Sarah's Story: The Next Right Thing

How do you tell someone, maybe a new friend or coworker, that you have this part of yourself, a previously non-disclosed past, that has both shaped and formed you and yet has been a source of self-shame? Because, really, it's hard to come right out and say, "Yeah, um, by the way I've served time in jail and I'm an alcoholic," without following it up with "Now, what do you think of me?"

The thing is, we sometimes, maybe often, don't allow a person to move beyond the consequences of their mistakes. Sure. Don't they deserve those consequences? Maybe. Maybe not. So, the past remains buried. But, Sarah is the brave sort of person who stopped running in order to face her problems and now wants to share her story. But, this introduction seems more like fodder for the end of a story, so let's go to the beginning.

Her mother raised her in the small southwest Minnesota town of Trimont. Her father served time in prison and was mostly not a part of her life, aside from letters and gifts on special occasions, until she was 16-years old when they met at a cafe in Fairmont, MN. She got to drive her dad's blue Challenger and her grandmother's Jaguar. That's been the highlight of their relationship. Still she and her father share a lot in common - physical characteristics like mannerisms and athleticism. 

We talked about her childhood - siblings and what she wanted to be when she grew up - and then I asked if she could remember the first time she took a drink. It took a while for her to recall and she back tracked on a few memories before she finally made the proper recollection.

"It was New Year's Eve 2008 going into 2009 in Fairmont (MN) in a warehouse that the dad of a friend of my boyfriend had just bought. We had a small party with a few of our friends. I was seventeen? Yeah. Seventeen."

Honestly, I was surprised it wasn't earlier in her life. 

"Where did things - in terms of alcohol use - go from there?"

"It wasn't slow," she answered, "but it wasn't super fast. A high school friend of mine had moved back to her hometown of Spirit Lake, IA and she invited me down there to party. It ended up being an every weekend thing."

"What was the draw for you?" I inquisited.

"Well, people would let loose. It got me out of my comfort zone. I was more outgoing and talkative. Not as uptight." She responded and then continued. "Looking back, I probably had a problem pretty quickly and didn't realize it. So many of us could have gotten hurt. My best friend and I would drive home every night from Iowa - over an hour away - when we were drunk. It wasn't fun. It was stupid," she said with a bit of self-scorn. 

"Was that an alcohol problem or just typical stupid teenage behavior?" I asked trying to clarify.

"I think it's a little bit of both," came her answer, "I eventually got to a point where I was drinking because of my problems and not because I wanted to have fun." 

"What were those problems?"

"Pretending I was a normal person and not an alcoholic while running from the consequences."

DUI #1

"Tell me about your first DUI." I shifted gears a little. I knew talking about this would be difficult for her to share. No one wants to admit they jeopardized themselves or others behind the wheel of a car.

"So, after I started going down to Iowa, we would also go to other places and party. One time I was in Mankato at The Summit (off campus student housing) drinking. Some kid there in another apartment wrote something rude on my Facebook Page, so I walked to his room and splashed a drink in his face." Sarah laughed nervously. "He got mad and I left," she continued. "I got my backpack and went out to the car and called a friend who lived in Mankato and told him I was coming to his place. He was fine with that. Then I was on my way. I got pulled over like half a mile away.

"The cop was pretty young," she continued, "said he was 23. And, he was good looking. At the jail, he asked me who bought me my alcohol at Kwik Trip. Apparently, he'd seen my buy my chaser there earlier that evening, like about 7pm. I wasn't arrested until almost  2am." 

Now, if you aren't familiar with southern Minnesota towns and counties then things from this point on can get a bit confusing. So here's a little rundown:

  • The city of Mankato is the county seat of Blue Earth County
  • The city of Fairmont is in Martin County
  • The city of Blue Earth is the county seat of Fairbault County
  • The city of Fairbault is in Fairbault County
  • The city of St. James is in Watonwan County
  • The city of Rochester is in Olmsted County

"How long were you in the Blue Earth County Jail in Mankato?" I asked her.

"Just about 2 hours," she said. "Eventually, I was fined and they revoked my license for 6 months. Not a big deal. Slap on the wrist."

DUI #2

"So what about the second one?" I guess we were just going to go down the list.

"Second one was in Fairmont during the Martin County Fair. Me and my sister and couple of her friends and my old boyfriend went to the fair and were drinking and ended up wanting to eat somewhere. We got in the car and were arguing about where we were going to eat. Perkins was on one side of the road and McDonalds was on the other. I wanted to go to Perkins, but my sister didn't so she pulled over into the McDonalds parking lot. It was my car, so after they got out I got in the driver's street and went to my brother's house. My sister's friend called the cops and said I left them at McDonalds and was drinking and driving. The cops came to my brother's house and I was sitting in a chair in the house when they arrived. They asked me if I'd been drinking and I told them, 'Yeah,' and proceeded to chug the beer that was sitting next to me. Then, I went outside and they took me to jail."

