March is Women’s History Month and making history can be done in many ways.
For one Nevada woman, her celebration it isn’t about making history on a national level; it’s about making history on a personal level.
Dori Gass’s incredible history-making moment happened just last month, on Feb. 14, when she observed 25 years of sobriety.
“When I say sober, that’s from alcohol and drugs,” said Gass, 53, a native of Sioux City, who has lived in Nevada the past 14 years. “I don’t separate the classification (of alcohol and drugs), because to me they go together.”
Today, Gass does administrative work — something she loves — for two medical offices in Story County.
While she recently shared in a Facebook post that she was grateful for the 25 years that she has been free of drugs and alcohol, she is also quick to point out that these 25 years haven’t been easy.
“I struggled with 25 minutes in the beginning,” she said.
In explaining how she came to be an alcoholic, Gass prefaces her comments by noting that she comes from a long line of alcoholics. “My mom is in recovery. I have an uncle in recovery… Drinking was normal in my family. Every (family) event, that’s just what we did.”
Her drinking started when she was 11 or 12 years old. “It was a learned behavior. Is it a bad behavior? No. But for me, it was a dangerous behavior.”
With so much alcohol around her and in her home, this behavior started by simply tasting or finishing drinks. If someone had a beer can with a little bit of beer still in it, she’d finish it. Or if someone was drinking something, they’d sometimes offer it to her. “It was ‘Here kid, take a drink.’” All this seemingly innocent and fun interaction with alcohol set into motion, what she didn’t realize at the time, would become a lifestyle.
“It (drinking) was fun. I was a party girl,” she said. “I went to a Catholic high school and drinking was accepted among my peers. You drank before football games, before dances … it was a weekend activity.”
But, before long, it became a weekday activity, too.
While she wasn’t the best student ever, Gass said she also wasn’t a terrible student. But when alcohol took over her life, it became more important than her grades and what she could accomplish in school. “It started to become normal (to drink all the time).”
After high school, she went straight into the workforce, learning different trades on the job. And she seemed to do OK. “I was what you call a ‘functioning alcoholic’ for quite a while. I hadn’t lost a job or had any huge repercussions (because of the drinking).” But then, her first marriage ended in divorce because of her drinking.
“Then it just unraveled from there. I lost a job… was evicted from an apartment… lost relationships with my family … lost respect for myself… lost my morals…,” she said. And drawing lines with her finger on the table in front of her, she explained, “I kept crossing that line that I said I’d never cross – I kept moving the line.”
When alcohol stopped working — and by that she explained, it stopped getting her to the euphoric feeling that she needed to experience from whatever substance she was taking — drugs came in.
Her drug of choice was cocaine. “It puts you on a high that you can’t really explain unless you’ve done it.”
And she did it over and over again, to the point of wanting to end her life. “I really hit bottom… by standing on the edge of a bridge — wanting to jump.”
Gass tears up a bit at this point of her story. “It’s been a long time since I’ve told this,” she said. She takes a deep breath and continues. “I wanted to die that day. I was also extremely high (on drugs). It was sunny and warm. And as I stood on that bridge, a little boy named Ben came by on his skateboard.
At first, he passed by her, but then, she said, “I caught his eye and he came back.” And as he talked to her, her desire to jump faded.
“If I could find that little boy today…,” she said, she would thank him. She believes that the boy was “God presenting himself” to her.
“That little boy kept me alive and kept me from jumping or letting go.
From that life-changing moment, she committed herself to get the help she needed.
It’s important to note that she’d tried treatment for her addictions twice before, but this time she self-committed to a treatment facility for a third go-around. And while in treatment, she met her current husband, Dave.
Oddly enough, Gass was engaged to be married a second time when she entered treatment following that almost suicidal moment. But it wouldn’t be the man she was engaged to at the time that she would end up marrying.
Dave was also struggling with addiction and was in treatment too.
“Dave was handsome, funny, kind” and they just clicked. “I didn’t know it would develop into the marriage I have today,” she said. She and Dave have been married since July of 1994.
And also in 1994, at the age of 28, Dori became sober and has stayed in that sober state for all these years.
“We’ve trudged a hell of a road,” she said about she and her husband. “He’s always had my back…always. And he’s a big part of the person I am today because he has supported me, helped me with my dreams, picked me up when I was hurting and just helped me be the best person I can be.”
The two have a son, Jonathan, 23, who graduated from Nevada High School.
But to say that life has been a bowl of cherries since they married and she became sober, would be far from truthful.
The sober truth about addiction
Quite simply, you don’t get over alcoholism and drug abuse. That’s the thing that those who’ve never been addicted to these substances sometimes struggle to understand.
“I don’t recover, I’m always recovering,” Dori said. “There’s not a day that goes by that promises I won’t pick up a drug or drink. I have to work at this every day.”
Two things that have most impacted her ability to stay sober are her faith and a group called Alcoholics Anonymous.
“I’m Catholic. I’ve been Catholic all of my life. But I walked away in high school.” Eventually, “I found the grace of God again and realized that’s what saved me … God. My sobriety isn’t Dori-based; it’s God-based.”
She said Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was an organization that allowed her to utilize her love for God to grow stronger. “We’re taught in the (AA) program, that if we can turn our will over to God, God will get us through it … another human being won’t do it for us … God will.”
In the end, she said, “Everybody has to do what works for them.” But AA, for her, has been a unique program “that saves your ass.”
After saving her butt, she said, “it saved my life and gave me back my life. Between Alcoholics Anonymous, all the people who sit around those tables, my first sponsor and my husband, I’ve been able to trudge the road and become the person I am today.”
As time went by, Dori said she had to learn to function outside of the safe walls of AA. “It was hard and uncomfortable… because I was protected and encouraged by those people (in AA meetings), … but I had to learn to function as an adult and a responsible member of society.”
While she hasn’t been a regular attendee at AA meetings for some time now, she said she has been “paying her great fortune forward” by taking several others who have reached out to her to an AA meeting. “Because that first meeting can be the hardest to walk into. I am responsible to be that hand… to give it back… whether they take hold is their decision.”
Those who have taken hold of her hand and allowed her to help them have, in the end, “afforded me some amazing relationships.”
Dori isn’t afraid to speak out about her past or her present. In fact, she drives a car with license plates that proclaim, “Sober94.”
She was recently at a car wash when a woman walked up to her after noticing those license plates. “She said that’s a long time,” Dori said, and then the woman shared that she herself had been sober for four years. “I said, keep going. One day at a time.”
About doing this story, Dori admitted that her first thought was “this isn’t necessary,” but then she realized that maybe her story could help someone.
“I look at how grateful I am to be where I’m at … and (at one point in time) I wasn’t even grateful to be alive.” She wants people who are struggling with addiction now to know, “It can be different. Sometimes you want it to be different and you don’t know how it can be different.”
She truly believes that reaching out, attending AA with others, is a great step toward making life be different. But, even with sobriety, it’s never easy.
“Just because I got sober doesn’t make life easy… I’ve had a lot of difficulties in my marriage, in our family, that we’ve had to walk through… but I didn’t drink. Sobriety taught me I could live life and walk through those things and come out on the other side.
“It eventually became common for me to live my life,” she said, “but it took a long time for me to get there.
“I love my life today… It has its ups and downs, highs and lows, goods and bads. My mom has leukemia, I’ve lost people, my son has had struggles, my husband has had struggles… but I haven’t had to drink to get through them,” she said.
“I look back now at everything that has happened to me in 25 years, and I never imagined that I would be the person I am today.”
The best thing to her, she said, “I can hold my head high and I have respect for me.”
What she wants most for others to know: “There’s always hope.”