The Reverse Side of the Coloring Book

Written by Jean Turnan

TW: suicide, self harm, drug addiction, sexual assault, abuse, language

I am sixty years young and my life has never been better! I have worked at the same job for 23 years and will retire soon; I have followed my dream and bought a wellness center that focuses on wellness and energy work. I love all things woo woo: crystals, medicine cards, sage, talking to spirits. I have a beautiful husband whom I love dearly and we have a great cooperative marriage. I have four beautiful children and 8 amazing grandchildren. Pretty good huh?!

But before all of this, leading up to today was a life filled with pain, anguish, despair, fear, cruelty and wanting to die. I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, a cancer survivor, a sexual abuse survivor, a hepatitis C survivor, a physical abuse survivor. A woman who was selfish, put nothing before her drink/drug, put her children through unspeakable things, her mother, her husband, her family through unspeakable things. But to not speak of them is to die so here I go.

I had my first drink at 11 or 12 at my sister’s wedding. I got completely smashed on a champagne fountain, had to be sent home and then tried to jump out of my second story window in a dramatic meltdown. This was a sign of things to come that is the spirit in which I drank and used for years.

I met my first husband in high school, got married at 18, had my first daughter right before my 20th birthday and had left him by the next year. My brother had a friend that had come by and was a truck driver and I was enamored. It looked so exciting, living that life. I left my husband and hooked up with the trucker. That was a 3 or 4 year relationship that brought me my second daughter and oh so much more.

The trucker introduced me to needles and cocaine and I took to it like a duck to water. We were shooting cocaine on a regular basis. Then I got pregnant with my daughter. I curtailed my using and drinking but could not wait to have her so I could use again. I tried to nurse her but the pull to use was too strong and I am sorry to say that using won over the well being of my daughter. This was a pattern I would repeat for a good portion of their lives.

We had a brutal and abusive relationship; he was verbally and physically abusive to me, but I gave as good as I got and it was just ugly. He had said he would never let me go and one weekend when he was gone, I called my sister and she drove down from Southern California and packed us up and we left. I made up a lie that I had gone down ahead so I could look for a place for us to live together.

When I moved down there I quickly hooked up with a man that lived upstairs from my sister, we’ll call him #3. All the while, telling my other man that I was looking for a place. I started sleeping in the house with this new man and one night, in the middle of the night, there was a knock on the door. Trucker had driven down and caught us together. He beat us both up pretty good, almost breaking #3’s arm, and kicking me in the back of the head with a steel toed boot on the way out saying, “I think you deserve another one, bitch”. According to the hospital, another inch and he would have possibly killed me.

As #3 and I started living together, we got closer. Drinking and cocaine were normal occurrences. But the needles were gone. We started going to court for custody of my daughter with trucker dude. During this time my oldest daughter, who was around 4, started having issues. Then, I had a caregiver at her daycare tell me she was exhibiting signs of sexual abuse. I took her to a therapist who, through talk and puppet therapy, confirmed that she had been molested. Through her talk therapy, she had said it was my ex, the trucker.

I began trying to take custody away from him of my second daughter based on the past abuse to me and the therapist findings on my daughter. In the meantime, I was required by the courts to continue letting him see both children! If not, they would put me in jail. On one occasion, he took the children and disappeared. I had no idea where he was or where my children were for 3 days. He had taken them to his mother and hid them. Eventually I got them back. This was before cellphones so it was a harrowing time.

Between custody hearings, my daughter being molested, all the drama, I started drinking not to party but to deal with life. I needed a drink to get me through the nights after work and was partying even harder on the weekends. My daughter’s therapist suggested I might have a drinking problem when I showed up more than once smelling like alcohol.

Then I started noticing that #3, who by this time I had married, was in the bathroom for long periods of time. I found out he was shooting cocaine and also that he was pretty good at lying. We moved to Carlsbad, California and during that time he started spiraling into a madness that is brought on by excessive use of amphetamines: he became paranoid and began hearing things and talking to people that weren't there.

