STORIES OF RECOVERY2019-01-11T11:38:56+00:00

STORIES OF RECOVERY

Stories of Recovery are as diverse as society itself. Addiction doesn’t discriminate, and neither does recovery.

Lori
“I am a young person in long-term recovery. What that means for me is that I have not had to have a drink or self-prescribed drug in four and a half years!

I am a 28-year-old college undergraduate, an employee, a sister, a daughter, a friend, an advocate and a productive member of society today. One of the greatest gifts that recovery has given me is the ability to recognize growth within myself. I never, ever would have pictured my life turning out the way it has. I will tell you I am grateful, but I also choose to live it one day at a time.

BEFORE:

I started using at the age of 15, my freshman year in high school. It all started with a cigarette and a beer. My first encounters with substances were always extreme and consequential, but they were just the beginning. My active use didn’t take off until I graduated high school and moved and began my first college semester. I began drinking heavily and smoking weed every day. My GPA was unsatisfactory, so I moved back home and attended community college. I thought moving home would help, but my use progressed quickly and cocaine became my resolve. So, I thought. I quickly gave up on college, my family, good supports, and primarily myself.

Before I picked up substances, I never felt worthy. I didn’t believe in anything or anyone. I never felt I belonged, here. I always felt lost and caught inside the inner walls of my mind. I didn’t understand how to deal with my emotions. I fought change with every ounce of my being. I put all my energy into all the wrong things, especially negativity. I felt like no one understood me and that I would always be alone, a failure. The day I picked up, I thought I found my answer. Five years of active use beat me down physically and emotionally.

NOW:

My first go-around of continuous recovery was at the age of the 21. I finally hit a point within myself where I knew I wanted something different. In August of 2010, I made the choice to do something different. I voluntarily put myself into outpatient treatment and began attending AA and NA meetings daily. I built up a solid support system and started to gain the positive effects of recovery.

At about 20 months clean, I relapsed. I stopped utilizing the tools and supports that helped me and I chose to revert to my old comfort. I re-entered recovery on September 6th, 2012. It was one of the most humbling and difficult moments I’ve ever experienced. But, that moment and everyone after has brought me to today. My journey is always unfolding exactly as it should be. My active use led me to my recovery. My recovery has led me to my purpose.

Today, I am the Co-Chapter Lead of the Hudson-NY-Chapter of Young People in Recovery (YPR) and I am also a steering committee member of the newly developed Recovery Community Organization (RCO) known as Columbia Pathways to Recovery (CPR). In the last year, I have experienced profound grief in my recovery through the death of two close friends, both to overdose. Through my grief, I found my gladness; my gladness is knowing that I have been given the gift of a first-hand perspective of the world’s needs and that with my continued willingness, I hope to make a remarkable difference in this world. There is always hope, recovery is possible.”

Liz
“I love going on vacation. It’s my time to escape from the everyday and frolic in the land of freedom without a care in the world. That’s one of the reasons I began to drink so much – to get away from the everyday. Before long, my body needed to drink daily to avoid the inevitable withdrawal symptoms. That is when my “vacation” became my almost decade-long hell. On August 8, 2016, my inebriated, severely mentally-ill self, drank what would become my final six pack with too many thousands of milligrams of prescribed sedatives and narcotics to count in the desperate effort to kill the beast inside of me once and for all. Without the intervention of my Higher Power and my loving fiancé who I am still with, I could not have been connected to the machines that saved my life when my lungs collapsed in my unconscious body. Although I awoke in the Intensive Care Unit angry at the world, I eventually started on my road to recovery.

The road I’ve traveled thus far has not been entirely smooth. There were potholes, steep hills, and even road construction where I had to slow down. I spent the first 42 days sober in either an inpatient rehab or a psychiatric ward so when I was finally discharged to my home in late September 2016, I had the sketchy road map for my trip down Recovery Road. I felt strong and ready; so with that sketchy map the trip began.

I’ve started this trip the year prior and went back “out” 72 days later. This time, I was determined to take full advantage of this trip for the better. On average, I attended ten A.A. meetings a week, every week, in my first 90 days. Before long, I took on a coffee commitment in one group and a greeting commitment in another. I got a sponsor almost immediately and I was reading the Big Book and the Twelve and Twelve as assigned. Oh, and I worked a full-time job. I am also in professional therapy weekly for my mental illnesses. It was slowly all becoming too much to handle because as you can see, I’m not great at doing things in moderation.

