When I woke up this morning, I was taking stock of the many ways the Creator has blessed me since I have been sober. All of the things (inside and out) He has given me. One of my earliest friends in AA told me early on if I made a list of all the things I thought sobriety would give me, I would short change myself, as I would not even know what to ask for. I am delighted to say he was right!

I had a cousin named Rosemary, who was my mother's age. She too was an alky and got sober through the traditional ways. She got sober in her early 40's. She led a life of service to her community and when I was still drinking she would tell me that it was not the Creator's wish for me to live my life so out of balance. She would tell me that her life would be over some day and someone needed to take up her work. I viewed her as the most selfless person I had ever known, and knew I was nothing like her. I went to my first sweat lodge with her and in the lodge I heard her pray as I had never heard anyone. In sobriety, she developed diabetes, then glaucoma, renal failure, and eventually lost her sight. She took all her infirmitieswith grace and dignity, except losing her eye sight. She struggled with acceptance. In the lodge she as the Creator to help her accept her loss of sight and give her the strength to go on helping others, no matter what. And she did. In the last weeks that I was drinking, she had first one leg amputated, then the other and she would call me, asking me to come home and see her. I would assure her I would and then pick up the first drink and never made it home to see her.

When I came to AA, they told me to get on my knees, first thing each morning and ask for help to stay away from the first drink. When I had one week sober, I woke, got on my knees and prayed and ten minutes later the phone rang. It was Rosemary's daughter telling me she had passed on into the Spirit World. The guilt, remorse and pain was so intense that morning and I remember thinking I would have to drink to make it go away, telling myself I needed a drink to get through this. I walked down the hallway in my house and heard her voice inside my head telling me I did not have to pick up a drink to get through this - I never had to pick up a drink again - for the rest of my life to get through anything, one day at a time. I made her medicene bag for her spirit journey and went home for her funeral. Our custom is that the body is not left alone for the 4 days. One of the female family members must always be present the entire time. I took the nights. We had a talking circle the last night and many people spoke of how this woman touched their lives. I had always thought she was special only to me and realized justhow many people she had helped throughout her sobriety. An elder spoke to me that evening and told me how I must turn to the earth for help, to walk in the mornings, even in the rain and listen for her message. I walked many hours that first spring, grieving and crying. I could smell the earth as the little plants pushed upward and began to see the trees bud and then bloom.

One day the thought came to me that the earth was becoming new again, like me. I celebrate my sobriety each spring by walking those early morning times and reflecting on the changes in my life. Sometime later I realized the morning she passed on, I wanted to drink more than I have ever wanted to drink in my whole life. It was also thelast day I ever wanted to drink. The obsession was mercifully lifted from me that day.

My first sponsor was an old Native man. He was 38 years sober and 72 years old when I came in. He was tough, but exactly what I needed. He also told me I was one of the most selfish people he had ever met and it was going to take alot of service work to get me out of that. I was unemployable, in debt and going through a divorce my first year sober and terrified that I would not survive. He just kept encouraging me to pray, turn it over and take it one day at a time.

Today I am self-employed, and going to law school to become a tribal attorney. I am taking up where Rosemary left off for our community. I want to be an attorney for our off reservation people. I still feel her with me. The elder told me that night it takes four years to make the Spirit journey, but if the need is great, the Creator would let her help me when I needed her. I ask myself how these things happen. They happen one day at a time. I have done alot of service work sober. Not just in AA, but in my community. I serve on the board of directors with two of the major urban Indian centers, am on the Native Advisory Council to the Mayor of the City of Detroit for Detroit 300 and was named Woman of the Year for my American Business Women's Association chapter this past year. And I still believe that I will never be able to do enough to thank the Creator for this gift of sobriety. Funny how He gets us turned around huh?

- Sue P. 12/04/00