When my dear friend Marilyn invited me to share on the Sanford House blog, I had to struggle for words, even though I am an author and writing has always come easy for me. Marilyn and I have a lot in common, but she was in active addiction when we met on a small island in The Bahamas, and I had been in recovery for many years. To be honest, I worried about her. It wasn’t until Marilyn was sober and had moved back to the States that we even discussed our mutual struggles with alcohol and my long time sobriety.
How do I share my experience in living on a tiny island with only 120 full time residents, when I am here, staying sober and everyone who visits is on vacation? Where there are no 12-step meetings except the rare times I encounter someone looking for a friend of Bill W. and we chat in my living room?
The Bahamas are Synonymous With Drinking
Commercials show The Bahamas as synonymous with drinking. On our little island, many begin the day at the bar and think nothing of driving a vehicle with a cold one in hand. There are plenty of stories to tell – many of them humorous. Especially because I am associated with the renting of cottages, boats and golf carts to vacationers. Often guests who have rented a golf cart, will drive the wrong one home after leaving the local watering hole, since all keys fit the same brand cart. We have to drive all around the island to match the cart with the guest. Sometimes they are so plastered they are not even aware they took the wrong cart…
One of my favorite stories (and something else we discussed after Marilyn had moved away) was the fact she used to regularly drive her golf cart up onto the decorative rock in front of the bar after having one too many. She’d come into the club and ask for help to lift it off the bolder (again).
What keeps me here is the incredible beauty. Every day I stand in my bedroom deck and I am overwhelmed with the splendor that surrounds my little spot in Paradise. The night sky blooms with a zillion stars and the moon setting before dawn is a fiery orange reflecting the sun. I keep my blinds open so I don’t miss anything and if it’s too bright to sleep, I put my shades on… My 5-year old granddaughter will lift one side off an eye to remind me it’s morning. Then I see the gorgeous sea with its palette of aqua hues and my day begins with, “God I offer myself to Thee…” Every night someone says, “Look at the sunset!” They never get old.
I named my house Serenity after the prayer and gratitude of all the promises coming true. What a change from the day I entered treatment on October 1979 – a defiant, suicidal, frightened, broken wife and mother of two kids 4 and 8. When I left treatment after five weeks, they told me I wouldn’t make it. Too smart. Still defiant. But God had a plan for me and I followed it with baby steps. Again out of defiance – I’ll show them!
Finding Community in Sobriety
We were living in Ft. Lauderdale at the time and at first I didn’t want to get involved with the AA community. After all, I was in business and what would people think? But I came to the realization that if I was going to live, I had to immerse myself in a 12 Step Program and begin to follow directions. I soon found comfort and security in the creepy rooms with discarded sofas and mismatched chairs reeking of old cigarettes, or in hospital meeting rooms that were squeaky clean – welcoming alkies who were anything but… I found myself sharing with business people like me and the homeless I never knew existed.
I became so human it hurt.
When we moved full time to The Bahamas, I watched my children grow up on the program. I caught my young daughter, angry at her brother saying, “God grant me the serenity…” That daughter, now 40, delights in telling visitors to the island, “Thanks for the wine, but Mom is 36 years sober, so don’t give her any…”
All those meetings in the “bank” have paid great dividends – even in the middle of the Exuma Sound. Staying sober has become a way of life, drawing on strength from that long ago camaraderie – memories of incredible people on the same journey as me. But I never take sobriety for granted. It is a treasure I am not willing to lose (pirate pun intended).
My writing has become my “meeting” as I share. I waited until I was 20 years sober to write a book on the subject of recovery. The book, If I can’t be Dead, How Can I Live, charts the unique sober stories of seven, very different women. Some things have happened in sobriety (even in Paradise there is sorrow) that could have sent me to the bottle, but it has never been an option. The more I have learned about alcoholism and the more friends I have lost to the disease, the more I’ve held tight to my serenity. God gives us the strength to take life as it comes. Staying sober one beautiful day at a time allows miracles to happen…