Four months sober and I was diagnosed with narcolepsy, a brain disorder that effects sleep. It was no wonder why I was so exhausted all the time. It was time to adapt and not be superwoman. Almost seven months sober and I was enjoying my trip down Recovery Road. The scenery was nothing I remembered experiencing before; colors were brighter, sounds were clearer, tastes were even better. The Promises were slowly coming to fruition despite my narcolepsy and chronic mental illness which was finally under control, so I took a hiatus from all things A.A. and my therapist. The almost constant work on myself was exhausting, and I felt I had the necessary tools to continue travelling down Recovery Road on my own. I was wrong.

Although I remained sober, I suffered needlessly. Asking for help is also not my strong suit. Once again, my HP came to the rescue.

My past crimes came to the surface while 11 months sober and I panicked. No obsession returned, nor did I want it to, but I needed another alcoholic for support and realized I vanished from most them. It took that crisis and the continued love of the women in A.A. to bring me back to the rooms where I am now, one year sober.

This trip down Recovery Road has not been an easy one. I was attacked while on a 12 step call alone (now I know NOT to go on 12 step calls alone) and diagnosed with a brain disorder that effects my sleep making this road challenging. I still have deep symptoms from chronic PTSD to work on in therapy, and I still have to work on the Steps with a sponsor. I’m exhausted just thinking about the road ahead, but I’m slowly making modifications to successfully travel.

It makes me feel good that there’s no end location. I will be on this road for the rest of my life, enjoying the scenery and the comradery of the fellowship. I do not have a sponsor currently but I am keeping my eyes and ears open for one that can work with my modifications. I’m working more meetings into my life, now going to three to four meetings a week. I’m keeping in touch with a few alcoholics every day. I’m doing my best and I refuse to compare my travel to the travel of others. Everyone’s trip is wonderfully unique; there’s no minimum or maximum speed limit so we can go at our own pace.

I’m thoroughly enjoying this ride and I have no desire to return to that dark, dangerous road I once was on. I am no longer a prisoner of my own mind. I am no longer a slave to the drink. I am no longer dwelling over that beast inside of me that wants me done. I wake up every day grateful. I go to bed every night grateful. I am incredibly thankful to the mounds of people who played a part in my recovery and who continue to do so. Because of their belief in me, their support, and my hard work, I can continue my journey down my personal Road of Recovery… happily.”

Stacey
“I was a binge drinker for a long time, but managed to sustain my schoolwork and my job by restricting my binges to weekends. At some point in my twenties I couldn’t deal with my feelings anymore and had completely lost my sense of self and my drinking was no longer restricted to weekends. Before long I was a daily drinker. I would set limits for myself – I won’t drink past 10:00 turned into I won’t drink past 11:00; I won’t drink past midnight. Every limit I set, I broke.

Things were getting progressively worse but I couldn’t see it. I was lucky to have not lost my job or any of my “stuff.” When a relationship I was in ended, my drinking really escalated for about six or seven months. I was 33 years old, couldn’t stand myself and was dying on the inside. A close friend I depended on finally said to me “You’re killing yourself and I can’t watch.” I knew she was right and I walked into a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous the next day. That was in January, 2007 – nine years and eleven months ago — and I haven’t had a drink since. Why I needed to drink one day and the next I didn’t is a complete mystery to me. Somehow, God intercepted. Willingness and grace intersected and I just happened to be standing at the intersection.

Recovery has given me so much! It has given me a community and it has given me a relationship with God that I never thought possible (I thought he had abandoned me, but he was always there.) I guess one of the things that helped me most in the beginning was that people really cared and wanted me to stay sober. They told me that I was helping them, which was something I couldn’t comprehend until I started sponsoring people. Today, I actually love myself. I have a real relationship with God and I’m living my life. Things I used to say I was going to do (or wanted to do), I’m actually doing. I’m in a loving relationship and have good connections with my family. Of course, I still have character defects, but today I can recognize them!”

Matt
“Being someone who is very ‘out’ about my recovery, I am often asked, “What helped make your recovery possible?” I’m grateful to FOR-NY to have this forum to share some of my thoughts on this.
The first thing that I would point out is that my story is not much different than most. I used substances and the results were not that bad at first. However, when I started experiencing negative consequences because of my use, I found I was unable to stop – even when those consequences grew in severity – broken relationships, incarceration, homelessness and dropping out of high school just to name a few.

