A LOOK BACK AT 2017: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF A RECOVERED ALCOHOLIC
BY: TAMI HARPER WINN
She leaned over in the seat, caught my tear in her hand, and kissed me softly on my cheek. She stepped out of that door, lifted her suitcases out of the trunk of the car, wrapped me up in a tight hug, and whispered, “Everything’s going to be okay mama”. Nineteen years wasn’t long enough. She takes her suitcases, waves to me, and strolls towards the missionary training center. I watch her close the door on her childhood as she walks into her future. My best friend stands with me as we watch my baby girl round the corner out of our view, and she catches me as I fall. How will I make it? This year ends with the closure of a very big part of my life and who I am is changing once again. But, what a year its been. Who will I be now? Redefining me is what this next year will be about.
At the end of last year, I had received news that would rocket me into a new direction as I searched for the meaning to the news I had received - my health was in jeopardy. I couldn’t grasp what that meant. All I could do was question where would I be by the end of 2017?
The year 2017 began with my baby girl, standing in the streets of Sacramento dancing after midnight with all of our friends surrounding us as the WACYPAA convention. My dream of showing her what life is like is sober for young people came true that trip. What a way to start an amazing year. We drove over the Sierra Nevada back home and into 2017. So would begin my #YesFast.
By February, I was coming up on the one-year mark of my mother’s celestial birthday. I was deep in this new transformation, never really knowing what I was preparing for. I bought a round trip ticket to Baja, Mexico and shed my fears to fly down there alone, without her, to visit a friend in recovery. My world opened up like I had never dreamed possible. With butterflies and parakeets circling me in a hammock, I found a strength in myself that I didn’t know I had. I saw a life that was worth living to the fullest in that hammock. I brought that hammock back to the states with me and stepped into March. This month was filled with #Love – more love than I knew what to do with.
In March, I took on another bucket list item and packed my daughter and best friend into a car, trekked off to San Francisco, then drove down the coast, showed my daughter California, then went on the Las Vegas to spend my birthday with my family atop the Stratosphere staring down below at the city that had began my journey all those years ago. I had in fact, conquered it all. I headed off down I-15 to Idaho and into April. My momentum would start to go into a quieter mode after the adventures so early in the year as I began reflection and the realization that I needed to be focused more on the limited time I now had with my daughter.
I took April off of traveling, spent time enjoying the spring flowers beginning to sprout out of the ground, preparing for my daughter’s graduation, and just being present in the moment while loving on my little girl and my family. We would walk into May ready for the future. We would take our first trip to Salt Lake City, Utah for our church conference, before our final trip there later in the year.
She threw her cap into the air surrounded by all her childhood friends as tears raced down my face. As she had crossed that stage to receive her high school diploma, I knew that this was the first of many endings. I was beginning the winter of my recovery on May 20 as I celebrated 7 years of sobriety with her by my side. We would soon stroll into the summer of 2017 together.
June showed up, she left for girl’s camp, a leader of young women. I couldn’t be more proud of her choices in life. I sat in her room and tried to memorize every part of it, knowing that one day soon she would be leading many as she left behind her childhood. I knew the time was coming way too fast.
The fireworks burst in the sky over the lake we once called our backyard. Their colors reflecting in the water before us, we sat cradled upon each others shoulders taking in the warm summer night. We danced on that dock together in the dark that night. This would be our last 4th of July together for awhile, each of us knowing the importance of this moment.
As I climbed off the MRI table that August day frightened of what was to come, I held her hand that night understanding that our lives were about ready to change again. I could see the fear in her eyes as I tried to comfort her. The doctor confirmed our worst fears. I would be diagnosed with a brain tumor. I had known it was there all along. There is something in each of us that knows when things are about ready to be different again. Swaying to “You’re Gonna Miss This” being sung by Trace Atkins at the county fair, I held her close knowing this would be our last summer together for awhile. Yes, I was going to miss this.
Labor Day weekend we found laughter in Vancouver with friends, dipping our toes in the ocean on the Oregon coast, catching our last sunset at Oceanside Beach. We sat in silence, clinging on to the last ray of light. Driving through the canyon for the last time for at least 2 years, we were also saying goodbye to the Columbia Gorge we had known as fire surrounded us on the mountains we were just enjoying days before. Life was definitely changing all around us. The fires were symbolic to the clearing that was necessary for rebirth and renewal. But, there was no denying the painful process that we all had to undergo in order for our perfect selves to be revealed.
