I Traded Sex, Drugs, and Rock And Roll For Good Orderly Direction

I came from a middle-class family with good core values. However, I always had a strong self-will and despite warnings and admonishments from my parents I began drinking alcohol and experimenting with mind-changing/mood-altering substances at an early age. I got drunk for the first time at age 14 and it was transformative – I couldn’t get enough! My older sister was killed by a drunk driver (along with her fiancée and best friend when I was 17. The drunk driver who hit my sister’s car also died. I swore I would never drink and drive again, but broke that promise to myself within a matter of months. I drove drunk countless time thereafter.

Married at age 18, a father at age 20, I was a child of the 60’s: pursuing sex, drugs, & rock ‘n roll. I was drafted into the service during the Vietnam War. My marriage was disastrous, and I began to drink not only for fun and recreation, but also to cope with my failed relationship and with my emotions. I blamed everyone and everything for my problems. At age 25 I checked myself into a psychiatric ward at my local Veteran’s hospital where I spent the next 2 months trying to “get my head together”. I was coaxed into attending an AA meeting, but immediately determined I “wasn’t that bad”. I drank and used other substances for the next year desperately trying to control or stop my use to no avail.

I experienced a rude awakening at age 26 following a head-on car accident while highly intoxicated. I was spiritually, physically, and emotionally broken and finally willing to fully accept help. I entered a wonderful 28-day 12-Step oriented treatment program and followed the good orderly direction they recommended. As a result, my life profoundly changed for the better. I’ve been in recovery ever since.

I returned to school and obtained my Master’s degree in Human Services. I entered the addictions treatment field and several years afterward started my own private practice. I later became the director of a local health department outpatient addictions treatment program and eventually became involved in prevention and recovery advocacy efforts. I remarried and raised a family and have dedicated my life to being of service to others in need of help. I’m now semi-retired yet continue to advocate for recovery efforts on a local, regional, statewide, and to a degree national level. I’ve had a wonderful life. I recognize that I’m deeply blessed and remain passionately committed to recovery advocacy.

Sober Living Was My Stepping Stone To Long Term Recovery

My name is Casey Longan and I am a woman in long term recovery. My sobriety date is September 14th, 2011. I started using at a very young age and meth was the first and only drug I ever used. I spent countless years in and out of the criminal justice system. I not only destroyed myself, but the hearts of family as well. When I left home, my family didn’t hear from me for years. The only time I would try to call was from jail. I would get out and go right back to the same people and places. Since I had isolated and removed myself from my family, I carried such shame that I felt it was better to just stay away. I felt they didn’t need or want me around because I had messed up and hurt them so bad. I never tried to get clean, I didn’t want too. This turned into a 16 year run for me. In that time, I had 2 children that I left behind with their Dad’s family because I was too busy doing drugs. Also during those years, I was raped and got pregnant. I didn’t tell or report this because of who the person was who raped me. I didn’t want any blow back from the group he was associated with. I made the choice to give the child up for adoption. There was not only the fact that I couldn’t care for the child, but I didn’t think I would ever be able to love the child because of how the baby was conceived. I wanted to give the baby a chance of a good life and that wasn’t with me.

While I was in jail for the final time, I was sentenced to treatment and was not happy about it. I had a suspended sentence of 56 months over my head if I didn’t complete treatment, so I gave it a shot, but at first this was only because I didn’t want to go to prison for that long. The treatment I went to was a 6 month program, but because of my negative attitude and breaking the rules and mouthing off to the C.O’s, I ended up with the extended stay version of 1 year in-house and 6 months of aftercare. Much too everyone’s surprise, I completed the program, without relapsing and moved into an Oxford House (sober living). I stayed 2 years in a house. I worked hard on myself and my recovery. I regained communication and relationships with my family and my children. I moved out of Oxford and came to Texas.

I started college and will be graduating in a year with a degree in criminal justice. I work for De Paul University out of Chicago as a research manager in Texas. I study Oxford Houses now for my job and love it because this is where I came from and regained my new life. I stay heavily involved as alumni of Oxford and get to work with people in recovery every day. I get to see the life and light come back into people’s eyes as they too move forward with their journey’s. I got married a year ago and could not be happier.