I eventually entered recovery through the traditional treatment system and believe I can attribute my ability to maintain recovery to a number of significant factors that were present in those early days. They are as follows:

Peers and Other Allies
One of the most important things I learned in early recovery was the importance of peers – people who had been down the same path as me and were now living in recovery. Not only were these individuals helpful because they were able to talk to me about their experiences, they were also helpful because I could see first-hand that they had lives that were full and they were able to navigate life’s ups and downs without using.

It is important to mention that I also had the support of many people not in recovery. Part of the shift that made me willing to seek help from people who were not in recovery occurred when I started looking at myself as a human being first, and an addicted person in recovery as just a piece of who I was.

Education/Employment
I cannot emphasize enough the importance that education and employment had on my recovery. Most of us enter recovery with very low self-esteem and a general sense of hopelessness. Early on in my recovery I knew that if I was going to be able to support myself financially, I was going to need to be trained or educated in something. Luckily, I was a huge political junkie (yes, pun intended!) and after lobbying to be allowed to continue my education while still in treatment, I went back to college with the help of state-run vocational supports. Through hard work and a continuing commitment to my recovery, I’ve earned a MA in Public and Social Policy and was even a speaker at my recent graduate school graduation!

The self-esteem I gained in college and later in employment has been one of the great benefits of recovery. In addition to the obvious benefits of employment – namely, a paycheck, I’ve found there are others.

There have been countless times when I have been supported through life’s ups and downs by coworkers. In fact, I consider my employer to be my second family. The love and support they have given me over the years has been invaluable.

Wellness Activities
Another thing that I learned along the way has been the importance of wellness in other parts of my life. Like so many of us who have spent years living in the dysfunction of active addiction, I was not used to taking care of the many things that are important to sustaining recovery.

This meant going to a primary care doctor, a dentist, eating right, getting enough sleep, and taking care of health concerns I neglected while using. In addition to these areas, it was also important for me to cultivate and maintain spiritual and financial health.

While taking care of these things was both scary and overwhelming at first, I really leaned on my peers for support and most of these things, which seemed foreign and strange at first, became life-long habits.

Community Integration and Civics
The last thing I want to mention is the importance that regaining a connection to my community has had on my recovery. This means being involved in various civic activities like volunteering, voting and generally being a good and engaged citizen willing to help my neighbors. When using, I felt so apart from society and the ‘living’. Recovery has enabled me to be a part of, rather than apart from, and that feels really good!

In closing, I would like to add that it’s important that we all work together as a community to support people in recovery. To me, a person in recovery, this begins with me stepping out of the shadows and standing proud! The reality is, as I write this, there are many who do not know that recovery even exists. These folks will never know there is hope if we continue to remain in the shadows!”

Elsie
In Recovery since 1992

“I never wanted to be me … I felt loved by my parents and sister but I felt alone. I remember as a small child spinning around in the chair for hour until I was so dizzy I would fall down. I puffed on my mom’s cigarette while she was not looking at 4. My mom drank, but I didn’t see her drunk more than a few times before I was a teenager. I started to notice alcohol and drugs in movies and music as something cool. I would see older kids drinking and smoking pot. My first drunk was at 12 years old on New Year’s Eve. Suddenly, I was cool and accepted by the other kids that night. Alcohol was my answer to the uncomfortable feeling I had. Even though I was very young, it was easy to get alcohol; and drugs soon became accessible at school. By 14, I was a daily user. I was smoking pot, drinking and doing harder drugs like acid, uppers and downers. At 15, I smoked cocaine (aka crack) and pretty much chased it to the gates of hell.

My family started to break down as my addiction grew. My mom drank more, my parents fought over my addiction, and my sister disappeared. I would lie and say hurtful things; a hurricane ripping though their lives. I realized the hurt, but had no way to stop. It was like my brain was broken, but I couldn’t figure out why. I went to therapy, sought out spiritual things, and believed in God but no matter how many mornings I told myself that I wasn’t going to get high, I did anyway. It was like I was insane; operating against my own will.

