A note from contributing editor Tricia Yacovone-Biagi: In early 2018, Amanda Epp approached me with an amazing idea to start an organization called Go Get The World which would inspire women to chase their dreams, empower them to overcome obstacles, and encourage them with ongoing support and guidance. Together, we started this website a few months later and worked on developing scholarship and grant opportunities, planning to eventually create a non-profit organization that would sustain those efforts. During the summer, I was moving and needed some help with the website. That’s when circumstances collided between two old friends, and we had an opportunity to help a woman in need get back on her feet and keep our website publishing on schedule. Here’s the rest of the story.
It’s a sweltering hot day in July. I’m kneeling in front of a toilet and I’m covered in Lysol. I’m working as a chambermaid, and it’s a job I’ve traded for rent at a motel. Drinking took everything away from me—my car, my apartment, and my career—and as part of rebuilding my life I’m literally scrubbing away my past. It’s not a glamorous existence, at least not during tourist season. I live in one of the most beautiful towns in America–a jewel of the New England coastline, where tangled streets lined with gabled cottages end in a rocky coast sprayed with the mist of the North Atlantic–but I can’t see it. Though my room is a step from the ocean, all I see is is the logo of the toilet manufacturer as I crouch over the bowl to wipe a drop of urine.
I hear the door open and then a voice behind me. “Hi, do you work here?”
Do I what? I scream silently.
I somehow manage to restrain myself and politely respond while still on my knees, “Can I help you?” I hear the monotone of my voice echo back from from the bowl only inches from my face.
“We just wanted to see what the rooms look like.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, “the room is not open at this time.”
“Well, we’re in room three and our bathroom is too small. They said on the travel website that we would get a full bath, but all we got was a shower.”
Which you can pay for, I think. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to speak to the manager,” I reply, as I return to my work at the bowl.
Now, there is no shame in honest work, and maid work is honest work. However, to do it in this fashion, under these conditions, as a part of recovery from a near-fatal brush with alcohol, is a stark reminder of how alcohol and drugs can take you places you don’t want to go. Namely, on your knees on the tile floor of a motel.
This is not how I started out. I am a career writer and editor. I began writing for national magazines and newspapers at the age of 17; by the time I was 22, I had an interview at the New Yorker; and by the time I was 26 I had written a book for young adults. For more than a decade, I lived the publishing life—going to book parties and art exhibits and openings of plays, meeting the famous and the up-and-coming, and all the while drinking on an expense account. I spent lazy Sunday mornings wandering the Manhattan farmer’s market and went home to a Brooklyn brownstone. And, when my hipster lifestyle bored me, I moved to San Francisco, where I lived on Nob Hill and wrote book reviews.
So what happened to all that?
Let’s scroll back briefly to the phrase, “drinking on an expense account.” But that is only one of the reasons. I’m still figuring out the exact whys and wherefores of how I ended up with such a drinking problem, but, well, I did. Like many substance abusers, I can’t tell you when, or how it got so bad. I ratchet back and forth with possible answers—maybe it was after my mother’s death, maybe it was after a serious job loss, maybe it was lurking in the background for many years and simply came to the surface when I was faced with outward stresses and major life events. What I do know is that the trajectory was slow and unyielding and marked by loss, loss, and more loss.
Which is how we get to the motel on that July day. After my shift, I prepared to go to a second job, a minimum-wage position that provided me with the cash the motel job did not (since the motel arrangement was work-for-rent). Having a few minutes to check email, I turned on my computer to find the Black Screen of Death. Already exhausted from the day at the motel, I collapsed back into the pillows of my twin bed. This could not be happening. I had one thing and only one thing of real value, and that was my MacBook Air. Purchased a year before in a brief flush of prosperity, my Mac was the only thing keeping me alive artistically, spiritually, and financially. It represented not just the connection to my past as a writer, but to my hope of climbing out of the circle of Hell that was my life. Whenever I had a free moment, I used it to surf for freelance work, hoping to build a writing portfolio for editors to review. But that hope was now gone.
There was no way I could afford another machine, or the expensive cost to repair it. As a single, self-supporting person, I had no partner or spouse to help cover my bills, and because I had been isolated by alcohol and all that time at the bar, I wasn’t employed nine to five, and didn’t have colleagues who could lend a machine or a repair. My ‘friends’ were barflies, and it was implicit knowledge that they were not going to help me, as they would rather spend their last dime on another drink than lend money.
Still, a day later I took the computer to be repaired. There was good news and bad news: I had blown the insides but there was a slight chance of saving the data. However, to do that would cost $400, which to me may as well have been $4,000. I examined my options. Or should I say, option, which consisted of writing on one of the computers at the public library. This was untenable, in all ways: You had to reserve the computer by the hour with your library card, and then re-reserve it, but only after anyone else in the queue who needed it used it; the computer desks were located by the reception area, which was quite loud; you couldn’t do any work involving conducting an interview; and you certainly couldn’t do a proper job search, for all the reasons just mentioned.
I was loath to ask a friend. But with no real, other option, I decided to try anyway and called a friend whose life had taken her to Go Get the World. Tricia had known me in college, when I was going 120 miles an hour, upward, and onward. She knew writing for me was breathing and breathing was writing. She also knew of my struggles with alcohol, and had—has—an uncommonly compassionate and broad understanding of what we addicts go through, how very long it can take us to rebuild. She understood fully what it was like for something that might be minor for someone else, like a computer repair, to be a major derailment for a recovering addict or alcoholic.
“This is a phone call I don’t want to make,” I said when she answered the phone. I never have liked borrowing money—the idea of it makes me wince. But I explained to her my circumstances and told her about the Lysol and the toilet and the motel and the Black Screen of Death. I told her how all I wanted was to get back to my old life, but without the alcohol, and that even though every molecule of my body was screaming for a drink, I would not—could not—do that.
Tricia immediately told me not to worry, that we’d figure something out, and to hold back to see what she could do. I had a feeling that she would have happily given me the money for the repair, but I was hoping she would not. Addiction had made me feel enough of a mendicant, in brokering rent to clean rooms. I didn’t want a handout.
A few days later Tricia called back and told me more about Go Get the World, its mission, and how excited she and her co-founder Amanda would be to help a sister get her life back. At that time, they needed some editing help for the fledgling website, so they agreed to pay for the repair in exchange for writing and editing work—a task crucial to my showing potential employers, if not myself, that I still had game. What a relief it was, when I approached the computer repair counter, to hear the people say the magic words: “Here’s your computer. It’s all taken care of.”
It’s been nine months since I picked up my computer, nine months since I went off to go get the world. It’s been a tough few months, frankly. But I can’t imagine what I would have done without a computer to allow me to write resumes, job applications, cover letters, and essays like this one, to perform the editing work for GGTW, and to surf the net. I was able to move from that motel job and onto more gainful and promising work. And although I don’t have new writing assignments yet, or a car or a lease, I have received strong bites for work and have started a proper portfolio—for which Tricia has given me guidance and feedback.
I also still live in one of the prettiest towns in America…where I now have time to walk along the beach and regain some perspective on my life. What has become clear to me is that in getting that boost from an old friend and her colleague, I hear Tricia’s message, loud and clear: I know what you were—and I know what you still are.
Mary Cresse is a writer and editor based on Cape Ann, Massachusetts. She is in the process of completing a novel about her recovery experience.