Journey to the Sacred Mountain
"Sobriety is Traditional." I heard these words in a meeting of Alcoholics
Anonymous on an Indian Reservation. The traditional ways of our People have nothing
to do with being drunken Indians. If we are to be remembered for anything, let it
be something other than our first nations dying of Alcoholism.
I started drinking when I was around eleven years old.
I stayed with my brother and his wife outside the city limits of Gallop, New Mexico.
We were poor. The smell of beans and fresh tortillas symbolized home to me. I slept
in a bed with three nieces and nephews where we huddled close to keep warm in the
freezing winter. The snow was deep around us.
I had a hard time reading and understanding schoolwork
so I skipped school every chance I got. My Dad and Grandma had told me the old stories
about the Longhouse and the travels of our People across the deserts and mountains
of this country. In the summer, I met a boy and together we ditched school and stole
a truck. We drank tequila and explored the red mesas together. Sometimes we would
sit in the shade of the Trading Post, which was directly across the street from the
tracks. When the train would rumble through the dusty small town near the reservation,
it promise of glamorous places far away. I had no desire to spend my life in this
poverty torn corner of the world.
When I was 15 years old I arrived in the city of San
Francisco with a guitar, a small suitcase and thirty dollars. I went to several taverns
and coffee houses in search of a job where I would sing to the patrons. I really
believed I could pursue a career as a performer. Three days later, I found myself
sleeping in a doorway where I could stay out of the endless rain, which had fallen
all day. I was broke, cold and had nowhere else to go. The only thing I had left
was my pride, which prevented me from trying to locate my brother by phone or finding
my way back to the only people who ever really knew me. Somewhere in the middle of
the long restless night, a kindly middle-aged white man laid his hand on my shoulder.
"Come on, young lady," he said. "Let get you to someplace warm and
get you something to eat." The price he asked in return seemed little considering
the cold rainy night behind me. I left his hotel with fifty dollars in my hand. Thus
began a long and somewhat profitable career in prostitution. After working all night,
I would drink to forget what I had to do to pay the rent until the sunrise brought
sleep. The weeks passed.
I started stealing and robbed a gas station and a liquor
store. I made very few friends. I had learned to trust no one. One night, I hit the
streets at around eight p.m. A small compact car pulled up to the curb just as I
had settled myself, half drunk, against a the wall of a big grey building. I figured
I had met my companion for the evening. That hadnít taken long at all. We made the
appropriate conversation to confirm the deal and I got in the car. Suddenly I felt
a deafening blow to my temple. I was knocked senseless. He drove very fast around
corner after corner until he reached a desolate area across town. I was pulled from
the car, pistol-whipped and left to die in the mud with rain falling softly around
me. I came to in a hospital room with bars on the window. I was in an infirmary lock-down.
I spent seven weeks there having repeated surgeries and barely recognizing my surroundings
each time I woke up. Finally, when I was able to walk around a little, the policewoman
came and I was taken to county jail. It was the third arrest in two months. Nearly
two years in the streets had taken its toll.
The judge declared me an un-rehabilitated juvenile.
I was charged with eighteen counts of felony. I would not see the streets again for
nearly twenty-six months. I was seventeen years old. The first few months, I would
have done just about anything for a drink. I knew I was powerless over the drugs
but I really couldnít see what harm there was in alcohol. In the summer of 1968 I
was released. I wasn't sure where I was going but a nice cold beer sure sounded like
a good refreshing celebration of freedom. I bought a six-pack and a bus ticket. I
got off the bus at Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, California. While I had been
locked up, the styles had changed and bus fare had gone up. I vowed to myself that
I would stay out of trouble from now on. As luck would have it, one of the first
things I saw was a "Help Wanted" sign in the corner of a dark green window.
I went inside. I got the waitress job. It was the first "straight job"
I had ever had.
I was terrible at working and decided after two hours
on the job, that the boss was a tyrant. Perhaps it had something to do with the six
or so, spilled trays and my scowling face. By the end of the shift, however, I had
enough money to get a bottle and a sleazy motel room nearby. A few weeks after working
at the "Lanes" I saw him. He was the only Indian I had seen in a long time.
