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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Katie McGovern was a girl growing up on Long Island in New York. She played sports and had lots of friends. She had a good life with her older brother and two great parents — a mom who worked at a bank but had a substantial commute and a dad who was around more because of his firefighter job's 24-hours-on, 48-hours-off rotation. Her dad, William, was her coach, her teacher, her cajoler.
But at the start of sixth grade, her first week of middle school, the Sept. 11 attacks happened.
McGovern's father worked out of the station house in Manhattan closest to the World Trade Center. She remembers going to the station and a priest telling her and her family that her father was dead.
Days later, they got a call saying the body possibly wasn't his. She started entertaining fantasies that her dad was still alive, that maybe he had lost his memory. The funeral was a closed-casket service.
"Then the whole school knew me as the girl whose dad passed away," McGovern told the Austin American-Statesman (http://atxne.ws/1EP8Gxm).
Under the weight of crushing grief, McGovern soon enough discovered that being the daughter of a fallen hero gave her a pass for almost everything, and she started acting out — cutting class, skating through school. Her teachers weren't inclined to hold back a martyr's daughter.
"My mom let it go," she said. "I started to drink a few years later. The first time I got really drunk I was sobbing about my dad so I thought drinking was good for me. I was relying on it, blacking out, hurting everyone. I fell into the victim role: Pity me, poor me. I got into trouble for little things. When I got in trouble with a cop they heard my last name and where I was from and let me go."
McGovern enrolled in Long Island University, but it was the same story academically. Then, at 22, she had a car accident that left her with a minor concussion and forced her mother and brother to sit her down for "The Talk": You could have been hurt a lot worse. You could have hurt or killed somebody. You need to stop drinking.
She entered a rehab center on South Padre Island and began, as so many have, the 12-step program that has kept numberless lives from being demolished or ending prematurely.
"This rehab was amazing," she said. "It was the first time I heard my drinking wasn't my fault. I sought a relationship with my higher power."
The center suggested she move to a sober house in Austin. She got a job at a hotel, where she worked for a year. She wanted to go back to school. She said her dad had started university but dropped out and was rewarded by being sent to Vietnam. He very much had wanted her to get a degree. But her grades weren't that hot.
Someone told her about Concordia University Texas. Once she set foot on the leafy campus surrounded by a nature preserve in Northwest Austin, she was in love.
"I needed teachers who knew my name," she said. "I didn't have that at LIU."
She says she's had enough to drink for a lifetime and has no urge to do it again, not even while in college. She's 25 now. She goes to meetings, has a boyfriend also in recovery and works at a rehab center downtown. Last weekend, she graduated after earning a degree in behavioral science.
And, after some prodding by her adviser and psychology professor, Nickles "Dr. Nick" Chittester, she applied to three graduate schools and was accepted by all of them. In the fall she'll start at New York University to study mental health counseling. Her mom still has some college savings for her; NYU offers free undergraduate tuition for the children of Sept. 11 victims, and they're seeing if they can make that happen for a graduate student as well.
She's clear-eyed, poised and, most important, alive. She's proof that though none of us has the luxury of escaping the past, none of us is bound to be a captive of it. From a world-altering day of infamy and years of addiction came a rebirth.
"It's my purpose to help people," McGovern said. "Everything's working out, as crazy as it sounds."
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com
Editor's note: This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Austin American-Statesman.
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