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No Longer Running From Reality, I’m A Grandma With 31 Years Sober and Loving Life

Oh my where to begin.

I was 14-15 years old when I started to try pot and alcohol, the year was 1970. My father had passed away a few years before and I learnt to hold in my emotions. You see back then you didn’t talk about feelings you just moved on with life. All those feelings and the feeling of being inadequate I could not deal with on a daily basis but I found my courage in pot and drinking.

My mother had gotten remarried and I did not get along with him, however my brother and sister did. They are younger than me and needed a father image in their lives, I did not want a new father.

I joined the Air Force in 1974 to run away and was still experiencing with pot and started using different drugs.

I met my ex-husband in the service and we were married in 1976 and I thought that a new identity would change my ways and habits. As a lot of us know running away does not change who we are, we take our selves with us no matter where we go or what we do.

I was honorably discharged in 1978 and we moved back to my home town of Woonsocket, RI. Of course, it did not take me long to get involved with the old gang and habits. I felt wanted and loved being able to get away from life, I felt free. Needless to say, we were divorced in 1980 much to the disappointment of my mother, and I started running.

I quickly found the power of the needle and cocaine, which became my drug of choice for a good 4-5 years. I went from a married woman, recently discharged from the service to only wanting to do cocaine IV. My whole world was cocaine and I would do anything to get my drug. In 1983, I found out I was pregnant – and using was all that I cared about. Eventually the family member that took me in found out I was still doing drugs and kicked me out on the streets. That was the beginning of my new life, but at the time I did not see that.

I had been to a counselor and they wanted me to seek help at a halfway house in another city – Worcester, Mass. So, I did. I was running scared now, had warrants out for me, and 3 months pregnant still using and drinking. I did not care about anything except getting high, and to think of what I was doing to my unborn child did not stop me until I had no place to live and being on the streets.

My new life started on April 7, 1984. My counselor at the halfway house on day 2 of being there told me that the only way to have sobriety was to admit I was an alcoholic and drug addict and ask a higher power to take the desire away to do drugs. I did because I was scared. I got a sponsor, an old timer who whipped my butt into shape. Not letting me get away with any excuses from not going to meetings at AA.

You see NA was just forming and there were limited meetings, so I learnt that a drug is a drug no matter what shape or form it came in. It wasn’t easy getting sober, being pregnant, and living in a halfway house with 7 other women, who were all trying to stay sober.

My daughter was born in July 1984, 1month early, healthy and strong. The picture I’m posting is of her and me last year, 31 years later. She is my miracle child and reminds me daily how precious this life is just by looking at her. God has answered my prayers on a daily basis,

Glorida Lacombe #VoicesProject

I still get down on my knees every morning and ask for a day of sobriety and at night I thank Him for giving me one more day. It’s been a struggle and not every day has been a bed of roses but any day in sobriety is better than any bad day being active. Being able to look in the mirror and seeing this person that I have become, I am in awe, considering where I came from and all I did.

I should have ended up in prison or even dead for that matter, but having people in my life that care about me and that have been by my side for the last 31 years is a miracle. I will forever be thankful to my God for carrying me through this life and blessing me.

Thank you for listening, it has been awhile since I’ve talked about my addiction and where it brought me to, but I must keep it green. Thank you again for being there and the chance to tell my story. I am also a grandmother-who would have thought!!

My Past Doesn’t Define Who I Am Today

I wasn’t introduced to drugs or alcohol until I was 18 and in college, but I knew from the first time I took a drink, that I was doing it differently than everyone else.  While everyone else would stop after 1 or 2, I wasn’t stopping until 10 or 15.  Back then, I just thought I was really good at partying.

Time passed, I got married young, and moved far away from home.  About a year into that marriage, things started to go downhill, and the relationship became abusive.  I didn’t know where to turn for help, so I turned to the bottle because I felt like life was easier to deal with when reality was distorted by substance.  As my marriage deteriorated, I felt more isolated, and began using more than just alcohol.  I began to use more frequently, and in larger quantities.  The cravings got bad, and withdraws were even worse.

In just 4 short years, I began having residual health problems as a result of my alcohol and drug use like a bleeding stomach and esophageal ulcers, and tachycardia.  The doctors kept telling me I needed to stop using, but that was never enough to make me want to stop.  I needed the drugs to deal with life on life’s terms.   I made several attempts at going to meetings, and seeking help; even went to a couple of treatment centers – one of which I convinced that I was not an addict, so they released me.  But I never stayed clean, because I never put the work into it.

Finally, the marriage ended. I moved back to my home state, and at my family’s insistence, I cleaned up and stopped drinking and using for about a year…. white knuckle sobriety is what that was, and clean and crazy is what I became.  My BIG relapse began with a single glass of wine as a solution for depression and nightmares.  Within 2 weeks of that 1 glass of wine, I had resorted to illegal activity to finance my habits – often drinking a gallon or more of hard liquor each day, and snorting all kinds of pills.

I lost my fancy corporate office job, my car, my friends, and got evicted.  I was completely delusional, and had woven myself into webs of lies with everyone I knew.   I wound up spending a couple of nights at a former co-worker’s house.  On the 2nd day at her house, all hell broke loose.  I drank a 5th of whiskey that morning, and then blacked out.  The last thing I remember after killing that 5th is tipping up a bottle of wine, and chugging it down until it was empty, then swallowing a handful of pills.  I’m told (because I don’t remember) that after that, I put a loaded shotgun to my head and pulled the trigger.  The gun did not go off.  The people at the house called the cops , and I was promptly taken to the ER in handcuffs.

When I woke up, I had no idea where I was or what had happened.  A doctor stopped by the room at one point and said to me, “Young lady, I have no medical reason why you should be alive.  That information didn’t really sink in at that moment.  I got up and went to the bathroom, and to my horror, when I looked in the mirror, I did not recognize the person that was staring back at me.  She looked like the kind of cracked out freaks that are in those pictures of homeless drug whores.  But that is what I had become.  After that, I went back to my hospital bed, and the nurse explained that they wanted to admit me to the psych unit there.

