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
Page: 33A
Author: Thom Marshall


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

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

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.