He was leaning over a pool table when I came to work. I put on my apron, grabbed
a tray and headed straight for him to see if he needed a refill. "Who let you
off the reservation?" he asked. I was furious, humiliated and embarrassed. That
man became the father of my first-born child. My relationship with him lasted only
a few months. It was the beginning of many mutually abusive relationships, which
would continue for the next few years. I found myself alone, drunk, homeless, and
pregnant in a matter of weeks. Afraid that I would wind up back in jail, I went to
live with my brother and sister-in-law. My brother had left New Mexico and gotten
a very good job in Hawaii. My son was born there, where I enjoyed partying in the
lush green jungles of Kauai. On the day of his birth, I found my purpose in life.
I was born to be a Mom. He was beautiful. Straight black hair and dark eyes. I had
never felt like this in my life. I could put my past behind me once again, and move
forward into a new life with my child. He was a charming child. Everyone liked him.
After a year and a half in Hawaii, I became bored with
my life in the islands and the guy I had been dating. I said goodbye to my waitress
job and my family and got on a plane with my one-year-old son, for California. Broken
relationships were starting to pile up everywhere I had lived. I promised myself
I would do better in my new home. Before long, I found that working, paying a babysitter
and drinking were a lot harder without my family to help me with child care. I went
on welfare. I was very poor.
I needed transportation but cars cost too much money.
I thought about it. Where could I get lots of money? It did not seem appropriate
to go back to prostitution in the same town where I was raising my son. I thought
some more. I could take the bus to Hollywood, work all night and come home in the
morning if I could get someone to watch my little boy. I got someone to watch him.
The night job paid well. As long as I didnít work close to home where my child would
attend school, everything would be fine. Also, I could drink on the job. I kept the
welfare though because it provided health insurance for me and my son.
After one year, I found a beautiful huge apartment,
which had a view of the ocean, bought a new car and a purebred Collie dog. The social
workers starting getting very nosy. I could not figure out what their problem was.
I led a double life. By day, I was a super Mom and by night I was a drunken hooker
on the streets of Hollywood. Without the need for drugs, which had plagued me in
the old days, I did quite well financially.
I met a wonderful man at the beach and we fell in love.
Everything was like heaven on earth until he asked where I worked! Of course, I lied.
I made up some story about shipping computers overseas for an export company. It
was something I had seen on TV. I couldnít even read, much less ship anything anywhere.
I didnít want to lose him yet, so the story became the biggest pack of super-lies
anyone has ever heard. Finally I told him the "truth" in a drunken night
of confession. I told him I worked for the government and held a top security clearance,
which required complete secrecy. Thatís why I had to work nights, undercover, out
of town, on weekends. Boy, was I ever glad that the previous pack of lies was behind
me. Now maybe he would stop asking questions. But instead he proposed.
It sounded so great that I wondered if there was any
way that I could pull it off and completely retire from the streets. I didnít know
how to approach the subject of retirement from the government of the United States
of America. So I told him we should stay engaged for a while. I was the right thing
to do. Now my life could stay neatly tucked away in the closet for a while. We moved
in together and my working arrangements became impossible to live with. So did my
conscience. One night on my way to work, I sat in rush-hour traffic on the freeway
headed for Hollywood. I broke down in tears and felt all the lies of my life burst
open inside of me. I hated myself and I wanted to die. I couldnít tell him the truth
but I couldn't continue to lie to either. Suddenly a great light came on. It was
the best idea I had ever had. I got off the freeway at the next ramp and got back
on the other side, southbound. I drove home and told him I got fired! He took it
well and we celebrated with a huge bottle of wine. A week later I was waiting tables
at a nearby restaurant, making one-fourth of the money I had made in the streets.
Life was great. He was picking up the slack, financially. It took a lot of booze
to cover the nightmares of my past but I was sure I could get around this small problem
before long. I never did. So after the relationship broke up over my drinking, I
packed my littler car and moved myself, my son, our dog and three cats to the beautiful
mountains of Big Bear, California. I put the smoggy city and my dark past behind
me, one more time.
Big Bear was the place I had visited as a child with
Dad and Grandma. Memories of the stories of my childhood and our Indian people flooded
in. They were some of the few good memories I had known in my turbulent childhood.
I got a job cleaning cabins for a local resort lodge and got back on welfare. Shortly
after our move, my son started school. By this time blackouts were occurring on a
regular basis. I was consuming nearly a fifth of tequila each day. One day I got
up as usual. The last thing I remember was feeling so shaky I could hardly stand
up. I ate a tablespoon of honey, hoping it would give me the necessary sugar-rush.
