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Five years: Seymour Lake Sobriety Group

'Before, my life was a nightmare because of the alcohol, the lies'

February 23, 2011 - Brandon Twp.— Sandy B., 54, started drinking alcohol when she was just 12-years-old.

After years of abusing alcohol, she finally sought help in 2000. After five years of attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, however, she stopped.

"I guess I figured I didn't need it, which is bad, because someone in recovery who does that usually ends up going back to drinking," said Sandy, a member of Seymour Lake United Methodist Church, 3050 S. Sashabaw Road. "I argued with God about going back to AA. I told myself if they started (an AA group) at our church, I'd go back."

On Feb. 6, 2006, the Seymour Lake Sobriety Group was born with the help of former Pastor Debbie Line and a member named Danny. Sandy was at the first meeting, along with 15-20 others who heard of the group by word-of-mouth. The group is now in the Alcoholics Anonymous directory.

Earlier this month, as a blizzard was bearing down on the township, more than 50 people celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Seymoure Lake Sobriety Group with a potluck dinner at the church.

AA has helped Sandy to get her life back.

"Before, my life was a nightmare because of the alcohol, the lies," she says. "I don't think there is an honest, truthful alcoholic out there. When you're drinking, it's hard to be honest with yourself or other people."

Sandy was one of five children. Her father traveled a lot for work, she recalls and her mother was in and out of the hospital often with different surgeries. The family lived next to a lake and when her parents had parties, they would send Sandy or her younger sister up to the house to bring them back beers, which Sandy would open and take sips from.

When she was 13- or 14-years-old, her parents left her brother in charge when they were on a trip out of state. Upset that they hadn't taken her along, she took nerve pills and proceeded to play a drinking game with her brother. Intoxicated, she called a friend, whose sister answered and told her parents about the situation. Sandy was taken to a hospital and doesn't remember much else about the incident, other than the disappointment from her father. She stopped using prescription drugs, but used street drugs and continued to drink.

When she was 18, she worked for her mother's small business and when she closed the shop at night, she would buy one or two bottles of Boone's Farm (wine) and drink on the way home, sometimes both bottles. Her father called her a wino.

Sandy gave birth to a daughter, also when she was 18, and divorced her child's father nine months later. When she was 20, she met her current husband, who adopted her daughter. Sandy and her husband would also have two sons. Despite taking on the adult responsibilities of a family, her drinking continued. She doesn't believe her husband realized the extent of the problem.

She was a weekend binge drinker and also drank whenever the opportunity arose. Sandy was on a bowling league and she would call her husband to come and get her after drinking too much. Sometimes she wouldn't even make it home.

When they went out to eat at a restaurant, there would always be a discussion of whether to order a glass of wine or a bottle.

"I wanted a bottle, because I wanted as much as I wanted," said Sandy. "He only wanted a glass, because he knew what would happen if we ordered a bottle… I never understood how someone could leave wine in their glass, it made me want to go with a straw and suck it up."

She tried to hide the extent of her drinking. Sandy would make herself and her husband a drink just before he got home from work, but he thought it was her first drink of the evening, when in fact, she had a few before he arrived.

Prior to family gatherings, Sandy would dump Coca-Cola out of a bottle and fill the empty bottle with rum "to take the edge off." Her husband tried helplessly to distract her from drinking.

"I think he stayed because of the kids, and because he loved me, no matter what."

As a drinker, Sandy was a very verbally abusive person. She regularly lost her temper with her children and her husband would stand between them. She couldn't keep a job and remembers the year she had ten W-2 forms to file with her taxes because that's how many jobs she had that year.

Everyone has a different bottom they hit when drinking, said Sandy. Hers was when her father died eleven years ago. She went to a psychiatrist in April 2000, and during a session, commented to the doctor that she would drink and go to sleep and let her husband deal with the kids.

"I told her I did that just about every night," said Sandy. "The psychiatrist stopped me and said, 'I think you need to talk to one of our alcohol specialists.' I didn't think she knew what she was talking about."

In September 2000, Sandy entered into an outpatient alcohol rehabilitation program, part of which required attending AA meetings. "I didn't think my drinking was a problem," she said. "I sat in the back of the room during group sessions, with my feet and arms crossed, just staring at the front, waiting for it to end, because I didn't think I needed to be there."

During the AA meetings, she would sit at the first step table. The first step in AA, she explains, is admitting to God and yourself that you are an alcoholic and have a problem. Sometimes she simply listened. Sometimes she cried as she heard people's stories, and then as she realized she did need to be there.

"It's like having to reach out and ask for help, I have a hard time with that," Sandy said. "I've never been one to ask for help and accepting someone's help that they offered has never been easy."

Accepting the help was perhaps the best thing she ever did.

"My kids never said anything (about the drinking) until I got clean, and then they commented on how much I had changed for the better," she said. "That made me feel good. It's another reason to stay clean. My husband also told me if I ever started drinking again, he would leave. That is powerful motivation to not drink. I like my life now, I enjoy where I'm at."

Still, it wasn't easy. Sandy would dream about alcohol and wake up wondering if she'd had a drink (this still happens on occasion, she says). She would sit at work and could smell alcohol where there was none. A programmer, she forgot how to write programs and was told that sometimes when people sober up, they struggle with memory. But she persevered and she counted each day of sobriety by putting a mark on her bathroom mirror with an eyebrow pencil.

In AA, tokens are given to members for sobriety. New members get a token for one day at a time. The next token is for 1-month of sobriety, then there is one every month up to 1-year of sobriety, then an 18-month coin, then one for each year anniversary.

One day in the kitchen, Sandy found her 18-months of sobriety token sitting on the windowsill. She had been sober for eight years. As she looked at it, she thought, 'Who would think I would make it this long?' At 18 months, she hadn't imagined she would make it this far, and she's had her challenges.

Before she started rehabilitation and AA eleven years ago, she had a period where she stopped drinking for six months. She believed at that time that because she had stopped, she would be able to have a drink. She had a shot. Then another. And another. She never made it home that night.

"The problem is not the first drink, it's all those that come after," Sandy says. "My mom and I had a conversation before she died and I told her how many years I had sober. She said to me, 'You haven't drank in such a long time, you could probably have a drink now and it wouldn't bother you.' That upset me, because she didn't understand. People who are not alcoholics don't understand how the disease affects people. A lot of people think it's not a disease, it's an excuse. I am not willing to have that drink and find out."

When her mother died, in January 2006, she recalls an argument she had with her husband in which she told him she wished she could just have a drink and forget everything.

Despite the difficult times, she knows drinking is not an option and she never wants to return to it. She is grateful for the support of her family, friends, church, and fellow AA members.

"It makes me sad that I wasted all those years," Sandy said. "The one thing I would really like to express is that life without alcohol is so different, it is so much better. I wish I hadn't waited so long. I wish I would have gotten help a lot sooner."

The Seymour Lake Sobriety Group meets at 6 p.m., every Tuesday, at SLUMC, 3050 S. Sashabaw Road. For more information, call the AA of Oakland County 24-hour hotline at 248-332-3521.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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