by Kathleen C.
When my sister Carolyn and I were kids we once drew a chalk line down the center of our shared room and promised death to whoever crossed the line. She thought I was a mean bossy big sister. I thought she was an annoying sensitive little sister. After high school we both left home. Mom and Dad had problems with alcohol and pills, so we set out to create some of our own.
We shared a two-room apartment on Read Street, in Baltimore, where we both went to college. It was fun for a while, there were parties and adventures. But it got old fast and our tastes in substances were always a little different. I thought her sloppy drunken dope-fiend friends and their shoplifting habits were too low-rent for words. I drank wine, went to art films instead of bars and was much more ladylike. I also feared that her friends were taking my sister away from me. I busted her to our parents who had her committed to a mental hospital (they didn’t have rehab back then). Her lowlife friends broke her out and she and I didn’t speak for a year.
It was fun for a while
I moved to San Francisco, and a few years later she moved to L.A. We were no longer sworn enemies. I was married, even had two little daughters. I was still drinking and using, though. She had been recruited by a big company in the arts world and was soon in the Hollywood social whirl. She whirled a little too hard and got fired from the big company and had a tough time landing another job. Then something happened. She started going to some kind of meetings. Next thing I knew, she was inviting me to go with her, every time I came down to visit.
I made fun of her. I figured Alcoholics Anonymous was just another one of her psychobabble therapy-of-the-month fads. I half expected to see some sari-clad guru surrounded by incense smoke and devotees bestowing garlands around the necks of trusting believers. Carolyn didn’t care. She practiced promotion rather than attraction big time. “You’re a mess. You need a meeting!” She dragged me to meetings in Hollywood. “Come on, we’ll see movie stars.” And we did.
I also saw what I needed to see, the effects of Alcoholics Anonymous on my sister’s life. This was a girl who, after a night of drinking, once drove a car halfway around Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. In the rain. Flipped over on its roof. She had emerged into the rain-lashed darkness, her evening gown in shreds, screaming for her Charles Jourdan shoes. Now she spent her evenings in A.A. meetings, in West Hollywood, Fairfax and less posh areas of Los Angeles. She took me to gay meetings, biker meetings, women’s meetings. I didn’t want to identify; these people weren’t like me. But here was my sister, one of them, but still herself. She didn’t stop being Carolyn just because she got sober. She was happy. She wasn’t perfect; she was still my annoying sensitive little sister. I still made fun of her, but something was changing in me too.
She crossed the chalk line
Every time I went home I resolved to change my life the way she had changed hers. I started going to meetings, even though I was still drinking. Keep coming back, she told me. When I finally hit bottom and quit smoking dope, she was the one I called. When I announced proudly, “I quit smoking dope,” she answered “And . . .?” When I replied, “And what?” she answered again, “What about alcohol?” When I dithered about how alcohol wasn’t really my drug of choice, I was mostly a pothead, I hardly even got drunk . . . she suggested I try quitting alcohol. So I tried quitting alcohol. Twenty years ago, I tried quitting alcohol and I have continued ever since, one day at a time.
Thanks to my sister. My sister who crossed the chalk line, who practiced promotion as well as attraction, who took me to meetings, who showed me how quitting drinking and working the steps and going to meetings could change my life, the way it changed hers. My annoying sensitive little sister.