Sharing my thoughts on an addict’s story published on NPR

Article:  Longtime Heroin Addict Fights for Recovery

As someone who has struggled with various addictions throughout my life, the worst being alcohol, reading this story about Andrea Towson touched me and hit home.  I was never addicted to heroin, but I feel that many of my days while active in my disease mirrored hers… get up, start drinking, make sure I have enough to get through the day and into the next, plan on how I was going to get more, then continue drinking until finally passing out.  Every day was the same.  And it was a nightmare.  I also had more than one near death experience, but still continued to drink for some time before finally ‘waking up’ to the idea that I needed help.  On July 13th, 2017, I gratefully celebrated five years of sobriety.  It also happened that an AA event that my spouse and I attend every year was a week early this year and fell on the same weekend of my sobriety birthday.  My favorite part of the event is the countdown.  Now mind you, upwards of 1000 people attend this event every year, and what is staggering about this number is that we live in a small community.  During the countdown, the person at the podium starts by finding out who has the longest sobriety – it’s usually someone with 45-50 years.  Then we countdown one year at a time, and those who have that period of sobriety stand up to be recognized while everyone claps and cheers for them.  Once the countdown gets to one year, then we continue by month, and once we hit one month, we countdown by day.  There is always someone who has only one day of sobriety.  That person walks to the front along with the person who has the most time, they hug, and the person with the most time under their belt gives the person who has the least time a copy of the ‘big book’ and words of encouragement.  I always tear up during the countdown, especially when I see those who have only days or weeks stand up.  I remember that time so clearly and how hard it was and wondering how anyone could make it a whole year, or even longer.  As time has gone by, I have grown and gotten stronger and no longer wonder how, as I am living it day by day.

Sadly, there are many who will never experience sobriety because their lives will be taken too soon as a result of their addiction.  It is unfortunate too that rehab is very costly, and often there are no available beds, leaving those who want and seek treatment out on their own.  Addiction is very complex; there are many factors in play as to why someone becomes addicted.  Too often people who have never been there do not understand this, all they want to do is point a finger and place the blame.  And unfortunately, the U.S. currently has an administration who largely does not understand addiction and they are going about fighting the current epidemic all wrong.  Most of the people who are out there still struggling are good people; many have the qualities our society deems as good, but we can’t see these qualities because they are masked by drugs and/or alcohol.  Many would be very shocked and surprised as to how many people who currently hold, or at one time held, positions of power and prestige also have a past that includes addiction.  The point is, addicts are worth saving, and building walls and returning to a 1980s-style ‘war on drugs’ absolutely will not stop the problem so many are facing.  Instead, educating people and the public, creating safe places for addicts to go to, and providing support and programs is what will help.  Congrats to Ms. Towson for finding sobriety and reaching out to others, I wish her the best!

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My Story II – The Downward Spiral

For the most part, I had a typical rural, small-town America childhood.  My family was middle class, religious, strict, close-knit, conservative and judgmental.  My parents were still together, I had siblings and a family dog.  We lived on the edge of town in a heavily wooded area on a decent chunk of land.  I grew up learning gardening, how to use most shop equipment, cooking, and doing lots of chores.  There were constant get-togethers, cook-outs, days on the lake, etc. with our very large extended family.  I was forced to go to church every week with the family.  I never liked going to church, and quit as soon as I was out of my parents’ house.  While I do not subscribe to any religion at this time in my life, I am a spiritual person and believe in a higher power.  I feel that religion and/or spirituality is a very personal journey and should not be something one is coerced into, or forced to believe simply because someone else believes their way is the right way or the only way.  But, I digress.

