My name is Harriett S., and I was born and raised on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North and South Dakota. When I was 5 years old my father took me to the Mission School and put me in the first grade. Although my father did drink, my mother never did, so there was some stability in our lives as we were growing up. On the other hand, it was my perception that drinking was fun and I knew that when I took my first drink at age 16. From the beginning, I liked how alcohol made me feel. When I met and married my
husband we had four children, three sons and a daughter and continued to drink. As he pursued his career interests with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, we moved from North Dakota, South Dakota, to Washington, and Arizona.

In 1970, our second son died when he was 14 years old. No one was with him and for years I told myself it was an accident. In addition, what did take place was that my drinking took on new proportions. Now I was drinking to forget, I was drinking so I wouldn't feel anything to kill the pain, and I was drinking because now I couldn't stop and at the same time I became intent on drinking myself to death. There are no words to describe the pain of the loss of a child and my remedy was the only one I knew and that was to remain unconscious. My husband and I were divorced during this time and I remarried in a blackout.

What took place next is very difficult to describe. I found some plane tickets in the glove compartment of our car that indicated that my husband had taken his first wife and his children on an extended trip. We had both been drinking that day but rather then confront him I gathered up my children and drove 500 miles in a blackout. I took my children to my mother in South Dakota and continued to drink, it was Thanksgiving 1971. When I woke up I was in a hospital, but I wasn't certain where, when I asked the doctor who was standing by my bed where I was he told me I was home. I also asked him what day it was and he said February 9, 1972. He then proceeded to give me a grim prognosis. He said that I was bleeding internally, that he wasn't sure but he thought I had hepatitis, that there's a possibility that I was going blind and that if I continued to drink I probably only had three months to live. He said, "We have done everything we can, now you are in God's Hands," and that was when I saw all the tubes.

When he left my room, and this now seems like a strange reaction for me, I realized that it had been sometime since I combed my hair, brushed my teeth or washed my face, and I wanted to do that. I took those tubes out of my arms and tried to sit up but I was incredibly weak. I somehow fell off that hospital bed and crawled to the sink with that funny mirror. When I pulled myself up and looked into what appeared to be a tin mirror, I saw this horrible skull with holes where the eyes were, holes where the nose and mouth were and a bony finger beckoning to me, and I knew that the "Skeleton Woman" had come for me, she was waiting. I remember screaming that I didn't want to die. I fell on that cold hospital floor and screamed until I was hoarse, until I was nothing but a miserable heap, a pile of humanity crawling and begging my Creator for help!

The next day when I came to there was a man standing by my bed, a man who was to become my first sponsor in the Program of Alcoholics Anonymous. His name was Steve and he asked me if I was going to live? I told him I wasn't sure. He had the Big Book of "Alcoholics Anonymous," the "Twelve and Twelve" and a small black book he called "Twenty-Four Hours a Day." Every day for one month at precisely 11:00 he came to my room, sat by my bed and read to me. I don't remember much about those reading but I remember how he made me feel, and that was that I wanted to live again. Each day that idea became a little stronger. He talked to me about living sober and he read to me; he showed me true sponsorship, something that I have carried with me from those early days and he showed me unconditional love in its purest sense. Steve passed on when I was four years sober, but he will always live in my heart because he gave me that foundation for living that I carry with me today.

Many events and circumstances have occurred in my life, the good, the bad and the ugly, since those early days of sobriety, but none have been more profound then what took place in that hospital room in 1972. I have never been the same since. I became a grandmother, I lost another son, I received a B.A. an M.A. and am working on a PhD, but throughout it all I have not found it necessary to drink. I am truly a grateful recovering alcoholic and I attribute that to the Program of Alcoholics Anonymous and all those people who sat around those many tables with me. I consider these people to be the
greatest teachers I have ever had and they continue to teach me today.

~ Harriett S. 5/31/2001