When I was about 23, I started seeing those commercials on television “This is Your Brain on Drugs” at 3 o’clock in the morning. I started to realize that there were other people like me who wanted to stop using, but couldn’t. I did not know there was help available. I tried to get sober on my own and just locked myself in the house. My parents did the best they could to try to keep me away from people, places and things, but it didn’t work; and I used again. I would pray to God and ask “Will I Ever Stop?”

In those days, there were a lot of guns on the street. I feared for my life, but I still couldn’t find a way to stop. My boyfriend got shot in the head and I still went back to that same spot a few days later. It burned me up when people said “You would stop if you wanted to.” I just could not stop on my own.

I walked into my first recovery meeting when I was 25 years-old. There were lots of young people playing Frisbee barefoot and listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. A couple of things quickly became apparent. These people were just like me; they were not using, and they wanted to help me. I felt accepted immediately. I could say out loud that I smoke crack and no one flinched. I slipped in and out several times, but the people in my meetings always welcomed me back. I finally decided to stick around and went to therapy for the next 5 years and had the support of my “new” friends and many more. I can honestly say that it was the love of the people in Recovery that kept me coming back.

I grew up in recovery. I learned new skills like how to think of myself less and others more. Somehow, I was soon helping others; just as others had helped me. I have travelled all over and have always found others just like me holding out a welcoming hand. Today, I am never alone unless I choose to be.

That painful journey ended more than 23 years ago. All the things you might say that a person who once smoked crack every day, wouldn’t be able to do — like own a home as a single woman or manage a bank branch and live as a trusted member of the community are true for me.

Today, I do as so many others who have recovered do every day, I reach out to others. No matter how many times someone has tried to get sober, I continue to believe it can and does happen. I have seen people try for 20 years and then one day, they get it! What if we gave up on someone and as a result they never got to be the parent or grandparent or spouse or community leader they could have been. I’ve gotten to see thousands of people move out of the darkness and into the light; from the bondage of addiction to the freedom of Recovery.

I am committed to doing everything I can to ensure that the next person gets the opportunity and the help they need. Recovery IS possible. I do not disrespect the traditions of the places that saved me and they do not ask me to be quiet about my recovery. I’m grateful that the process of getting well has taught me to remain open and not have contempt prior to investigation. To investigate the true meaning of things and not believe hearsay. I want to shout out to all the people in basements, clubhouses and halls all over this country and encourage them to get out and make a difference. We need to show others how well recovery works. I have a disease and I will not remain silent. I stay happy and healthy by remembering my way is not the only way and that to love, is to support all pathways to recovery. Love is a verb, an action. Recovery works! Let’s make accessible, available and sustainable to all who seek it. I will not be ashamed. I am a proud woman in long-term recovery!”

Xavier
“Xavier has been in Recovery for many years, and was kind enough to describe some of his journey with FOR-NY. His story is compelling and powerful. He now mentors other people in Recovery. In his words, “The Recovery process has taught me some very important lessons…There is nothing more powerful than seeing someone be able to stay clean. To be able to watch them…Being able to stay around long enough to see people grow is the most heartfelt, hopeful measure that I have been exposed to in my life. Profound hope of being able to see someone that at one point in their life where they were hopeless, where they felt like nothing was ever going to work for them and then being able to grasp onto that mustard seed of hope to be able to stand up where once they were never able to to be the people they were intended to be. Only in this process have I ever seen that happen. So once again, the Recovery Process is simple, but it is so profound.” – Listen to more of Xavier’s story here.
Matt Woodring (Woody)
“Meet Matt Woodring (Woody), a young man whose struggle with addiction led him to years in and out of jail and living on the streets of Rochester in between. Since finding Recovery he’s been committed to giving back what was so freely given to him and volunteers extensively in the community. Today, thanks to a scholarship from OASAS, Woody’s preparing to become a Peer Professional.

I grew up in the suburbs. Mine was a chaotic, traumatic childhood, bouncing from school to school, constantly moving, never really understanding why I always felt different, like I never fit in wherever I went, like I was never good enough. I lived in a broken home, torn between my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. One constant was alcohol, my parents were drinkers, my grandparents were drinkers. I was always told by my parents that my grandfather had a drinking problem, and as a teenager, this frightened me, so I turned to drugs. This began with smoking marijuana.

