I am a friend, and confidante. People can trust me and I can trust them. I love the lost and work with the broken, just as I was worked with. God is always my light and helps me constantly, as long as I decide to continue to reside in him. I put my faith and trust in my creator today, and it has dramatically changed the way I view the world and the people about me. This life is freely available to any who is willing to do the work and live life using these principles while being connected to something bigger. If you are looking for freedom, you need look no further; the keys to the kingdom are here in these Steps, in the CMA Fellowship, and in God.