Ellen looks every bit the former New England girls' prep school graduate and college sorority girl. When we met, in the recovery home where she shares a room with another former alcoholic, she looked poised, intelligent, and "at home." And she was willing to talk with me, knowing that her message would go directly to others like her. But I'll let Ellen tell her story:
"I'm from a family of achievers. The pressure from driving myself to be an achiever in school and striving to be accepted by my peers was too much.
"I began drinking more and more before I realized what was happening to me."
I interrupted her to ask if someone hadn't warned her along the way, and she provided this explanation for her lonely adventure:
"I was a good student and handled myself well outwardly, so no one ever questioned my personal life.i could have gotten A's but settled for B's."
Then she continued her description of her growing addiction:
"I was into drugs and sex, too, but depended on alcohol to ease deep depression. There is far too much exposure to drugs, sex, and alcohol in sorority and fraternity life.
"I went downtown to a bar with friends many nights."
The effects of so much drinking finally forced Ellen to drop out, but she says she became more depressed and constantly thought about and schemed to commit suicide. Hoping a change would help, she came to California and enrolled in another college.
Instead of living in a dorm or sorority, she took her own apartment and began having wine with her meals and cocktails while studying, feeling progressively more lonely and depressed.
Finally a relative took her to a private hospital for treatment. From there she made it to the recovery home where I met her.
"My surroundings are humbling, but provide what I need. I work three days a week selling accessories in a clothing store in order to be a part of the community. People intimidate me there, but i can handle it.
"I have three days to plan worthwhile leisure activities, and that's important. The classes I attend at the halfway house are on one subject -- alcoholism.
"I miss school and have thought of taking a class somewhere. It isn't enough for me to promise myself not to drink. I want good reasons to express myself as an individual in purposeful living."
And after a meaningful pause: "I was dumb to drink the way I did."
I asked her the obvious question -- what would she do if she were back at college in a sorority?
"I would declare myself a nondrinker.
"I wouldn't let anyone talk me into being so self-destructive again."
Editor's note: Jean Luce Lee was just supposed to find out about the work of the Pasadena Council on Alcoholism and report her findings to the Monitor via a memo, but she called to say she'd talked with Ellen and that Ellen's message was just what young college students needed to read and that we'd better print it directly.
We agree, and ask you to pass along this piece to someone you feel could benefit from it. Cynthia parsons