My life is full and happy these days. I love to help people and I love me. My life is happy and I will never stop reaching out to others to help. I feel fortunate for the life I now have and I know there are so many people out there who still need help and hope. I am NOT ashamed of where I came from. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If you’re reading this and are struggling, please know I believe in you and you can do this! It’s going to be a long road, but stick with it. Embrace the up’s and down’s and raise your hand for help. Much love!

Medication Assisted Treatment Saved My Life

My name is Zac Talbott, and I was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1983 and was raised – and lived most of my life – 30 minutes south of Knoxville in the affluent southern town of Maryville. I came from an upper middle class, church-going family that prioritized family, faith, and education. I went on to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville before enrolling in the MSSW program at the UT Knoxville College of Social Work. During my time as a graduate student in the Social Work program, ironically enough, I was prescribed opioid pain medications from my physician for some minor knee and back pains. It was as if I had never lived before. Something almost immediately changed in me, and a dependence turned addiction to opioids began to engulf my life. Not long before I was academically dismissed from the UT College of Social Work I was a regular, daily IV heroin user. I can vividly re-call going into the bathroom in graduate school and shooting up in between classes to ward off withdrawal symptoms. For a long time, prior to my academic dismissal that led to a downward spiral, I was a high functioning addict. I wasn’t “one of them.” I came from a good family from, “good stock” as we said in the south. Talbotts weren’t addicts. We were people of faith, community leaders and role models. But I am writing to tell you today that opioid addiction does not discriminate and knows no boundaries by class or race, by gender or sexual orientation, by religion or level of education. Not even half a decade into the new millennium I was living in a hell that began with an illusion of a pill-induced heaven. I strove day in and day out just to “stay well,” to avoid withdrawals. Any type of “high” was a thing of the past, an illusion that lasts only for the very first romantic parts of this lethal disease. Such is the daily life of someone addicted to opioids – be they prescription pain killers and/or heroin.

But there is hope. Being a graduate student never truly left me, so when I was sick and tired of being sick and tired I researched what would give me the best chance of success. I went to credible sources – something I remember being beaten into me during my time in college – to see what I should do if and when I was ready. I kept coming back over and over to this medication called methadone. But, like so many other people, at the time I was hesitant… thinking I would just be “trading the witch for the devil” or potentially ending up in an even worse addiction. But I was desperate. So, I called the Opioid Treatment Programs closest to me only to find they had long wait lists and could not get me in… so in a moment of desperation I drove two hours in one direction and enrolled in an opioid treatment program in Northwestern Georgia. It was the best decision I ever made. I found that I not only was stabilized with a medication that allowed me to live a normal life again, allowed me to break those chains and that cycle of living to avoid withdrawals, but I found that I was met with compassionate treatment professionals and that counseling was an even more important priority than the medication I was receiving. The “old Zac” quickly came back and I once again started dreaming again and re-evaluating my life’s goals. I stopped living to avoid withdrawals. I was breaking the chains that had bound me. I am one of the many true faces of medication-assisted treatment having become medication-assisted recovery. I did not trade one addiction for another, as I feared, but traded dysfunction for stability and misery for hope. I got my life back. I became involved in patient advocacy and treatment. The Zac that was a graduate student in clinical social work was back. I re-enrolled in a MSW program to get the degree my addiction robbed of me years before. I have since opened two opioid treatment programs myself, serving as the Program Sponsor, writing the policies and procedures manual and assuring regulatory compliance. I have studied and worked to achieve IC&RC certification as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor. I am successful and living the recovery life. And this recovery life – and all the work I am now doing – was made possible because of medication-assisted treatment. Methadone, combined with quality counseling, saved my life.

Since those early days in maintenance treatment I am someone who has been able to slowly taper down my dosage while working on relapse prevention and coping skills in counseling, but I recognize that isn’t possible for everyone. Just like any other chronic disease, such as diabetes or hypertension, different people need different amounts of medication for different periods of time. Many in recovery may need long-term, or even indefinite, medication maintenance. And that is ok. What matters is someone’s LIFE and their QUALITY of life – not whether or not they happen to take a legal medication or for how long they might need to take it. During this opioid crisis, we have a moral obligation to support all options that offer help and hope, be they abstinence-based or include the use of medications, inpatient or outpatient, short term or extending for months or years or even indefinitely. We have to support all the medications at our disposal to combat this opioid crisis: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. All three medications have their place, and we should not pit any one against the other. We must support the use of naloxone for overdose reversal so people like me can stay alive long enough until we get the help, the evidence-based help, that we need. We have to train first responders, teachers, counselors, and family and friends of those who are at risk for opioid addiction how to administer and use naloxone – and we have to recognize that some people need more than one dose and that for some people it might take more than one overdose before they are ready for treatment. But we have to be ok with that and do what is necessary to keep people alive – while supporting treatments proven by research and science – if we are going to turn this opioid crisis around.