During this time my sister and I bought a 1959 UPS van that had been converted into a motor home. I decided, that the way out of every problem I had, was to sell everything I owned and live off the land. #3 was in a mental hospital, so my girls and I move into the UPS van and we set off on our adventure. However I forgot they were in school, so we never got further than living at state beaches, in and around the Carlsbad area. #3 got out and we all moved into the UPS van together down at the beach. My sister and her boyfriend lived in a tent next to us. My kids had been reduced to a Barbie and some coloring books as toys. I had started on a spiritual quest during all of this time and had really gotten into metaphysics; crystals, Native American teachings, shamans… We had some really great times at that beach, some really magical experiences. That is where we were having a conversation one night when I came up with "The Reverse Side of the Coloring Book". Just turn the page and color outside the lines, quit following what everyone tells you to do. It was a great idea, but it wasn’t sustainable when we had no money and we were drinking and using. We began trying to get back into a house.

We ended up in San Diego and it just took off from there. S.S.D.D. Same Shit, Different Day. We pulled another geographic and moved to Pacific Grove, California. My mother was living there and I fell in love with the town. We had been battling trucker on custody and it was just a nightmare, so I just left and didn’t tell him where I was going.

While living in Pacific Grove I finally came to a point where my drinking was pretty much all the time. I drank beer in the morning on the way to work and then washed my mouth out with Listerine. Sometimes I drank in the afternoon if I went out for lunch, but then I always drank until I went to bed at night, and on weekends I would drink all the time. I remember this one time when I had a birthday party for my oldest daughter, maybe her 9th, and I took all the kids to a park- drink in hand. When we were leaving, my car ran out of gas and I had all those kids get out and push me across a busy intersection! I had no regard for the safety of those kids, I was too buzzed. This is the kind of drinker and parent I was.

I called my sister who was sober at the time. She told me I needed to go to meetings. I started going to recovery and found a new way of being and was enjoying it. But, true to form, I found a man in recovery that I was attracted to and started seeing him. I quickly fell in love (or lust) with him, and told my husband I wanted a divorce. We had not been getting along and he was overly strict with my girls, more than I was willing to look at until much later. However, I blindsided him with this divorce. I had no regard for anyone but myself still. I had done no work in recovery on myself, just used it as a social setting.

So this new man, who I will call #4, and I proceeded to move in together in my house without any regard to my children seeing their mother with a new man. Just, here he is. We lasted a little of a year in sobriety and then one day he came home from work and said, “I’m going to go have a drink.” and I went right with him.

As this was going on, my second daughter, who had become extremely angry and defiant, went to a friend’s parent who was in law enforcement and told them that #3 had been molesting her on a regular basis. She was around 9. I could not believe it. Was I a magnet for child molesters? Had it actually been #3 all along? Oh my god, I couldn’t believe it. Instead of getting my daughter help, I just spiraled out of control. I blocked all my care for her and feelings of guilt in drugs and alcohol. We had a trial and he was found guilty and sentenced to time in jail. She never got any counseling, any support from me for this, just me, making it all about me, and self destructing. Years later he shot himself in a drug induced psychosis.

That led into a time where things went downhill pretty quickly. We got back into cocaine and needles and it got to where I lost my job and was shooting cocaine and drinking day and night. We were getting paranoid and spent hours looking out windows seeing if people were watching us. Probably one of the worst times there, #4 had OD’d after shooting a large amount of cocaine and collapsed on the floor, convulsing and not breathing, foam coming from his mouth. I started pounding on his chest, screaming “Don’t you fucking die on me!” I somehow got his heart started again. I have no idea how and I got him into the bed.

By this time the kids had come home from school and I screamed at them through the door to leave me alone and go to their room. Just then, there was a knock on the door and I went downstairs and it was my mother. I was so high and so upset that I said to her on the doorstep, “Don’t you EVER come over here without calling again!” And then I shut the door in her face. Can you imagine? Who I was to my children and my own mother?!

By Christmas of that year we were both unemployed, we were getting evicted from our home. We went to the Salvation Army to get presents for the girls for Christmas. A few months before that we were living the high life; company car, beautiful home overlooking the ocean. It was all gone. My parents, my sisters and brother, nieces and nephews, had all come a few days after Christmas to help us move out of the house. I went upstairs, locked my bedroom door, went into the bathroom and picked up a razor blade. I looked in the mirror and a voice said, “If you’re going to do it, do it right”. I sliced my left hand as hard as I could and blood poured from my wrist. I immediately thought, “Oh fuck”. My left hand would not work at all so I couldn’t do the other one. I went into the bedroom and lay down to die.

