Linda: I didn’t speak for two years. I just sat in meetings. I didn’t think I had anything worth saying. I’m not sure I do even now *laugh*. I just have a story.
BW: What brought you into recovery? Was there a particular event that happened or…
Linda: There were many. During the period when I was younger, a lot of girls experienced the same things I did, that they didn’t talk about There was a lot of sexual abuse. I don’t think that we thought we were as important as we are. Somewhere in your mind, when these things happen to you as a young girl, you think that you had a part in it. Parents, particularly mothers, were very much in denial that this was going on. My dad did not abuse me but there were other people around me who did and I think my mother knew. She didn’t acknowledge it because it’s that same old thing. If you acknowledge it, then you’ve got to take action and she didn’t know how to take action. So, I think that was the start of it.
The first man I got involved with, I married. He was an alcoholic. He didn’t drink daily but when he drank, he was gonna get drunk and when he got drunk, he wasn’t gonna be the nicest person. That lead to a lot of insanity. When I was 26 years old, I came in one night and he verbally attacked me because I wasn’t there when he got home. Things escalated from there and I shot and killed him.
BW: Can you tell me about that night?
Linda: I sure can. A week before, he had taken me out and he had shown me how to use the gun, because he traveled, and I was at home a lot by myself. He said to me, “there will always be a missing bullet in the first chamber, so you’ll always have to pull the trigger twice.”
David was the type of person that, if he were two or three hours late, you would know that he was going to be two to three days late. I wouldn’t know where he was and I’d be worried about him. I’d get hysterical and then 20 minutes later you’re so mad you want to hit him on the head when he comes in. That day, he’d gone out and didn’t come back. I went out in the evening and he was asleep on the sofa when I got home. I was just going to come in and go to bed. He got up and he chased me around the kitchen table. He’d never done that before. Then he chased me into the bedroom, into the corner where the gun was and I pulled it out… when you tell it this way it sounds so cold and so unemotional… but you’re backed into a corner and you know that you’re about to take all hell. When I pulled the trigger that first time, boom, he was gone. He walked around the bed and dropped on the floor.
I thought he was still alive, so I called for people to come. Fortunately, the homicide detective who came was an active coroner. He said, “I’ve always trusted my gut when I walk into a crime scene.” If it weren’t for him, I’d probably have been in jail.
BW: Had he beaten you before?
Linda: Yes, many times. In fact, he had hit me that night. My face was all beat up. They took me to the hospital and photographed me and they let me go home. That afternoon I had to go down and make a statement. They never bothered me again.
I didn’t know how to deal with something like that. I had no skills. My daddy was an alcoholic. Most of his family was alcoholic. I do remember my mother telling me later in life that my daddy said I would never be right until I forgave myself, and boy, did he hit that nail on the head, but I didn’t know that at 26 years old. So, I started running and I ran hard and fast.
Before, I didn’t drink when my husband drank because I didn’t want to contribute to him getting angry. But, when I started, I started hard and I didn’t let up for 12 years. If they had sent me to jail, I don’t think I’d have suffered anymore than I suffered on the streets, because I did above and beyond to myself, anything they could have done to me in jail. It was brutal.
I tried for the next twelve years [after her husband’s death] to see how much I could harm myself. I had some money when I started out, and by the end, I had none. I was sleeping on the floor in an empty bedroom at my girlfriend’s house. I was just trying to run.
So when I decided to get sober, I tried all the geographical cures. I came to Atlanta with two suitcases, a box of shoes, a tool chest, and a Waterpik shower head. When you move, you think it’s gonna be different. I left all the people I drank with. Well, you just find other people to drink with.
I thought I was one of those people who was just gonna have the hard knocks in life and that I just needed to square my shoulders up and keep walking. One day, however, I had this light bulb moment, and I said, “Maybe I’m participating in this.”
When I did get sober, I just wanted to purge everything, and I didn’t know how until I had a sponsor that walked me through it. After six months, we went into a little room at 8111 (A.A. clubhouse). I dumped a bunch of stuff on her and thought to myself, “She’s gonna fix me.” All she did after I was done was say, “Okay, let’s go to the meeting.” But it was the start of healing. That old A.A. saying about how your secrets keep you sick—it’s true. They’ll bury you.
BW: It is true. There are so many reasons for this project now, but the original thought was around that idea that “you’re only as sick as your secrets.” I thought that if I was able to give people a platform to share their secrets, it could be freeing for them.
For me, keeping shame-based secrets was toxic. I finally released a lot of that in my early thirties. And while it didn’t fix everything, it was a jumping-off point to recover. I didn’t have to carry the weight of silence on my shoulders anymore. Now it just doesn’t have power, but for so many years I allowed it to have so much fucking power.
Linda: I think it’s very hard for a man to say what you said.
BW: It is hard, but why is it hard? I didn’t do anything wrong. I was a kid, and some guy took me in the bathroom at the park and molested me. I didn’t ask for it.
Linda: When I look at the work you’re doing, I look at the ladies and their stories, and I think what heavy burdens they must be carrying around.
BW: Horrible shame in most cases. You have whatever baggage from your past that weights you down, and then, for me, I’d have this cycle. I would get really fucked up and wake up feeling that shame and guilt and promising never to do it again. And then, by the end of the day, the shame would win, and the only way to drown out the pain was to do it all over again.
Linda: And we’d wake up every day saying, “I’ll never do that again.”
One of the reasons A.A. works is because when you go into meetings, you stay familiar with what it was like. You hear other people’s insanity, and you work with another person, and you stay close to that. When you stay close to it, you stay in a state of gratitude.
BW: It’s true. Imagine how much gratitude I get from working on this project.