It was Saturday, the day of a planned party with her family and friends. Everyone was around. While getting dressed, Chrissy Strong reached into a pair of long-unworn jeans and found $10.
That familiar unwelcome urge came over her and thentook her over. Go! Get that shit, forget everything, turn your back NOW and leave and do it.
Chrissy recently shared that scene with me over coffee at a familiar Highland Square meeting place. She told me how her brother argued with her, then shouted and pleaded with her. It was too late. She was already gone, and there was no defense against that enemy. And then, as she was finally outside, she described how she turned back and saw her son’s face, his eyes locked on hers and his hand pressed against the bay window as he was watching his mommy leave.
It was and is a moment that still to this day brings tears to her eyes, sends her heart spinning, and her soul dropping to its knees.
All of us in recovery have that kind of story. Inside each one of us is that ugly moment of shame indelibly inscribed involving a loved one — guilt and despair, knowing there is no magic eraser that will ever scratch away the unbearable pain of what we did. It never leaves us. When I think of my own distinct and unique memory, there is no way that my heart can ever offload it, and my eyes still flush, wishing it could disappear.
Little did Chrissy know, that moment would become the instrument she would call on as her defense against using in the years to come. The memory of that despair would always live on as the protective steel-like armor against the next drink. Later, she would tell me when we sat down for this interview: “What I did to my kid, that day, man. What I did.”
Meet Chrissy Strong. Single mom, and at this point in the story, addict, and alcoholic. But this is not how the story ends.
Time passes slowly when you are in the prison of addiction. In the grips of active use, you measure moments in the crashes, highlights of faint memories, and by what you escaped or what almost could have happened. Others pass the time on birthdays and anniversaries, work promotions. Normal life stuff. It’s not like that for those of us who lived on the dependence treadmill. There is no time. Only the next bottle, the next hit, the next fix, or the next awful waking moment of anguish. The plan to somehow get what we need today is as far as we can see after we throw up or piss blood.
Sobriety for Chrissy finally came, starting in the trailer with the curtains stapled to the windows. While sitting on a couch that smelled of urine and the remains of nights sleeping it off and waking up sick, and after watching another woman getting pistol-whipped, pick herself up calmly and sit down on that same couch to smoke more, she finally said to herself, “What am I doing here?”
“I need help,” Chrissy said. The voice on the other side of the phone asked: “Where are you?”
That day, the beginning of her breakaway, started with a call and rescue pickup from that sober sister’s teenage son and then, some safety. After a bowl of warm soup, some cold hard reality talk from that friend, and calls to treatment centers, the journey finally and mercifully was on its way.
Surrender, step one on the road to hope.
Fast forward to a day at Glenbeigh. By now, Chrissy is in long-term recovery and takes a revived music career into the places where she course-corrected. She shares songs and stories of her life with others like her, determined to make a difference. I watched her eyes fill up as she told me about a girl with eyes frozen on the floor, barely acknowledging her handshake greeting. That same girl that waited after the presentation with tears and a hug of gratitude for telling HER story in a song. They had never met before, but they became family in that moment—a part of a broader community that stands together and holds each other in the solidarity of sobriety.
“I don’t have a ton of shame, more now, just an awareness,” Chrissy says. “I don’t want to erase all the memories. They help me remember how I got here, except for that stuff with my kid. I hear that voice tell me, remember what I did with my kid? That’s the voice that drives the music and movement to help others.”
It’s what we do to stay in the lines. It’s what we do to make it through another 24.
“I am a spiritual being having a human experience, who desires nothing but to grow in the moments, share what has been freely given, love unconditionally, and do the next right thing, always,” Chrissy says.
If a time-travel Uber were to pull up and offer her a ride back in time to meet her active addict-alcoholic previous self today, Chrissy says she would say:
“When did I lose you? If I knew you were so broken, I would have asked you to stay. I would not have let you go.”
Most of us who have long-term abstinence can feel this way. We struggle to remember what it felt like to be so out of control and ashamed. What it felt like to be alone staring in the mirror at a stranger we should have recognized but didn’t know anymore. And then, through the healing miracle of surrender and an active community of support, we are offered the salvation of a redemptive gift. We get to see ourselves again in the frightened eyes of a newcomer asking for help. We get to close our eyes and remember that lost and full-of-fear self, gather our experience strength and hope, put our heavy armor on, and reach out to help that person in despair. We say the words we wanted most to hear when we needed help: “Where are you?”