I got excellent grades in school, participated in art and honor society, a little in choir (though I am not a very good singer but love performing), and was on several competitive athletic teams.  I was never part of the ‘in’ or ‘popular’ crowd – in fact, I was often their subject of ridicule.  Quite truthfully, I struggled to fit into any group, period.  I did have a few friends, though.  I pretty much always had a boyfriend, usually someone who was not good for me or someone whom my parents did not approve.  I attended a private Catholic school from kindergarten through fifth grade, and then went on to the public school system after.  I was picked on by the kids in elementary school, and that only got worse in middle school.  I found myself hanging around the ‘tough’ crowd in sixth grade, and would continue to run with them until high school.  Of course, my parents were horrified, which only made me want to hang out with these kids more.  Looking back, I know part of this was rebellion, but some part was also necessity, or at least what I felt was necessity…if I was mean enough and tough enough and had enough of these types of ‘friends’, then everyone else would leave me alone and would respect me.  What else goes hand-in-hand with a tough demeanor?  Obviously – smoking, drinking, and drugs.  So, began the experimenting, often in the girls’ bathroom or behind the gym in between classes or at lunch.  None of these things stuck, though, at least not at that time.  However, the need, the craving to be altered and escape for a while was awakened.  It was also during this time that I started struggling with depression and anxiety, and I found myself regularly having suicidal thoughts.  My parents picked up on this and tried taking me to a therapist which I absolutely hated and refused to continue.  I also started questioning my gender; I often wished I was a boy and I remember even asking my mom on multiple occasions why I was born the way I was.  I regularly styled my hair just like the guys from the heavy-metal bands I admired and dressed similarly.  Although this is played into my being bullied, I enjoyed standing out and being different from everyone else.  Most my friends were guys; I struggled to get along well with most girls, and often acted and joked around in such a way that I became just ‘one of the guys.’  (Sorry, but fart jokes are funny)

In high school, I distanced myself from the rough crowd and hung out more with the ‘skater’ crowd.  I continued participating in competitive sports and started thinking about college and what to do with my life.  Although many of my friends were into drinking and drugs, I did not partake.  I started dressing more ‘goth’ and grunge.  The bullying continued in high school, and became horrific; I was constantly taunted and humiliated by members of one of the athletic teams I was on, and it spread to others in the school, so much so that even walking down the hall or outside would bring on jeers.  One day during my junior year, I was late leaving the gym after practice.  Everyone else had already changed and left.  As I made my way to the locker room, I was followed by one of the boys in our school, who then pulled down his pants and tried groping at me.  I hit him and yelled for him to get out.  Thankfully he left out of fear that one of the coaches could hear.  I tried to tell my mom about the incident, but she wouldn’t believe me.  She knew him and his mom and stated he would never do such a thing.  I had no one else to confide in at the time and didn’t know what to do, so I suppressed the memory and the feelings associated with it.  I was assaulted by two other guys at different points of my senior year, but I buried those occurrences too.  My senior year was a whirlwind.  I had a nasty break-up with one of my boyfriends which deeply hurt, occasionally ditched classes, and continued trying to find myself.

I started college the fall semester following high school graduation.  I found myself having a very difficult time coping with being away from some of the friends whom I had grown so close to during my last couple of years of high school.  I also began working part-time to help pay for school.  Shortly before the semester began, I started dating a guy I worked with who would eventually become my husband.  I loved college, and I became addicted to reading and learning.  I couldn’t get my hands on enough books or read them fast enough.  I never drank in college, I also never went to any college parties, was not in a sorority, nor did I live in the dorms on campus.  I still had a hard time fitting in, and often felt that I was missing out on the full college experience by not living on campus (I was still living at home with my parents and commuting).  I never wanted college to end…even though my friends were few, I loved the feeling of walking around campus and the sense of having so much in front of me as far as life was concerned.  There were a couple of instances that were particularly rocky.  I lost a close family member during my third year, and my sister became anorexic.  My mom was in denial about my sister’s condition, and at one point informed me that it was my fault she had this problem.  That comment still hurts to this day.  After five years, I graduated with two majors and two minors, married my boyfriend just before graduation, and was accepted to medical school.  Part of the reason I ended up with more than one major and minor was because I struggled to settle on one thing, another reason was because almost everything I leaned towards didn’t seem to be good enough for my parents.  College was largely a positive experience, though I continued to deal with depression and anxiety.

