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Dusty's decision; at any moment in your life, you can choose to leave the path you're on and start over on a new one.


I've written much this year about the horrors of America's drug problem and about the evils of drug trafficking. Now let me tell you about a friend of mine whose story adds a special human and spiritual dimension to the drug problem.

My friend is Denise Donaldson. Some people call her Dusty. Dusty was born in Massachusetts 31 years ago. Her stepfather, an ex-convict from the hills of West Virginia, taught her to play poker, drink wine, and cuss while she was still a young child. "I was a scrawny, mean little kid,' she says. "I was just rebellious, and that made my stepdaddy proud. Like when I got suspended from school for fighting, he was real proud of me--because his principle was "Don't take no crap from nobody.''

Dusty's early life was a series of slum apartments, foster homes, hippie ascapades, runaway trips up and down the East Coast, and indiscretions with male companious. She dropped out of school at age 16, married, roamed, had three babies, and took drugs and alcohol.

Sometime during her meandering, Dusty saw a picture, perhaps on a calendar. It was sentimental, corny, and lacking in artistic quality. Nevertheless, it penetrated the fog for a few moments, and she remembered it. "It was a picture of two pathways crossing a meadow,' she says. "I don't even remember who showed it to me. All I remember is seeing that picture and being told: "At any moment during your life, you can choose to leave the path you're on and start over on a new pathway.''

But the fog closed back in, and all alternative pathways vanished. More madness followed: dope, alcohol, carousing, and such peculiar jobs as scraping rust in the belly of a huge aircraft carrier and hauling drunks as a third-shift cabdriver.

Then came a fourth pregnancy. She struggled through it by smoking marijuana and eating brownies laced with it. The pregnancy had numerous complications. Finally she contracted an infection, and the doctor scheduled emergency surgery to save her life and the baby's.

"I wanted to stay awake during delivery,' Dusty recalls, "but they put me to sleep. The next thing I knew, they were trying to wake me up. "Mrs. Donaldson! Mrs. Donaldson!' the nurse was saying. "We want you to see your baby. Mrs. Donaldson, there's a problem with your baby.' The nurse was very sad, almost crying. "We're going to take good care of him,' she was saying, "but there's a problem.'

"Then they wheeled the baby over to me. He was in this little incubator. I turned my head to look, but I couldn't move very well because I was in a lot of pain from the surgery. Then I saw my son. And our eyes just locked. He had big brown eyes, and I know he saw me. I was just so far from God. I held my finger out to my baby, and God let my baby grab my finger, and it was very special. But that was the only time I saw my son alive.'

After the baby's death, Dusty cast all restraint to the wind. In the hospital she gobbled up every kind of medicine and drug she could get her hands on and fell into serious dependency. Desperate for relief, completely without hope, she signed herself out of the hospital and went on a binge worse than any she'd been on before. "I drank; I did drugs; I sought male companionship; I did everything, trying to ease the pain. But don't misunderstand me. This was nobody else' fault, nobody else' responsibility. I was responsible. I just was out of control,' she says. The binge lasted two months, and everything turned to a blur. Nobody could help her, it seemed.

Then one day she noticed she was having trouble with her speech. She couldn't remember common words, and her sentences would trail off into space. "That scared me, and somehow penetrated the blur,' she says. "I made up my mind then that I'd stop getting high. I wasn't going to give up partying, but I'd stay sober.'

A few nights later, still determined to stay sober, she went barhopping. "And I blew it,' she says. "I was a mess. I got wiped out, got rowdy and drunk. I stayed up until four in the morning and then fell asleep on the sofa with my clothes on.'

Her mother-in-law was taking care of her three children, but Dusty had agreed to take her oldest son to the doctor that morning to be treated for a serious allergy. She says she was in no shape to fulfill her responsibility: "When I woke up, I just felt dirty, like I saw myself for what I really was. And I knew I had lost control over myself. I hated who I was and what I was.'

She went into the bathroom to take a bath. "I turned on the water and just stood there,' she says, "bending over the tub, thinking about how I'd blown it. I didn't feel sorry for myself, and I didn't blame anybody else. I knew I was the one controlling it, but I didn't know what to do. I was hopeless.'

She leaned over the tub and adjusted the temperature of the water, and suddenly she saw the picture again, the two pathways crossing the meadow. The words came back: "At any moment during your life, you can choose to leave the path you're on and start over on a new pathway.'

"I knew,' she says, "that if it was true there are two pathways, then I was on the wrong one.' Dusty decided to reach out for the new pathway. "It wasn't a sweet call to God,' she says. "I just dared Him to take control of my life.'

Dusty found support at a church. The church helped her turn her life around. She finished high school and graduated with honors from Norfolk State University. Now she is one of the outstanding students in CBN University's graduate-level Institute of Journalism. Dusty is well along that new pathway, and it is no longer hazy--it's crystal clear.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Slosser, Bob
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1986
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