That night, I was lying in bed crying.  I didn’t want to die, but living had become too painful.  In desperation, I cried out, “GOD! If you exist, I need to know, because I’m not sure I believe you do”.  I turned over to sob into my pillow, and moments later, one of the nurses came in and started rubbing my back. I assumed she must have heard my sobs, and laid there without resistance while she rubbed my back.  I’m not sure how long she did so, but finally, I turned over to thank her, but there was no one there.  Call it a hallucination that was part of withdrawal, call it a spiritual experience, but to me, that was a wake-up call.

A few days later, got released from the psych ward, and went to the store and bought a bottle.  When that bottle was empty, though, I had enough clarity to realize that I needed help or I was going to die, so I checked myself in to a local treatment center, and this time, it was for real.

That was September 4, 2012.  I spent my 24th birthday there, and was inpatient for a total of 22 days.  I was willing to try anything at that point, so I started taking suggestions that were given to me.  I started reading the literature, working steps, attending and participating in meetings, and talking to my sponsor every day.  I actually remained accountable.

Once I got out of treatment, I found a job where they didn’t do background checks, and started working in a little office on the east end of town.  For the next year, my life was work, meetings, sleep, repeat.  I stuck close to the program, and worked hard at rebuilding relationships with family and cleaning the wreckage I had left in my path of using.

The day before I celebrated my 1 year anniversary, I started work at my current job, and little by little started climbing the ladder.  To my surprise, I was a really good employee (probably because I was clean), and I was able to move up in a relatively short period of time.

Today, I enjoy my career as a corporate trainer, and I get to travel all around the country for my job.  As I furthered my journey in recovery, I began to find that I was able to build a life that I actually enjoy living.

Recovery never offered me financial stability, mended relationships, or a successful career (although I did gain many of those things as a result of being clean).  What it did offer me was a chance to live, tools to deal with life in the moment, a support group that is present pretty much anywhere I go, and the opportunity to enjoy life in a way that is beyond anything I ever thought I wanted.

Recovery gave me the freedom to be myself, and to learn that my past does not have to define who I am today.  Today I am a successful member of corporate America, and I am addict living in recovery.

Yesterday I Celebrated 9 Years Sober. Living Was Something I Never Dreamed Of.

When I got clean and sober there was something that came along with completing 12 steps and living a life in recovery. Like a prize at the end of the game or a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They told me I would get “a life beyond my wildest dreams.”

I am here to tell you this is not true. If you are a drug addict like me, I have some pretty WILD dreams. If it was up to me I would be living in a tiny house right now with my husband, 2 daughters, more than one dog and my daily activities would include driving to different states jumping out of planes daily and cliff diving. Then we would sell our tiny house, board a plane to some island, rent out jet skis for a living, live off coconuts, some day win the lottery, buy the island, then go take a boat to some other country. I can come up with some pretty wild and crazy ideas on a daily basis.

You know when you go on vacation and you see those ridiculous people that wear shirts that say “I went (insert random place) and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” I believe my life in recovery is somewhere in the middle of those two scenarios. I am far from living this wild child, gypsy life style that I always envisioned and I am doing a little better than a lousy t-shirt. My life is pretty much, shall I dare use the word, normal.

Yesterday I celebrated 9 years clean and sober. I have been removed from drugs and alcohol for 9 whole years. The truth is I was a normal kid, with a normal childhood, sent to above average schools, had a pretty above average family, and was supposed to live out the normal northeast future. And by that, I mean graduate high school, go to a great college, get a great education, get a career, find a husband, get a white picket fence and have some kids. I think those ideas of a normal future crashed and burned when I took my first trip to rehab. At some point my life went from “be normal” to “please don’t die.”

By age 20 I was a full-blown heroin addict. We aren’t supposed to actually talk about that because kids like me aren’t supposed to do things like heroin. Over the years, I have come in contact with a lot of heroin addicts and I am here to tell you, kids like me are exactly who we are treating for heroin addiction. Good kids from the burbs who have good parents and went to good schools and are supposed to have great futures. That’s who is dying. They didn’t choose this life anymore then you choose to get the flu. Have we made some bad choices? Of course, I am the queen of bad decision making. But I am here to tell you no one would pick this life. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a drug addict who is in active addiction? There is not a look more sad, hopeless, spiritless, or helpless then those eyes. And how does drug addiction end? Well for some they die or you deal with being a stigma for the rest of your life and things hopefully will come full circle back to “normal.”

So, what is normal? The hell if I know. What I do know is at 9 years clean and sober I am a wife, mother, college graduate, daughter, sister, and friend. My friends and I still joke that we found men to marry us. Not only that but I have a relationship with my husband that is well healthy. We respect each other, we communicate (some days better than others), we parent together, we have fun together, we try to be better people together. We most likely have no idea what we are doing and have had very few examples of healthy relationships in our lives but we have made a commitment to each other. We put our relationship before our children. Why? Because without two parents that love each other all those little girls are going to have is a broken home.

Yesterday I Celebrated 9 Years Sober. Living Was Something I Never Dreamed Of. - #VoicesProject

The real zinger here: God gave me two beautiful little girls and put me in charge of raising them. Think about that for a second. God looked at me and said yea you can handle these two little miracles and make them productive members of society. What a gift. Now that I am a productive member of society, I get to help two little princesses grow up to be little ladies. I have a relationship with my family that was nonexistent for some time. Typically, families frown upon the addict nodding off in the mashed potatoes during Thanksgiving dinner. I get to be present now, physically and emotionally present. As for friends, mine are definitely better than yours. I am blessed to have the best friends anyone could ever ask for. Having true girlfriends in your life is something every women, not just ones in recovery, but every single woman should look to gain.

So, am I living this life beyond my wildest dreams? No. Every day I wake up with my husband, get one daughter ready for school, breast feed the other one, work, write, make dinner, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day. We aren’t rich, we don’t own a home, we rarely vacation but we are truly blessed. There is no reason to flash around some wild dream of sobriety. If you were desperate enough like me, just being able to LIVE was the real dream. It doesn’t have to be miserable.

