If there is one thing positive I can say about my drinking career, it would be this: it was short. But it wasn’t over yet. Before the call came about the transfer, I’d started up an affair with one of my customers. In my defense, at least I wasn’t sleeping around with all of them. But there was one.

He worked at a company I called on in Denver, and although he wasn’t my primary contact, he was a customer. And I was married. I have no excuse, but I will say that everything I did during that year and the two that followed falls under the umbrella, in my mind, of “The poor choices people make when they are drinking.”

If ever there was a marriage that qualifies for an annulment, mine and Scott’s was it. The process was quick and easy, and by rights, since it was annulled, I don’t even need to cop to it. But usually I do because it happened, and Scott was a good egg. I even kept his last name, at least for a time, largely because I was, to my way of seeing things, an up-and-coming young professional, and I didn’t want to change my name again so soon. It wasn’t professional! Plus I was building a reputation for myself and wanted continuity. What a load of crap.

The odd thing about the name Campbell was the way Scott’s family pronounced it. Family lore had it that Scott’s grandmother didn’t want a last name that rhymed with “camel,” so instead of the usual pronunciation like you’d hear for the music legend Glen Campbell, they said “camp-bell,” like it was two words.

After moving to Chicago with Ed, my boyfriend who had quit his job in Denver to be with me, I realized I sounded like a moron pronouncing my last name that way. But now that I was saying it the normal way, I became increasingly aware of how awkward it was to say. At the end of Jill, your tongue in on the roof of your mouth; at the start of Campbell, it’s behind your front lower teeth. I increasingly struggled more and more to say my own name, until I grew to hate the name. And that’s why, not too long after Ed and I made our next move together to Atlanta, I changed my last name to his. I had no desire to return to the name of my childhood, and heck, Jill Hudson sounded awesome.

You’d think, then, that Ed and I must have had something good going on. We did not. Our time in Chicago was filled with more bad decisions, the kind that spring from youth and a budding love affair with alcohol. For starters, we got a puppy. Brophy was an adorable Maltese, a white fluff ball that looked a lot like Sammy, but who developed a nasty protective streak. He had a propensity for biting whoever walked past the person he’d chosen to defend. If he’d weighed more than four pounds, we might have had to put him to sleep. In retrospect, he was likely just displaying some of the silent rage and tension he was surrounded by.

Brophy was named after the subdivision of the house we bought together, Brophy Farm. Not long after, we got another dog together, a golden retriever puppy, CJ, named after Ed’s Jeep CJ-7. Also, around the time we got CJ, we were living on Habersham Street in Atlanta when a kitten showed up on our doorstep. As he grew up, Habersham packed on pounds until eventually he morphed his name into Shamoo.

Our buying a house together in Chicago ranks right up there with our later buying Yamaha WaveRunners together and a 60-inch big screen TV—neither of which we could really afford—and are prime examples of the stinking thinking that went along with my drinking.

The old house we bought was ideally perched atop a hill with a spectacular view of Fox Lake, a large lake connected to an extensive waterway system called the Chain of Lakes. Located about an hour’s drive north of Chicago, it was a real find. And my relocation package covered the cost of closing points. How could we not buy a house? Since leaving Rice Lake, this was the seventh place I’d live in as many years. I was ready to settle down.

My parents came for a visit and invested quite a few hours helping clean the place up. It needed it. Also, the house had a charming loft where I wanted to put our bedroom. The problem was, the box spring wouldn’t fit up the stairs. No problem. My dad took out the windows and hacked out the support posts between them, so we could bring it up and over the roof and in through the now-wide-enough hole. Once repaired, you could hardly tell anything had happened with the windows.

We would leave that box spring behind a mere year later, when I started feeling my customers weren’t really the kind I wanted to be calling on. That’s when I took a position with another company, Bee Chemical, a maker of liquid colorant for injection-molded plastics. This would move me out of the world of sheet plastics and into the world of molders, which was a step in the right direction.

I had been out with customers the night before the interview, so was looking rough and feeling rougher as I drove south on the Dan Ryan Expressway toward the company’s headquarters in Chicago Heights. Bee Chemical was a division of Morton International, a Fortune 500 chemical company, so I knew drug testing was an expected part of the new-hire process. For a moment though, I panicked: Wait, will they do a sobriety test? I wasn’t so sure that if tested right then, I would pass. So yeah, the thing with the drinking was moving right along.

The previous year, things had gotten out of hand more than once. Like the time we attended Ed’s friend’s wedding. Video cameras were becoming popular, and I fear there’s probably some damning footage still out there to commemorate my short-lived drinking career. (Here’s my bargain with the universe: Please, if you’re ever going to turn up that video, can you also surface some footage of our pom-pom squad?)

But even with all the misery I’d brought onto my own head, I’d never once considered giving up drinking altogether. After each blow-up, caused by my unacceptable behavior when drunk, I’d lay low for a bit, time would pass, Ed would calm down, and we’d move forward, gradually working alcohol back into the mix.

If alcoholics are loath to face their demons, the partners of alcoholics aren’t much different. People generally don’t like to admit that their loved one is one of those. Of course, over the years, the stigma has continued to dwindle, and I have to admit, it’s become a badge of honor to have racked up a lot of years as a sober alcoholic. But for as long as I live in this lifetime, that part about being an alcoholic will not change. I am that. That is me. What I control is the part about being sober. But living in Chicago, I wasn’t to that doorstep yet.

