Her Path to Sobriety Started with One Look

She saw herself in the eyes of a little girl.

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- Posted on Feb 11, 2019

A little girl looking up into the sunlight on a warm, Autumn day.

You might think I’m lucky to live where I do—on the big island of Hawaii. And you’d be right. But I’m also lucky to be alive, period. Not all that long ago I was a hopeless addict. I waited tables, working just to make enough money to buy whatever drugs I could get my hands on. If I’d kept on like that, I’d be dead by now. Instead, I’ve been clean and sober four years and counting. It’s not always easy. Some days I still hear the little voice in my head tempting me to get high. Times like that, I hold tight to something that happened, something that saved me from myself.

I was in drug rehab. Again. For three weeks I followed the rules, went to the meetings, did everything by the book. Because of that, I got some privileges restored. I could now leave the grounds to walk around the neighborhood.

The first time I went out on my own I spotted a couple of pay phones by a convenience store. I picked one up. Dial tone. I checked the other. It worked too. You’ve got a couple of bucks, the voice said. Call a friend, get some drugs. Just one more time.

Famous last words. My sobriety had never lasted before. It was just too easy to slip into old habits. One more time always turned into every day. It was all about me—how I felt, how I didn’t want to feel, how to stop making myself feel anything at all. “Don’t blow it,” I told myself. “Think this through.”

I walked back to the rehab, thinking about the pay phones. It would be so easy. And who would know? Part of me resisted. I’d already wasted so much of my life.

The next day I headed out on another walk, right back to those pay phones. I’d call a friend, figure out a place to meet. I reached into my pocket for some change, and any shred of resistance I had left crumbled. I picked up the receiver. Relief wasn’t far off now. I popped a coin into the slot.

No dial tone. Dead. I got my coin back and tried the second phone. It didn’t work either. What was up with that? They had been fine just the day before.

I walked a block or so, scanning the street for another pay phone. The old familiar craving had really kicked in. There was no stopping me now. I had to find a phone. I had to get high. I didn’t care about anyone or anything else.

Frantically I eyed the sidewalk ahead. What was I going to do? I couldn’t go back to the rehab. Not now. I looked across the street, hoping to see a phone. Instead I saw a little girl, maybe five years old. She stepped off the curb and into the busy road. Didn’t she see the cars? For sure the drivers couldn’t see her; she was so small. And vulnerable. “God,” I cried out, “help her!” Something inside me seemed to break. Without thinking, I ran into the road, right into traffic. Cars screeched to a halt. Drivers honked. I made it to the little girl. She grabbed my hand, like she trusted me, and she looked up into my eyes.

Everything around me seemed to fall away. The cars, the street, the noise, my craving—it all dissolved into nothingness. There was just that little girl’s look, her eyes so trusting, so pure. I saw myself in those eyes, the girl I’d once been. Before I got on drugs. I wanted to be like that again. More than anything. I wanted that even more than I wanted drugs.

“It’s okay,” I said. “We’re going to be okay. Let’s go.” I took the girl back to my counselor at rehab. The police helped find the girl’s mother. While we waited for her we had some cake and tall glasses of milk. Even a few giggles. Finally her mom showed up and took her back home.

I watched her as she left. I knew that this time, with God’s help, I would stick with the program. He had heard my desperate prayer. But it wasn’t just for that little girl. It was for me too.

“Nadja, you were that little girl’s angel,” my counselor said. Of course I knew it was absolutely the other way around.

This story first appeared in the September 2005 issue of Angels on Earth magazine.

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