I am living proof there is hope after opioid addiction. I am one of the true faces of this opioid addiction and overdose epidemic, one of the lucky ones who happened to stumble into a treatment center that prioritized science and research over stigma and fear. And because of that – along with my own dedication to the hard work of recovery – I am able to tell my story today. My recovery means everything to me, for without my recovery I likely would not have my life. It will take us all working together despite political affiliation or other backgrounds to turn this epidemic around. #RecoveryHappens!

After Addiction, I Found Recovery And Purpose Through Music

My name is Nate aka Gunsmoke. My recovery date is August 25, 2015.

I started using at the age of 13. Growing up in a family of addicts using seemed normal. In 2008, I had my first child but that did not stop my use. In 2015, I decided to try a new way of life and with only 16 days clean in treatment, my uncle was shot and killed over a drug deal. It was then that I realized things need to change.

Today, I dedicate my time to helping others the way people in recovery helped me. Now, I rap about recovery and addiction and put on recovery events for my community.

I have started a page on Facebook called “RYD Ent: which stands for Recover Your Dreams. Music was my dream before addiction took over – and now because of recovery I am accomplishing my dreams.

My message is simple: that ANYONE can recover their dreams and have a life beyond their wildest dreams. You can check out my music at www.reverbnation.com/gunsmoke4 or look up “RYD Ent” on Facebook. I also have a new YouTube page ‘Gunsmoke ryd ent’.

I may not know you but I can truly say I love and believe in you. WE CAN AND DO RECOVER!!!

I Survived Sex Trafficking and Addiction. Now I’m an Advocate for Recovery.

I am 37 years old and am a drug addict. You see once you have the stigma attached it stays with you. I am also a survivor of sex trafficking as a child and an adult; in society this title is not recognized instead I am the junkie who you said should have not made it, one point in time I would have stood right beside you petitioning the higher power and saying they are so right so what is the point.

I aged out of the system got married and ended up running into a situation that was unhealthy and I was lost. Prior to using my prince charming ideas consisted of no communication language barrier I did awesome at avoiding allowing him to see how broken I was I know that I loved him because he gave me a family. All I ever wanted was to fit in or just feel like something or someone that could be loved.

I then became a victim of lust; the grass is greener on the other side but my husband was cheating and I was in love with a clown… literally welcome to the carnival life I became confident that my Prince Charming was your nice friendly dunk tank clown, 8 months pregnant second child and life was lonely no family and a cheating husband who was really disrespectful and had hard hands and me a big mouth, became an issue. I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl shortly after returning home but with all of the levels that were occurring with the stress of mental illness issues that completely went out of control. Who wants to be known as the person the world did not want this is how I thought of myself.

I moved from Western Pennsylvania to Maryland in hopes of going to the military and never having to look back, I was destined for something greater, so let me continue with my journey. My daughters were my heart and well I saw old patterns of my childhood the new beginning was starting to be a repetition towards what led me to this juncture in life.

I became really sick and had an infection after Kira was born so my sister in law kept her for me as a result shortly after the husband and I began falling apart I was an easy victim I had no clue already having the hope that someone would just hug me and tell me it would be okay, I met a “manager” this is a smart way of calling someone your pimp. I then started dancing and well I was severely abused as a child and did not feel comfortable selling myself. I said no to my manager was removed from the house took out to have a “meeting and this is when I got introduced to the escape idea.” You ever disrespect me like that again you will feel numb, take this…” I had no idea it was cocaine at the time but with my mental illnesses for the first time in my life I could see things clearly and had a plan. That damn plan went wrong really quick.