I don’t know what happened after that, I think my oldest sister found me. I don’t want to ask her, it is too painful for so many of them. I traumatized my entire family, especially the children. They still feel it to this day and this was in 1991.

I had cut all the tendons and nerves in my left hand. Thanks to incredible doctors, they were able to reconnect the tendons, but I lost the feeling in my thumb and index and middle fingers. It has never come back. I was of course put into the psych facility part of a hospital once I was stable. This would not be my last time there.

After getting out and months of rehabilitation, I started putting my life back together, going to meetings again. I received an inheritance and thought this was a chance to start over. We (#4 and I) bought 23 acres of land in Washington state on the Idaho border. My children, who had been taken care of by my family, came back and we set off in the UPS van to start a new life. Before we even got out of town we were pulled over and #4 was taken to jail for outstanding warrants. I borrowed $3,000 from a friend and bailed him out and we were off again.

We stopped in a town in Washington called, Klickitat, where my sister and boyfriend had a house. We were going to stay the winter there and then go up to the property and build our home. We were there for 18 months. Within 3 months of us getting there, we were both drinking again. I started spending the money I had inherited like it was going out of style; buying everyone at the bar drinks, having huge parties out at my sister’s house. They had moved out of state and we took over the house and just turned it into a huge party house. People stole money from us, I didn’t know or care.

At one point I bought #4 and I horses and we rode them all around, pretending we were big shots in a small town. I used to ride my horse to the bar because it was easier than driving home. I would tie my horse up outside the bar, get wasted, and ride Gypsy (my horse) home. Unless, of course, I was too drunk and then I fell off the horse. Gypsy would just keep going and I would be left behind.

While living there, we started shooting up cocaine again. My drinking got to a point where I needed it in the morning or I would start shaking. I would go to the store and have to put the money on the counter and then I would pretend I was getting something out of my purse while they collected my change and would just say, “Put the money on the counter, I will get it” so they would not see my hands shaking so badly. Like it wasn’t already obvious! My children started finding me passed out in the kitchen, in the bathtub almost drowning, even one time with a shotgun in my mouth because I was going to kill myself, but really just wanted out. Oh my, the things I put my children through. I was violent, punching out windows, pushing #4 of the porch because he angered me, paying absolutely no attention to my children or who was around them or what we did in front of them.

And then the sexual stuff started happening. #4 was sleeping around so my answer to that was to do the same. Then one time while we were having a party I passed out on a bed in our living room we had put out. When I woke up there was a man on top of me, having sex with me. Rather than say anything, I just pretended I was still passed out. I thought so little of myself that I just deserved it, that I wasn’t worth saying a thing. Word got out and this became a regular occurrence. I had a long history of not speaking up for myself around men and stuff like this happening. Later in life, I would need to do a lot of work on this.

About a year and half later and with all our money almost gone, we headed to Newport, Washington and the 23 acres we had bought to build a house on. The plan was to get ourselves together and start working to get enough money to build the house, as we had spent it all. We arrived on the property, which was 23 acres of bare land, no water, no electricity, and our 1959 UPS van to live in. What a wild ride. We started learning how to get water from town in a 55 gallon drum to use to wash and cook with. We learned how to dig a hole for a bathroom and bury it. We even built a makeshift toilet seat on wood blocks to take into the forest. Ha! We bought a generator to have intermittent electricity and every once in a while we would watch a movie in a makeshift room we built on the property. We got jobs and getting ready for a job is no joke with no electricity or running water! I was working in town at a grocery store, he was doing construction. I was going to meetings.

Then he started drinking. Then I started drinking. He would disappear for days on end and leave the kids and I stranded on the property. We were 7 miles outside of town. When he would come back we would get it enormous fights. One time the kids and I had made him a cake and we were arguing that he didn’t appreciate us and had left us. He took a rifle and shot the cake in the motorhome. We could have all blown up as we had propane tanks for cooking. One time when he came back, my retaliation was to take the knife I carried on my side and slice all four of the tires of the only transportation we had. This is the kind of thinking I had.

