By: Kirie Pedersen

In 1982, I completed a Master’s degree in writing with Annie Dillard as thesis chair. I bought a sprawling farmhouse on the edge of Bellingham, and I married a handsome young rock musician. I was hired as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. Despite all those apparent blessings, after ten years without drinking, I picked up the first drink, and I lasted only five months before checking myself into inpatient treatment.

When the staff at my first rehab suggested I spend a month at Residence XII, I resisted. I wanted to rush back to Bellingham to save my marriage. Research indicates that powerful emotional experiences can imprint vividly, and that is what happened when I reluctantly agreed to at least visit the Res. The residents were having some kind of rest hour in their rooms, and as I walked down the hall, I saw women, many my own age and younger, looking over at me and smiling.

I joined those kind and beautiful women, scared as I was, I felt a connection I never had in graduate school or, for that matter, most other places. My month at Residence XII offered tools that have helped me stay sober ever since. I continue to be active in 12 Step meetings, more Al-Anon these days with other ‘double winners,’ and I sponsor six lovely and brilliant women, some my age and some much younger. I have a sponsor I love and trust, and over the years, I’ve written and shared inventory many times. I learn and grow just as much from going through the steps with women I sponsor. I always have a home group, and I volunteer to bring a topic or wash the tables and sweep the floors, whatever sews me into that room. When I travel, the first item on my itinerary is to locate meetings along my route, including in other countries. This “AA tourism” has resulted in some of the most powerful experiences of my life and friendships that continue to this day.

I believe recovery offers a wonderful way to age. After all, I am powerless over aging and death, and my decades of study and practice of a spiritual program, in my case Buddhism, give me serenity, courage, and grace. Every day, I keep the focus on myself and what I bring to the table rather than obsess on the defects of others. As I learned in Residence XII, I keep a schedule, eat healthy food, and surround myself with loving friends, some of whom I met at the Residence all those years ago.

Thank you, Residence XII, for providing a safe place to heal and for being there still to offer that gift to others.

Kirie Pedersen is writer, editor and educator.