Luckily I was removed from management courtesy of the little corner titty bar where I quickly became a favorite nothing says pathetic like an innocent looking girl naive hope in her eyes sucking on her thumb writing poems of such sorrow in the corner yet just trying to figure out how to not leave behind my girls and not fail them, I became lost and thought that the married man that I met was my answer out from my husband I fell in love this ruined me no lie. I trusted wholeheartedly and felt like being a mistress was my destiny but I looked at my previous record and was like maybe it is better off to just share time when allotted. So I became intent on this being okay I was not using anything but when I say naive I was around so many drugs and was exposed not experimenting literally thought pcp was compound w when I found out my expression was flabbergasted who the hell wants to smoke that then I heard their stories and I wanted to be carefree like them but I was not willing to expose myself to everything at first.

Welcome to the beginning stages of hell, you think you have friends who know you they have your back with a knife in their hand. I was always the one willing to work as hard as I could to provide a means and never had friends so my drug buddies who were dancers LOVED me. I used to be the one willing to take one for the team literally after all it is easy close your eyes and picture yourself on an island, Soul eater each time I went to be with my friends the more destroyed my life became, up until the point where I was pregnant with my son and told all my druggie friends I no longer wanted that lifestyle. that was not something they wanted to hear after all misery loves company by this time I was broken or so I thought. It got worse before it got better but I will not glorify on this instead let you know what I have done since finding my Recovery.

We found a team we started a site to share the wonderful legacies of the heroic things across America that people just like us are doing to make a change, my part so far has taken me to levels such as meeting in the Hart Building Marching in Rallies including the most recent November 5th March in D.C where I declared my story officially public but in front of the world and announced the factor that we need to take action and not by just saying no. I was here in DC for the Fed Up rally along with amazing people like Karen Veid on behalf of the HALO foundation, mothers who fight because their children have became statistics. The FOREEL artists, the amazing cleanmotives “f heroin foundation leaders. All of these amazing people have led me towards taking my writing to the next level.

All The Love In The World Couldn’t Save My Son From Addiction.

February 18, 1991 was the best day of my life. December 19, 2016 was the day I was forever changed.  My beautiful boy Lucas lost his gripping and grueling battle.  The journey long and wrenching. Our love for each other not to be denied.

Lucas’ short life started with difficulty as he struggled with bouts of pancreatitis, undiagnosed by his doctors since birth.  At a month shy of his fourth birthday, our tenacious, resilient and determined child was headed into surgery. Lucas’ wise and compassionate surgeon told us to stay vigil……To what we asked?  Children with this kind of medical intervention are often burdened; challenged by authority, mistrusting and simply feel different.  We watched and waited……

Lucas came into this world as he left it; beautiful, cautious and curious. There was nothing he couldn’t master and nothing he was unwilling to try.  His natural talents and abilities revealed themselves quite early and he focused on his strengths, excelling scholastically, athletically, creatively.  He was dedicated, 100% of the time to succeed at everything he touched.  But quietly and simultaneously he did not believe.  Why that is so, I have asked myself a million times and then some more.  But some things I am learning, cannot be answered.

With an infectious smile, an undeniable giggle, a delicate heart, a brave spirit and profound soul, Lucas was equally challenged by doubt, insecurity, uncertainty.  Since early on, I watched with worry and wonder.  How could this exceptional boy have so much doubt?  With each birthday, my uneasiness increased as did Lucas’ expressions of discontent.  And suddenly Lucas found the thing that he was sure would silence whatever made him worry, insecure or anxious…..drugs answered his uneasy spirit.

There are many, many more than many episodes of chaos that grabbed hold of our days, which turned into years.  As Lucas grew, so did his demons.  And so did mine.  I was consumed and lost. All the love in the world, the four treatment facilities and multiple therapists, the pleading friends, my prayers to God could not steer our course.  Lucas was being eaten alive by a monster much greater than my profound love for him and I was watching my cherished child go further and further away.  It is the saddest tale I will ever tell……

I understood, after innumerable attempts, that this battle may end in defeat.  I knew too, that if I did not build a roadblock to my demise that I too would land in the spinning web of insanity.  With a prayer and love of community, I understood that healing might begin through speaking up and out.  Searching, seeking guidance and listening to those walking their version of my path were the catalysts to inch me forward one minute, one day at a time.  No easy task and my days remain cloudy as I take the steps to reinvent a life without my sweet Lucas.

