She is Sally (not her real name) and she lives in mid-America. She is an active person and you could know her by attending the same church, by meeting her at a school where both your children attend, by being a classmate, by being a friend of the family, by having her as your cardiac therapist, by being served by her in a restaurant, by being a co-worker, and so on. IF you are lucky enough to be on her Christmas gift list, her gifts are thoughtful and appropriate for the recipient. Sally is a real person. Sally is addicted to alcohol.
She had been a social drinker until the age of 38 when her drinking crossed the line and she couldn’t stop. As with many (especially female) addicts, a life situation triggered her addiction and she drank to numb the pain. The trigger did not cause her disease; it brought out a latent chemistry in her body.
Prior to age 38 she was a model citizen. She has a Master’s degree, had worked in prestigious institutions such as the Cleveland Clinic. She married and worked at three jobs while her husband went to graduate school. Once he graduated they started a family and had 2 wonderful children. Life was good!
Then her husband informed her that he wanted out of the marriage. Things went downhill from there.
Over the course of 6 years she was in detox several times; she was arrested for one DUI; she was accused of domestic violence, jailed overnight and they believed she was suicidal, which meant they stripped her, tossed her in a cell, and watched her. Several guards leered at her. After her release, she was put back in jail several times because she violated probation by drinking. The first 2-month jail sentence, no one visited her. The next 2-month sentence, a relative visited and it wasn’t a good visit. The relative was trying to tell her how she needed to change – the relative may have been right, but it was not the time and place. She needed sympathy and understanding. It is a breach that has not been healed.
Between the two 2-month sentences she called a couple who lived only an hour away (her parents were several hours away). The couple had been friends of the family for years but knew nothing of the situation. Ray and Pauline were proactive doers and mobilized her friends and family into a team. One of her later jail sentences was 2 months to 6 months in jail. She could get out of jail after the 2 months if she went straight to a rehab facility. The team spent hours on the Internet and phone and got her accepted to a rehab facility in her state which only required a $50 entry fee. The state paid the rest.
During one jail time, her husband filed for divorce. The team paid for a lawyer for her, but nonetheless after 14 years of marriage, she not only gets no alimony, but also is paying child support. Oh yes, toward the beginning of this, she and her husband had a third child – who was born prematurely and may have some medical consequences.
While in jail, Sally had limited ability to communicate with friends, family, and lawyers. No one from the outside was allowed to send paper, pen, stamps etc. She had to wait for an outsider to put money into a commissary account, which took a significant amount of time to be credited. In the meantime, she would barter her meals for writing supplies. People could not call her unless they set up an account with a jail phone-bank and she could only call out if there was money in an account for her – it was extremely expensive and she was limited to 10-minute phone calls. There was one phone for 20 people.
This is important to show how she ended up with such a bad divorce and child support agreement and how little her team could help her.
She must pay $500 per month child support based on her previous jobs. However, with the domestic violence on her record she is unable to get a job that pays as well as she used to have.
After 8 weeks at rehab, she would have had no place to go except for the work and finances of Ray and Pauline and the team who set her up in an apartment near her children. After rehab, she was on probation.
Her probation was strict – she could not drive at all, could only be out of the apartment to appear once a week with the probation officer and to look for a job. She was required to get a number of signatures each week from potential employers to show that she was job hunting.
A relative from another state came and lived with her for a month to drive, get groceries, be there for supervised visits with the children, to take her to her counselor etc. The etc. is non-trivial, there were legal issues to deal with, financial issues, family services, probation demands, family matters and it goes on and on. How anyone can live with all the rules and regulations is overwhelming – let alone someone who is struggling on many fronts.
Over the next few years, Sally had more detox, and more jail time. In the most recent sentence, she was put into Drug Court – which was a blessing, because that provided addiction counseling. Also, when she was released and on probation, Drug Court provided an ankle bracelet that monitored whether she had consumed alcohol. When that was in place everyone breathed easier regarding when the children were there for visits. She was working as a waitress, not receiving enough to live on and pay the child support, but the friends and relatives were all pitching in. She also was (and still is) back in school obtaining her RN-BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing). She was now 44 years old.
She still struggles both financially and with the disease. Some people in her life have pulled back on their support and because she is a caring person it is hurtful.
This sounds like a lot of detail and it is only the tip of the iceberg. The life of a person with alcoholism is for-some-reason always complicated.
Sally did not choose her body chemistry – she does have choices but that is not one of them. Many dedicated medical, law-enforcement, counseling, and justice personnel have been involved in Sally’s life. They have not given up on her. Probation officers and judges and counselors have been extremely supportive – not the impression the public usually has of them. If so many people care and are doing their very best with the tools and resources available – and the problem is still pervasive – then it is obvious that better tools are needed.
FAR is dedicated to fund research to find those tools.