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'I've Been Gifted With an Alcoholic Father'

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Recently, a People Magazine cover caught my eye, not because Kim Kardashian's pregnant fashion choices are national news, but because Cory Monteith checked himself into rehab. Given that I am a musical theater performer, I love the TV show in which he stars, GLEE, and I was saddened for him but also hopeful.

Shortly thereafter, I read Christina Huffington's courageous blog about recovery. Then my email brought me a vlog about the young spiritual teacher, Gabrielle Bernstein, and her recovery. When the universe pops it out that way, I listen.

I might shock you with my next statement. Are you ready? I've been gifted with an alcoholic father! Who says that? But if you believe, like I do, that these things don't just happen to us, but for us, to grow our soul, then this might make sense. The story even opens my solo show comedy, Hot Mama Mahatma.

As a kid growing up in my family in Buffalo, N.Y., I knew something wasn't right. My mom was moody, and I thought I had to fix everything, so I became this sweet, happy, always smiling little girl... you know, a people-pleaser. Then, when my Irish salesman, happy-go-lucky father lost his business, the drinking got bad. He was a wreck. My mom thought he was having a nervous breakdown. So I went for help, to the newspaper, the advice column. Ann Landers would know. And she did, so I ran to my mother.

"Mom, I've got it, great news. Dad isn't having a nervous breakdown, he's just a drunk!" And in my 14-year-old head, I thought, "I can fix this." It became my mission with school research papers, hints to Dad, and five years later, my chance finally came. My mother kicked him out, after years of poverty, crashed cars, lost weekends. He'd become a derelict in his own home. He had one day to clear out. I caught him before he left, and in a flash, I was on the phone to AA. I took him to rehab that day. Forty years later he's still sober. So I thought, I can save anybody! Next?

I met him, on a blind date, guy I could save. Five years later we married; 25 years later, we divorced. Here's why. I had promised myself I would never marry an alcoholic. I didn't. He rarely drank. But he was a very shut down guy, a total workaholic who traveled all the time, and there were other issues, big ones, that I couldn't fix. After I filed for divorce, I went into meltdown. I had spent my life trying to save everybody. That was my addiction. It didn't work. I became powerless. I was on my knees, and I was rescued, by an alcoholic... no, not a drinking one, a sober one, a 20-year veteran of AA and Al-Anon, my hilarious, irreverent friend, Carrie. Given that she's currently in heaven, I can break her anonymity.

You see, I had proudly attended dozens of meetings with my dad over the years, listening to the steps, but not really understanding that they were for me too. And in my meltdown, I couldn't quite bring myself to go to meetings, to be with people. I was a walking nerve ending. So Carrie brought it to me.

We talked every day and she had lived it, breathed it, studied it. She changed her whole life with her recovery, and through her 12-step work and what she'd learned at the Caron Foundation, she helped me change mine. It's why I got involved with this brilliant organization. A rehab center helped save my father's life. Caron has saved thousands.

Right after Cory Monteith entered rehab, I heard the stories of four amazing young people and their journeys from profound addiction to recovery via Caron. And I have the privilege of serving on the committee for their gala this May 15th, which over the years has raised millions of dollars in scholarship money, to treat young people, and rehabilitate their lives.

Given my history, these stories bring me to tears. I know what can await them, if they truly find recovery, because I have been blessed to witness the profound hero's journey that it can be. But first, like all addicts, they have to ask for help. Cory did. Christina did. These four young people did, and with the help of organizations like Caron, my hope is that many more will.

So, 40 years ago, I helped save an alcoholic. Who knew that one day, I would need an alcoholic to help save me. Let's help save them.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

For more by Karen Fitzgerald, click here.

For more on addiction and recovery, click here.

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