With Lucas’ encouragement, I was determined to do something that could help countless others who shared my story. To create something that might help one person save themselves.  KardBoard, a name Lucas gave a thumbs up to, emerged from there….a resource built to help family members learn, grow and protect themselves in the midst of a loved one’s substance use.  It is a navigation system.  Its guidance, direction and support offer insights, methods and tools from those who have been there.  Our vision is to activate audiences using sustainable practices, providing the skills, knowledge and compassion to create positive change.  It is a source for OUR recovery….to ignite, thrust forward those whose lives have halted and to address this complex dilemma through exploration of our current and changing role with our loved one.

KardBoard House is for businesses of every type, law firms of all sizes, educational facilities from middle to graduate school, organizations large and small.  Family members are in crisis too and with the help of community and the workforce, everyone can do their part to help rebuild and empower those, so they too may once again make productive contributions to their life, community and society.

Losing Nick Changed My Life. Now, I’m On the Front Lines Helping Save Others.

My new friends, Ryan Hampton and Garrett Hade asked if I would share my story. Honestly, I didn’t know which one to share. The one about losing my son Nick 20 years ago, or the one that encompasses the last 17?

I’ve chosen to tell a little of each. Nick Cristarella, age 22 died of an overdose of cough medicine with Hydrocodone. Nick was very much like the young men we hear about today who are struggling with addiction. Funny, talented, sincere, handsome and stalked by his disease from a very early age. Losing Nick was the worst pain I will ever feel in my life. There are no words to describe. I didn’t want to live in that pain; yet I didn’t want to die. Now, here’s where the two stories come together, because something Nick said changed my life.

After his fourth and last treatment, Nick decided he would live in a halfway house. I was relieved and surprised, but was also very comfortable with the decision. We had tried the coming home routine too many times without success. Too many old friends, too many triggers, not enough changed behaviors on anyone’s part!

One day, I asked Nick how he liked his halfway house and he said, “It’s okay, but there is no one here my age.” It had been over a year since Nick died and I had been going back to the last treatment center to tell our family’s story to clients and families. Although painful, it was also healing and I could tell that it was helpful to the clients and families. So, as they say, one thing led to another. As I was traveling to New York one day for my job, I wrote in my journal that:

“I think I’ll start a halfway house; I think I’ll call it Nick’s Place. If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll do it.”

Wow. Was I crazy, stupid, naïve, or all of the above. Yep, all of the above but also in enormous emotional pain. But now I had a mission to focus on. I was going to open a not-for-profit house for young men 20-26 years of age where they could begin their recovery with their peers. Oh, I could tell you everything about setting up the home and what that entailed, but would rather share this: The idea worked. We developed relationships with treatment providers, built a good reputation, but most importantly our guys got a chance to live, grow, learn and be loved on their journey.

Again, I’m not going into describing our program, you can check us out at www.Nicksplace.org, Instead, what I want to share is that you don’t need to be a fancyschmancy, expensive house with every service under the sun. You can be great by focusing on the basics; Good food and teaching life management skills. Our guys pay their own way, hold down jobs, attend 12-step meetings and participate in life, the way it should be for young men their age.

My husband, Barry and I are so, so grateful for the chance to change and help save the lives of other people’s children. Each young man bears a resemblance to my Nick in some way. To have the chance to see our guys fall in love, marry, have children, be great sons, employers and friends is a gift that Nick’s life left behind.

I’ll close with this. We can no longer afford to wait on the Federal Government, the next focus group, the next summit or the next study. We, the people, who have been affected the most are going to be the ones who provide the necessary, life-saving solutions. Final Word: If you can, do it.

Eulogy of Childhood Memories

You picked me out of a line
Not knowing what was in store
You chose me and accepted me
Like an eagle one day I would soar

I was born on November 3, 1983 in Claremont, New Hampshire. By the time I was three years old, I was taken away from my biological mother by the State because of her drug addiction.

I remember seeing my sister sitting on the floor playing with her dollhouse. There was a knot in my stomach, a strong yearning that something was wrong. I punched her dollhouse and started crying hysterically.

  • Mommy left again.
  • Mommy wasn’t coming back.
  • This world was already so unfair for someone so young.

This moment began building the foundation for how I would live my life for many years to come. There was a yearning that drove me to insanity.

