Dawn Cheryl Hill says she was “the claw end of the hammer” when she was in the throes of her alcohol addiction.
She’ll be celebrating 36 years of sobriety this month, she told a crowd at Six Nations Health Services Overdose Awareness Day event at Veteran’s Park last Wednesday.
“That’s not anything I’ve done. Left to my own devices…you wouldn’t have wanted to know me back then.”
Hill said she was ‘scary’ when she was drinking.
“I’m so grateful that I found a way to recover from alcoholism.”
Both her mother and father are residential school survivors.
“It was a pretty rough home life. I always said that I wasn’t going to be that. I wasn’t going to be that drinker, I wasn’t going to be that person who used any of those mind changers but when you’re not healed, when you have a lot of trauma in your life, you try to deal with it in the best way that you can. For me, that’s what I did. I ran from my feelings and I drank.”
In 1986, at age 26, she said she knew she had a problem with drinking.
“I wanted to quit.”
She would tell herself every night coming from work she’s not going to drink.
But it never stuck.
She was in the midst of a divorce, the mother of a young son, and a victim of domestic violence.
“My husband was very violent and very cruel.”
She started out as a recreational drinker.
“It was, in the beginning, it was very much fun. Then you move on to abusing that substance because that’s what you need in a given moment.”
It slowly became an addiction.
“Addiction is a very progressive disease.”
In August of 1986 she had opened up the local paper and saw an ad asking if people thought they had an alcohol problem.
“I took this test in this paper and I thought, boy, do I ever,” said Hill. “I said yes to everything. So I called the number and I went to the meeting at the air base in Niagara Falls.”
There, she met people who were celebrating years of recovery.
She wanted that same happiness.
“I saw the twinkle in their eye and I saw how healthy they looked and I saw that glow and I thought, ‘that’s what I want. That’s what I need. I need that sobriety. I need that soberness. I need that wellness.’ I just kept going to meetings because, left to my own devices, I’d be drunk.”
Hill wants people to know that recovery is possible.
“One day at a time – today is all I have. Today is the only day I can effect any change. Yesterday’s gone. It’s a cashed cheque, I can’t change it. Tomorrow isn’t here yet, it’s like a promissory note. Today is the only day I can make a decision. Today is the only day that I have a choice in what I want to do. You have the choice to decide, ‘what is it that I want for my life and how am I going to get it?’
“Even though it was hard and it was a struggle, it was a beautiful change,” said Hill. “I wasn’t really living; I was surviving. I was existing. When I got sober, I got a life. I went back to school. I ended up working at the University of Buffalo with a Master’s Degree in social work. Talk about beyond your wildest dreams. The best is yet to come.”