I have a butterfly tattoo on my ankle; a reminder of the changes I have made in my life. Sounds kind of corny and cliché, I know, but it’s a good analogy of  my life.

Twelve years ago, I was broken. I hated my life. I hated my job. I hated me.  I felt lost and alone, and what hope I had left was quickly diminishing.

But something happened that year. My first grandchild, Thomas, was born April 18, and at the time, I was unaware of the impact he would have on the decision to change my life.

Later that year, in July,  I was climbing the 20-plus stairs to our apartment. It was a hot and humid day; one of those days that Iowa’s known for. I had to stop half-way, because I couldn’t catch my breath. I drew air in air in, but I felt like I was suffocating. My heart began racing, and I literally saw my life flashing before my eyes.

I saw Thomas growing up without me. I saw an empty chair at his wedding. I saw him holding his child, and I wasn’t there to tell him how proud I was of him.

But as fast as the visions came, they were gone, and I was back in the hallway of our building, breathing normally.

The thought that came to me was, “I don’t want to die.”

I immediately opened the door of my apartment, took my cigarette pack out of my purse and threw them into the wastebasket.

I tried to quit smoking before, but it was only a day or two before my willpower gave out. But this was different. I knew if I kept going the way I was, smoking two packs a day, I would die. I was sure of it.

I got through the first day, and then the second, and soon I was celebrating a month without smoking.  I felt great! I could climb the stairs to my apartment without stopping to rest. I stopped coughing up crap from my lungs. I could take deep breaths again, and I knew it could only get better.

I was so proud of myself, because quitting smoking was no easy task. I used the patch for eight weeks, and then graduated to nicotine gum. I used the gum for a year and then switched to mints, which I carried in my purse to curb any lingering cravings.

I quit smoking when I found out I was was pregnant with my first baby, but started again as soon as she was born, kicking myself with every drag I took.  By the time I finally quit, I had convinced myself that I would die with a cigarette in my hand.

That is, until I realized I had two choices; I could continue living my life in the prison I had built for myself, or I could break free and do something with my life.

You see, smoking wasn’t my only problem. I had a drinking problem. I used alcohol to self-medicate, to calm my fears,  alleviate the stress, and numb the feelings of shame and guilt that consumed me.

My intention was to just to have one or two beers, to take the edge off, but once I started, I couldn’t stop.  I was drinking a 12-pack of beer a night, and that still wasn’t enough to keep those horrible feelings down.

The night of August 31, 2005, I was sitting at the computer, while my daughter was doing homework. She’d had a rough year and was trying to catch up so she could graduate with her class.

The third time she asked me for help, and I said, “Just a minute, I’m busy,” was her breaking point, and she threw her books against the wall.  She had a history of extreme outbursts, but that’s not what this was. I truly believe it was divine intervention, because what she said next blew my mind:

“I’m sorry you have so many problems, and that you’re so unhappy, but I have problems, too. …”

For the first time, I heard her words. She saw my pain and my unhappiness, and I saw hers. She was reaching out to me the only way she knew how.

She taught me something significant that night, something that has made me get out of myself and really look at the world around me:

“We don’t live in a bubble; what we do affects others.”

I had been so busy worrying about me and focusing on how bad my world was, I wasn’t seeing what my own children were going through.  My selfishness and self-centeredness had kept me from being emotionally available for my children, and now I had to take responsibility for it, and do something about it.

I was hurting, and I didn’t know what else to do but to close the world in on myself. All this time, I had been inadvertently killing myself, because I couldn’t face the pain I had caused others. It had gotten so bad, I couldn’t live with myself.

I knew I needed to take control of my life.  That night, when I went to bed, I did something I hadn’t done in years; I prayed. I asked God to help me. I promised Him that I would do whatever it took to have a better life, to be a better mother, a better person. I begged him to show me how to do it.

And he did.

The next day, I threw all the beer away and got rid of all the empty cans.

A few days later I met someone who introduced me to Alcoholics Anonymous and I started attending weekly meetings. A few months later I ran into a friend, who was also in the program, and she became my sponsor.

God was putting people in my life to help me.

But that was just the beginning.

To be continued ….


That’s What Friends Are For

One day a woman found herself in a hole. She looked around for a way out, but there was none. Suddenly, a man’s head appeared in the hole.

“Hello! Do you need help?” he called. He was wearing a stethoscope around his neck and holding a note pad.

“Yes, thank goodness! Please, help me, Dr.!”

The doctor wrote something on his notepad, tore it off, and tossed it down to her. 

“Take these pills and call me in the morning.”

She looked at he paper in disbelief. Then she crumbled it up and started to cry. 

“Hello!” she heard from above. She looked up and saw a man with a white collar. “My child, why are you crying?”

“I’m stuck … I can’t get out of this hole!”

The pastor made a sign of the cross, and said, “Bless you, my Child,” and walked away.

Just when the woman began to lose all hope, a shadow was cast across the the hole. She looked up and saw a face, smiling down at her.

“Need some help?”

Before she could answer the man jumped down into the hole with her.

“What are you doing?” she exclaimed. “Now we’re both stuck down here!”

“Yes,” he told her. “But I’ve been here before, and I know the way out …”

An open mind is a happy mind

One thing a lot of people don’t know about me…I used to be afraid to talk to people.

I think I was intimidated because I had low self-esteem and I always felt like I was bothering people. Once I decided that if I wanted to be a journalist, I would have to talk to people, I got over that real quick.

The more I talked to people, the more I found that I really like people. I mean I

Teresa Drtina

genuinely like them. I may choose not to be their close friend, but everyone I meet has a story and I enjoy talking to them.

And I have to have an open mind. I have found that it’s really easy to bypass a good opportunity for a story if I close my mind to anything the world has to offer.

I have come to trust my instinct, too, because it also hold many great opportunities for me to experience those things I normally wouldn’t.

Am I using my need for a story as an excuse? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. After all, if I hadn’t forced myself to get out and talk to people, if I hadn’t walked

Sonya Darrow is wearing a burlap skirt she made and hand-embroidered.(Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

through my fears, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Sometimes we have to make ourselves do things we don’t really want to do in order to succeed. I also think that
sometimes we have to reach far into our cores and pull that courage out.

I met some very interesting people today, because I kept my mind open. I attended a vendors show at the Hiawatha Community Center. I really didn’t have the time because I had many other things to do Saturday, but it was a community event and I am devoted to reporting the community’s news. When I walked in, I was mesmerized by a display close to the door. The bright assortment of doll clothes immediately caught my attention. Maybe the little girl in me was coming out, but the display was so pretty that I just had to stop and talk to the lady sitting at the booth.

What I found out about Teresa Drtina is that she is a first grade teacher at Johnson school, a school I attended as a child. As we talked, I learned much more about her and ended up talking for 30 minutes. I also toured the rest of the show and was really glad I decided to stop.

A few hours later, I attended the Eco-Fest in the New Bo district in Cedar Rapids, and ended up talking to a young lady who designs and makes clothes out of recycled materials. I was drawn to her by her passion for what she does, as I was to the teacher as well.

Now I am able to strike up conversations with most anyone I encounter. As I mentioned, it wasn’t always that way. Something happened through the course of my life that made me afraid to take chances. I’m so glad I was able to find that again.

And I’m finding that it’s not something I feel like I have to do anymore, it’s something I love to do. All I had to do was open my mind.

After all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste, especially if it’s closed off from the rest of the world.