If you go to a meeting or speak to someone who has multiple years and they talk about how hard staying clean and sober is every single day and relate their recovery to a lousy t-shirt, I suggest talking to someone else. Life in recovery is not supposed to be hard. Sure, we struggle with life things like every other single person in the world. Some days are harder the others. But overall, I wake up happy, not white knuckling sobriety every single day. My life sober is not beyond my wildest dreams – but my life is living. Living was something I never even dreamed of.

When I Survived Cancer, Friends and Family Ran to Help Me. Why Is Addiction Any Different?

Who am I? A woman. An activist, believer in women’s empowerment, Jamerican. Progressive. I’m also a two-time breast cancer survivor. That last one is the most important to me. I want people to know me as a survivor. The road from discovery to recovery for me was not easy, but I’m proud to say that I’m on the other side. However, the story I want to share isn’t solely about the battles that I’ve gone through personally, but about the issue we’ve chosen to ignore for so long: support for our brothers and sisters facing addiction.

Years ago, a very close friend of mine was dealing with prescription drug issues. I was ill-prepared to address and deal with this problem, because of the way society and culture treated addiction. In hindsight, I was naïve. Nothing about my friend said, “He has a problem.” He was laid back and chill, like a surfer. He’d accomplished a lot in his young life. Over a six month period, I saw my friend go through so much. I didn’t realize it yet, but my friend’s path was formed by his substance abuse disorder. When I met him, he was living in a home—but then, he moved at least three times, arriving at each new place with fewer clothes and personal items than before. He ended up on my couch with only a small duffle bag. Even up close, I didn’t realize there was a problem. I just thought that my friend was just a dramatic and interesting person with some wild stories. I loved being entertained. I didn’t realize what was truly taking place.

Then one day, I came home early from work; my friend was passed out on the couch. There was a belt on the floor, a spoon that was bent and burnt. My heart stopped. I woke my friend up and asked him to quickly pack his bags and leave. I was terrified to see the problem up close, when it had been under my nose all along. I turned my back on my friend because I didn’t know how to deal with someone who was facing addiction.

Why wasn’t I ready for this, when I myself struggled with a chronic, life threatening disease? My experience as a breast cancer survivor could not have been more different than my friend’s. When I was first diagnosed in 2012, I had a moment of clarity. I used my social media platform to share my story. I kept my family and friends informed of the road I would be trudging. My message was that we must stay vigilant with our health, especially women. It’s so important to get screened early! The overwhelming support I received during my journey helped me recover quickly and helped me understand how precious our time here on earth is.

I found support at the national level, too. I started volunteering as speaker with Susan G. Komen. I got involved in the Race for the Cure, attended American Cancer Society events, and stayed vocal and active in causes that I care for. I was surrounded by so many opportunities and people willing to support and help me. It made a world of difference for me. I still use this platform to help as many women and share my experiences as much as possible.

Yet my journey wasn’t over yet. I worked as an independent contractor on multiple political campaigns. Often, these jobs left me without health insurance. I ended up being diagnosed again with a recurrence of my breast cancer in 2016. Again, I received support from my community. They helped guide me to low income based medical programs; eventually, I was able to get on Medicaid while working on a Congressional race in South Florida. My doctors through the second time around were and are phenomenal. I can’t express enough how supportive everyone in my life has been.

Every step of the way, I enjoyed the love and support of my community. It was the key ingredient in my recovery, and it’s what people with addiction are often not fortunate to have. Addiction is still frowned upon as a “moral failing” and not treated with the same urgency as cancer. After witnessing first hand how serious drug addiction is, I had to clearly reassess my own misgivings. My friends in recovery need the same amounts of care and support from family and friends that I did, when I was fighting cancer. People facing addiction should have access to recovery facilities. They should have the same medical resources and social services available to them that I did. These things are crucial to their survival. Why should they be treated any differently than I was?

The addiction epidemic is real. My friends, their stories, and the progression of this health crisis need to be handled with the same care as any other issue. Are cancer and drug addiction the same? No, but there is a human element that we must not ignore. Why do we shame our brothers and sisters when they seek help for their issues with drugs and alcohol? Nobody facing this challenge should feel helpless, ashamed, or embarrassed. Nor can we blame the people who are sick: I have seen how prescription-happy doctors can be with their patients. That could have been me, after all. At one point, when I was in remission from breast cancer, I was depressed, struggled with anxiety, and was experiencing pain. I was given prescriptions for all of my ailments—all kinds of pills, all at the same time. That could have been my one-way ticket down the road to my own addictions.

Nobody is above addiction: it is a health issue that affects everyone in our society. Turning a blind eye to it or blaming the people who suffer from this illness is not the solution. We must do better: we must work harder. The need to address and treat addiction is urgent and complex. It’s never as simple as the drink or drug. There may be bigger underlying problems leading potential addicts into active addiction: job loss, losing a loved one, ending a relationship, or the discovery of cancer.

We must find solutions to this epidemic. We must stay strong and support our loved ones that are going through these battles. So many face it alone. My wish is to continue the dialogue, create plans to help people with addiction, and start the healing process. We must look at the bigger picture and take steps to help the people who so desperately need it. We do it for people with cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, HIV and AIDS, and so many other chronic illnesses. Why should addiction be any different? Every addict is a person, and they should get the help and support we would give to anyone else.

Today I Live Without The Bondage Of Drugs & Alcohol. I Am Free.