When I began using my life changed. I had found a solution to my problems. Marijuana made me feel better, it helped me to fit in, I became a part of something. I pursued this with everything I had. As I got older, I would continue to pursue what my peers were doing, eventually discovering alcohol, and in my late teens, ecstasy, mushrooms, and LSD. With each new drug I would try, the same effect on my psyche would occur, repeatedly finding new solutions to cover up my anxieties, my fears, making all my problems go away, for a time. I lived in this lifestyle for many years, very functionally. Having found a solution to my inner problems, I saw nothing wrong with my lifestyle. I had all the things I believed I needed in life, a car, a home, a job, and a social circle. On through my twenties, I continued to follow this recipe that had served me so well in my teens. Cocaine, valium, and vicodin would soon enter my life. My lifestyle began to take on a larger and larger importance as I began to need more and more substances to feel better. In this time, I continued to keep people around me who drank and used the way I did. Slowly, several things began to happen. I started to give things up for my habits. First it was certain drugs. I had found that I preferred some drugs over others, so I refined my recipe, so that I could focus on opiates and alcohol all day every day. I stopped driving, because the expense of having a car was getting in the way of my lifestyle. Cell phones became too expensive, and I gave them up. Morning, noon, and night I used, needing more and more. Before long I had given up everything, my apartment, my job, any friends and family who didn’t use the way I did, until I was left alone, with a bottle in one hand, and a needle in the other, homeless, unemployable. I was sick, and I had no idea. I began to get myself into trouble with the law, and spent years in and out of jail, living on the streets in between.

Eventually, I began to want to change, and I had no idea how to do it. When I first entered treatment, I did not think drugs and alcohol were my problem, I thought myself somehow different, and that I could control my use if I could just find the right environment, there was no shortage of people in my social circle who believed the same things. Relapse after relapse, I continued to spiral downward, people started to disappear, one friend overdosed in my arms, taking his last breath while I frantically called 911, others contracted HIV and Hepatitis C, and still others found themselves in prison for decades. This was what had become of my social circle, my peers. After many failed attempts of doing things my way, I turned to twelve step programs. Here I found people who seemed like me, who had similar stories and experiences. Some of these people had something I wanted, this twinkle in their eyes, an underlying happiness about them, and I wanted what they had. Most of these people were happy to share their experience with me, they helped me get back on my feet, get involved in the community, get my life back together. Slowly but surely I began to learn about my addiction and alcoholism, I got plugged into services that I needed, got off the streets, and I started to want to help those who were still sick and suffering, like people did for me. I wanted to give back what was so freely given to me.

Across all the different services and programs available to me, my experience has been that the greatest help has come from people who have lived the same life as me, the peers. It was suggested to me by those around me that I could get a scholarship, and begin the process of being trained as a peer, so that I can find a job, and begin to take the next step in life. Today, as I continue to volunteer as a peer, and begin to work toward employability, I could not be more grateful that there are programs and scholarships out there to help me get the credentials needed by most employers. I continue to strive on a daily basis to share my experience with others, so that someone else might find a rich, full life, like the one I have today.”

Betty
“I’m Betty Currier and I’m in long-term recovery from alcoholism. I haven’t needed a drink to change how I think, feel or act since January 6, 1976. Getting there was not easy.

For as long as I can remember, I never felt like I fit in. But all that changed when I found a group who accepted me – the drinkers – and I was introduced to alcohol. I was 16, and I vividly remember my first drinking experience. A few of us – 2 guys and 3 girls – were in a car. I can’t recall why, but I sure remember what happened. The boys brought out a bottle of cheap gin and after taking a couple of swigs themselves, passed the bottle to the girls. Without hesitation, I took a big swallow and thought I’d been poisoned! It burned all the way down and tasted awful. But I soon felt a warm glow rise through my body. I relaxed and began to enjoy myself. When the bottle came my way a second time, I didn’t hesitate. I still hated it, but I sure loved how it made me feel. Next, the boys brought out cigars, lit up, took a drag and passed them around. Wanting to fit in, I took a drag too. Big mistake. I was never as sick as I was that night, and I vowed it would never happen again. To this day, I’ve never smoked another cigar, but I spent 20 years trying to drink successfully.