The next conscious memory was the emergency room. They said I was suffering from
malnutrition. They had the audacity to ask men how much I drank! What could that
possibly have to do with anything? I promised I would never do it again. I decided
they were all a bunch of crazy quacks. I was nearly thirty pounds underweight. They
released me with the promise that I would eat more. I tried very hard to quit drinking,
for the first time in my life. After a few days of shakes and nausea, I decided that
a shot of tequila wouldn't hurt. I had managed to put on a little weight but six
months later I collapsed and was diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer. I was in the hospital
for four days. That time. They told me if I didnít stop drinking, I would probably
My son called his grandparents. Communication with
my family had been strained for many years so I had avoided any more contact with
them then was absolutely necessary. The first thing they did was travel to the mountains
to visit us. I had not seen them for years. We got along much better than I had expected.
The relationship they formed with my son was incredible. My Dad took his grandson
hiking in the wilderness and Mom helped out with looking after him while I worked.
My health continued to fail. It was very difficult to eat much of the time and in
my efforts to control the drinking, I was abusing the prescription pills from the
doctor. My parents wound up moving to Big Bear in an attempt to help their grandson
and me. My Dad and I decided to go to a Native American gathering. I hadnít been
to one of these pow wows since I was a child. When we heard the drums and watched
the dancers, I felt some great passion well up inside me. I felt like an outsider.
I wanted a drink. Something nagged deep within me that wouldnít leave me alone. I
wore my hair down to my waist and had collected a lot of turquoise jewelry over the
years I had lived in New Mexico, which I wore every day. I looked like the People
but I certainly didnít feel like one of them. I felt like they all knew something
My parents helped me raise my son. In an effort to
prove I was getting better, I started traveling to San Diego to hit the streets again
in order to make more money. I told my parents when I dropped off my son, that I
was going down the mountain to visit friends. I did this for several months. It gradually
became harder to make the long trip. I received my third street arrest for drunk
driving on one of the trips back. After working all weekend. The night in jail seemed
a long time to go without a drink.
Weeks and months passed and the blackouts continued
getting worse. Then I met a man in a local bar right here in Big Bear. I didn't like
him very well but I heard that he had quite a lot of money and he sure liked me.
He took me to nice restaurants and bought me expensive gifts. I liked being treated
that way. As long as I had a buzz on, with a few drinks, I could tolerate him. One
thing led to another and we wound up married. The most powerful motive I had was
getting out of the streets and being provided for. I had begun to think I did not
have much longer to live. The faces of my doctors were looking more and more grim
every time I went into the hospital to dry out. The marriage was a farce and it didnít
take long for this man to figure that out. One night I found myself involved in a
heated argument with him. I was so drunk I had trouble paying attention to what he
was mad about. Finally he got in my face and made himself perfectly clear.
Someone had told him about my past and he demanded
to know the truth. I was tired, nauseous and drunk. I just didn't care any more so
I admitted everything. We fought every day after that and my visits to the hospital
became more frequent. The psychiatrist prescribed antidepressants and told me if
I didnít stop drinking, the alcohol would kill me. After a few months on the pills,
I started becoming increasingly more depressed as I combined them with alcohol. One
afternoon, I decided I no longer wanted to live. I got the gun from over the fireplace.
No clarity would come during the fog which had been induced by the pills and booze.
I owe my life to the man I had married. He heard my child scream from out back, and
came running into the house. He grabbed the gun and wrestled it away from me. I was
numb and couldnít figure out what had happened. My son was taken away from me by
the authorities and I was placed in a locked ward for the criminally insane. I spent
three says on legal hold.
After I was released, most of the next few weeks were
a blur. One night I caught my husband with another woman. We fought and I followed
in my car and tried to run him down, right in the middle of the main street in town.
The incident caused a six-car pile-up and when the law caught up with me later, I
was sent to the locked ward again. It was the same awful place I had been just weeks
before. I do not remember arriving there and when I woke up I didn't know where I
was. I was tied to a table with restraints around my wrists, both ankles and my neck.
They shot heavy drugs into my veins and kept me like that for a long time. I was
released five days later. When I left, there was no one there to drive me home so
I hitchhiked from the city back to Big Bear. The house was dark and locked and no
one was anywhere around to let me in. I got a bottle and sat in the snow on the back
porch and drank.