I got drunk for the first time at age 13 at a teenage drinking party in Avalon, NJ.  There was a large punch bowl filled with grain alcohol jungle juice and I was eager to try alcohol, as it was a constant in our household growing up.  I wanted to be cool and fit in – feel a part of.   But it was never the taste that made me chase alcohol; it was the effect – the buzz.  The effect that it produced in me is one that I loved and looked forward to. When I tried cocaine at age 16 for the first time – it was euphoric.  And that combination of alcohol and cocaine together, it was like BAM — I’ve arrived!  Within a few years, I was dating the local cocaine dealer and my usage increased.  My 20s were a bit of a blur and wild, and by 30 I had become a “recreational” weekend cocaine user and daily drinker. I also had a thriving career, so I was considered a high-functioning alcoholic.  I was able to make my weekend drug use and daily drinking work within my lifestyle, as I only hung out with others that drank and used the way I did.  I thought I was your typical party girl and by age 32, I had racked up my first DUI.  I had also moved over 22 times during these years and would keep jobs for 2-3 years until I knew they’d find me out.  I was able to maintain pretty well, but I knew I had a problem, I just didn’t really care.  Alcohol and cocaine were the two things that made me feel normal and happiest.  They were my solution.

In November 2003, I was drunk and typing in my journal about how messed up my life was.  I knew I needed help, but I was too scared to ask anyone.  In 2004, at age 37, I received my 2nd DUI in San Diego – a town I had been living in for the past few years – and sitting in that jail cell for 11 hours really made me think that I needed to do something different.  In May 2004, urged by my attorney, I walked into an AA meeting.  I left that meeting and quicker than you can say alcoholic, I went out and drank for a week – during that week I had my moment of clarity.  My first real A-HA moment; I realized that everything bad that had ever happened to me during my life was from drinking and drugging.  I figured I had nothing to lose and that maybe I’d want to give the sobriety thing a try.  So, that’s what I did.  I had heard Hope in that first meeting and I clung onto that Hope and walked into recovery with complete blind faith.  I had no idea what to expect as I knew nothing about sobriety.   I got sober the AA way; 90 meetings in 90 days.  I got a sponsor, I worked the steps and I did what the woman in recovery told me to do.  I didn’t want anyone in my family or corporate life to know what I was doing, so treatment wasn’t an option for me.   I’m grateful I got sober the way I did and I’m so appreciative of the Fellowship where I got sober.  I wouldn’t change a thing.  AA doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s just what worked for me.

I’ve been able to live life today free from the bondage of alcohol and drugs.  I don’t hang out in seedy places, I don’t get DUIs, I don’t wake up in stranger’s beds and I don’t have to wonder what happened the night before and who I pissed off.  I have been able to get married in recovery and share my journey with someone else who gets me and who is also in recovery.  I rescued my constant companion dog, Lucy, and she brings me so much joy.  I have been able to maintain and make new friendships – I get to live and participate in my life today.    The freedom I have today is just amazing and the fact that I get to live my life today without lying, manipulating, cheating and stealing is all just gravy to me.  I am just so happy that I don’t HAVE to drink today.  I am a strong supporter of AA and helping others and being of service.  I am grateful I don’t need a drink to manage my life and that I get to have choices today – healthy choices on who I want to be, not who alcohol and cocaine want me to be.

As Sir Elton John once said in an interview:

“My biggest accomplishment in my life is getting sober, it’s not the Grammy’s, the money, being Knighted or how many records I’ve sold, it’s my sobriety!”

That drunken journal entry turned into a Memoir that I recently launched via Kindle, “Last Call, A Memoir”.  It’s a story of my experience, strength and hope.  My hope is that I can help someone – anyone – that may be able to relate to my life as a “social party girl” and realize that they too have a chance at a better life.   A life where they will be able to wake up in the morning and have dignity, integrity and self-love – because that’s what living a clean and sober life has given me.  I also have a blog where I write weekly about living a life of recovery.

Today I Live Without The Bondage Of Drugs & Alcohol. I Am Free. - by Nancy Carr, #VoicesProject

Nancy Carr is a woman in long-term recovery and author of Last Call blog. Her memoir “Last Call, A Memoir” can be found at Amazon Kindle.

Eight Things That Kept Me Sober, Inspired, And Evolving For Eight Years

March 6, 2009. Eight years ago. I finally had enough. I finally decided that the life that I was living was not the one I wanted. So what did I do?

I asked for help. I surrendered. I listened when I didn’t want to. I followed suggestions that I didn’t want to. I showed up when I didn’t want to. I changed almost everything in my life, even though I didn’t want to. I stayed the course even when it got hard, uncomfortable, and exhausting.

I faced self-imposed shame and guilt. I set boundaries. I stopped filling the empty hole inside of me with all things toxic. I stopped running away. I made amends. I faced consequences. I forgave myself and others. I allowed myself to feel every one of the emotions, without judgment or analysis. I was honest with others and myself. I made mistakes. I got hurt, disappointed, betrayed, manipulated, and knocked down.

I stayed the course. I chose to not bury, hide, ignore, and deny. After 25 years of doing it my way, I chose another way. It was hard. But my life before March 6, 2009 was harder.

Over the years, the things that kept me sober have changed. I have evolved and so has my recovery. This is a list of my most current eight. Some may resonate with you now and some might serve you later. Take what you need and leave the rest.

