I was born in Shanghai. My dad was Japanese and Chinese and my mother was Russian. We were put in a Japanese concentration camp during the war when my sister was born. We stayed in China until 1941 then we went to Hong kong, then Singapore, and then finally settled in a little tiny place called Sylvan Lake in Alberta.
I met my husband in little Sylvan Lake. He was my next door neighbour! He needed a date one time and his dad said, “that skinny girl next door has grown up, why don’t you ask her out” and he did, and we just fell madly in love. That was it. For the next fifty five years. He was patient, kind and understanding.
My parents were very strict when I was young. We were forbidden to talk in public and eat in public. I never touched any alcohol, and never cared to. It started when we had our first son and the doctor said to me, “I’d like you to have a glass of wine everyday at 5 o’clock. I don’t want to prescribe you relaxants like Valium.” I did what I was told because it was the doctor’s order. However, I can’t blame anyone for my alcoholism because I knew deep down in me that the potential was always present. My father was an alcoholic and I knew it ran it the family.
However in those days, everything was all under control. It was around 20 years later that I realized that alcohol did for me things that other stuff couldn’t do. My husband was promoted in his job and we were traveling to different conventions with rooms filled with 300-400 people and really often I didn’t know what to say and I felt so stupid. But when I had a cup a wine, I’d be okay. The alcohol was like a personal clutch for sure. It relaxed me. That was the start of my addiction.
Then after the children left home, I was alone a lot. So I started drinking alone. That was the start of the spiral down. Prior to dinner parties, I’d always have several drinks. I knew I was an alcoholic. I didn’t want to admit it, because it was really shameful for women back then.
There’s a lot of denial in alcoholism. I realized that I had a problem, but I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was an alcoholic. Still, I went to alcoholic recovery meetings and programs, and listened to other people’s stories. But I always thought, this wasn’t me, I’m much better. So I found another woman who thought similarly. We would go to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting, then we would go together for another drink after.
But the issue got worse and I sought more help. I was recommended to a recovery centre in Minneapolis. So I went there for three months. It was terribly expensive in the middle of the winter, especially with the snow piled up. Looking back, it was probably the worse centre that I went to. We were not housed, we were put in a motel. We were pumped full of medication. I spent $300 USD per week on medications. A long time after, I received a letter from the administration saying that the women who was handing out my pills was a thief and was prescribing them wrongly. It was really a total disaster.
Unfortunately, I was in and out of AA programs for about 25 years. Every few years, I thought I was cured but I never truly was. I had spent my winters away and it was just after I turned 64 that I realized the life of fraud I was living right now could no longer last. I was drinking morning, noon and night. I knew that this lifestyle would lead to death. Since I was afraid of death, I called my doctor and arranged to get help. This time I really knew I had to be honest.
I entered a new AA that had a spiritual program. We therefore strived to get a “Higher Power” of some kind. A Higher Power came in many forms according to each individual person. For some people it was hard to achieve. I had a very hard time. One day when I had been a few weeks sober, I happened to see a TV episode about the tsunami in Thailand. In the episode, a model and her husband were clutching onto a roof as the water rose above their heads. Her husband drowned and she went under water several times also but she survived. When questioned about her faith, she said she had a great belief in Universal Power. After hearing that, I realized that I could certainly believe in a Universal Power as well. I realized that alcohol is cunning, baffling and powerful, and without a Higher Power, we struggle. We can hand over a lot of things to a Higher Power. We are not alone.
What a wonderful day it was on April 12, 1965. I saw a therapist for a few months, went to lots of AA meetings and realized a new way of living. It wasn’t easy but I was prepared to do anything in my power to get going on my program. A life of honesty and peace soon prevailed. I no longer needed anything as a crutch. AA in general is a wonderful way of living. AA gave me the tools to lead a good life and accept what comes your way, good or bad. I learned to try and not control every situation, not to be judgemental but learn to accept. Acceptance is a huge part of the journey. In the past, I would drink when I was happy, sad or was given any small excuse. I don’t need to do that anymore as I learned to accept to use the tools of AA to get through any situation without alcohol.
My life is great right now. I am so grateful for what I have. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, I really wouldn’t. Now as I get older, every minute is precious and I never know what will happen at the turn of the next minute. I really value my time. I paint, make crafts, and go to New Zealand to kayak and travel. I am going to go learn bowling after this interview. I was so lucky to be able to see many great things, meet many great people and go to great places. I had a good life. I wouldn’t trade my life now for anything.