Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 7:58 PM on Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Woman's failing health offers her wake-up call to sobriety


File Photo

Roberta Highland

A "serious recreational drinker" is how Roberta Highland of Homer describes herself during a 38-year period of her life. It began when she was 21. It ended three years ago when Highland was faced with the need for a life-changing decision.

"I ended up with a health problem from my alcohol and that was the day that I went, 'I don't have a choice. I have to quit this powerful habit,'" said Highland.

Considering her alcohol consumption an "emotional habit" rather than a physical addition, Highland said, "I was able to snap my fingers and change an almost 40-year habit overnight and not look back."

Quick and easy as the decision may have been for her, the difference it made was powerful.

"To me, it was my one miracle and it was an amazing thing," said Highland. "I am free. I feel free."

During her growing-up years, alcohol played a big part in Highland's life and exacted a high price on family members. Three cousins and a nephew died of alcoholism before they reached the age of 40, she said. Through her profession, Highland helped treat alcoholics and saw firsthand the negative impacts the individuals suffered, but even that wasn't reason enough for her to stop the habit she was forming.

"I'm a nurse, so I always knew in my intellectual self, my professional self, that it was a very unhealthy practice," she said. "However, alcohol has an interesting power on many of us. ... Even though I would tell myself all the reasons I should quit, and every decade I would say, 'OK, this decade I'm going to quit,' I wouldn't and couldn't."

Two experiences stuck with her, however, their tug on her attention becoming stronger and stronger. The first happened when she was a juror on a case involving a drunk driver and heard a potential juror say, "I hate drinkers."

"He really meant he hated alcohol because people doing it half the time are helpless, but what I took away from that was remembering how sad it is that you have people who are nondrinkers who are going along joyfully in their lives and are wiped out by a drunk driver," said Highland. "It's an injustice because this stuff is accepted and legal in our society and it struck me what he was saying. He had no tolerance for alcohol in our society because it could be so destructive and it's just accepted."

The second experience occurred while Highland was at a stop sign one rainy night and an individual staggered into the beam from her headlights.

"He was holding in front of him a case of beer like it was a treasure," Highland recalled. "He fell down right in front of my car and struggled to get up and was still holding his treasure. I was thinking that treasure is what was killing him."

Powerful as those experiences were, however, even they weren't enough for Highland to change her own level of alcohol consumption. That moment came when she received the results from some lab tests indicating she was headed toward pancreatitis, a potentially fatal illness.

"Until you get there, you can come up with every excuse you can think of," said Highland of the circumstances leading to the change of direction in her life.

Now, with three years of sobriety behind her, Highland describes herself as "the happiest nondrinker I know. I love the freedom of not having that monkey on my back. "

Situations in which she used to feel comfortable no longer appeal to her.

"It is hard now for me to be at gatherings when people are over-drinking," said Highland. "I prefer interacting with clear-minded people."

From her relatively new perspective, she is sensitive to the impact alcohol has on those around her. The freedom she enjoys is something she wants to share with others, especially young people.

"If there was one thing I could do, I would have a teen center in this community that would have exciting, fun choices always available for our youth," said Highland. "It would instill in them all the exciting things you can do out there in the world that do not include alcohol or recreational drugs, to find their passion for life, whatever their calling is, that it would fill their lives. 'Clean and clear.' That's a very wonderful way to put it."

The music pouring out of Homer Theatre Friday night wasn't the soundtrack of a movie. It was local musicians celebrating "One Love One Day," a month of alcohol- and drug-free activities. The young danced next to the not-so-young, kicking up their heels to the Americana sounds of Los Holy Santos Gang. It was the kind of event Highland of Homer would like to see more of.

"If you learn good habits when you're young, they'll carry you through your entire life," Highland told the Homer News.

"One Love One Day" activities are being organized by a loosely formed group of individuals, organizations and businesses with a vision for "clean, clear living in Homer." It is sponsored in part by South Peninsula Haven House, Los Holy Santos Gang, Cornish Music, Fireweed Gallery, Homer Council on the Arts and Homer Theatre. For more information on One Day One Love

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.


"In support of safe and health recreation in Homer and in solidarity with those in recovery, I pledge to stand in sobriety with the Homer community on April 29th."

April 8

• 3-of-3 Basketball Tourney: Time and place to be announced; each team of three needs to have at least one male and one female and have at least one adult and one youth under the age of 18.

April 15

• 4M open mic (tentative), 7-9 p.m. Midtown Café, special Friday edition of regularly scheduled Monday event, enjoy local talent as an audience member or show off your own talent (music, spoken word, poetry, etc.).

April 22-23

• Drama Slam; groups collaborate to create a performance production in 24 hours; actors, writers, directors, etc. welcomed and needed; time and place TBA.

April 29

• Pledge Period: Fireweed Gallery offers 10 percent off to anyone who takes the pledge; Damselfly Salon donates $1 of every sale of a product line to Homer Prevention Partnership.

• Jubilee Youth Arts Performance: Mariner Theatre, 7-9 p.m.

• Closing bonfire: Bishop's Beach, music, 9-11 p.m.

April 30

• Safe Kids Fair and bike rodeo: Homer High School, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

To get involved or for more information, call 235-7712 or e-mail rachel@havenhousealaska.org