  1. Stay Grounded. Yoga, meditation, and staying connected to my community are the ways I stay grounded today. Some days, I need all three. Some days, it is just one. And by yoga, I mean easy poses: I sit crisscross applesauce with one hand on the ground and one on my heart, for five minutes. I sometimes sit quietly. Sometimes, I repeat the mantra, “Everything, at this very moment, is okay.” It’s not elaborate. It’s not lengthy. It’s doable and simple.
  2. Acknowledge What I Need. This doesn’t mean I always get what I need. More often than not, I don’t. But I acknowledge my needs anyway. This is important for me. When I do this, I feel heard. Sometimes what I need is voiced to a person, written down or just shouted really loudly as I am driving in the car. This has not always been easy. I feel vulnerable when I admit that I need something. But I have found that the alternative—stuffing it down—causes a lot of problems.
  3. Trust the Process. I played competitive golf for many years. When I made a swing change and had to play in a tournament, it was important that I trusted that what I was working on was the correct change. It was important that I didn’t abandon my training before this new skill was mastered. This same process is integral for me today. I do the footwork, make the best decisions I can with the information I have, and then trust the outcome. It may not go as quickly or exactly how I want it, but I continue to trust the process and the path.
  4. Live Open Heartedly. Ahh, vulnerability. It’s not easy. Living with an open heart doesn’t mean I am a doormat. I live open heartedly—with boundaries. I do this mostly because I want to feel all the love in my life. When my heart is open, I feel the love from my family, my sweet little boy, and my friends. I am completely willing to feel hurt and the pain of loss, disappointment, and betrayal in exchange. This has not always been the case. For many years, I lived very shut down and closed off. I am not longer “afraid” of my emotions. I’ve embraced them. They are part of being a human and experiencing my human-ness. And feeling the full range of emotions actually widens and deepens my ability to feel love.
  5. Tell the Truth. The truth always seems simple. We learn this as five-year-olds. But for many years, I didn’t. I didn’t tell myself the truth, or anyone else. I didn’t tell the truth because I was afraid—avoiding pain, heartbreak, consequence, and disappointment. Today, it is a pillar of my recovery. Mostly, I focus on getting the truth straight for myself. When I live in the truth, I’m living in reality rather than fantasy.
  6. Trust My Instincts and My Soul Voice. I denied the little voice for many years, thinking I knew better or that what it told me was wrong. The voice is my connection to something bigger than me. And that something bigger definitely knows better. I have to get quiet to hear that voice. In the past, I would do everything to drown it voice out. I would stuff that voice down with food, booze, shopping, television—whatever worked. Acknowledging my soul voice doesn’t mean I have to do anything. It doesn’t require me to act. I just listen.
  7. God, Buddha, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, The Ocean, Higher Power. I found a connection to something bigger than myself. This used to be a very difficult concept for me; to actually think that something other than me was in charge. Early on in my recovery, a good friend asked me, “Do you believe that I believe?” I replied, “Yes.” She said, “That’s good enough.”
  8. Stay Willing, Open and Teachable. That’s quite a task! I have learned so much over the last eight years. I remain a student in all things. This can be exhilarating and terrifying all at once. But I wouldn’t have what I have, or experienced all that I have, without being willing, open, and teachable. I don’t know everything. I don’t want to. But I do want to be open to new ideas and information that allow my life to grow and blossom, rather than become stagnant and withered.

I am beyond grateful for the past eight years. I don’t want you to think that any of it was easy. It was not. Nothing that I have attained in my life was easily achieved—but it was worth the effort I put in, each and every time.

Eight Things That Kept Me Sober, Inspired, And Evolving For Eight Years - by Jen Yockey, #VoicesProject

Patterns can change. People can change. Neuroscience says that it is so and I am living proof that it is possible. I am a miracle and so are you. So, if you are reading this wondering how the hell are you going to survive the next twenty-four hours, much less eight years, you can do it. Take it one moment at a time. I am not an anomaly: there are over 23 million people doing recovery.

Today, I celebrate. I celebrate family, relationships, lessons learned, and lessons that still await me. I stand with an open heart, willing, and teachable. I am present. I acknowledge that the only thing that is certain is change. So, I am flexible. Long term recovery is built one moment at a time. Living long term recovery out loud begins when we stop doing what doesn’t work and commit to working on what does.

I Am Open About My Life In Recovery. I Will Not Be Silenced, Shamed, Or Invisible.

I am open about my life in recovery. I will not be silenced, shamed, or invisible: I have a disease. And I battled my addiction alone for years. I didn’t have role models, doctors, friends, or colleagues who showed me how they had struggled with addiction and succeeded to find paths back to wellness. I would like to believe if I’d had models of open recovery when I was struggling, perhaps I would have found help sooner. This is one of the reasons I am open today.

But recovery has been a journey. And I understand now that it’s one worth sharing.

I started drinking and smoking as a teenager, after my brother died suddenly. That didn’t make me a burnout, party-girl, druggie, addict, alcoholic, or stoner. I was just me, seeking some relief, some connection.

Soon after he died, my parents divorced, my other sibling left for boarding school and my father moved out of the country.

“You are a survivor.” I was told. “You’ll be fine,” they reassured me. I internalized the losses and came to believe that all their departures – the death, divorce, moving away – surely meant I was not worth anyone sticking around. Grief and aching emptiness became the weight that slowly dragged me down.

I discovered drinking and drugging buoyed me up – at least temporarily. And while I spent a great deal of my teenage years partying, I rationalized it with good grades, team sports, and leadership positions. These things were proof (at least to the outside world), that my life was on track and I was doing just fine.

In college, I learned that most people who drink don’t end up in a blackout. I had assumed that was part of the neutralizing effect we were all seeking, from the first sip. When I was drinking, I had a hunch that I might have a different relationship with substances than some of my peers – but using was a social norm and I fit right in.

My favorite “cocktail” at the time was alcohol, drugs, and men. I couldn’t imagine one without the other or a night without any. But then I fell in love. She was the girl next door. I bathed in her warmth and caring and hoped that exploring our sexual attraction was next. Truth was, I didn’t know how not to sexualize intimacy, and she was straight and had a boyfriend. While I ached for more contact with her, I slept with guys and drank too much to make it seem like my needs were met.

Later in college, I had the opportunity to study abroad. The turmoil of the region and the seemingly aggressive nature of the people over there were oddly compelling to me. For the first time, I felt like the world’s tensions and my internal discord were aligned. No need to cover anything up. I fit in. Yet the using continued. It was just what we all did.

By senior year, back to New York, the dull ache of loneliness resumed. Drinking escalated and periodic fantasies of suicide became my secret escape. One night, as if in a dress rehearsal for my own death, I closed my eyes and imagined taking my last breath and at that very moment it occurred to me that I still wanted to travel to Africa. That was my first “geographic” – assuming “it” (and I) would be different somewhere else.

A new vision of my future emerged – adventure – uncharted landscapes, new possibilities. After graduation and a year of work, I packed up my stuff, sold my car, donned a backpack, and flew over to Africa. I was looking for meaning, connection, grounding, purpose, and peace. That seeking lasted another 15 years.