Two other things happened while I was living in Chicago. One, my mother came alone for a visit one time. Dad was back on the sauce and she was beside herself. In her own words: “I was probably in worse shape than he was. But, neither of us was worth a damn. Two steps forward and then I’d have another big explosion of emotions. I wondered if I was going crazy—I mean, really mentally ill. That awful feeling of rage and frustration, to the point of just wanting to keep screaming forever, is too devastating for words.”

So she came for a visit, needing to get away from the crazy for a weekend. It was an opportunity for us to bond and I was wanting to help her. Of course, at the time, I was sitting in a pretty leaky boat myself. Here’s the one thing she said to me that weekend that I remember, “I don’t know if I should admit this to you, but I wish I had never had kids.” Sadly, this didn’t come as a surprise to me.

The other thing that happened was I reconnected with Melinda. The weekend my mother was visiting, we came back to my apartment—this was a few months before Ed had moved there from Denver—to find a lovely surprise waiting on my answering machine. Melinda had gotten my number from my dad and called.

It was great to hear her voice as we hadn’t talked since going our separate ways the summer after our sophomore year. We’d had a similar parting of the ways in high school, not speaking for a spell. Both times, it was all on me. Melinda was whip-smart. I had a hard time matching her test scores in math in eighth grade, and we both graduated near the top of our class. But she was also adorable and in my opinion, leaned too heavily on that. It’s like she didn’t have confidence in all of who she was. She sold herself short.

The truth is, I found it hard to see a lack of self-confidence in her because I couldn’t stand to look at how glaring it was inside me. I had racked up some external successes by then, but underneath it all, I lacked self-confidence in spades. Of course, that’s what we all do: We judge and reject others for the very things hidden in us that we don’t want to see. (And of course, that’s what makes relationships so great for showing us where our work is.)

It was so good to rekindle our friendship. We got together up in Rice Lake at Christmas, and I got to see her pregnant with her first child. She was living in Raleigh, North Carolina and in early 1989 I would move to Atlanta with Bee Chemical. In September of 1989 I went to spend a weekend with her and her young family while visiting customers in North Carolina.

I was at her house visiting, in fact, when I picked up a voice message from my mother saying my father had relapsed yet again, a week or so earlier. Over the previous years, I had talked with my parents on the phone every few weeks. With my radar finely tuned by then, I could usually tell when a relapse was in the works. Yet every time, I was devastated.

This time was no different. I saw it coming, and I felt punched in the gut. Of course, this isn’t something I talked about with my friends. Melinda had witnessed quite a few episodes by then—like the time we got to my house after a game, having given one of our finest pom-pom performances, only to find my dad passed out on the couch, having slept through it—but in a dysfunctional family, secrets and silence go hand in hand. Interestingly, as a nurse, Melinda would go on to spend her career working in the field of addiction and recovery.

That fateful visit to her house would have been the first week in September. I know this because my dad’s sobriety date is August 30, 1989. And mine is September 11, 1989. I was staying at a Holiday Inn in Cornelius on my way home. Drinking in any hotel bar had become my favorite watering hole because I was out of town—away from Ed’s watchful eye—and didn’t have to drive. By then, awareness of the hazards of drunk driving had skyrocketed—a ticket for $3000 and loss of your driver’s license got my attention—and I was trying to be self-responsible in my rapidly devolving situation.

So my last drunk was in reaction to my dad’s. Of course, the reason an alcoholic drinks is because they are an alcoholic, and that’s what alcoholics do: they drink. My boyfriend had been disgusted with my drinking for some time. But this time I disgusted even myself.

Standing in front of my hotel room door, after a long evening making friends with every single person in the bar, I couldn’t get my key into the lock. And urine began slowly running down my nylons, into my high-heeled dress shoes. For me, that was my bottom. I awoke the next day with the phone on the bed next to my head. But I didn’t hear it ringing, over and over and over, as Ed tried to reach me, aware I was in bad shape because I’d called him just before passing out. The person at the front desk finally refused to the put the call through because it was disturbing other guests.

The next morning, after talking with Ed, who had had enough, I called to find out when and where the next AA meeting was near our house. (Yes, Ed and I had bought another house together in Atlanta). The good news was that I knew exactly where I needed to go. I picked up a white chip on Wednesday that week at a women’s meeting in Clarkston, which I cried the whole way through. I haven’t had a drink since.

They say in AA, “sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.” My dad had chosen the slower road. I, on the other hand, had already tortured my way through all his misadventures, enabling me to jump directly to the faster course. Fortunately, I still had a lot of yets: I hadn’t lost my job yet, I hadn’t lost my house yet, and I hadn’t lost my family yet, although the last two were teetering on the edge. I was a high-bottom drunk, but so far, my best thinking had only gotten me to the doorstep of AA. I had many miles to go before arriving on solid ground.

[Addendum of Sorts, from my mom about “My parents came for a visit and invested quite a few hours helping clean the place up.”: There were many boxes to unpack, first of all, but then Ed T. (Jill’s dad) and I got into some real work, doing some major carpentry, wallpapering, painting. It was so damn hot and no AC. Jill and Ed H. were off working at their jobs and didn’t seem to care what we were doing. Ed T. and I finally gave up after three days and left for home, unannounced to the working couple.]

Walker: A Spiritual Memoir by Jill Loree

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