Friends have been on my gratitude list throughout my life. Some have come and gone. Others are friends I grew up with and now hope to keep growing older with. Sheila is one such friend.
When I reached high school, like many teens, I turned to my friends more than my family. Seeking my independence, my parents unwittingly granted me too much. In their defense, they were probably exhausted. Most of my ten older siblings were out on their own, having survived what for some had been risky teen years. Should my parents have asked me more questions and doled out more consequences when I came home at 2:00 a.m.? I say yes to that now. Back then, I took advantage. It could have had deadly consequences.
I survived my teen drinking escapades by God’s grace and because of people like Sheila. To some of my friends and fellow partiers, I was just doing what everyone else was doing. Sheila, however, had a wise maturity already and a gut she trusted. We met when we started 9th grade, coming from our respective grade schools. In ways we were not alike. She was a cheerleader. I was an athlete. She seemed confident around boys. I felt anything but.
Yet, we connected at a genuine level. Nearly four decades later, the connection remains strong. Sheila and I drank together and shared some fun memories, but our friendship has always been based on more. We have kept in touch through life’s triumphs and trials all these years. We don’t see as much of each other as we would like, but we talk and text. A comfortable friendship, we pick up where we left off. We know each other’s history because we have shared it.
Ironically, some of the times her friendship meant the most to me I don’t even remember. As our high school years and my drinking progressed, I became a crying, pathetic drunk many nights. Others didn’t know what to do with me or how to help, though they might have assisted in getting me home safely if it was a particularly rough night. I don’t fault any of my friends. It looked like I couldn’t handle my liquor and I couldn’t. After a certain point in the evening, I went from a pleasant drunk to an unpleasant one. Who wanted to be around that? What did we know? We were all so young and inexperienced at life.
Somehow Sheila knew though. She knew the nights when I needed reassurance and someone by my side as I vented my self-hatred both verbally and physically. At times for her it must have felt like babysitting, and in a way it was. I was a toddler when it came to handling my emotions.
Alcohol is a depressant. I went in to my drinking already feeling less than and seeking escape. Pour a depressant on top of that and it was not pretty. Blackouts were mental torture in all respects except this one: I was spared the memories of my lowest levels of self-loathing and the suicidal thoughts that would come.
Sheila was there to witness that despair on many nights and she didn’t leave. She followed her instincts and heard me out, as difficult as that may have been. I truly believe she, and a Great Spirit at work, saved my life more than once, just by being there and letting me unload the worst of my anguish.
A most vital and cherished early messenger in my life, Sheila’s words and actions at those deeply troubled times sent the messages that I mattered, that life is worth sticking around for. I do and it is. I have told her of my gratitude many times. It bears repeating. Thank you Sheila!