During that time-period, I traveled to foreign lands, lived abroad, married, had children, worked, came back to the States, earned a second degree, and set up a home within a community. My family began to put down roots. Drinking continued to be my fuel and refuge. But by 40, it all stopped working.

I began to feel depressed and a bit insane. I wanted to be healthy and happy but couldn’t stop using and wouldn’t ask for help. So, I divorced, moved, got into better shape, dated, changed jobs, and cut out sugar and flour. I blamed food for my volatility. Yet, the insanity was I couldn’t cut out the drinking.

I’m told most of us hit bottom before seeking change. This was what happened for me. It was not the end of my marriage that brought me to recovery, but rather the end of my sense of sanity and the loss of my belief in myself.

Addiction is isolating, insanity-making, debilitating, and goes largely untreated due to stigma, ignorance, and shame. Addiction is not a choice, moral failing, or sign of weakness. Yet, due to the stigma and subsequent discrimination, only 1 in 10 people with addiction will get help this year.

While the loss and pain of my youth did not make an addict, it did compel me to seek relief from unbearable pain. Yet, it was the stigma and shame associated with addiction that caused even greater suffering and kept me silent for decades, when I really needed help.

I Am Open About My Life In Recovery. I Will Not Be Silenced, Shamed, Or Invisible. - by Fay Zenoff, #VoicesProject

Today I lead a nonprofit called Center for Open Recovery. We are an organization leading the charge to end the stigma of addiction by empowering people in recovery to step out of the shadows of shame, shift the public’s understanding about outcomes, and help tackle the addiction health crisis we face in our country today.

Through bold initiatives in media education, advocacy, and community experiences, Center for Open Recovery is mobilizing a social justice movement and a paradigm shift. We call it Open Recovery as a challenge to the stigma of addiction. Open Recovery inspires, supports, and demands change in the ways we respond to addiction.…recovery.

This is why I am using my voice today. I am a woman in recovery. A mother. A woman who has found peace and health and hope. I know healing is possible and addiction can be beat. My life is proof. I believe with all my heart it is time to end shame and open up about recovery.

How I Got Sober & Found A Life Worth Living

The absolute last thing I wanted to be was sober. I knew it meant the end of fun, and since I thought happiness meant flinging yourself from one fun experience to the next, I considered that the end of life. Yet the crazy part of my staunch belief that sobriety was the absolute worst thing is that I knew sober people who were not miserable and actually seemed quite pleased with their lives. My brain—overactive, overprotective instrument that it is—edited that information out so it could cling to the idea that sobriety would not be for me.

I wasn’t in complete denial about my problem with coke; I just thought I could manage it. I’d been able to quit—for up to a month at a time—and so I would tell myself that since no addict could stop for that long, I must not have a very serious problem. Still, someone suggested I go to an AA meeting so I went with a sober friend. I remember telling her friends afterwards the many flaws I’d noticed during my 60 minutes of exposure to the program.

More time passed and the friend that had taken me to that meeting was gone, fed up with my crap. At this point, my coke use had progressed from casual to dedicated to obsessive. I was a disaster emotionally and wasn’t remotely employable (I was employed, crazily; this was because it was the year 2000, when a bunch of foolish people were given outrageous sums of money to create websites that were bound to go under and well, one of those fools had hired me). I had lost touch with anyone from the days before my coke use had begun in earnest. I had a collection of dealers and spent any time outside of work alone, “working” on a screenplay. Cocaine, I told myself, made me much more creative! And it did—the first few times I did it. Years into our relationship, the drug that had once made every synapse fire with exciting ideas had rendered me immobile, unable to do anything but sit in front of my computer and shake.

Nights turned into days turned into my actively wanting to die. At the end of each binge, right after the birds had started chirping, I’d take a bunch of Ambien, often fantasizing that I wouldn’t wake up. But I always did. I was in that place that many addicts get to near the end—too scared to live but too scared to die. I fantasized about driving my car head-on into the opposing lane, thinking only of ending the hell I was living in and never about who I could hurt or kill.

I can’t explain what, exactly, happened next and how it led to a new life but this is the best I can do: One day, when I went to the doctor and got my blood drawn, I thought, as I put out my arms down for the needle, how relieved I was that they didn’t have track marks. I’d never shot drugs in my life and the fact that I had this thought shocked me. It’s like I was given a two-second glimpse into the life I would have had if I kept doing what I was doing—like a version of that Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors, where we see two different directions her life could go. (For those unfamiliar with this very late 90’s reference, Sliding Doors was a great concept but, well, a bit of a dud.) A week later, I put myself in rehab.

When you’re sober, non-addicts always want to know about the moment you bottomed out; they want to hear that you woke up in a ditch and a ray of sun hit you and you had a moment of clarity where you realized you had to change your ways. Or that you were at your drug dealer’s place and had run out of money and it was when he said he could pimp you out if you wanted to pay that way that you marched out of there and into AA’s open arms. They want something dramatic, something that can explain why one day you turned your entire life on its head in order to save it. But the day my life changed—a few days after that doctor’s appointment—was like any other except that I decided to call my mom and tell her I needed help.

Make no mistake—I was more depressed between the call to my mom and arriving at rehab than I’d ever been. I still thought sobriety would be horrible but I reasoned that if I tried it and it was as bad as I knew it would be, then I could re-think the suicide option. But I knew I couldn’t do it the other way around: killing myself wouldn’t allow me the option to try sobriety later.

If that’s not approaching sobriety with hopelessness, I don’t know what it is.

I was angry when I first got to treatment. I remember, in one of the first groups I attended, people laughing about how they’d attempted suicide. I explained to them afterwards that this wasn’t very funny. In another group, I mentioned that I thought everyone sounded like sheep, repeating the same stuff in different ways. And then…well, I can’t explain what happened then either. The people were saying the same things but my hearing changed. Or my brain changed. Or my heart. Or all three. Suddenly what they were saying not only made sense but penetrated me in a way nothing ever had before. I began to understand that my problem had pre-dated my first line and first drink: that the way I thought—my self-obsession, my self-hatred, my belief I was the most important piece of crap in the world and that I was owed everything and had been given none of it—had driven me to drink and do drugs the way I did. I started to see that for a good decade-and-a-half, alcohol and drugs had kept all of that thinking at bay and then turned on me, multiplying those negative thoughts to such a degree that I couldn’t hear or see anything else. Then because, for whatever reason, one day I was willing to believe I might be wrong about things I wholeheartedly believed, I was able to stop doing drugs and drinking. And once I started taking suggestions first from my counselor and then from people in AA, I haven’t really wanted them since.

