Sobriety, Leela, and the Constant Change that is Life

Life is so crazy. Right? It never fails to amaze me, the ups and downs, the beauty and the destruction, happiness and devastation. They all go hand in hand because without one, we would not have the other. A few weekends ago when we were up north for my grandpa’s funeral we also celebrated my grandmother’s and mother’s birthdays. My step-sister, Bria, was about to give birth to her daughter Naomi (who has since come into this world). So much life surrounding this one sad occasion. New life, older life….and that is what I have come to understand about living, there will always be ups and downs and often times great joys accompany great sadnesses; they make each other all the more powerful.

My sober birthday was this past Monday. Monday, the 15th of September, marked seven years of sobriety for me. A crazy thing to think about, to wrap my head around. Seven years ago I was a lost shell of a person, soulless, hopeless, void of anything that resembled what makes each of us human. And so each sober anniversary is a cause for celebration and gratitude, a time to remember that life is tenuous and (although I’m not a God person so-to-speak “there but for the grace of God go I”. And, just like most all joyous things in like, each year my sober birthday is marred by the crazy dichotomy that is life and death. Celebration and mourning.

I had a sponsee who I sponsored for about two years. We were close, she was more than a sponsee, she was a friend. A beautiful soul who just could not, would not get sober. She would be in and out of the rooms; four months here, 6 weeks there. She always came back though, and she always called. After a while though, she finally got it. Or so it seemed. She put time together, worked the steps. Weeks turned into months and I still to this day remember how intensely proud of her I was when she got her year. She was so so proud, so happy. Those are joyous memories….ones that I look back on with bittersweet sadness and joy. Not long after her year though, she relapsed. I remember talking to her that night and listening to her, shocked that she had so quickly gone back to that elusive bottle which called her name, haunted her dreams. I told her she would be ok, that we would get her to a meeting and that we would start over, after all we had done this before. We knew how it worked. I had no reason to think that this time would be different. We talked again the next day, and she was still drinking. She was struggling. Big C, my then boyfriend, and I went by her place to check on her, to make sure that she was safe and to take the liquor out of her house. I still remember her, clad only in a bathrobe, standing in her doorway. I wish that I had stayed, or that I had said something more, that I had done something more. I left her house that night after making her promise to call me in the morning. It was late on September 11, 2010. The next day I didn’t hear from her, which was so unlike her. Even when she was in the midst of a relapse she would call to talk, to ask for guidance, to seek help. I was concerned, but not overly so. Around 2pm I started to call her phone, some inner-sense told me something was wrong. I continued to call, and then her phone must have died because it went straight to voicemail. I planned to stop by her place on my way home from work, to drop in and make sure that she was ok. I never got the chance. About 30 minutes later my phone rang, a number that I didn’t know. I answered. On the other end of the phone a woman that I knew from the program (we in AA refer to it as ‘the program’) told me through a voice breaking with tears that my sweet sponsee was dead. She had passed in her sleep, from an overdose. She was gone. I remember sobbing, shaking. I was so, so, so sad. I drove to her apartment to find a few other close friends outside. The police were questioning people, they wanted to speak with me. The coroner’s van came, they went up to her room. I watched as they came down the stairs several minutes later, carrying Leela on a stretcher. My poor sweet Leela. Her feet poked out from beneath the sheet that was draped over her. We all cried, watching her being carried away. We watched as someone we loved and had known as a breathing, beautiful soul was carted away. Three days later, I took my three year chip, three days later marked the third anniversary of my sobriety. It was a day that held more sadness for me than joy. I stood there sobbing as I blew out the candles on my cake at a meeting, cried through my thank you’s from the podium. It was so crazy to me, that I was still alive after all that I had been through and that Leela was gone. I loved her. She has served as a reminder that life is a precious thing; life is crazy like that, we just never know. We never know when it is going to be our time, or whether we have another relapse left in us. Leela’s legal name was Nityalila, and it fit her so perfectly. Nitya means eternal and Lila means play; Leela was the most playful, beautiful carefree spirit. I know that she is somewhere better, somewhere where her soul knows no boundaries and her joy echoes into the far reaches of the cosmos. 

The only constant in life is change: birth, growth, death, constant states of changes. Reviewing my photos from the weekend at my mom’s I was just so reminded of this fact with all of the different states of life that were present at that time. Little C’s hands on my step-sister’s belly feeling for Naomi’s kicking feet, my grandmother watching her great grandchild play.  Enjoy today, enjoy the moment. Stay in the now, and remain in gratitude. Happy Wednesday, loves.