The fall leaves were more vibrant than I had ever seen before this year. I stood many days in amazement at the beauty and it felt like I was seeing them for the first time. I flew off to Las Vegas to heal a large part of my broken heart as I held old friends embraced in tight hugs at my 30-year class reunion, seeing friends I hadn’t seen since my best friend Tricia had died. It was time. I spent days making new memories and remembering the old ones – making amends never felt so good. Then I would board a plane to leave my hometown only hours before it would be changed forever. Oct. 1st a lone gunman would take the lives of so many innocent people and leave my community torn apart. My heart ached.
I would leave to return back home to Vegas 3 days later with my little girl and best friend. Driving down the Las Vegas Strip just days after, looking at the broken golden windows of the Mandalay Bay, seeing the flowers and memorials that adorned the street over took my daughter with grief. God would align our lives with a stranger at the Vegas sign that same day as we got to carry 58 crosses to their resting place on the boulevard in remembrance of the lives lost just days before. We all stood humbled and grateful for the chance to be of service.
Later that night, we would drive into Anaheim, California and I would watch as my daughter’s eyes lit up with excitement. We would leave our yesterdays and tomorrows behind as we entered the magical kingdom of Disneyland for 2 days. Standing side-by-side, matching pink bows on our heads, I watched her eyes dance with childhood wonder as we watched the sky light up over Sleeping Beauty’s castle. This was my gift to her for her birthday and graduation, yet she had gifted me a very cherished memory instead. We stood on the pier in Newport Beach, California before we left, at the spot her father had asked me to marry him, each of speechless. How could I have known all those years ago I’d be standing here one day with her?
Just days after our arrival home, the mailbox would open followed by shrieks of joy as my little girl received the letter she had been so eagerly awaiting – her mission call. October would be the month that we would find out that she would be serving an 18-month mission in Tucson, Arizona beginning December 20th, 2017. Standing below the train depot clock, overlooking the Capitol Building, she shared the news with friends and family around. This meant it was for reals.
The day after Halloween the Christmas tree came up at my daughter’s request. Surrounded by all of her family, she wore a Santa’s hat and put up the family Christmas Town one last time. This month her father and I mended a bridge that both of us believed to be unsalvageable. Christmas miracles were plenty this year as he stayed with us weekend after weekend and sat at our table for Thanksgiving for the first time since she was 5 years old. There was no shortage of Christmas spirit in November as we took home the trophy in our first ever Christmas parade for our float, "A Soldier's Silent Night".
December came in with laughter and tears as my daughter had more than one Christmas with her friends and family. Gifts were overflowing tied up with memories to last a lifetime. Each gift she gave was personal and from the heart – each one touching the receiver’s heart profoundly. The care and love she took preparing for this Christmas was almost more than I could bear. Now, standing in the living room of our small home, the house is quiet, the tree is still lit, and tonight as I write this it is Christmas Eve. I will not be able to see her for 18 months and communication will be limited. She made a sacrifice I do not understand but it's between her God and her. None the less, I am so very proud of her. She turned out pretty dang alright.
By the time you read this I will have just undergone my second round of MRI’s on my brain to see if my tumor has grown. I will not know the results until next year. I sit here looking back over this last year, at the endings and the beginnings. We had an amazing year with all kinds of crazy bumps and adventures. It was a great ending to a chapter in my life that I have now finished.
As I enter into 2018 I do not know where I will be that night or what the new year will bring. I do know that a lot changes in a year and I’m thrilled and terrified at the same time. I know that everything is changing once again. One thing I’ve learned this far in the journey is that change is a constant. I accept this today. I know that today I am sober; I will attend a late night meeting in hopes of being of service tonight, and I will fall asleep with the twinkle of Christmas lights illuminating the room. I also know that next year will be different than this year, in so many ways. Who I am becoming after 31 years of full-time motherhood is yet to be known. But, I think that judging by this blog, it will look nothing like I expect it will.
On the coffee table beside me is a picture of Santa with a little curly blonde haired girl on his lap. That smile hasn’t changed a bit since then. It was the same smile I saw the day she left my side to start her own journey. That’s really what its all about – evolving into, experiencing life, and loving unconditionally. The road ahead of both of us is filled with so many new adventures, even if we aren’t together physically, we are bonded in our hearts. Stay tuned. Get ready 2018…this mama’s been paroled!
(Looks like a new year means time for a new #YesFast to help me get back on top of my self-care routine) Be watching for it.
~ Tami Harper Winn ~
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