My life went in a different direction than the first act suggested it would. While things aren’t always perfect, if this is a Gwyneth Paltrow movie, it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen (except for maybe Shakespeare in Love; that was pretty epic).

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I Moved Forward

Nearly ten years ago, I stood in a doorway with nothing but a couple trash bags of clothes, a Jeep on a car title loan, and a decision to make. Behind me were fourteen years of obsession and insanity surrounding drugs and whatever I had to do to get them. Fourteen years of putting those things in front of my family, my daughter and myself. In front of me was an opportunity for help that I wasn’t sure I even wanted. It was a small office, with a large, loud man trying to talk to me when all I could think about was the withdrawal that I knew was coming. But I was at a point of absolute devastation and desperation. I had been evicted from my apartment and didn’t have my daughter. I had nowhere to go and no one left to help me if I didn’t take this offer. So I picked up the trash bags of clothes, and I moved forward.

My first experience with drugs was at twelve years old. I was a hippie chick who tried weed and loved the way it made me feel. I progressed to alcohol and LSD at thirteen. After five years of parties, concerts and experimenting with the way these substances made me feel, I discovered my favorite escape of them all: heroin. I was seventeen years old and had no idea that that feeling, that drug, and that lifestyle would completely consume and control my life for the next nine years.

The life I had started to go down hill pretty quickly. Nothing was important to me except using drugs. I was surrounded by darkness, and I believed that heroin was my light.  My family found out about my drug use when I overdosed. They tried everything they could think of to help me. I rotated through various medications, therapies, and 12-step meetings. Never really grasping on to anything. I thought I knew everything and that I had my life under control.

For nine more years, I was addicted to heroin and other opiates. During this whirlwind of using and being sick and looking for help and using again, I became pregnant with my daughter. I hoped that my pregnancy and caring for her would be the end of my struggle. I really thought God had given me a gift, a way out of the endless battle with heroin and opiates. However, even my daughter growing inside me could not keep me from using, the pull was too strong. She was born addicted to heroin, and I thought witnessing her go through that pain and discomfort would be the final straw. I told myself over and over, “This is it. I can’t do this anymore.”

However, my resolution to change didn’t last long, and I continued my cycle of using, treatment centers and pain. I could see my parents and family starting to give up after countless years of trying to “fix” me.  They were exhausted by my desperate phone calls, lies and manipulation. Considering the hell I put them through, especially my daughter, I didn’t blame them at all.  All I cared about was using and finding ways to get money to use.  No one could stand in my way of doing so.

In the end of my addiction career, I was evicted from my apartment, in a relationship that revolved around drugs, did not have my daughter, and was completely hopeless. My step-mom showed up at that apartment with one last offer to help me.  She had a friend, John Shinholser, who was the President and Co-Founder of The McShin Foundation in Richmond, VA.  I had no clue who he was or what McShin was all about.  I went to meet him and I thought, “What in the world, this dude is a trip.” He had the biggest personality and said exactly what I didn’t want to hear. I had never met anyone like him. I left after a day because I still wasn’t ready.  Heroin withdrawal was my enemy and I couldn’t even attempt to hear what recovery was without being out of withdrawal.

I returned the next day and found myself standing in that doorway, faced with the decision to return to the mental, physical and spiritual pain I knew, or to choose to have a different kind of life. I moved forward.

John helped me access a doctor so I could detox without the full symptoms of a heroin withdrawal, and I started my recovery journey that day, May 27th, 2007. McShin took me back in with practically nothing. No daughter, no money, no hope, no life worth living.

McShin is Virginia’s leading peer-to-peer Recovery Community Organization (RCO) that helps those with substance use disorders and their families.  John and his wife Carol McDaid opened McShin in 2004 when they got frustrated that an addict/alcoholic had to wait at least sixty days for a bed anywhere to get help.  Before meeting John, I had no clue what an RCO was and how it could save my life.

I moved into a recovery house where I lived with other women in a structured environment with an intense, daily focus on recovery. The house became my safe haven. Instead of the negativity and darkness I had grown accustomed to, I found myself in a place of hope and change. The women in the house were discovering the freedom that came from a life without drugs, and it radiated from each of them. That atmosphere changed my life. Seeing people just like me trying to stay drug free every day was so powerful, and I wanted to follow their example.

I lived in the women’s recovery house for five months, learning how to live day to day without drugs and about who I was underneath those years of use. My family could see the change in me. I wanted so badly to do anything it took to stay in recovery, so I did whatever was asked of me. Eventually, I took the huge step to get my daughter back. I moved out of the recovery house and in with my sister, where I was able to raise my daughter and begin rebuilding that relationship.

I stayed involved with McShin and became a peer leader to the women who entered the program. John saw something in me, took a chance, and trusted me enough to give me a job. The years of torment and agony I so badly wanted to forget were the exact experiences that qualified me for the job. I grew in my recovery, reaching out to women around me to ask for help and suggestions. I was making the right decisions, being a productive member of society, and developing a sense of spirituality for the first time in my life. I discovered that my lived experience I had in addiction along with my growth and determination in recovery is crucial to the McShin model of peer-to-peer recovery. From starting my job at McShin with five months in recovery to now almost ten years later, I have turned my lived experience into a rewarding career helping people.

As CEO of McShin, I am fortunate to work around new people in recovery on a daily basis. I can empathize with them and show them compassion. I can tell them that I’ve been in that exact same situation; so desperate for a change that you are willing to do anything it takes. So broken and tired that you don’t know if you’ll be able to make it through the next hour, let alone the whole day. I can show them that from that starting point, I’ve built a life that I am proud of. I have become a woman that others are proud to know. I share my experience with those new to recovery in an effort to instill in them to just hold on, don’t use no matter what, and to develop a real, honest love for themselves.

