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This is an excerpt from Between Monsters and Mercy.
By 2007, most of my family had landed in Utah. The girls and I packed and filled every inch of our Ford hatchback with our belongings, and with Minneapolis shrinking in the rearview mirror, we set out west toward the Rocky Mountains to join them.
In Minnesota, my alcohol and cocaine use had been spiraling out of control. I was either on a bender, recovering from a bender, or just completely distracted by my intense cravings. The drug use and drinking wasn’t all bad though. It was serving its purpose as a temporary fix. Like magic, the cutting episodes and trips to the hospital had vanished. I wasn’t advertising my substance abuse, so from the outside, it appeared that my mental health problems were improving, maybe even resolving. Though I suspected otherwise, I really wanted to believe that one thing had nothing to do with the other.
The move to Utah brought with it the opportunity for a fresh start. Wanting to take advantage of a new beginning, I cleaned up my act and got sober. Yep, things were going to be different now.
I would do everything within my power to make certain of it. I told myself that it was time to knock it off. I was a grown-up and I needed to start acting like one. When the girls and I drove into Utah, I was 100 percent clean and sober. To prove my loyalty to my new way of life, I had even quit smoking cigarettes.
“How long do you think you can hold out before you come crawling back?”
I swore I was ready to hold out forever. As far as fresh starts go, Utah did not disappoint. The humongous mountains that filled the sky wowed the girls and I.
We’d gotten used to living underneath the thick canopy of trees in the Midwest. The views in Utah were breathtaking and extended as far as one could see. The air was dry and crisp, and there wasn’t a mosquito in sight.
Heather and my mom jointly purchased a home for me to rent. The house was on the northeast side of Lehi, not far from what’s known as the Point of the Mountain. It was a beautiful area. When we drove into the neighborhood for the first time, with just a touch of sarcasm, I nicknamed it “Pleasantville.”
Our home was in a perfect location. We were only a few blocks from Heather’s family and right across the street from my mom and her husband Richard. The girls were in heaven, because it took them only a few seconds to get from our front door to Nanny and Grandpa Richard’s house to ask for a treat or go inside and play.
Tabitha and Evie were nine and eight years old, and Heather had three children close to the same ages. My employment problem was solved when I started work at Heather’s manufacturing company. Her business was growing fast and had started taking on big box clients. I threw myself into my job and began working long hours. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had turned my career into my new drug of choice.
Before I knew it, I was promoted to management, and nearly all departments fell under my directorship. Considering I was a high school dropout with a history of mental health problems and addiction, my success at work surprised everyone, including me. For the briefest of moments, everything looked like it might turn out okay after all.
It was a Sunday morning, and I was on my front porch swing enjoying a cigarette and a hot cup of coffee. A few months earlier, I had decided that I should probably start smoking again. At nearly three hundred pounds, I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life. I had hoped that maybe the smoking would help me lose a little weight and curb some of the binge eating.
At that moment, I noticed that all the garage doors in the neighborhood were starting to open up. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best, each with a handful of scriptures. I heard car doors slamming as families piled into their vehicles. One by one, the caravan of minivans drove past me and turned toward the chapel up the hill. I looked down at my cell phone. It was 8:45 a.m.
“Looks like it’s time for the ‘Mormon Show’ to start,” I said under my breath. Lately, my attitude had taken a turn for the worse. I had stopped seeing all the many blessings in my life. The worse I felt about myself and my life, the more annoyed I became that I was surrounded by Mormons. They were everywhere. The always cheerful, always waving, always helpful . . . Mormons.
Here they were—the same girls from years earlier. They were all grown up, and right on cue, they were living their peppy, skinny, organized little lives. Through my thick cynicism, they had started to look like creepy carbon copies of each other. I had decided that I wanted nothing to do with them.
In my anger, I even joined a local ex-Mormon support group. There I had found like-minded souls who could understand how persecuted I felt. They understood what a victim I had become to the big, bad local church. I dug a deep moat of resentment around myself and didn’t allow anyone to cross it. I put up impenetrable walls shutting everyone out, including my own family.
I wasn’t aware that my insidious disease was creating an island, a secluded place where it could do whatever it wanted, and no one would be there to witness or judge. The isolation, combined with the outward appearance of my life looking better than it ever had before, was the perfect disguise. The Beast was tired of sitting in the background. He was getting ready to come out and play.
One night, without thought about the consequences, I went to the bar. Rationalizing, I had decided that I had earned a break.
I was an adult. I had a job. I took care of my kids. I worked dang hard . . . I deserved a little fun every now and again, didn’t I? I mean, it was just a night out at the bar—a harmless night of fun with other adults and a few drinks. It wouldn’t be like before. I was a totally different person than who I used to be. Besides, when the drinking and drugging had gotten really bad, I had stopped, hadn’t I? I could always stop myself again if I needed to.
Within months, I was drinking and using methamphetamine regularly. Without missing a beat, The Beast had taken over. Like before, everything in my life began to suffer. Most important, it affected my ability to function as a healthy mother. Promises of days at the zoo or trips to the movies were broken when I couldn’t even get off the couch to pour the girls a bowl of cereal in the morning. I pushed their needs aside and was focused only on my obsession to self-medicate.
My recently acquired bad attitude, in combination with the drugs, fueled a tipping point in my relationship with Heather. In a misunderstanding brought on solely by my corrosive negative attitude, I threw away my career without a second glance.
Blinded by my pride, I got angry. Digging the knife in deeper, I packed up the girls, moved out of Heather’s home and Heather’s neighborhood.
I cashed out my 401(k), and within six months, I had wasted thousands of dollars on drugs. Any resemblance of a normal looking life dissolved away very quickly. I drove us right over the edge of a cliff. Unable to overcome the obsession to use, I left Tabitha and Evie to be cared for by my sisters, and I disappeared into the streets of Salt Lake City to pursue my addictions full time.
Years earlier, as a miserable young woman, I’d had a conversation with The Whisperer.
“Choose me, and I will take the pain away. I will speak to you. Choose me.”
In the end, that is exactly what I did. I chose him. Not so much by saying yes that day in the bathtub, but much more by my recent actions. With conviction, I had chosen anger, resentment, fear, and self-pity. The Whisperer didn’t need me to sign with blood on the dotted line. I had reached right into my chest, pulled out my stony heart, and handed it to him on a silver platter. He owned me.
The Whisperer was going to take away my pain after all, although it was going to leave me wishing that I had read the fine print of our contract.
This is an excerpt from Between Monsters and Mercy.