Yesterday, I met my sister and a bunch of our friends at a three o’clock meeting at our local clubhouse. It was sweet that so many program friends had shown up to see me take my three-year chip. But the best part was seeing my beautiful 13 year-old niece there. She’s one of my favorite people on the planet, best buddies to hang out with and a girl whose always had my heart. Plus we both like cupcakes, sparkly things and teen television shows so we’re kindred spirits. It had been suggested that I share “how I did it” before the meeting opened up. I did and I got incredibly choked up looking at my niece sitting there smiling. See, it wasn’t just a nice thing she did for her old uncle by showing up but it was fitting because she and my other nieces and nephews literally saved my life when I was getting sober.

When she was little I called her ladybug. She had these heart-shaped lips and long eyelashes and light cocoa colored skin with curly hair. She was the first grandchild so my whole family just thought she was an angel. And we were right. This little girl has been through so much yet still lights up a room with her optimistic attitude and sweet disposition. After September 11th, I needed to get out of Los Angeles. I felt like I was suffocating there and needed a break. I was at the height of my daily drinking and regular drug use and I promoted a night at a club in Hollywood. It had all become too much. The sadness, the paranoia that LA was next, the partying. So I ran home to Denver to spend time with my sister and her kids. After going through airport hell to get there, I arrived in Denver and spent days just hanging out with my niece who was three and my nephew who was one. They made me laugh and we watched Sponge Bob and Blue’s Clues. And Ladybug always knew how to crack me up. One night when I was brushing my teeth, my niece came in dressed in her pajamas and holding a footstool. She clunked it down on the ground and reached for her toothbrush and said, “Excuse me, darling.” I busted up laughing and so did my sister minutes later when I shared the story. And that sums up the joy she’s brought into my life from moment one.

The kids in my life have always given me hope and made me laugh and loved me no matter what. The relationships I developed with them sober set the bar high for the other people in my life. These kids taught me I deserved to be loved unconditionally, to laugh constantly and live in the moment. My first two years sober, I spent tons of hours with my brother’s three kids. He told me one night after I had been sober for a few months, “It’s important for them to see you get through this and get better.” But it’s been equally important as a sober person to have them around.

After a long day of celebrating, crying tears of joy and indulging in dessert, I collapsed in bed feeling blessed and truly in awe of the way my life has changed.