It started to snow and we knew we had to move into town. I found a mobile home park and we moved into there. #4 was there and then gone a lot; disappearing or me kicking him out. A lot of fighting and madness. In between we were lovey-dovey. It was so toxic. And again my children just had to endure all of it.

We found a “friend” who introduced us to crystal meth. We started shooting that. And then we learned how to make it ourselves. We would buy ingredients from the market and the hardware store and cook it on our stove. At times the kids would come home, even with friends, and there would be a pile of white powder sitting on the table. We would try to say it was flour. We were shooting this homemade meth and things went sideways fast.

In the depths of my drinking and using, I was shooting cocaine and home made crystal meth into my veins so much that I destroyed most of the veins in my arms. I drank so much that when I came-to in the mornings, after the wave of dread and panic washed over me, I would run to get a drink; a beer to guzzle down, to keep the tremors at bay. At times the alcohol would spill all over, my hands shook so bad from D.T.’s, but I would get it down. If I was somehow out, I would scour the garbage cans for left over beer cans to drain one more time. My stomach would catch wind of what I was doing and rebel against the poison I was putting in my body and up it would come, vomiting into the kitchen sink as I couldn’t make it to the bathroom. Then guzzle more down until it stayed down so I could begin my day; drink some coffee, wake up my kids, this was all before the day started.

As it got worse my daughters stayed home from school to help carry me to the bathroom, spoon feed me as I couldn’t hold a spoon, talk me out of the people I was seeing that weren’t really there. The madness that had overtaken my brain. Writing this makes me sick, turns my stomach. Not for me, but for them.

I was on welfare, unemployable, a single mom, with two daughters living in hell. I begged God to help me. I clearly heard these words “It’s going to hurt this time”. I didn’t care. A short time later, I hit a telephone pole at 60 miles/hour in my car. I died; I was life-flighted to the trauma center and coded twice on the helicopter. They told the police not to bother drawing my blood for DUI, I wasn’t going to make it. They told my children to prepare to lose their mother.

After spending a month in the hospital and recovering from multiple injuries I came back to that trailer and thought, "This is it", and, "I’m done". I would love to say I was, but knowledge alone, fear alone, always fades from view and the insanity that is alcoholism returns to convince you that this time it will be different; you know enough now to avoid the same pitfalls. You got this, you can do this.

So you see how my life was. There are a million stories, one after another, that shows you what my disease was like. Let me tell you what changed it. Surrender, faith, hope, repair, and service. It changed me; it made me into the woman I see in the mirror today, the woman I love.

I had been in recovery for years, but somehow kept finding myself drunk or high on pills about every 5 years. "Why? Why can’t I get this? What is wrong with me? Why me?" Well, why not me? Was I willing to do what ever it took to be sober? Was I half-assing it? Looking for ways to cut corners? Finding fault? Looking for differences? Looking for the quick fix, the instant gratification without doing the work? Damn straight. Who wants to work hard at life? But until I looked inside, took an honest appraisal of who I was and how I operated, I could not become accountable for my actions. I was a victim and what a powerless place to be. In a world where everything happened to me, not because of me, where is the power in that?

I reached out to both of my children’s fathers and reconnected with them to try and integrate them back into the children’s lives. Unfortunately, they are both now dead from this disease. One dying from heart failure from meth use and one dying from cirrhosis and alcoholism.

I took stock, looked honestly at my way of being in the world, and started a journey of self discovery and service. If I look out and see the beauty, if I am awake, all sorts of miracles show themselves to me everyday. A sunrise, a flower, a hummingbird, a puppy, a baby's laugh. But I could not do that until I felt worthy. To do that I had to clean up my messes, humbly apologize to those I had wronged, pay back those that I owed, free myself from the bondage of self. Then I became a woman of worth. You gain self esteem by doing esteem able acts. Was I scared? Hell yes! But I was more afraid of staying the woman I was, feeling the way that I did. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is having the fear and doing it anyway. Be Courageous and great things will follow!