Those 20 years included a marriage because that’s what my generation did. I don’t blame my husband for its failure. We were two incomplete people trying to find completion in each other. The good of that marriage is our 4 children. The bad is that the only way I felt OK was when I was drinking and that rarely turned out well. From the beginning, I couldn’t hold my booze. More often than not, I got sick and ended up “kneeling at the porcelain goddess.”

On the surface, I was a successful teacher, respected church and community member. I had friends. That all played into my denial. I didn’t drink like I imagined alcoholics drank. I didn’t drink the amounts or types of alcohol others did. It was the sweet, ladylike drinks for me. I was not a bar drinker. I was never arrested. Yes, I managed to look good on the outside, but inside I was drowning in fear, shame, loneliness, and overwhelming hopelessness. No amount of alcohol could fill that black hole.

At that time I didn’t realize how much alcoholism ran through my family and how it had affected me and ultimately my marriage, children and work. Finally, it all caught up with me. On January 6, 1976, my older daughter, who was 15 at the time, overdosed on a combination of Phenobarbital and brandy and almost died. She was taken to a hospital that housed the county alcoholism council. A member of the counseling staff visited my daughter, and the head counselor wanted to talk with me. I was totally unprepared for his first question: “Your daughter says you drink too much. Do you?” He patiently listened as I began a recitation of my “I nevers.” When I “ran down,” he said, “You’ve told me what you don’t do; what do you do?” I was speechless, which may come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. He began painting a picture of what alcoholism is and what it does. Before he finished, I was crying and saying, “Oh, my God, you’re talking about me.”

Thus began my journey into recovery. I had a lot to learn about my addictive disorder and how it had affected my life. I had to understand the part denial played. But most importantly, I had to lay to rest the guilt and shame, especially as it related to my children, all of whom were affected by addiction in different ways. I owe my life to a supportive recovery community that loved me until I could love myself. My recovery journey has been nothing short of amazing, filling me with peace, hope, love, and purpose. In short, a life beyond my wildest dreams.

My four children have found their own pathways to recovery, and their children (my 6 grandchildren), I’m proud to say, are addiction free. I believe the cycle has been broken in my family. My commitment and life’s purpose will always be to demonstrate the reality of recovery. I’m proud to be a face and voice of recovery.”

Ruth
“What are you having?” The universal question of Irish pubs. “Ginger ale, please.” I was a teenager and lived by the rules. Too young for alcohol. But my boyfriend didn’t see it that way. He thought it would be fun to see what happened when he spiked my drink with brandy.

Thirty-three years. That’s what happened. A drinking career inaugurated at a long forgotten Dublin hostelry by a man who still appears occasionally in my Facebook feed. (The memory is as vivid as yesterday.) What the hell. What did we know of alcoholism?

The Irish have a reputation for drink. We produce internationally-admired brands of beer and spirits. Through the years of my childhood, we could believe we owed my home town’s economy to the Guinness family, whose brewery dominated the older parts of Ireland’s capital. Later, the glamorous jobs were to be found marketing top-shelf liquors. Modern Ireland seemed fuelled by boozy lunches in fancy hotels – an ethos and aesthetic captured so perfectly in AMC’s Mad Men that, in these sober years, I find this very fine television series heartbreaking.

All of which is to say that, growing up, alcohol was absorbed into my very marrow before ever I tasted the stuff. Yes, there was whiskey, stout and vermouth (a “ladylike” drink) in my parents’ house. It was customary for my father to add whiskey to the glass of milk accompanying family meals. My mother drank while watching evening television with her growing daughter and son. If I noticed that she was extra quiet and a bit irritable in the morning, I thought nothing of it as I marveled at how she dressed her hair. (She didn’t teach me these feminine skills. I wear my hair short and styled by the haircutter’s scissors.)

Once a week, my mother visited her unmarried brother for an evening of fine wine and food and cultured conversation with this award-winning radio producer. He lived across town. Nobody bothered then with drunken driving. It was tacitly understood that my uncle represented the good life, with my unhappy father occupying a place somewhere towards the more unrefined end of the scale. Theirs was a triangular drama, with little place for the children.

By the time I turned thirteen, I had lost whatever novelty value I had in this family. I was essentially on my own now. The substitute-community of the pub welcomed me while I was still a schoolgirl, and my adult triumphs were celebrated there, not in my family. I drank with the best of them until I drank alone.

Then came the day I needed to find a new family. PDQ. Pretty damn quick.