Shortly after this, the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) was contacted and my sister was taken from my mother for a finding of child neglect. Once my sister was taken away, a strange woman notified my mother of a phone call she had just received. My mother ran out of the house screaming and crying. A few weeks later, I was in the same foster home that my sister was in.

Although I was placed in the care of a loving and embracing family, I couldn’t feel the love that they shared. I hadn’t the slightest idea what this meant, nor could I anticipate the amazing blessings that would unfold as a result. I also had no idea at the time that these childhood memories were the beginning of an umbrella of self-pity and hatred I would live under for more than 20 years.

I was so confused. I began to act out – stealing things, setting fires, and assaulting other kids. Invariably, I was in trouble at school and was transferred to the Special Education Program (SPED) for my violent and unpredictable behavior.

I never stopped to consider the ramifications of my actions on others; I was solely concerned with finding relief for myself.

At the age of 12, I was placed in my first out of three group homes, where I learned a host of compounding and accelerating behaviors and adaptations that allowed me to hide from and get relief from my internal suffering. This is when I found my first love: drugs and alcohol. I began using and abusing everything I could get my hands on. Soon enough, my adoptive mother threw me out of her home halfway through my senior year of high school. For the next seven years, I lived a life of homelessness, incarceration, and daily suicidal thoughts. Prison happened to be the safe haven wherein I started to build a meaning for life.

On August 23rd, 2007, I was released from prison for convictions of burglary – all of my criminal activities supported my drug habits. That day was one of the most terrifying days of my existence. I was headed for a long-term therapeutic, community-modeled treatment center with little to no hope that it would work. My self-esteem was non-existent. I had succumbed to the idea that I was a worthless drug addict who would never obtain a reputation greater than being a thief, a liar, a junkie, and a failure. Around 8 months into my stay at this State funded treatment center, I hit bottom. My bottom was one of emotional exhaustion. It was over for me. The only solution that I could come up with was to take my life. It was in that moment of hopelessness that I found strength to surrender the rest of my life to something greater.

I commenced my journey towards transformation and coaching that same year. I obtained my Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of New Hampshire, counseling runaway homeless youth and their loved ones. By devoting myself to deep, introspective work, I was able to produce real change in myself, and to help others overcome their limiting beliefs and reactions. For over 10 years, I have continued to study various transformational works, spiritual teachings and practices, philosophy, therapy, and interpersonal relations. A lifelong vocation manifested in me because of my experience, to help others seek their truth and find their true purpose.

Since I was 18 years old (16 years ago), I’ve longed to write a book to share my story with the world. Each time I would think about beginning the process of doing so, I would become engulfed with fear. Not only did I face the stereotype and stigma surrounding my drug addiction, I was a convict and a ward of the State. In 2016, I moved to Austin, Texas with my wife to take a job working as a counselor at a treatment center. Discontented with the work, I knew that the Universe wanted, expected, and needed more from me. I needed to be a voice for those that had yet to find theirs. After another transformational workshop and some discussion with some of my recovery peers, I made the declaration that I was going to share my story with the world.

The process of writing Eulogy of Childhood Memories was one of the most difficult tasks I had ever taken on. Several times while sharing traumatic moments or discussing shameful acts, I had to step away from the writing process. Each time I wanted to quit, I was reminded of all those yet to find their voice who I would speak to and for. The Universe seemed to present the people who I needed assistance from along my path and everything unfolded for Eulogy of Childhood Memories to release on November 15th, 2017.

Eulogy of Childhood Memories was created to touch the lives of all of those who have ever wanted to give up, all of those who have struggled with substance abuse disorders, all of those in the Foster Care system, and to provide prospective to all of those who are unable to understand the thought processes of a person addicted to drugs and alcohol. A percentage of all profits from the sale of this book will be donated to providing treatment to those who cannot afford it and to fill gaps in advocacy work.  

After 9 Years of Recovery, I’m Helping Others See What a “Real Alcoholic” Looks Like

I remember the first time I got drunk like it was yesterday. I guess it’s hard to forget those moments that change your life forever. I remember exactly where I was standing. I remember who I was talking to. But most of all I remember the absolute euphoria I felt when that first buzz came over me. It was like something was unlocked inside of me. All my angst, fears and insecurities disappeared in a heartbeat. Suddenly, I wasn’t afraid to talk to the girl standing in front of me. Suddenly, I didn’t care what people thought of me. Everything that was tied up inside of me that held me back had disappeared. I was free. At that moment, I knew that my life would never be the same. I spent the next 17 years of my life chasing any buzz I could find. I had found the secret to life and there was no turning back.

