Pubdate: Sun, 27 Feb 2000 Source: Houston Chronicle (TX) Copyright: 2000 Houston Chronicle Contact: Viewpoints Editor, P.O. Box 4260 Houston, Texas 77210-4260 Fax: (713) 220-3575 Website: http://www.chron.com/ Forum: http://www.chron.com/content/hcitalk/index.html Page: 33A Author: Thom Marshall COUNSELOR SPEAKS FROM EXPERIENCES Local scientists can get pretty good at describing their projects, but nothing brings a study into focus like hearing a story straight from one of the research subjects. Norma Turner and Gayle Weaver of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston know that. Which is why, after telling a little about their work over the past seven years -- examining the addiction and recovery of women in the Galveston area -- they invited Nurse Morgan into our meeting at UTMB. Gaye Nell Morgan is not only a nurse, she recently completed the course work for becoming a licensed chemical dependency counselor and is beginning to accumulate the 4,000 hours of experience needed to complete the requirements. "She's been an inspiration to a whole lot of people," Turner said. "She can bring an audience to tears. She's very influential in recovery circles." Then Morgan told her story and said I could pass it along: It started with beer. She liked the stuff a long time before she was old enough to buy it for herself. Her daddy drank a lot of it every evening before going to sleep and, from the time she was big enough to reach the table top and pick up a can, she drank it, too. When she was about 8 years old he left, but Morgan's taste for beer stayed on. And when she was about 10, she learned that one or another of the older guys hanging around corners in her Galveston neighborhood would buy beer for her if she bought him a beer, too. Beer Was Her Candy When other kids her age were buying candy, Morgan was buying beer. She spent her lunch money on it. She learned to cut hair to earn beer money. She mowed grass or sold papers for beer money. Her mom went to work early every morning and went to sleep early at night. Morgan would sneak out of the house. Where they lived wasn't much more than a block from a street brimming with night life. Soon she was hanging around that area and finding adults willing to give her a drink, maybe some marijuana, maybe some kind of pill. She would go home and to bed without waking her mom. But one night someone recognized her and told on her. She was 13. But getting caught didn't change anything. "I was so rebellious it didn't matter," Morgan said. She continued sneaking out at night and using alcohol and other drugs, no matter who told her she was heading down a bad path. "Oddly enough, I stayed in school," Morgan said. "I liked it. It was the only place I felt safe." Oh, she got into some trouble, but not serious enough to get her kicked out. She even went on to nursing school after graduating. For the next 15 years she did a juggling act, using alcohol and drugs while managing to work as a nurse. But in 1988 it all came crashing down. Losing Her License She was living and working in Houston. Twice her employer required her to undergo treatment for her addiction. Twice it failed. She lost her nurse's license. When her money ran out, with no place else to turn, she moved back to Galveston, back home. But her mom was no longer living and her sister took a different approach when Morgan caused problems. Her sister changed locks, called police. "Everything I touched crumbled," Morgan said. "I was like a human tornado destroying relationships, jobs. I was in the depths of despair. Everybody had washed their hands of me. I had self-destructed to the point I didn't care if I died." Instead, she went to Alcoholics Anonymous. Not because she believed it would work. She had been before and it hadn't. But she simply could see no other option. And this time it did work. She made it through an entire day without drugs. Then another. And another. She was clean for nine months before finally managing to find a job through an old high school classmate who was assistant manager at a fast-food restaurant. Morgan worked there for 3 1/2 years, learning much in the process, she said. Humility. Patience. In 1995, after taking a refresher course, she got her nurse's license back. And now she tells her story to help others see that there is a way out of addiction.