Triumph Over Tragedy
One woman’s journey from drunk driving to addictions professional
Louder than the sound of a 44 Magnum reverberating in the memories of my cousin’s failed suicide attempt. More deafening than the thunder in my scariest childhood storms. It was the sound of metal crunching against a concrete wall in the blackest of nights. It jolted me awake while drunk driving in a Xanax and wine induced blackout. I hit something with my car.
I remember thinking, ‘What was that?” but I didn’t see anything. Disoriented and barely conscious, I drove away in the dark.
The clasping of silver handcuffs on my wrists was a cold awakening the moment the police jimmied open my car door. I’d never seen so many blue lights. I had no idea what was going on, or how my life was about to change.
A failed field sobriety test, a police interview and an inadvertent spotlight on the TV news later; I found myself in the back of a patrol car on my way to Metro General Hospital for a blood-alcohol test to determine the level of my intoxication.
Still clueless, I asked a question of my own, “Am I being arrested for DUI?”
“No,” the officer said. “You’re being arrested for vehicular homicide.”
And from that moment forward, my life has never been the same.
In one night, I lost my children. I lost my home. I lost my award-winning career as a journalist, and I was labeled a killer who had just run over a father loading his daughter’s truck on top of his wrecker.
I never saw him. I was not able to avoid him. That has been a hard pill to swallow. Imagine how you would feel if you accidentally fell asleep at the wheel and killed someone? That’s exactly what happened to me.
I was drunk driving. I have no excuse. I take full responsibility for ingesting the substances that caused this accident. I’m horrified everyday with the knowledge of a wrong I can never fully make right for the family of the man I ran over that night.
However, this night was also a defining moment in the life of this alcoholic who was able to completely surrender to her Higher Power and allow him to rebuild her piece by piece.
In 2009, I sought addiction treatment at Cumberland Heights. This small step in faith toward a life of sobriety saved my life. In my first primary group, my counselor asked me to tell my story. With each sentence of truth, tears streamed down my face. I allowed myself to be vulnerable in public, and the healing began.
Women in my group said, “That could have been me.” Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone anymore. I was able to identify. It was an important part of my journey, as was two years of individual and group therapy, regular AA attendance and working the steps after my discharge.
Eighteen months later, I accepted a plea deal for my crimes and was sentenced to 10 years of probation, including two weeks of incarceration at Christmas and at Father’s Day each year. As part of my sentence I was ordered to speak publicly twice a year, but I have done this as often as possible. I never turn down an invitation. I have spoken to more than 1,000 students in Metro Schools, master’s level counseling classes, youth outpatient programs, church groups and even basketball teams. I consider it my life’s mission to use my story to help others.
I have remained sober for the past seven years. The God of my understanding took something so tragic and used it for good. He did this by increasing my faith, teaching me humility by being willing to accept a job at Goodwill when no one else would hire me and by being willing to be of service to other sick and suffering alcoholics.
I have sponsored women, taken meetings to detox units and even taken over leadership for a 12-step book study that has been meeting every Thursday night for four years.
In 2015, I took the next step and made helping other alcoholics and addicts a vocation at Samaritan Recovery Community. During that time, I applied and was accepted into the master of arts of addiction studies: integrated recovery for co-occurring disorders at the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies.
Last year, I was hired to work at Still Waters for Women, a 12-step immersion program under the umbrella of Cumberland Heights, and was recently hired as a case manager.
Today, my life’s goal is to help the next alcoholic and addict at the treatment center that gave me life again.
Katrina Cornwell is a case manager at Cumberland Heights, a motivational speaker, blogger and three-time, first-place award winner in the annual Tennessee Press Association contest.
In her presentations, she speaks about her addiction to drugs and alcohol and how those habits led to a drunk driving accident which killed a man in October 2009.