I stay in the middle of the herd. Today I make sure that my sobriety is the first thing I take care of every day. Every day I must do something for my sobriety; attend a meeting, pray, meditate, read something, and most importantly work with other women looking for this path. This, above all things, brings me so much joy and a feeling of belonging. When I get out of myself to help someone else, I am a part of the world, I gain perspective. I hear the words I speak come back to me to guide me as well.

This is the good stuff, the stuff I am excited to write. The rest of this story was difficult to put to page, painful to walk through again, but necessary to remember so I don’t repeat it.

Today my life is the most beautiful I could ever imagine. I have tears thinking about it. It is not the life of my dreams, it is the life I never could have dreamed of, because I didn’t dream big enough. But Source did, Universe did, God did. I would have sold myself short had I gone with my plan.

I have an incredible marriage to a man I met in sobriety. Someone who never walked away, even though there were times I am surprised he didn’t. He showed me what love looks like, what commitment looks like, what giving looks like. We started dating 26 years ago. And we have been married for 13 years. It has been one wild ride, we have sought outside help, but we have decided, as a team, that we are not running. We are sticking. We are partners in this life. I wouldn’t want to walk it with anyone, but him.

We have four children between us and 8 grandchildren. All the things my children never got from me, I give to them today. All the parenting my children never got, I try to give to my grandchildren today. I love them how they should be loved. I cannot make up for my past, but I can damn well do something about today. My children know I love them, I will do whatever I can for them, and I have to say that my two daughters and I have wonderful relationships today.

I have been at the same job for 23 years and about 12 years ago, I started seeing a woman who did energy and intuitive work on me. She also introduced me to another woman who I started taking classes from on angels and guides, mediumship, and attunements. I have been steadily working on myself from a perspective that really speaks to me, which is energy work, intuitive work, chakra clearing and balancing, working with all angels and guides.

In June I saw a post that the woman who I started this work with was selling her business, her wellness center. I reached out and said, “This intrigues me”. She suggested we meet just to talk. I remember talking with someone and telling them about this and they were saying, “Why not?”. I said, “Well, money for one, I already have a job for two, I am too old for three, I have no idea how to do that”.

I met with her and she let me know that my guides were saying I absolutely was capable of this, that I did have a gift to offer in whatever way I wanted to do that. It didn’t have to be this business, but I should walk towards helping others, as I am so called to do.

I just started walking towards what I felt I wanted to do, was called to do, and before I knew it I had bought the wellness center! Now, Flowing Waters Wellness Center is owned by me, Jean Turnan! Crazy! Madness! I am so excited. I am so incredibly grateful that I don’t let my fears or my doubts keep me for taking a leap of faith. It is everything I want to do. I am still working a full time job and learning to manage this business and expand my own energy work to help others.

I also have walked through things that are hard. My sister, the one that introduced me to recovery, my confidant, my soul twin; could not get the gift of sobriety, though she tried so hard. She lost her life 4 years ago to this disease. I miss her voice, her hugs, her touch. But I talk to her all the time, I feel her presence so often. My sis, I love you.

My brother has brain damage and cirrhosis and varices from drinking. His life is that of a shut-in now, he needs daily attention and help. My oldest daughter is in prison for 4 years for drug related charges, because she too has this disease.

But I must say that my daughter has chosen to do something with this, she is changing. All the prayers I sent up for her highest good are being answered. She is seeing her part in her disease, her choices, and deciding to change her life. She actually, said, “I see you and M (he is not a number, he is the one) so happy together, and how wonderful your life is and I just want to be like you mom”. Can you imagine? My daughter, who went through all that hell, wants to be like me. That is what sobriety can do.

My youngest daughter and I talk almost every day and our bond is so strong. She is such a beautiful woman in spite of how she was raised. She has tools today to help her with life.

So my life took on a different hue. I am awake. I love life. I love giving. I am full of gratitude, of faith, of hope, of acceptance, of JOY! Life still holds challenges, but I am not alone. I walk with my fellow travelers and my constant companion; my higher self. Life is magical. Do it, make the leap, dare to be courageous.

Color out side of the lines. Look up. Look out. Turn the page and draw your own story. Live on the reverse side of the coloring book.

Jean Turnan gave consent to share her full name. She chose to share her story by writing her feature herself and collected her personal photos for the feature.

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