Ooo...she's a little feisty. 

"So you might have a little attitude when you want to?" I asked.

"Yeah." She laughed.

DUI #3

"Now, your third DUI...where was that at?" I asked continuing with the story.

"My friend and I booze cruised up to Jackpot Junction, played a little bit and came home through St. James. My friend was throwing up outside my car window and I knew my mom would be mad at me if I didn't get it cleaned off. So, I pulled into a Casey's in St. James and a girl I knew was inside. She noticed me and said, "Hey Sarah!" I must have looked drunk because she called the cops and we were pulled over four miles out of town.  

DUI #4

"Fourth DUI...tell me about the fourth one." 

"I was here in Rochester." She didn't seem to want to elaborate.

"How did you end up in Rochester?" I asked.

"So, here's where it gets confusing. I got probation for my second DUI which was in Martin County (Fairmont) and I got house arrest for my third DUI which was in Watonwan County (St. James). When I was arrested in St. James it was also a probation violation for my second DUI. So, once I got on house arrest and was at home, a Martin County deputy came and arrested me and I went to Fairmont jail but served time in Fairbault County (in Blue Earth, the city) because Martin County doesn't house women.

My head was spinning a little bit. "So, you're in Fairbault county jail," I said, "serving time for the probation violation in Fairmont (Martin County) - your second DUI. How long did you serve in Fairbault County?"

"I think I got scented to 60 days, but I served 40. I got my G.E.D. while I was there." She paused before continuing, "Then, instead of going to Watonwan County jail, I went to Pathways here in Rochester."

"Ah, so that's how you ended up in Rochester," I concluded. "How old were you when you went into Pathways?"

"Nineteen,"" she answered, "The first time I was at Pathways I was there for 3 months."  

What did you think of your habit at that point? I asked. "Did you think you had a problem? Or did you just think you were one of the unlucky ones who kept getting caught?"

"Um, I think I was blaming others because with two of my DUIs somebody called the cops and I felt I was too young to have a problem," she said then added, "I was just a young kid that likes to drink." 

"What happened after Pathways? I asked. "Did you make resolutions to stay sober, or were you glad you were done and you wanted to go back to having fun?"

"What I wanted was to get done with the DUIs and go back to drinking instead of working on the problem." At least she was honest. "At that point I'm not sure I really knew much about AA. I sat and listened, but it didn't really click in my head." 

"But you stayed in Rochester after Pathways?" I asked.

"Yep and I started going to RCTC, "she answered.

I returned to the matter at hand. "So what about the fourth DUI?" I asked.

"About a year after leaving Pathways I stopped going to probation meetings - my probation from Watonwan county had been transferred to Olmsted - so my probation officer ended up giving my case back to Watonwan county.  So, now I had a warrant out for my arrest in Watonwan county for parole violation."

She continued, "Instead of dealing with that warrant, I sort of started a new life with a new boyfriend, here in Rochester. Eventually, we ended up back in Trimont living at my mom's and working at a factory. At that point, I wasn't an everyday drinker, but I would binge drink on weekends. One night we got into a really bad fight and he ended up coming back to Rochester." Her voice got quiet as she continued, "I don't blame him. When I'd be drinking I'd pour all my emotional  insecurities on him. He put up with it until one day he just got sick of it. We ended up getting back together, again, and I moved back to Rochester. And, then, maybe like a month and a half later I got the 4th DUI."

"It was October 10, 2014." She stated matter-of-factly. "Um, we were out celebrating my boyfriend's birthday at Boomers and I was like lets go to Taco Bell before we go home and then I ended up pulling out in front of a cop and he pulled me over."  

"I got booked into jail since I had that warrant in Watonwan County. If I bailed out of the Olmsted then I would have had to go sit in Watonwan. So, I stayed in Olmsted County and ended up getting sentenced to six months in jail and I worked 30 off in laundry and then I sat 90 days." 

She continued unprompted, "After I was released I went to Fountain Centers in Albert Lea. I made it six months before I got drunk again. I ended things with my boyfriend before he could break up with me. Then got my own condo." 

"So, tell me about the picture of your hand that I saw you post on Facebook." I was curious. 

