Four years ago, in the dreary lull that comes with the New Year, I was battling a familiar foe: depression. I’d gone into town to run a few errands, but the looming gray hills only added to my gloom. I bought beer and put gas in the car. Squeezing the metal handle of the nozzle, I tried not to dwell on the parallel between a car’s need for fuel and my dependency on alcohol.
Depression and alcoholism ran in my family. Knowing that my feelings were inherited did little to make them more bearable. It was worse, in fact, to think that I was powerless over how I felt, especially at this time of year when people are supposed to feel hopeful about what’s to come. What did the new year hold for me but more unhappiness?
The pump shut itself off with a thunk, stirring me from my half-attentive state. I screwed the cap on the gas tank, got in my car and started the engine, not really wanting to go back to my empty house and the couch where I found myself sitting and drinking so often that it almost seemed a physical part of me.
Next to the gas station was a country store that catered to tourists. The sign outside proclaimed big markdowns on Christmas items. I pulled into the parking lot.
The store was like most rural tourist stops, crowded with candle holders, quilts, handpainted signs. There were two tables of ornaments. My attention was drawn to several angel figures, about eight inches high, with clay heads, hands and wings. Their robes were of papier-mâché. One in particular, with flowing auburn hair like my own, seemed to call to me. I reached out and picked her up. All of a sudden the strangest feeling welled up, a feeling of peacefulness and reassurance that momentarily overrode my depression. I glanced at her price tag—too much even at 20 percent off. Putting her back, I started to walk away when the thought struck me, No. That angel is meant for you.
I returned to the table and picked up the figure again. Turning her over, I noticed that inside her skirt were the initials KB, same as mine. None of the other angels had any writing on them. “This must be for me, after all,” I muttered, pulling out my credit card to pay.
Back home, after putting away the groceries and beer, I decided to place the angel on my living room mantel. I cleared a spot and set her down carefully. At that instant, a powerful thought formed in my mind, completely unbidden: Please help me stop drinking.
What was I thinking? I had no concept of myself as someone who did not drink, and the notion of facing my feelings without the buffer of alcohol was completely unnerving. Almost in defiance of the thought, I cracked open another beer and flopped on the couch, staring up at the angel while I drank.
And I kept drinking as the weeks passed, most nights until I nodded off on the couch or stumbled to bed in a depressive fog. I’d go to work in the morning, alcohol still coursing through my system. I did my work well despite the gruesome daily hangover, but relations with my colleagues deteriorated. “Karen,” my boss told me during one confrontation, “it’s not your work that’s the problem, it’s you.”
I didn’t want to hear it, even though it was looking like this would be another job lost, my fourth in as many years. With my family far away, and no friends to speak of, work was about the only place I interacted with anyone at all. Now that was about to fall apart, and I really didn’t care. I couldn’t care. About anything.
Lying on the living room couch, I’d sometimes find myself staring up at the angel on the mantelpiece. Why did I bring her here? What was that mystifying calmness I’d felt the first time I held her in my hands? Was God trying to tell me he cared about me or was it just a trick of the mind?
By summer I knew I was losing control. I’d always looked at my drinking through a prism of rationalization. I told myself that if I held a job and owned a home, my drinking couldn’t be that bad. But now, as bills and job woes mounted and the drinking took a greater physical toll, I finally admitted that the alcohol I had used for so many years to take the edge off my depression was making it worse.
One night after work, I was sitting in my usual spot on the couch fighting the feelings of shame and worthlessness that lately seemed to be on the verge of smothering me, when I broke down in deep, spasmodic sobs. I didn’t even try to stop. I don’t know how long I cried, but at some point I heard myself say, “Please, God, destroy my desire to drink!” Yet the very next night I was back on the couch drinking more desperately than ever.
My prayer seemed to open the floodgates wide. Almost at once my drinking became completely reckless. I abandoned the couch and became careless about drinking and driving. And that was what set the stage for my miracle.
The flashing lights of the state trooper’s patrol car were a blue blaze in my rearview mirror that night. I was smart enough, at least, to pull off the road and submit to arrest for drunk driving. The trooper took me to the county jail, where I was given a Breathalyzer test, fingerprinted, photographed and locked in a cell for six hours to sober up. As clarity returned, the true state of my life was laid bare for me. I realized I was killing myself. I wanted to go home. I wanted to see the angel on my mantel. I wanted to sit on my couch and look at her and think.
I had to give the cab driver a hundred dollars in advance to take me the 50 miles home. I walked in the door, sat down on the couch and looked up at the angel figurine. I’d thought of her all the way home. Now I simply stared and stared until I felt something inside me give. The tears came again, but they were tears of relief. Another one of those powerful thoughts I’d been having since the first of the year took hold, and it was as sure as anything I knew: Thank God I don’t have to drink anymore.
In that instant, my life changed, and only the word miracle can describe it. I came to the end of a long maze after years of being lost within it. Yet staring at my angel, I understood fully that a higher power had guided me through.
Recovery has been a bumpy road, but my life is full of rewards. Quitting alcohol was just the first step in a series of steps I’ve taken in the last four years. My job is more satisfying, my health is strong, I have friends. My last performance review at work included “good relations with coworkers” as a strength. One big amazing step I took recently was with a man I met at a hiking club. I felt the same strange powerful draw to him that I had felt in the country store. Now the angel on the mantelpiece has two people to watch over, my husband and me.
God has used many ways to show he loves me, that he’s always loved me. But it was a clay figurine with auburn hair, on sale for 20 percent off, that he used to save my life.
This story first appeared in the January 2001 issue of Angels on Earth magazine.