In the metaphorical halls of my heart, there is a circle of my people.

We link arms and hold hands, in much the same way we do at the close of 12 Step meetings.

It is a vast shape, with those I love dearest standing beside me, radiating outward in varying degrees of friendship and acquaintance-hood, but it encompasses everyone who is a regular part of my life.

The people I depend on, the ones whose hearts beat in rhythm with my own, are on either side of me, and on the far side of that circle are those I haven’t seen in years but who, in some way, were a part of my journey.

I’m not sure where Angie’s place was in that circle, but it couldn’t have been more than a dozen people away.

She was, in a sense, the sister I never had.

That’s what I told her when we embraced in times of pain, of which there were many for her of late.

“You’re my sister,” I would whisper.

“I love you, brother,” she would whisper back.

When I returned to East Tennessee in 2001, my life a smoldering ruin caused by addiction, Angie was one of the first people I met at the meeting that’s still my home group today.

She was a wild and intimidating spirit, a woman caught up in her own tornado of chaos, but what you saw was what you got with Angie.

She was passionate about recovery even when hers was tenuous, and she brooked no half-assed efforts on the part of those about whom she cared deeply.

I wasn’t sure she liked me in the beginning, but over time, I saw that was the experience of just about anyone who came into her orbit for the first time.

She wasn’t one for niceties, but once you got past that gruff exterior, you were loved with the ferocity of a great cat, a being with teeth and claws that would use them to tear down your own walls until you could see the truth.

She pulled me aside during those early days, when I existed on the fringes of recovery, too afraid to fully commit, too terrified to imagine a life without the chemical suit of armor that had become a prison.

Upstairs at the meeting hall, she told me, in no uncertain terms and with a liberal dose of the profanity she wielded like a poet, that I was

going to die.

I didn’t listen, and I’m lucky I didn’t perish, but when I finally embraced the promises of a better way of life, Angie was there, waiting to welcome me back with a hug that was as fierce as her spirit.

Over time, she became a fixture in my recovery and my life.

I stood at her bedside when the goblins of self-destruction nearly took her back in 2002, after she drove her truck into a tree and nearly lost her life. In the hospital, when she was healed enough to get into a wheelchair, she demanded I wheel her outside and around the corner, out of sight of the nurses, so she could have a cigarette.

She didn’t remember that later on, because the injuries were so severe that she had to learn to walk, to read, to think clearly, again.

But she came back to us. She held on to her place in my circle, and over the next several years, she moved spaces, closer to where I stand.

She was always there, holding up folks on either side, so great was her strength.

She had it for them … for me … but she couldn’t find it for herself.

Last week, the things that lurked in the shadows of her damaged soul claimed her, and when I heard the news, it broke me.

It broke my circle, and while I know it will gradually close again, right now I feel her absence keenly.

Her place in that circle isn’t just an empty spot; it’s a great and smoldering crater, and the impact has left many of us in the local recovery community reeling.

Angie.

I wish that you could have seen in yourself what the rest of us did.

I wish you could know the profound impact you had on us all.

I wish we had taken a little more time to find you in the darkness that was your constant companion, to help you see the light that shined so brightly from within you.

You were so loved.

I know you heard it, but in the end, I suspect you just couldn’t feel it, that they were just words that skipped like stones across the turbulent waters of your troubled mind.

Wherever you are, and I believe with all I am that you were received into a place of peace and beauty, I hope you feel it.

I hope it brings you to your knees, so great is the love for you on this side of the divide.

It will endure, in me and in all the rest of your sisters and brothers who will miss you always. Mitakuye Oyasin, as the Lakota say.

You were and always shall be my sister.

Steve Wildsmith was an editor and writer for The Daily Times for nearly 17 years; a recovering addict, he now works in media and marketing for Cornerstone of Recovery, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Blount County. Contact him at wildsmithsteve@gmail.com.

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