THE BLOG
10/19/2014 02:14 pm ET Updated Dec 19, 2014

The Gift That Should Have Killed Me

"24 years.

364 days.

Today. Just for today."

That was one of my first thoughts upon awakening this morning.

You see, I am an alcoholic.

Fortunately, I'm the kind of alcoholic who no longer drinks.

Well, at least I'm not drinking today. That is the promise I make to myself on this, the eve of my 25th year of sobriety.

* * *

I wasn't supposed to be an alcoholic.

In fact, I worked really, really hard not to be.

I was a good girl. I did what I was told. I got good grades, graduated at the top of my class in college. I carried up to 23 credit hours a semester at college. I was on the Board of Student Government, a member of five national honor societies.

I was first chair in the University Symphony Orchestra. In fact, I played the flute so well and practiced for so long that they actually paid me to practice.

And perform.

* * *

Oh, I'm a performer, all right.

I performed and performed and smiled and plotted.

So I wouldn't be an alcoholic.

Cause alcoholics die and leave you. Like my father did.

The leaving came when I was a baby, the dying took another decade.

Esophageal varices (that's when you drink so much you thin the lining of your throat and then you bleed out) followed by double pneumonia.

Age 34.

Sick his entire adult life. In and out of institutions. But he got that one award from the Red Cross for donating blood.

Oh -- he was a brilliant musician, too.

Self-taught.

In fact, my very first life memory is toddling down the hallway to watch him play the banjo.

* * *

So, at any rate, I thought if you worked really hard and achieved great things the disease couldn't "get you."

I was wrong.

There was another alcoholic in my life in those days -- my grandfather, Francis Marcey, or "Pop Pop," as we called him.

I was in the third grade when Pop Pop nearly died before he decided to get sober. After that, his entire life was dedicated to helping other alcoholics achieve sobriety.

We used to spend summertime at Grandma and Pop Pop's beach house in Piney Point, MD. In the back room of the cottage there was a black rotary phone.

That was the "sobriety phone." When it rang it meant that another alcoholic needed my Pop Pop's help.

It was serious business, that phone and it's special ring. It was so effing LOUD for one thing. There was no way you could miss it.

When it rang, Pop Pop would grunt and lift himself from his baby-poop green recliner. The ringing of the phone signaled the silencing of all grandchildren present.

Pop Pop had work to do.

And work he did.

There are entire generations of Southern Marylanders whose lives have changed because of my Pop Pop and Grandma's tireless commitment to helping others recover from this otherwise terminal disease.

* * *

Pop Pop and Grandma had a back cottage on their property. That's where all the men who were new to sobriety lived while they were being restored to health.

Grandma made them lunch. We were in charge of taking it back to them.

White bread, thick, ruby red tomato slices from the local farmer's roadside stand. Mayo. Salt. Pepper.

So many alcoholics getting sober on Grandma's tomato sandwiches.

* * *

Fast forward 27 years.

I'm an alcoholic in recovery now. I'm 31 years old. My baby -- my only daughter -- had just died in my arms.

I didn't drink over the death of Grace.

I didn't drink because, like my Pop Pop, I had made a decision:

We Stay Sober Under Any and All Conditions.

That's my decision.

I've been sober through the death of a child. The end of a broken marriage with all the trimmings. I've been sober through the death of countless friends -- my poor comrades in sobriety who just couldn't grasp -- and KEEP -- this one tenet of living --

We stay sober under any and all conditions.

I've been sober through good times and bad. I've been sober through mundane times -- those are actually the trickiest.

Because when life is quiet my mind gets busy making shit up to worry about.

But through it all, I don't drink. Because we stay sober under any and all conditions.

Here was one of those "conditions":

* * *

Some months after Grace died, I was mercifully pregnant again.

It was a "high risk" pregnancy.

I spent the last four months of my pregnancy lying on my left side.

So my baby would LIVE.

I didn't drink.

Because -- We stay sober under any and all conditions. And this particular condition was life threatening to the child growing inside me.

So, there I was.

On my left side.

I was allowed to sit up three times a day.

So that gravity didn't kill my baby.

I reflect with awe on the Jennifer who lived through that time.

I admire her courage so very much.

Every day I was in a race -- a battle with gravity, a race through time.

I couldn't stand up for long periods of time. The baby might fall out like his big sister before his lungs would allow him to survive on the outside.

Oddly, I don't remember being afraid at the time, though the memory of that time TERRIFIES me.

But I don't drink.

Because, we stay sober under any and all conditions.

* * *

In April of that year, my eldest son, Clark FRANCIS was born.

Full term.

Working lungs.

Beautiful.

Safe.

Clark was the first sober baby in more than 100 YEARS on one side of my family.

You see, I am the first sober parent in more that a CENTURY from the Boykin side of the family. And, honestly, there haven't been that many from the other side, either.

Alcoholism is my family disease. It has RAVISHED my ancestral line.

My sobriety prayer?

"Let it begin with me."

* * *

A few months after Clark was born, we took him on vacation with us to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

I don't know why, but something told me I HAD to take him with me to meet some other sober alcoholics I knew there.

These were my sober alcoholic friends from the beach. The summer before they had loved me through death of my only child. Now it was time for them to meet her little brother.

* * *

There was a man speaking at the front of the room. He was celebrating 20-something years of sobriety at the time.

His name was Jim.

Jim was talking about his early sobriety. He had gotten sober in Southern Maryland. In fact, he has newly sober at the same time and in the same county as my Pop Pop.

Jim went on and on and on about his first sober mentor. He talked about all the things that man had shared with him. He credited his sobriety -- his entire life -- to the love and support of that one sober man.

Afterwards, I went up to Jim. I had to introduce my second sober baby to him and ask him -- did he know my Pop Pop?

So, standing there cradling the second sober baby in a century in my arms, I asked Jim -- "Did you happen to know Francis Marcey? He was sober in southern Maryland, too, about the time you were there and he was my grandfather."

"Francis Marcey?" he boomed. "Your grandfather was Francis Marcey?"

"Well, yes," I answered. "And this is his namesake, Clark FRANCIS, and he is the second sober baby to be born in my father's family in over a century. You see, my daughter, Grace, died last year. But I didn't drink. Because WE STAY SOBER UNDER ANY AND ALL CONDITIONS."

And this is the incredible thing that Jim said to me --

"Your grandfather was Francis Marcey?! Well, Francis Marcey was my first sponsor. And he is the man I was just talking about who saved my life. In fact, I lived in Francis' back cottage when I first got sober."

Tears are streaming down my face by this time.

You see, that sober man standing before me -- Jim?

Well, he got sober at Grandma and Pop Pop's back cottage.

And here is the second miracle: when I was just nine years old -- long before I picked up my first drink, I carried my Grandma's tomato sandwiches to that man.

I was part of the family who nursed him back to health.

DECADES before that meeting with Jim and hundreds and hundreds of miles away, my grandfather had shared his experience, strength, and hope with that man.

And 27 YEARS later, he brought it back to me.

And so it is.

Because those are the sorts of miracles that happen in your life when you decide to stay sober under any and all conditions.

* * *

Twenty-five years ago TODAY I took my last drink of alcohol.

I wasn't supposed to be an alcoholic.

It wasn't my plan.

But alcoholism, and then sobriety, has been the greatest gift of my life.

I am so very grateful to be an alcoholic.

Love, Jennifer

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

Note: Jennifer Boykin is the creator of the midlife reinvention movement, Life After Tampons. To get a FREE copy of her Comeback QuickStart, register here.