I felt the crack split slowly beneath my feet as it gave way and I plunged into the deep freezing water. Grab my camera! I shouted as the weight of my wool coat got heavy and my body began to sink into the lake.
I looked up at my friend Rae standing just a few feet above me and threw my bag onto the solid block of ice, reaching up to grab hold of her sleeve. I could feel my legs start to tingle and the whipping wind sting my face. It was dark and the only light I could see was a slight shimmer reflecting off of the surface of the water.
As I started to panic, I tried to will myself weightless. She clenched my arm and after two failed attempts, hoisted me up with her full body weight, pulling me onto the ice beside her. We lay on our backs looking up at the sky, shivering and out of breath. Running back to the car, she scrambled to turn on the heat as we sank into the front seat. I turned to her and with a sigh, mouthed what the fuck? She glanced back at me with a look of disbelief and a nervous laugh. We drove home in silence.
She dropped me off and I ran upstairs to my bedroom as fast as I could to take off my soaking wet clothes and hide the evidence. Knowing in my heart, I could never breathe a word.
I contemplated telling my mom, but knew right away it was a bad idea. Knowing she would react in utter dismay Oh, for crying out loud Noelle, what were you two doing out there in the first place? Her aggravation at my carelessness would surely overshadow any sense of relief she may have had that I was ok. It was confirmed, I couldn’t tell a soul.
I lay awake that night staring up at the ceiling, feeling scared, confused, and completely alone. The shock was wearing off and the enormity of what had happened had started to sink in. Running through the chain of events in my head, trying to make sense of it all, I kept telling myself, we’d only been out there for twenty minutes or so. Just getting a few shots in for my class before the sun went down. What’s the big deal?
I bet I was under water for no more than 90 seconds, but the memory of that experience has haunted me for over 30 years. Wondering why the universe had allowed me to be so reckless, dangling me over the edge of death like that, only to snap me back in an instant to carry on like nothing had ever happened.
I knew in my heart that there was something undeniable that spared me that night beneath the icy cold water of Lake Michigan. It was shaking me to wake up and recognize the fragility of my life and although I had no clue how to make sense of it at the time, it was my first glimpse of a force outside of myself, lifting me up and out of danger. It was powerful and protective, and although I had no idea what it was, I was overwhelmingly grateful for its presence.
The next time I would feel that force was on November 25, 2011. The day I got sober. I sat on the corner of my bed, feeling beyond exhausted, wondering how things had gotten so out of hand. My life had gone from manageable to completely out of control in what felt like a hot minute and this time, there was no one to save me but myself. I was at the end of my rope. This was it. This secret, amongst the thousands that I had accumulated in my life up to that point, was one that I could no longer keep.
For the previous eight years, I had woken up every morning with a crushing hangover. In sickness and in health, I never missed a day of work or a day of drinking. My relationship with alcohol was steadfast and true. I would stumble to the bathroom and as I stared in the mirror, looking at the pain in my eyes, I’d hear a faint voice telling me I was beyond help and destined to remain stuck in a life of shame and addiction. I was lost and thought I had no way out.
For some reason, that day was different from the others. I could feel a vibration in my body and the voice was telling me that if I didn’t stop, I was going to die. Through the fog of my weary brain, without a doubt I knew this to be true.
From that day forward, the presence I felt in that moment has never left my side. I am never alone. It has taken up residence in my soul and I feel its support and protection as I continue to gain the wisdom to make better choices every day. It’s power is undeniable and I know it will always be with me.
Guiding me down a path of uncertainty with the sole intention of leading me back home.
What’s the force that guides and protects you?
As a certified health counselor and addiction recovery coach, Noelle Van V. works with women to create bigger and bolder lives in recovery through her articles, blogs, online programs and one on one coaching.
Noelle is the founder of Sober Moxie and the creator of Sadies’s Spark, an inspirational blog that encourages women to ignite their lives. The Difference Press just released her book titled The Sober Leap – Practical Wisdom to Create an Amazing Life Beyond Addiction.
Noelle takes a very hands-on and holistic approach to recovery. Her coaching philosophy is simple. It takes time, support and bold courage to experience transformation in recovery.