Honesty Liller on Face The Nation

I believe my career in the recovery field is truly a calling for me, and I use my passion for the work I do to help as many people as I can. Not only am I able to be an individual in recovery, bettering my own life each day, but also my journey and my career give me the opportunity to advocate for those who have no clue what recovery is, but desperately need it.

It is my personal mission to be a face, voice, and light of hope for recovery every day I am on this earth. Recovery has changed my life around completely, and that is a message I am passionate about sharing with others.  I am a mommy, wife, sister, daughter, friend, and homeowner who can look in the mirror and be genuinely happy with who she sees.  My daughter is now fifteen years old, and our relationship is something I never even dreamed would be possible. I am very fortunate to have an amazing husband who is also in recovery.  We have been together for eleven years now, met at rehab, used drugs together, and now share our life in recovery. Having a partner in this life that I can truly be blessed and happy with is priceless.  We have a seven-year-old son who has never had to see me use.

To have inner peace and acceptance of who I am gives me the most amazing sense of satisfaction and serenity. Along my recovery journey, I have discovered how to trust in my God, love others, love myself and be present in the moment. I lived for so long not appreciating my life, so today I am grateful for each and every moment. You are only promised one life, why not live it?

Coming into recovery is my biggest accomplishment in life. Nearly ten years ago, standing in that doorway of The McShin Foundation, holding trash bags full of clothes, I could have never imagined the life I have today. This amazing, beautiful, blessed life is possible because of recovery. It is possible because of my decision to move forward.

My Name Is Vanessa. And I’m More Than An Addict.

Growing up, society taught me that I should not disclose that I am an alcoholic or an addict; that my addiction is something I should be ashamed of. I heard this message every time someone described someone’s behavior to be that of a “crackhead,” every time someone talked about what a “drunk” someone was or called someone a “junkie,” and every time politicians on TV talked about the War on Drugs and promised every addict would be locked away in prisons for life.

I believed in this stigma for most of my life. I thought, as many people still do, that alcoholics were homeless people, living under bridges with nothing but a bottle in a paper bag. That drug addicts were criminals who only knew how to lie, cheat and steal. That is until I became one myself…

It’s because of this stigma that I refused to acknowledge I was sick. I spent the next decade of my life trying to control something that was uncontrollable.

I always smile when someone tells me I don’t “look like an addict.” Not because I blame them for thinking this way, but because who they see in front of them today is certainly a far cry from the person I was in active addiction.  When I was sick, I was unrecognizable.

The reality is, I look exactly as an addict does. We are your neighbor, doctor, teacher, co-worker, caretaker and child. Addiction knows no boundaries. If society wants to paint an honest picture of what an addict looks like today, maybe they could start with me.

Here is what I can tell you about my life. I grew up in a loving family, with successful parents and a happy childhood. I never wanted for anything. There wasn’t any abuse or trauma that I could blame my addiction on. There was no neglect, poverty, or addiction in my home. I have searched my life, with a fine-tooth comb, for some pivotal moment that changed everything, and all I can tell you is that the first time I used I knew I wanted more. And not just in the “Hey that was fun. I think I will do that again sometime” kind of way. But in the, “I want more. More! Give me MORE!” kind of way.

It’s important that I share this piece of my story with others; that I acknowledge the lack of chaos in my upbringing. Many times, society wants to blame the parents. My parents had absolutely nothing to do with my addiction, but I can tell you their unflinching love and support have had a tremendous impact on my recovery.

I was just a normal teenager, seeking acceptance from my peers and wanting to grow up too fast. Just a normal teenager experimenting with friends. That experimentation, though harmless at first, lead to full-blown addiction by my late 20’s. That little girl, with all her hopes and dreams, disappeared. I did some deplorable things in the name of my addiction. I abandoned my family, I was violent and spewed hateful words, and I often times put my addiction before my own daughter’s welfare. I lied, I manipulated, I self-harmed. And at the end of my active addiction, I was reported missing. Poof!

As sure as I am sitting here writing this, I can tell you that I didn’t grow up and suddenly announce I wanted to be a professional addict on Career Day. This was learned behavior by a person with the disease of addiction; a sick person, not a bad one. That does not in any way excuse my behavior, because believe me I have worked for years trying to forgive myself for the damage I caused, but it does explain why I lost control so quickly. Because, you see, I am not that woman anymore. There are times when it seems like a different life altogether.

For years, I tried to “figure out my addiction.” I tried to dissect my life to find some moment in time that turned everything upside down, that made me act the way I did. Something that made sense of the chaos I had created. Always telling myself I couldn’t possibly be an addict, until the day my disease almost left my daughter without a mother, and I couldn’t hide from it anymore.

When we are broken, we become willing change. And I was broken. Thankfully, I had recovering women in my life who had been waiting for me to wake up. They took me under their wings, they held me up when I couldn’t stand on my own and they taught me how to live. They taught me how to take care of myself, how to be honest and what it means to have integrity.  These women have never left my side yet, and I am forever grateful to them.

My Name Is Vanessa. And I'm More Than An Addict.

One of the most important things they taught me was to carry the message to the still suffering addict, and I have been doing my best to honor this commitment throughout my journey. I take my story into women’s prisons, treatment centers and into my community.

Addiction is a shame based disease. I choose to recover out loud because I firmly believe that no addict should ever have to suffer in silence, that no addict should ever have to die from this disease and that there is nothing that compares to the magic that happens when one addict helps another addict find a new way of life.

My name is Vanessa, and I am a woman in long-term recovery. What that means is that I have not had a drink or prescription drug since October 16th, 2014, and  I pray that I never forget the despair I felt at the end of my active addiction.

Every morning, before my feet hit the floor, I make a commitment to myself to stay sober for another 24 hours, and with that one simple task, a beautiful life was created.

We do recover.