My husband only came home once in a while and things
remained quiet most of the time. One day I decided I better go to the Laundromat
and wash some clothes. I packed several bags of laundry into my car and off I went
with a quart of tequila and a liter of Pepsi. I carefully sorted approximately twelve
loads of laundry out on the floor of the Laundromat. Did we really have this many
clothes? How long had it been since I had done wash? Months? I loaded them into the
washers and ducked out to my car for another drink of tequila. It was all I could
do to complete this chore without shaking to pieces. I tucked the bottle into my
jacket and went back inside. I found the restroom in the back of the building and
poured out half the Pepsi from the liter bottle. I poured the remaining tequila into
the Pepsi bottle so I would be able to drink without leaving every five minutes.
The place was equipped with huge tables for folding the clothes after removing them
from the hot dryers. I decided this would be a good place for me to sit and sip from
my "Pepsi" bottle. I might also need to lie down because I was getting
There was a woman in the Laundromat with a couple of
kids. She really seemed to know how to function very well in this place. She moved
around quickly, folding clothes and stacking them neatly in a couple of huge baskets.
From the looks of things, she had nearly as much laundry as I did. Where did she
get her energy? Suddenly I realized I had to put my clothes into the dryers. I couldn't
remember which dryers I had put them in. I looked into probably twenty different
washers, in search of my clothes. I really had to think. I sat on my table to have
a drink. I was tired from my fruitless search. I felt very stupid.
I made up my mind how to handle the situation. I would
stay here until everyone else had left. I would get to have whatever clothes were
going to be left behind, as well as my own clothes. This was a good plan. I was sure
it would work. As the other woman finished her tasks, she was writing something down
on a small piece of paper. She loaded her baskets and kids into her car and came
back into the Laundromat. She came right up to me and handed me the small blue paper.
I couldn't make out what it said. I smiled politely and slurred a friendly "Thank
You." Later, I made out the telephone number and the handwritten message below.
"If you ever want to stop drinking, call Alcoholics Anonymous, 24 hours a day."
Why had she given me this and what made her think I was drinking? Couldnít she read
word Pepsi on my bottle? Of all the nerve! How dare she just walk up to some complete
stranger and hand them such a thing. I was mortified! So that I would not draw further
attention to myself, I folded the paper neatly and put it in the back pocket of my
As the next few weeks passed I became sicker by the
day. Everything I ate came back up along with considerable amount of blood. One morning
I woke up alone as usual. I hadn't seen my husband in a long time. I needed a drink
and the bottle on the bedside table was dry. I had to get up. I rose on my shaky
legs but they refused to hold my weight. I fell to the floor. I hoped there was booze
somewhere in this house and I hoped I could find it. I knew the legs would work in
a few minutes. I began crawling around the house looking for a bottle. Nothing! This
meant I had to leave the house and get to a store.
Did I have money? I found my empty purse on the floor
near the sofa in the front room. I was alone with no booze and no money. I needed
help. I knew I could never make it to the car. I became terrified. I knew I couldnít
go back to sleep but who could I call? I never saw any friends any more and there
was no way I could call my family. They were all part of a conspiracy to make sure
I never got my son back. I remembered the number in the pocket of my jeans. I hadnít
even gotten dressed for several days. Where were the jeans?I searched the house until
I found them on the floor of the bedroom. The number was in the pocket. After three
tries I managed to dial the number. A womanís voice answered.
"I...uh...got this number from you...uh...is this
AA?" I asked.
"Yes. Do you want to stop drinking?"
"Please, yes...I need help, Oh, God." I felt the fiery tears run down my
Five minutes later she pulled into my driveway. She
must have been some kind of angel. How had she known? How had she appeared from nowhere
that day in the Laundromat? How had I kept her number all that time without losing
it? The sponsor not only made sure I had no more alcohol but she stood over me while
I dumped the anti-depressants down the toilet as well. When I went back to the doctor
however, he told me that the suicidal states I had experienced meant that I had to
take the pills for the rest of my life. So I started taking them again. After a year
of coming in and out of Alcoholics Anonymous and using the pills, I had become more
confused and sicker than I was when I started the first time around. I couldn't stay
"Are you ready to let go of the pills and stay
out of the hospital?" she asked. "Have you had enough yet or do we have
to find you dead?" I was finally ready to do it her way. She was very tough
on me for a long time. I stopped seeing the doctor, went to meetings every day and
started taking the steps. The first step showed me that I was powerless over alcohol
and anything else, which threatened my sobriety or muddled my thinking. Alcohol was
only a symptom of much deeper problems of dishonesty and denial. Now it was a matter
of coming to grips with a power greater that myself. That was very hard for me. How
could all those white people even begin to think they could understand me?