After graduation, my husband and I relocated to where I would begin medical school and he would begin graduate school.  This is where everything started spiraling down.  We got hooked into an online MMORPG, which I became very addicted to, and the drinking slowly but surely began.  While he successfully completed his degree, I was struggling with mine.  I had one class that I had an extremely difficult time with, and subsequently, my other classes suffered as a result.  After one semester, I took a leave of absence to try to figure things out.  I was regularly seeing the school’s psychiatrist and therapist, and was placed on an anti-depressant.  I decided to go back to school that following fall, thinking I was ready, but I was not.  I finished out the first year, and my grades were not what they should have been, and I had to leave.  Before it was all said and done, I had been on multiple different anti-depressants, some of which I feel made things worse rather than better.  Also, the drinking…my husband and I started out light with the occasional beer or wine on the weekend with dinner.  We went to parties that the school I attended hosted and there were always kegs and an open bar.  I got drunk for the first time, and I loved it.  I started drinking more and more because I needed the release, the relaxation that came with it.  Such a beautiful escape.  The hangovers were horrible, but with time and experience, I learned how to drink without having a hangover the next day, or at least not a bad one.  That occasional glass of beer was soon replaced with whiskey, tequila, vodka, whatever fit the mood.  We started getting drunk on the weekends a little more regularly.  Eventually, I would find excuses to drink during the week too.  Upon my exit from med school, I was in my worst depression yet, and for the first time in a while, I was suicidal.  I discontinued the anti-depressants and stopped seeing the therapist.  I was in a very dark place.

After another year, my husband and I relocated again so he could continue his education.  I began a job that was originally supposed to be short-term because my goal was to eventually go back to school myself.  I really wanted to brush up on the sciences with some graduate level work and go back to med school.  Well, I did take some of those classes in the evenings, but as the years went by, I realized that going back to med school was just not in the cards.  I made some very close friends where I was working, but also put up with terrible sexual harassment, and bullying from some of the other employees.  Again, I just repressed everything, feeling that telling someone would do no good.  I eventually shared with my husband some of the things that were going on and he was livid.  He did not understand how I could just sweep it all under the rug; truth is, retaliation at that place was bad and we needed me to have that job to pay the bills.  I eventually started seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist again and once again started the trial and error of anti-depressants.  My drinking continued to increase:  three times a week, then 5 times a week, to eventually every day.  I couldn’t imagine getting through an evening without drinking.  We had a large pantry that was around the corner from the kitchen and kept an entire shelf full of hard liquor – almost anything your heart desires could be found there.  At one time, my parents were visiting and we showed them the shelf because we thought it was funny that we had so much alcohol in the house.  My dad commented that we needed to be careful or it could turn into a real problem.  Of course, I laughed this off because as far as I was concerned, this was one problem I would never have.  Having the pantry located where it was was very convenient for me.  I would mix myself a drink and would always pour up a large quantity and even started taking swigs straight from the bottles, without anyone knowing exactly how much I had consumed.  If I started emptying bottles faster than they should have been emptied, I would just buy more and discreetly replace what was in the closet.  I never shared what I was doing because I felt ashamed, but I was already to a point where I just couldn’t quit.  I didn’t even tell my husband, with whom I would share everything, out of fear of what he would think.  As time winded on, I would no longer be replacing just one bottle, it would be multiple bottles.  I would start purchasing the largest bottle something came in since a fifth would be gone much too quick.  I would hide the empty bottles in the back of my car and knew places all over town that had dumpsters in the back where I could dispose of the bottles without being caught.  I was almost caught once – I forgot that I had a large box of empty bottles in my trunk and my husband saw them.  He immediately questioned what was that about, and I quickly mumbled some made up excuse and vowed to myself to be more careful.  I also started making my purchases at different places around town because I got to the point that I was having to buy daily and was embarrassed that the same liquor store employee saw me every day.  At some point, I started hiding bottles in the closet behind boxes and in a book bag.  The first thing I would do when I got home from work was hit one of my hidden bottles.  I would go back to it all night long while my husband was busy doing other things.  Since I was paying the bills, the purchases went unnoticed.  He did notice, though, that my behavior was becoming strange and erratic, but I explained this away as being exhausted and stressed.  I also made sure to always have mouthwash on hand to help cover the smell on my breath, never mind that it was also coming out of my pores…but he did not notice.  On occasion, I would even resort to drinking mouthwash if I ran out of alcohol.  I would get very stressed out if we had something going on, and would have to figure out how I was still going to drink while doing activity x, y, or z.  I did begin talking to my therapist about my drinking, but only up to a point.  I remember telling her I have no desire to quit, I just want to control it.  Her comment back to me was ‘that is something an alcoholic would say.’  I was very angry at this – how dare she accuse me of being an alcoholic!  I simply needed to figure out how to get a better handle on my drinking.  I also confided in a couple of close friends that I felt I was struggling with how much I drank, but I still did not go into the extent of my drinking.  I knew I had a problem, but I could not come to grips with the thought that I may be an alcoholic.  Towards the end of the eight years that we lived in this location, I had started slipping out to my car on my lunch breaks and 15 minute breaks while at work where I had started keeping yet another bottle.  I think some people at work were catching on that I was up to something, but no one ever said anything.  I had started drinking to the point of blacking out almost every night.  I would wake up the next morning with absolutely no memory of how I got to bed.  My husband would usually tell me how he found me and that he helped me to bed and would then ask if I remember any of it; I never could remember a thing.  Then the big news came, he landed a great job, and we would be moving halfway across the country.  I was excited, feeling that maybe this fresh start was all I needed and I would finally be able to get my drinking under control.  I did stress out about the long drive ahead of us and how I was going to manage to sneak the amount of alcohol I needed to get through the day without having the shakes.  Of course, I did manage to work out the logistics.