Like so many before me (and since), I crept into the mutual-aid community. It’s no more perfect than any other family, but it has the enormous advantage of being committed to living a consciously values-driven life.

“Be sure to attend Speaker Meetings so that you can hear the insanity of alcoholism through people’s stories,” I was advised in these rooms. “Listen until you hear someone tell your story.” It was suggested I connect with a mentor, an anchor in a confusing new world. This mentor went on to effectively re-parent me, although it’s not in the job description. A startling gift.

Over the years, I’ve examined the alcoholic insanity of my own life – not that I was blind to it at the time. It was just the way things were. I’ve ‘fessed up to the most shameful behavior that’s the unavoidable by-product of active addiction. I’ve offered amends and been met with truly loving (if often baffled) responses. But it wasn’t until I was exposed to the multi-generational nature of addiction that my life began to make sense to me. For as long as I thought of my alcoholism as unmoored from time, place or circumstance, I considered myself a freak, and I could not integrate recovery, its premises and demands into the whole of my experience.

I’ll always be grateful to the dedicated rehab counselors who disabused me of my naiveté about addiction. But I had to come to America to get this message.

Retracing my admission of powerlessness over alcohol, I put together – as best I could – a family tree, and asked myself if any of these characters might have been addicts. Family lore (unreliable) had identified a possible gambler and two large-living grand-aunts. There are many unexplained early deaths. And so on. It’s a woefully incomplete picture, and that also tells a story.

And I made a list of all the funerals I’ve attended, beginning with my parents who died decades ago. My father’s heart condition killed him off six months before my mother, for all that she was eleven years his junior. My mother, meanwhile, was pronounced dead-on-arrival to the hospital emergency room, nominally felled by pneumonia. I was late to her memorial service attended by our local Member of Parliament, whom I had previously served as constituency secretary. This is chaos. Several years later, my great love committed suicide. A once successful visual artist, he had become an anonymous middle-aged body pulled from the River Liffey, briefly noted as such in the same Irish Times where he had appeared as an emerging star. And so on. Was alcohol implicated in any of these deaths? What do you think?

This year, I turn teenager again. (One day at a time and the creek don’t rise!) This time around, I’ll be with a family of choice, supported by people in recovery themselves. We’ll be happy, joyous and free, and we’ll be together. There’ll be cake. Come join us!

Ruth Riddick is a Certified Addiction Recovery Coach and Educator at Sobriety Together™, and a woman in recovery (established 2003). Find her on LinkedIn and Facebook. Or, contact her at ruth@ruthriddick.com.

Rob
“My name is Rob Baum and I am a person in long term recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. I have not had the need nor desire to drink or take drugs since January 10, 1987. Getting where I am today has at times been a wild and tumultuous ride. What I know today is that life happens. I do not believe in coincidence; rather I believe everything happens for a reason.

Growing up, I was the 2nd oldest child in my family; with an older sister and younger brother and sister. Alcoholism runs deep within my family and I remember early on the presence of alcohol intertwined in my parents lives. My brother and sisters and I took on the typically prescribed roles in an alcoholic family. I was the Family Hero, my older sister was the Scapegoat, brother the Mascot, and younger sister the Lost Child. All sorts of abuse were rampant. This taught me two things…. fear and anger. The scourge of alcoholism showed itself to me when I was just 14. My older sister had already started down the drinking and drugging road. When she was just 15 years-old, my parents came downstairs one night to find her not only drunk, but she had also taken phenobarbital and had stopped breathing. My parents got to her just in time. She was evaluated by a counselor who called my mom on the phone and asked her to come in to speak with him. When my mom arrived, the counselor confronted her saying my sister had talked about our mother’s drinking. My mom broke down and started going to 12-step meetings almost immediately. She has been sober ever since. (In fact, she has 40 years of continuous sobriety today!)

Six months later she decided to divorce my father. I had my first official “drunk” during this time and mom decided I needed to go to 12-step meetings. I was 14 and didn’t go for long. In high school I learned there were two social groups…. the jocks and the heads. I wanted to be a jock, but the fear of failure was too great. Being a head was easy. I fit right in and not surprisingly, I failed my first class during sophomore year. My drinking and drugging were on a steady climb. As a junior, my mom kicked me out of the house and I was expelled from school not long after that. I did things that I knew were wrong and knew I shouldn’t do, but again, at that time, I had to fit in. I was arrested for stealing money from my mom and forging a check for which I was sentenced to 18 months of probation. I eventually went back to school and pulled myself together enough to graduate. Still, I felt that nothing was ever good enough. I didn’t have the right girlfriend, etc.