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"Well, I ended up following a new boyfriend down to Iowa after his job took him down there," she said. "One night me and a girlfriend were in the kitchen listening to music and getting hammered. My boyfriend ended up freaking out on us so my girlfriend and I went outside to the porch. I tried getting in the door but he'd locked it, so I started punching windows." She said it as if it were a normal thing to do.

"You punched through the glass?" I asked with a bit of alarm.

"Yeah," she replied. "I ended breaking three windows out." 

"How many stitches?"

"I think 9 or so."

"What made you decide to stay sober?" As if punching out three windows wasn't enough reason.

"Well," she began, "after I busted up my hand I went back to live at my moms. I was still running from my warrant. I ended up drinking; just wanting to drink every night. I got to the point where if I started to sober up my hangovers would last until 5pm or later the next day. I would dry heave all day and it was terrible. So, I got to the point where - you know, 'hair of the dog' - where I would drink to get rid of hangovers and then never want to have a hang over."

"You could tell my mom and my sister were getting fed up," she continued.  "I was sick of my life. I didn't want to end it, but I wanted to do something to make it better. So, I ended up calling my sponsor. I was hammered talking to her, but she didn't care, she was there to help. We started talking and my end goal was to go to treatment in a different state so I wouldn't have to take care of my warrant first."

"Addict thinking at it's best, right?" I asked.

She nodded in agreement then added, "I was at the point where my skin was dry, my hair was gross, so I knew I had to get sober or I might end up sick or worse."

"What did sobering up look like and feel like?" I asked.

"My brother and my uncle came and picked me up at my sisters and we went over to my grandma's house. My grandma suggested I have a beer in order to calm down. She understood what was happening as my grandpa was an alcoholic. I had never had a beer in front of my 93-year-old grandmother. She's dealt with a few of us now. 

"How long did the withdrawal take?" I asked.

"About 3 days before I felt decent," she replied. "My skin was still nasty and nails were still flaky. My face was full of acne."

"What happened after those 3 days were over?" Did she take care of her warrant? 

"The cop in town ended up coming to my sisters and asking if I was there. I wanted to run and hide, but it was sort of a relief knowing I'd go to jail sober." Withdrawal in jail would have been awful, for sure. "They took me to Fairbault jail and then transferred me to Olmsted County," she added. 

"What was your consequence here?" I asked. 

"I got six months, completed in-jail treatment and then I went to Fountain Centers again," she replied.

"And you've been sober since?" I knew the answer, but asked it anyway.

"Yes," she said with a smile.

"So that last drink you had was with your grandma?" I asked rhetorically.

"Yeah!" she exclaimed. "I never thought of it that way," she laughed.

"What was the date?" I asked.

"December 12, 2015," came the definitive response.

"How do you see yourself today?" I asked shifting gears to the present. 

I don't know. Normal?" She was so tentative and quiet in her response. As if she is too afraid to speak about herself in a positive way. Not because she doesn't believe it because maybe I don't.  

"Someone that messes up, maybe," she added. "I'm very nice to most people. And, I'm pretty forgiving. I give people second chances." She paused before continuing. "I feel like a big part of my story is telling younger people that they have value and they don't have to make those stupid choices in order to make up for something they think they lack."

"Easier said that done, though." I commented empathetically. 

"You just have to do the next right thing," she said confidently. "You have to go after you want. I've always had high expectations with everything. I've always wanted more and things will fall together if you keep doing the next right thing."

In my head I was screaming, "YES! That's it!"

"What would you say to that woman sitting in jail who has had 4 DUIs and is facing prison?" I asked.

"I would tell her to start figuring out who she is. The last time I was in jail that's all I did. I had my sponsor come visit me and one other friend and that's it. I just tried to figure out what I wanted and where I wanted to be. Start there," she replied.

And, that's advice from which we all benefit.

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In a Facebook post, Sarah commented on the photos of her hands after she punched the 3 glass windows. Here's what she wrote - in her own words:

"This was probably one of the first times I absolutely had no question that I had a drinking problem, but I definitely wasn't ready to admit it. I mean, who punches out three windows when they're drunk? I had no idea what to do with my life and I played it out as if everything was great. I am so thankful I'm not running from my problems anymore and better yet, that I wake up grateful for where I am in my life and that I worked my ass off to get here. Everyone makes mistakes and has obstacles in their lives, but YOU are the only one that can change your outcome. God truly has a plan if you stop trying to control everything. It's okay to be lost, as long as you find your way back."

It was earlier this year that I met Sarah and her fiancee, Cullen, and eventually I had the privilege of baptizing their little boy, Quinn. Life is beautiful, is it not? Despite our mistakes, our past, or our shortcomings. Let's believe that, shall we?