Alcohol owned me. I was consumed with getting drunk now that I knew what it felt like to live without fear. I just wanted to feel “normal”. Alcohol gave me the power and strength to live and act how I wanted to. Liquid courage they call it. Any chance I had to get drunk I took it. Partying became my life. I lived for it. I was always the drunkest guy in the room and I never wanted the party to end. I knew early on that I had a much different relationship with alcohol than any of my friends. There was one day in high school that a group from AA came in to do a presentation. I remember opening my locker and a bunch of the brochures that they had passed out were stuffed in there. For my buddies it was a joke and I laughed it off. What they didn’t know is that those brochures summed my life up completely. It was the first time I remember thinking that I “might” be an alcoholic. I was 16 at the time. I had 15 more years of struggle ahead of me.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe what would happen to my life. They say alcoholism is a progressive disease, but I never could have imagined that my life would spiral out of control in the way it did. New bottoms became the norm. Just when I thought I couldn’t get any lower, I would find myself in a darker spot and wonder “how did this happen?” The previous bottom would actually seem tame. My drinking turned into something that I never could have envisioned. I threw away over a decade of my life because of my alcoholism. Month long benders. Driving around drinking vodka all day. Sleeping with booze under my mattress so I didn’t have to get up to go to the kitchen to stop the shakes. Missing weeks of work at a time because I was too hungover or just too wasted to do anything. Getting arrested. Nights spent in the ER. Losing jobs. Losing relationships. Losing self-worth. Waking up never knowing what happened the night before. Making an ass of myself. Living in fear of what the day or night ahead of drinking had in store but not being able to stop myself. It was hell. It was exhausting. And I’m so glad that it is over.

On September 16th 2008, I finally gave up the fight. I was hiding in my bathroom chugging a bottle of vodka so I could get out the door and function at work. When I looked at myself in the mirror I saw a person that I no longer recognized. In that moment I had enough. I surrendered. After 17 years of fighting and suffering, I finally got to a point where I couldn’t go on. It was the greatest feeling I have ever felt. I wish I could bottle it. I have chills thinking about it now. I sobbed like a child. They were tears of joy. It was like a massive weight had been lifted. I had been so scared to ask for help. I had been so scared to admit I was an alcoholic. I was so scared of what life would be like without alcohol. But in that moment, I didn’t care anymore. I had reached my breaking point and it was time to get help. Rehab and the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous saved my life and I am forever grateful!

Sobriety has been the greatest gift I have ever received. Had I known what life would be like in sobriety, I would have gotten help sooner. Unfortunately, I was too scared. I was too scared of admitting I was an alcoholic and of the stigma that is associated with alcoholism. When I was drinking, I could justify passing out in public. But admitting I had a problem and needed help was out of the question. The label and stigma that I had in my mind of an alcoholic was way too much for me. After 9 years of sobriety, I have joined the fight to put an end to that stigma and shine a light on alcoholism, addiction and recovery. People need role models. They need hope. They need to see somebody who was just like them and is now living an amazing life in sobriety. I share my story openly and proudly. If my story can help one person find the strength to ask for help, then my job is done. I recently started a blog called The Alcoholic Next Door to share my experience, strength and hope. I feel lucky to be alive and want to help the recovery movement in any way I can. I am so grateful for my sobriety and the journey that brought me to where I am now. I can’t imagine my life being any other way!

Surviving the Holidays: A Grieving Mother’s Point of View

The holidays. Those two words used to bring such joy to my heart and plans to my head. I would get to the store with my list and always ended up with more than I bargained for. I would envision the day. The table, the turkey, family and friends all together celebrating our blessings. We started in the dining room but always ended up in the kitchen. Pouring more wine, picking on leftovers and laughing about how much we ate. Three generations gathered under one roof. Even the pups shared in the spirit of the day. Lying under the table knowing which human was tender hearted enough to slyly drop pieces of turkey into their waiting mouths.

