Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Gift

I knew a woman who loved to laugh. She was as cool as they come. Her hair was always done just right, her nails gleamed, her accessories perfect. She was there every week, with her purse propped in her lap, smiling and winking at those who sat in the circle around her. Quick with a joke or a hug, she always knew just what someone needed.

When I dragged myself to my first meeting, I noticed her right away. I had been drinking, and I felt like the loneliest person in the world. I watched her from across the room, heard her booming laugh, and wondered what it would be like to be so secure in myself, so happy.

She shared her story with humor and grace, and, as always, with a message. In my early days of sobriety I went to a weekly beginner meeting, sat silently in the back, wringing my hands and full of despair. One night, as the meeting broke, she put her hand on my arm and said, with a twinkle in her eyes, "it's okay to laugh, you know. It's part of getting better."

One night I finally worked up the courage to speak. I was angry, hopeless. I had just spent five days in the hospital, rushed there by ambulance after my blood pressure spiked dangerously due to alcohol withdrawal. After leaving the hospital, I went straight to the beginner meeting.

"I'm so scared," I said. "I nearly died. I don't know that I'll ever get sober."

I saw her raise her eyebrow at me from across the room, and then put up her hand to speak. I sank lower in my chair. She told a story from her own past, about how scary things got for her. Then she looked me right in the eye and said, "what you have been given, honey, is a second chance. It's a gift. It's okay to be scared, just don't give up." After the meeting, as I was trying to duck out the door without speaking to anyone, she stopped me and gave me a hug. "It's going to be okay," she said. Looking at her smiling face, I had my first glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, it would be okay.

Over the past couple of years I watched her help countless people with her ribald humor, irreverence, dedication and her own special kind of grace. She giggled nearly constantly, and swore like a trucker. She showed me that being sober didn't mean I'd never laugh again. She marched to her own drummer, and invited all of us along for the ride.

She passed away on New Year's Eve. It is hard to picture the world without her robust presence, her huge smile, and her unwavering dedication to recovery.

And she is right - I have been given a second chance, and it is a gift. She was a gift, too. She shared her story, she shared herself, and helped so many people get sober, stay sober, and laugh a lot along the way. I'm sure there are some angels in heaven blushing from her jokes, but I bet they are laughing, too.

This is how recovery works. She came into my life, a complete stranger, in my most desperate hour. She shared her experience, strength and hope, and passed along what she had learned from the people who came before her. It is Grace in motion, and it is amazing.

I will miss her; I will miss her a lot. But her words of wisdom and strength (and more than a few of her jokes) will continue through me and countless others.

Her gift lives on.

Rest in Peace, Millie. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all your love and laughter.


  1. I am so sorry Ellie. She was special indeed to reach out to you and others. And as you reach out, the ripple effect of both your lives continue. What a beautiful tribute.

  2. Grace in motion is such a gift. So glad she was in your life.

  3. I wish to extend my condolences for the loss of such a wonderful person in your life. She was and still is, indeed, your guardian angel.

  4. What a beautiful tribute to an amazing woman.. she truly touch many hearts and helped numerous alkees. I remember her clearly the first time I went to Thursday night.. I was new to the area and feeling like a newcomer and she welcomed me with open arms (litereally).
    Thank you L for this graceful homage

  5. Real people make a real difference. How wonderful that you found Millie, and I am sure that Millie felt strength from you as well. Missing her will be hard. Remembering her will be special. Thank you for sharing a bit of her with all of us.

  6. A beautiful tribute. I'm sorry for your loss.

  7. amazing story. checked out your blog from stef's page. you are an inspiration. i am at 106 days in my recovery. i am still struggling to laugh at all. if you can give us any words of wisdom, we would appreciate your comments and suggestions on a few of us from the tables started this blog. can't go to meetings during the witching hours and taking care of kids. i so want that feeling of happy joyous and free. my sponsor says just keep going to the i do. i am grateful to find your blog and i am sorry for your loss.

  8. I'm so sorry for your loss. It is amazing to me the gift that hardship can be. To take desperation and turn it into hope and pass it on is a pretty glorious way to live a life.

  9. sounds like this world is less today without her