Published: Aug 30, 2006 09:19 PM
Modified: Aug 30, 2006 09:33 PM
After a night of drinking vodka and OJ, I hopped in my car ready for the next party. But the other party that was waiting for me wasn't the party I was searching for.
I only made it 12 yards before my car began to slide down the mountain ridge. I lost control and jerked the wheel in the opposite direction. The car was already airborne and flew silently and fearlessly into the river below.
After moments of unconsciousness, I woke up to water rising above my waist. I managed to push open the passenger side door and fell into the river. I doggie paddled to the riverbank. On that dark night of Sept. 18, 2002, the river swallowed my car but it did not swallow me.
I was only 21 when I crawled out of the river. I knew I had to stop drinking. I was sure my life was over. I thought I would never have fun again. What could life possibly look like without alcohol? How could life be bearable without a girls' night out filled with white wine and dancing on table tops? What about my romance with two Bud Lites before trying to romance those two men? I didn't even know how to dance without a couple of drinks in me.
This accident cost me a trip to a 28-day rehabilitation center. Luckily those 28 days in that unknown place put a new perspective on my life and offered me gratitude. I put all my cards on the table and asked a power greater than me to give me strength. I learned the value of each day and finally learned what it took to surrender. I asked to be shown a new way of life. And a new way of life was exactly what I was given.
When I returned to Western Carolina University after 28 days of rehab, I still had a place on the cheerleading team. I had received a room among my sorority sisters. My seat as the chairman of "Relay for Life" was still anchored and waiting for me. Yet I felt completely ripped open and vulnerable in front of my peers. I felt I would be judged and shunned for choosing a path without alcohol. I mean, what 20-something girl would prefer watching a movie or reading a book on Friday night to meeting up with the crowd at the most popular bar?
To my surprise, I was welcomed back. My peers allowed me to be one among them and embraced me, flaws and all.
When I was able to put down my last drink, I was able to feel my first emotion. I have experienced a great amount of grief, dredging up painful memories of yesterday, but no amount of current anguish could compare to the harrowing years I spent trying to hide my pain behind the alcohol. I was afraid of my feelings and afraid for the world to know the Heather behind the feelings. I was paralyzed and a prisoner of my own wounds.
It has been four years since my accident and four years since my last drink. What I began to realize when I got sober was that the more of me I embraced, the more the world began to embrace me. Drinking had disabled me from living.
The lifestyle of yesterday that I once deemed essential no longer matters. Today, the things that mean the most to me are matters of the heart and feelings, and they're priceless.
The surprise party that was waiting for me way back at that accident was the grace of sobriety.