I joined the Navy just prior to my 19th birthday and became a star performer — high evaluations, the whole package. I still felt “not good enough.” In January 1987, I was eligible for “Sailor of the Year. “ That should have been (I thought) the pinnacle of my life, but I came in 2nd place. Again, I felt “not good enough.” I went home that night and decided that I was going to get good and drunk. My brother was living with me, but he had plans of his own that night, so I took some LSD and proceeded to drink more than I ever had before. As the night wore on, I became more and more intoxicated and more and more angry. I remember thinking “I’ll kill myself and they’re going to wish they’d treated me better. “I’ll show them!” I took a full bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol and the rest of the narcotic pain meds I had at home. I kissed my dog (Josh) goodbye and laid down. The next thing I remember was hearing the sound of Josh barking and wanting to come inside the house. Somehow I dragged myself out of bed and my brother (who had arrived home by this time) realized I wasn’t just hungover. I believe that Josh was used as a channel by God, my Higher Power, to save my life. If he hadn’t barked, I don’t believe I’d be alive today.

I knew it was time to get help and I did. As it turned out, I just narrowly avoided needing a liver transplant. Fortunately, my doctor understood addiction and sent me to a treatment center where I was reintroduced to 12-step recovery. That’s when I started climbing out of the hole I had dug myself into. I began to believe that there was life after alcohol and drugs. Substances had been so intertwined in my l life that I didn’t know how I was going to live without them. To my great surprise, I made many good friends and got married in Recovery. (Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last.) Although I was no longer drinking or drugging, my life-long struggles with fear and anger continued to plague me and I entered into intense therapy.

Flash forward a few years while still in the Navy, I felt like I had been given an opportunity to pay the Navy back for all it had done for me – both in service to our nation and my recovery. On average, it takes 15 years for a sailor to achieve the rank of Chief Petty Officer; I made it in 11. I realized that having spent so much of my life trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be that I was like a hamster on a wheel – running, running, running and getting nowhere. With the help of the 12-step program, my therapist, and lots of good friends and co-workers I found a much better way to live.

I was eventually reassigned to an aircraft carrier as a production control chief and directly supervised about 10 men. As such, I was to be their supervisor, trainer and mentor. I treated them the way I wanted to be treated; with respect and decency. In the past it would have been all about me. “What can I get out of this?” “I’ll be nice to you, but what do I get out of it?” But I was now a different man. I helped all who were eligible for advancement attain it and recommended them all for awards and medals. Just before we pulled back into Norfolk after a 6 month cruise, I held a meeting in my quarters and acknowledged and thanked the men for their hard work. On the way into port, my leading Petty Officer said, “Chief, you did a great job.” Those words were better than any award or medal I could ever receive.

Since retiring from the Navy after 18 years of service at 36 years of age and 11 years of sobriety, I’ve dedicated myself to service. (I know that I can’t keep my recovery unless I give it away.) I’ve committed myself to years of service work in the 12-step community, held pseudo 12-step meetings in a juvenile detention home, became a Literacy Volunteers instructor and board member, and serve on the United Way and Friends of Recovery – New York Board of Directors.

In December 2001, I suffered a traumatic brain injury that resulted in short term memory loss. I wasn’t willing to accept that as a result, I could no longer work. The injury had exacerbated my bi-polar disorder symptoms and I became suicidal. (By the way, I HAVE bi-polar disorder. I am NOT bi-polar. Big difference.) While I know that God doesn’t close one door without opening another, I waited in the hallway for a few years before finally walking through that newly opened door. I have a good life today. I’m retired and bought a house that I love 6 years ago. God-willing, I will celebrate 30 years of sobriety on January 10, 2017. The cycle of addiction has been broken in my family. All that has happened, happened one day at a time. Has it all been smooth and easy? No, but I wouldn’t change a thing.”

“Being able to stay around long enough to see people grow is the most heartfelt, hopeful measure that I have been exposed to in my life.”

“Being able to stay around long enough to see people grow is the most heartfelt, hopeful measure that I have been exposed to in my life.”