My name is Caroline and I am a woman in recovery.
I can say this today with a sense of joy and gratitude and wonderment. My life has transformed – is transformed; every day I get to walk in the light of a renewed life. My past has been redeemed and when I think about my future I have hope.
But it has taken me years to get here.
As a child, I wanted to escape life. I spent my youth dreaming that I was somewhere else. I wanted to change the world because I never felt like I belonged in it; I wanted to hide and be invisible. Especially from men. Being a girl is tough.
Age 14 is when it started. Men: old, young, it didn’t matter – stared. I felt violated, that I could not just be a human. I suddenly became an object. This was a very difficult transition for me: no longer being invisible. I tried everything: hiding in baggy sweatshirts and flannel, walking with my head down and my eyes averted, isolating from the world. The only thing that worked was drinking. Especially after the first time I was raped: 14 on the floor of a bathroom at a party. And after the drinking stopped working at 15, my love affair began.
A friend once asked me to write about my relationship with drugs. How they made me feel – to remember and go back to those dark days of yearning; those days of seeking for something outside of myself to fill that void. All I could write was:
We met and instantly I was consumed. I thought that I had found an answer to what I had been looking for all of those years. It was an instant “ah-ha,” as if in one fell swoop my consciousness was on fire and every question ever asked was answered. But, I was clearly too young to even have the right questions or anything close. Really I was only beginning.
My twisted love story began in a bathroom stall with a small compact and straw. $25 of allowance. In my bedroom late at night. Bloody nose-mornings and basketball practice. Nurse’s office naps and skipped class. In a dirty apartment, bedroom conversations with strangers. Bars and dealers and ounces in cargo pants. This is Sixteen. Desperate drives in the morning and songs on repeat. This is where the searching begins. And what follows is darkness.
The relationship turned to desperation. I remember the crash and the absence of God. The anger at God. Why? This is Seventeen.
And then the night it was all over. No memory save those dark, crawling shadows across the lawn. The face of the EMTs and my friend standing, sweating nervously above me. And in the hospital bathroom thinking: how can I get more?
My using was characterized by how can I get more: how can I get more escape? This dark path led me to the edge of death and it would be 11 more years of other substances, other yearnings, other means of destruction: repeated sexual trauma and assault, unhealthy and abusive relationships, an eating disorder. The pain multiplied.
But, today I am here. And today I can say that my name is Caroline and I’m a woman in recovery for 6 years and counting. I’m 35 and going to be married to an amazing man. I have friendships and healed family relationships; a good job and college degrees. I get to travel around the country, learning what other people in recovery are doing to change the state of addiction and support more people entering into this transformation. I get to work with communities and organizations to meet today’s problems with real recovery solutions. I get to witness, every day, people changed like butterflies with new wings.
How did this happen? I’d like to say that it is a miracle – that a loving God (who was there with me thru it all) gave me the strength to persevere. I also found a community of young people who were seeking recovery. We supported each other, laughed together, screamed together, and worked thru the traumas of our past together. We shared our experiences of pain and isolation, of devastation and abuse; and it was in this commonality and shared life that we learned it was going to be okay.
Today I hope because I know it is possible to heal.
A community of women have showed me – and show me daily – what it means to be loved and how to love, how to be friend and how to be a friend to myself. Today, I don’t need to be invisible. I can be a woman in recovery and I don’t have to be afraid.