Audio by Bernadette S

by Bernadette S

When I was seven years old my Mom and Dad started the long and painful process of a divorce. At the time both were active in their addictions. This situation created a lot of upheaval in my young life and put me in dangerous situations. One that really stands out was the time my Mom and I had to run for our lives from her abusive and very drunk boyfriend. So I lived with my Dad, who was an active alcoholic. Somehow he gained sole custody which was unheard of at the time. His parents stepped up in a big way to take care of me when he was working.

I remember his terrible job at a toxic waste plant and having to get up at 3 in the morning to go to Noni and Papa’s house while he worked. Papa would make breakfast: French toast, bacon and coffee. We would eat and then he would walk me to school a few blocks away.

Noni was a great listener and she gave the best hugs I have ever had. She was soft and kind and when she hugged me I felt like nothing could hurt me. She was a gift for me and I would not be who I am today without her. 

At ten years old my Dad gave me my first taste of beer

When I was ten years old my Dad gave me my first taste of beer. I enjoyed the taste and the sensation right away. When my little friends from next door came over they asked what I was drinking. I looked at my Dad and he smiled at me. I said, “Apple juice.” It was pretty clear that I shouldn’t tell them what I was really drinking.

In my senior year of high school I came out as bisexual and bought my first car, a powder blue ’73 Maverick. I loved that car and drove it into the ground. After I graduated I felt lost and I wasn’t sure what was next. One day my Dad came home and said he was moving out with his girlfriend, so I either needed to get roommates or get a smaller place for myself. So of course I asked my two best friends from high school to move in with me and all sorts of chaos ensued.

My beloved Maverick was beyond repair so I rode my bicycle to work. My apartment was in San Carlos and my full time job at Border’s Books was in Palo Alto. So it was a decent ride to and from work. I started a second job at the only lesbian-owned bookstore on the Peninsula, the Lavender Dragon. So life went on and I continued to work at both bookstores. I was smoking daily, drinking whenever alcohol was available, and starting to wonder if I would end up like my parents.

I asked myself, Is this what my life is going to be like? Waking up every day thinking about if I had enough, when I could get some more and longing for the oblivion that it brought. My Noni would call me just to say hello and I would be short with her and say I had to go so I could go get stoned with my roommate. At the time she was hurt but she didn’t know what I was doing. It wasn’t until after I made amends to her that she finally understood. I was cutting myself off from the people I loved. All I wanted to do was check out of my feelings and my reality.

This sparkle in their eyes was unfamiliar to me

Then one day at the Lavender Dragon, I met my future ex-girlfriend, Bernice. There was an A.A. meeting in the back room of the bookstore and she was there to set it up. I had no idea what A.A. was but I was intrigued by the people who came to the meeting. They were genuinely happy and had this sparkle in their eyes which was unfamiliar to me.

After a few meetings she and I became friendly. One night she brought me a homemade dinner and I was so surprised by her kindness that I wanted to spend more time with her. She totally 13th-stepped me and I am grateful, because there is no way I would have gone to meetings without her talking about how great her life was in recovery. She was kind and loving and looked at me like I was the most beautiful young woman she had ever seen. I wanted to see myself the way she did.

There was a meeting in the back room

We became a part of each other’s lives. Our relationship lasted over three years and I ended it twice. Our lives were so enmeshed I felt suffocated, but I didn’t know how to say that. I suggested couples counselling and she said no. So I let go and moved on. Then my Noni, my dear grandmother, died unexpectedly. I was heartbroken and didn’t want to go on living. For a year after her death I would pick up the phone to call her before I realized I would never hear her voice again. I am so glad I had a group of sober friends and a great sponsor who helped me get through that terrible time.

Throughout my early sobriety my mother and I had a tumultuous relationship. Sometimes we weren’t even on speaking terms. It took many years and therapists for me to heal from the pain of the past and attempt to have a relationship with her. She actually told me, recently, how sorry she was for what she put me through and that sometimes she felt like she didn’t deserve to be my mom! This moment was a huge breakthrough for our relationship. 

I know I can always be myself here

The next few years of my life were all about healing, finding my footing and building a new life I could be proud of. I finally settled in the Sunset District in San Francisco. I have now been sober for 19 years and have grown up so much. I have an incredible sponsor I talk to regularly. I have worked the steps many times over and recently joined Al-anon to overcome my codependent tendencies.

I have lived in SF for about 4 years. In that time I have committed to some great meetings and have a wonderful community of people around me I can count on. That’s the beautiful thing about being in SF: I can be my sober, fat, beautiful, queer self and still feel like I belong. Sometimes I love this City and sometimes I hate it, but I know I can always be myself here.

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