Overcoming Life’s Hardships

| December 8, 2014 | 0 Comments

Local Author Writes Children’s Book
By Marie Herman

Debbie Bailey is author of "Orion & The Orcas."

Debbie Bailey is author of “Orion & The Orcas.”

Debbie Bailey is a survivor with an incredible story. Growing up in a family plagued with murder, drug abuse and suicide, she has written a children’s book to help others struggling with insurmountable loss. Debbie, who was lost herself in the disease of alcoholism, not only found a path back to a real life, but a way to fulfill a wish that her sister might have lived.

Bailey is a witty and upbeat person who is a longtime employee of The Lucky Lady Card Room in San Diego. Her story begins in the 1970s in the upper class neighborhood of Kensington in San Diego. She was the eldest of four children, with two younger sisters and a five-year old baby brother.
In Debbie’s own words:

One Saturday morning, my two younger sisters, our five-year old brother, and a couple of their friends went down to what we called the ‘Polliwog Pond’. After a while, my sister Denise and her friend went to get ice cream, a local kid who was a bit of a trouble maker showed up. He started arguing with the kids, and demanded that my brother swim to the other end of the pond. Our brother didn’t know how to swim and said “No.” So the bully pushed him in, and wouldn’t let him back out. Our brother tried to swim the pond, but went down calling for help. Maureen saw everything but she couldn’t swim either. All she could do was run for help. Our brother died in an iron lung about 10 hours later. Maureen had just turned eight.

This event devastated our family. In the early 19070s, upper middle class Catholic families didn’t go to psychiatrists. When tragedy struck in those days, you sucked it up, put your head down, and just pushed on through. My parents were traumatized, but they didn’t talk about it. Instead, our mom took a job at a hospital, and our dad kept to himself. Within four years, both of my sisters were escaping their reality with drugs. I found my escape in school. It was only when my parents found out about the drugs that the entire family entered counseling, but nothing changed. My sisters started running away from home. Meanwhile, I joined every high school sports team I could.

At 18, I moved out with my boyfriend, and saw my sisters less and less. When I was 20, Maureen was waiting outside a store, and saw me walking down the street. She called me over to her; we talked. Maureen had run away again, and I was trying to talk her into going back home. She told me she couldn’t.

She said, “Mom and Dad want me to go back to being a little girl, and I can’t.”
I told her that if she went home at least she’d be safe, and reminded her that Christmas was coming up. She just smiled, wished me Merry Christmas, and then leaned in to hug me. I had judged my little sister years earlier, and felt superior to her. She drank, did drugs, smoked, and was sexually active. She was dressed in jeans with holes in them, barefoot, and dirty. I hugged her back, but didn’t want to. The truth is, I was ashamed of her. That was the last time I ever saw my 15 year old sister.

When her body was found in a ravine six weeks later, Maureen had to be identified by her dental records. The police said her body had been in the ravine for 10 to 14 days. She died from an overdose of drugs and alcohol. The pain of her death was immense and overpowering. On what would have been her 16th birthday, I sat down in a bar, and got drunk. It was an amazing experience. All the ways I ignored and mistreated my sister vanished, and instead I believed I was this great and loving sister. My alcohol-induced delusion made this possible. Alcohol became the answer to all my problems, and nobody was going to take it from me. I drank daily for 10 years, and ended up doing everything I had ever judged in Maureen, and worse. The last few years of my drinking were like living in hell, but I couldn’t stop. Drinking had become a way of life for me, and I couldn’t imagine life without alcohol.

One night in 1988, I was looking at myself in one of those mirrors over the bar and thought: “Debbie, you are disgusting.” I went to the bathroom, curled up on the floor, and started to cry. In that moment, I said the most sincere prayer of my life: “God, help me.” And God did indeed help me. I entered the room of a 12 step program the next day, and have remained there to this day.

Recovery takes time, and it took years for me to level out emotionally. In the meantime, I had my work, meetings, friends, and I travelled a lot with a new boyfriend in recovery. We saw a lot of the western part of the US together on his Harley Davidson. In 1995, I moved from San Diego to the Mendocino Coast near the Redwood Forest, and lived on a farm with dogs, cats, parakeets, a potbellied pig, a donkey, and about 50 chickens. Out in that environment, I made a lot of progress with peace within myself. That’s the place where I came up with the title of my book: “Orion & The Orcas.” Maureen was never far from my thoughts. I knew one day the book would have to be written.

I moved back to San Diego in 2000, and was going through my program again with a new trusted friend. It was 22 years since my sister’s passing, and I was 12 years into recovery, but I still couldn’t say her name or talk about Maureen without crying. For the entire 22 years I had been carrying a picture of her around in a box, but never looked at it. It was still too painful. My new friend told me that I needed some outside help, and the help he suggested was counseling. I went, and it wasn’t long before it was determined I was suffering from ‘Survivor’s Guilt’. Finally, I let out all the guilt, remorse, and shame I had about Maureen. More importantly, I faced the deepest wound in my heart. I could never make it up to her. There was no way for me to treat Maureen differently because she was gone. I had to make peace with what I did do, and forgive myself. That was a tough one, and sometimes it’s still tough. The months of counseling did do me a world of good. I can now talk about my sister without tears, and her picture sits in my living room. I look at her, and smile every day.

As the next few years went by, “Orion & The Orcas” kept calling me. I would tell a few of my friends about the book, but did nothing to get it started. Finally, my best friend, Maritha Pottenger, said to me: “This book is not going to write itself. You have to do the work.” She was right. As soon as I began, the book just started coming together.

After two years of rejection from publishers and agents, I decided to self-publish. I had to do this for Maureen. She was only eight when she saw our brother go under the water in that pond. She was never the same again. In my children’s book, an eight-year old girl is separated from her family. After a wonderful adventure with a small pod of orca whales, the little girl is restored to her family. “Orion & The Orcas” is what I wish could have happened to my sister. A big part of any 12 step program is the making of amends, and my children’s book my offering of amends to her.

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