My youngest son Matt was living in a half way house in Florida a thousand miles away from home. His absence left a void in my heart but his recovery was the most important thing on my mind. I called his cell as everyone was gathered around the table. Each one of us taking our turn sharing the day and praising him for his new way of life. We all agreed he sounded great, like the old Matt before his addiction took over his life and nearly destroyed ours.

We all loved Matt and desperately wanted him to live a life of joy, returning to the person he was before the addiction took over. I felt a bit of guilt not bringing him home for the holidays. I feared being home would trigger him to connect with the ones who brought him down and I couldn’t take that risk. So I hid my tears and put on the smile I wore so often during his active addiction.

Only my husband and older son knew the turmoil in my heart. Before we knew it, the Hallmark commercials were on TV and Christmas was a few weeks away. Once again the turmoil returned about bringing Matt home for the week. I missed him terribly and was not used to being so far apart for so long. But once again, we decided his recovery was priority over my need for an intact family.

So Matt stayed in Florida and once again we shared the holiday by phone and photo. Seeing Matt dressed up as Santa eased my pain of his absence and gave me assurance that Matt was handling the holidays away from home better than I was handling his absence. Our traditional Christmas open house was its usual success but again my heart felt the void left by Matts absence. Once a mom always a mom I would tell myself and try to move on.

As the mother of a long term addict, I got used to the rethinking of decisions made during periods of recovery and relapse. Doing what I thought was best at that moment in time. I trained myself not to rethink every choice I made or allow that bit of doubt to grow into a monster that my mind would not be able to control. I constantly lived on the edge, never fully relaxing or thinking we were out of the woods.

I guess you could call it mothers instinct. January was right around the corner and I’d read that so many relapses occur on New Years Eve. Every commercial promoted drinking and partying which once again sent my nerves on high alert. I would cringe with every one that promoted partying to bring in the New Year. There was no escape. It seemed that if you weren’t attending a party and holding a drink in your hand that you just weren’t a part of the in crowd. I allowed myself a false sense of security in knowing that alcohol was not Matts go to drug, Opioids and Benzos were.

Once again we shared the holiday by phone. Matt in Florida, me in Delaware. He attended an NA meeting I watched the ball drop from my couch. We spoke the following day. All was well except for the nagging doubt in my gut that something was off.

January 3rd changed the dynamic of our family and how we would celebrate or not celebrate the holidays for the rest of our lives. Two days after we rang in the New Year with high hopes for new beginnings, Matt was gone from an overdose. He became one of the many who just couldn’t fight the fight any longer. The pressure to fit in was too much. Just one more time as so many addicts think they can do just one more time and survive.

Two years have passed since that fateful day. The holidays are weeks away and the joy I once felt is shadowed by the pain of a son gone forever. Our family once temporarily separated by addiction now permanently fractured. Traditions changed forever. Matt will never return to the space left empty by a temporary absence that has now become permanent. My mind will always wonder if decisions made differently would have kept our family intact.

The holidays. The two words that once brought such joy to my heart now bring a feeling of mixed emotion. The profound joy I once felt now overshadowed by grief. I look around and see the smiling faces of mothers pushing their carts loaded with the fixings for holiday dinner and remember how life used to be. I am jealous of the smile on their faces and the spring in their step. Wanting to turn back time and feel the anticipation of the feast I would be creating. The stress I once felt is nothing compared to the void I now live with.

There is no instruction manual for surviving this time of year when you live with grief. Nothing to guide moms like me as we prepare for the celebration of Thanksgiving and then Christmas after the death of a child. I remember watching A Christmas Carole, the ghost of Christmas past reminding Scrooge of the people he loved. Giving him a second chance to change the outcome of his life. Oh how I wish for a do over. How I wish decisions made had a happy ending.

For me the present is too painful. In order to survive I must go back in time. I will close my eyes and think of holidays past and allow the joy to fill my aching heart. I will remember the smile of my son, Matt who is no more. I will remember his beautiful laugh and feel the warmth of his big bear hug. I will look to my family and friends allowing their happiness to find a place in my soul. I will thank God for blessings that found their way through the grief that now overshadows my life.

I will live each day to the fullest knowing that tomorrow is promised to no one. I will take no one for granted. I will honor my son by continuing family traditions and remember the love we shared will transcend through the holidays and comfort me the rest of my life. “I love you mom”. “I love you Matt”. Last words spoken forever etched on my broken heart……