During the extra hot summer of 2011, we embarked on our new journey.  I was elated, life was good.  Only, it wasn’t…I had no clue what the next year was about to bring.  We got moved and settled into our new lives.  We felt almost like we were starting fresh; the only problem was that we didn’t know anyone where we were, but that slowly changed with time.  I set out to find a job, but the market was still tough at that time and there wasn’t much in our location.  It took almost a whole year before I would be back to work.  During that year, my drinking escalated as I found myself alone during the days with not a lot going for me.  My husband and I began arguing a lot because it was taking so long for me to find work.  A lot of pain and dark emotions started to boil over inside me.  I started keeping bottles in my side table next to the bed.  The first thing I would do every morning, usually around 6:00 am, was hit the bottle to get the shakes under control.  I would barely eat during the day because I did not want food to interfere with the effects of the alcohol.  I eventually worked my way up to drinking around a fifth of 100-proof bourbon or vodka per day.  Some days it was more.  I started up once again with a psychiatrist and therapist, but the drinking continued.  I would often black out at some point in the afternoon and then wake back up for a while in the evening to drink some more.  Every night I would judge how much alcohol I had for the next day so I could make sure if I had enough or needed to get to the store first thing in the morning.  One morning in December of 2011, I started my day the typical way.  But I felt really awful, not like the normal crappy feeling I had grown accustomed to.  My husband was home, working in his office, and our dog was acting strange around me, like she knew something wasn’t right.  After I had been up for a couple of hours and had already chugged a fair amount of vodka, I threw up.  I violently threw up a large quantity of bright red blood.  The bathroom looked like a scene straight out of a horror movie.  My husband was confused and tried to rationalize what was happening.  He asked if I was sure I didn’t eat or drink anything red.  I was almost in tears from pain in my abdomen and from freaking out because I was scared I was going to bleed out and die before we could get to the hospital.  I told him it was blood, I could taste it.  He rushed me to the hospital where I was immediately admitted; he still was unaware of my drinking and I had to explain the situation to the medical staff and beg them not to say anything.  I had to tell them out of fear of going into DTs.  They did a scope and found I had multiple tears in my lower esophagus that were a direct result of my drinking and regular vomiting.  You would think that this near-death experience would be enough to end the drinking, but it wasn’t.  After a few days, I was discharged and one of the first things I did was head for the bottle.  I was so miserable, I started to realize I desperately needed help, that I needed to open up to my husband and family, all of whom had become very concerned about me over the past couple of years.  The final straw for me happened that following spring.  I had passed out once again from heavily drinking the day away.  My husband was at work.  I woke up completely confused and disoriented.  I thought it was the next morning and frantically thought my husband never came home from work.  I immediately rushed to his place of employment and saw his car in the parking lot and kept trying to call his cell with no answer.  I found security who ended up driving me around looking for him.  It never dawned on me that it was getting darker outside, not lighter.  When we finally found him and he informed me it was not, in fact, the next day, I was embarrassed and it became crystal clear I had to put a stop to this.  The next day, I finally laid it all out for my husband.  He was beyond angry.  I asked him not to tell anyone in the family yet, that I wasn’t ready for that.  Of course, he did tell our parents, and our relationship became very rocky.  I had already been going to AA meetings for a month or so, thinking that would take care of all of this, but I just couldn’t stop.  I swore I would quit and continue going to meetings, but the damage was already done.  I felt relieved to finally get this off my chest and not have to keep this horrible secret anymore, but I still just couldn’t stop drinking.  After a few more months, I was hit with an ultimatum – either check into rehab and sober up for good, or my marriage would be over.  I had finally started a new job and was scared to take off for an extended period so soon.  Problem about that, though, was I couldn’t stay sober at work either and people were taking notice.  I was on very shaky ground there too.  My husband took away my car keys thinking that would do the trick, but I would simply walk to the closest liquor store on my lunch break and buy what I needed and kept it in my large purse.  I finally hit bottom.  I was so tired of not remembering what happened the day before, of always feeling like shit, and sad that I was missing out so much of life and was selfishly sucking the life out of those who cared about me.  Many more things happened during my years of drunkenness, but I don’t need to go into every detail to get the point across.  Plus, I will share more with time.