So, they brought a sober Indian woman up to Big Bear to work with me for a day. That
was a powerful day. That Indian woman cut me no slack at all. I will never forget
her. She convinced me that I was not unique. She said that these white folks
were the best things that ever happened to me. "Where would you be without them?"
she asked. "What are the alternatives? You got any better ideas for yourself?
How many Indians do you know who are going to help you sober up?"
At that time, I couldnít think of any. I surrendered
behind the tears of no answers, and decided to do it their way. I found the power
greater than myself to be the magic above the heads of the people in the meetings.
I chose to call that magic "Great Spirit." The 12 steps worked like a crowbar,
prying into my dishonesty and fear. I didn't like the things I learned about myself
but I didnít want to go back to where I had come from. I found out that there was
no substance on the planet that could help me get honest. I have an "additive
personality." That means that I would do just about anything else that would
provide momentary comfort from the demon, ME! Sobriety was a gymnasium for my character
defects. Always I found myself alone with my problems after the lights went out.
Anything I ever did more than twice, and enjoyed, became a new addition for me. Sober
and crazy. I began a long painful series of inventories. I didn't get completely
honest the first time I took the fourth step.
The thing that kept me sober until I got a grip on
honesty was the love in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. I made some friends for
the first time in my life. Real friends that cared even when I was broke and feeling
disparate. At twenty-two months of sobriety, I was finally able to complete an honest
inventory after eight tries in almost two years. The fifth step enabled me so see
my part in my resentments and fears. In the chapter "How it Works," I was
shown some questions. The answers to these questions provided me with the knowledge
about my reactions to the conditions n my life. Every response to every resentment,
real or imagined, had been sick and self-destructive. I was allowing others to control
my sense of well-being and behavior. I was giving my enemies "free rent"
in MY head. At that point of my recovery, I came to understand that the behaviors,
opinions and thoughts of others were none of my business. The only business I was
to be concerned with was my own! I ask my higher power to remove from me everything
that stood in the way of my usefulness to him and others and to help me build a new
I was grateful that my sponsor had taught me these
very important steps when I was freshly new in my sobriety. That way, when I was
at last ready to get honest, I knew how. It soon became necessary to make amends
to those I had harmed with my sick obsessive behavior. I wrote letters, paid old
debts and faced the people I needed to face. Step ten required that I continue this
self-examination for the rest of my life, one day at a time. Without these principals
to live by, I cannot imagine how I would have ever stayed sober this long. I find
that old sick ways of thinking still come into play occasionally and they need to
be quickly amended. I have learned to recognize the signs. When I find myself depressed,
angry or afraid, I get right to work on the tenth step. The quicker I do it the quicker
I feel happy, joyous and free again. I have a new addiction, which I refuse to give
up. That is the addiction to gratitude. I finally found a way of thinking which really
works for me. It still requires effort on my part and today I am willing to exercise
I met my current husband in an AA meeting. Together
we carry the message to Indian People on reservations all over the country. I started
at the fifth-grade level in school when I had been sober nearly two years. After
college, I started my own business. Today I publish books I write. Our daughter was
born during my early sobriety and she is in high school now. She has never seen her
mother take a drink or mind-altering chemical of any kind. Our family has returned
to the spirituality of our ancestors. We attend Sweat lodges and other ancient Ceremonies
with our People on sovereign land. We take panels of sober natives into Indian boarding
schools and institutions and share about recovery.
My life is filled with honesty today. Every action,
word, prayer and 12-step call is an investment in my spiritual freedom and fulfillment.
I am in love and proud to be a Native American. I stand at the top of the Sacred
Mountain and I listen to the wind. I have a conscious daily contact with my Creator
today and he loves me and you and he forgives us drunks for every awful thing we
have ever done. Everything is Sacred as a result of the twelve steps and the love
and recovery in Alcoholic Anonymous.
Fran D. ~ 6/10/2001