Of the many things 67 year-old Kathirena has gained from her recovery at Fairbanks, a simple embrace may be the most important. “I can accept a hug now,” she says. “Before there was always some kind of motive. Here it comes without a price.” For Kathirena, that acceptance has been a long time coming.
One of seven brothers and sisters, she was born in Clarksville, Tennessee. After her parents divorced, Kathirena spent much of her childhood being passed around from relative to relative. “Nobody wanted to be bothered with me unless there was money involved,” she remembers. Finally, her grandmother became her main caregiver.
“I knew she drank a lot,” Kathirena says. “But I didn’t know she was a street woman.” Young Kathirena slept behind the bar while her grandmother drank and picked up men. When she was 10, she was sexually abused by a family member. Though she told her grandmother about it, her grandmother refused to believe Kathirena. “That’s when I learned to truly hate,” she says. “And it was a horrible feeling.”
By the time she was in her late twenties, Kathirena had married and divorced the husband she first met while still in high school. She consoled herself with alcohol, and began “dipping and dabbing” in drugs. It was the beginning of a descent into addiction.
“I was using all day long, I didn’t have any money and no place to stay,” she says. “It was just like when I was a child, being shifted around from place to place.”
In 1985, Kathirena moved to Indianapolis to be closer to family who lived here, and ended up in the hospital with life-threatening pneumonia. After she recovered, she began to share with her family what she had been through, and what her life had become. One of her brothers had become a minister, and with his help, Kathirena gradually became active in his church. “I started crying out for help,” she recalls. “And I started telling my sister I wanted to change.”
In October 2011, Kathirena came to Fairbanks to begin her recovery. “I hadn’t thought that deep into it,” she says. “I thought if I was sober for 90 days that would be enough. It’s not.” Kathirena learned that alcohol and substance abuse and addiction is like other chronic diseases that can be maintained – but not cured. “There’s always something new to trip us up,” Kathirena says.
“When I first came to Fairbanks it was them helping me get my mind to accept the reality of this disease that I have,” she says. “But the longer you stay here, the stronger you get.”
Besides learning about addiction as a disease, and how to manage it, Kathirena is learning how to live one day at a time. She has found a new family at Fairbanks, one that makes it easier for her to find the hope and strength to make it through the day. “The people here let you know you’re not by yourself. We all help each other out,” she says.
Today, Kathirena volunteers at Fairbanks, and attends meetings regularly. Gone is the crippling hatred she learned as a little girl. “I feel good and I feel joy,” she says. “And I’ve learned to accept what I once was, and find hope in what I can become – which is a better person.”