On Friday, July 13, 2012, at the age of 35, I checked into a hospital specializing in detox and mental health disorders.  So began my journey to sobriety.  I was terrified and happy at the same time.  After spending an entire week in detox, I was checked into rehab.  I will not be talking much about this phase because my personal experience with rehab was not a good one.  But the important thing was it got me sober.  To the person still suffering who may be reading this, know that there is hope, and that you can achieve sobriety.  Be inspired by the amount of time someone has under their belt, but realize they are no further away from that next drink than he/she who has only one day sober.  Remember, we only have today and need to take life one day at a time, and sometimes even that is too much, so we take it one hour at a time or one minute at a time – whatever is necessary to get by.  Also, there is a huge network of alcoholics out there who want to help, so please reach out, and if you need professional help, those people are out there too.  I would urge anyone who has been drinking large volumes of alcohol for an extended period of time to seek professional medical help – detoxing from alcohol and certain drugs can be very dangerous and even deadly.  If you have a drinking problem, or even think you may have a problem, please get help, it does get better and a sober life is a great life!  If you want to find an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting near you, or want more information, you can find it at http://www.aa.org/.

Heartache

It’s the diagnosis no one wants to hear – cancer.

I now feel heartache when watching my husband of almost 17 years play and laugh with our baby.  Wondering how much of her life he’ll be able to see.  All he ever wanted was children and after a long wait, finally having one of his own that he could cradle, love, and share joy with.  I feel a crippling physical pain in my heart thinking about great memories we have, wondering where has all the time gone?  Memories keep flooding my mind – fun nights out, time spent with our fur baby, feeling free and as though the future was endless…I think back to the early years – the first 5 years we were together before marriage.  We were in college, and the most stressful things in our lives mainly revolved around getting good grades and finishing assignments on time.  We constantly laughed, acted goofy, and went out of our way to do something special and unexpected for the other.  I look at old photos from that time and think to myself ‘wow, we look so young, so vibrant and happy.’  Nowadays, it sometimes feels as though stress hits from every direction.  Long gone are the days of naiveté and silliness.  Now we face a cancer diagnosis and further testing, hoping and praying that everything will be ok; that the doctor was able to remove it all and that it hasn’t spread.  Even while facing this, I sit here with my beautiful family and feel blessed for what we have and try to remind myself that all we have is this one moment – no one is guaranteed a tomorrow, so we must make the most of the time we have that is right in front of us.