- Friends & Family
Submitted by: Susanne Johnson
If the story of my life would be a book where I’m the main character I would force the author to re-write its first chapters. All would be peachy, warm and fuzzy, right? Since it’s not possible I have only one choice: to radically accept what happened and who I became and go on with life as best as possible. It is easy to say not to regret the past, but the fact is that I don’t want to be an alcoholic and addict, just in the same way nobody likes to have cancer or be a diabetic. But I can’t change it and have to live with the cards life dealt me and accept my disease as a given thing. Now, does it stop me from living my life in joy and happiness, active and full of great experiences? Definitely not! I just needed a long learning process to find out how to adjust my life around my disease, how to set the sails of my life, so I can sail smooth through any storm or in calm seas.
The wisdom behind “accept the things I cannot change” in the serenity prayer, or the philosophy of “radical acceptance” helped me a lot to live my recovery life in a way it is today: Happy, joyous and free.
Growing up in Germany I was a single child in a upper middle class family of an engineer, who was working lots of time abroad, and a secretary, who was an alcoholic ever since I remember. Alcohol was consumed in our house publically every day and my mom always had her stash hidden throughout the house. It was just a matter of time before I tried out what draws the adults to these bottles. Being home alone every afternoon since age eleven, my curiosity became reality and soon a habit. My parents were too occupied with themselves to even notice and I had the freedom to come and go as I please, so I frequented bars, pool halls and even dance clubs at age 14, consuming alcohol on a very regular basis with my friends. My mother died shortly before my 15th birthday on the consequences of her alcoholism. Nobody talked about it, and for the public her death certificate showed “heart failure”. That became the story for the rest of the world.
I felt abandoned and left alone, traumatized from finding my mom unresponsive, alone in my pain, unable to go to the cemetery or to enter the bedroom where I found her. My alcohol consumption sky rocketed and nobody noticed my cry for help. Differences with my father led him to have me leave the family home at age 18 and I struggled on my own. I went to school and college during the day and worked at night to pay some bills. I worked at a bar since I could drink on the job. Still, I managed to finish my education with top results and entered a promising career with good employment. I lived a double life of an alcoholic at nights and weekends, used some drugs as well, and went reliably and responsibly to work during the week. I had to function to pay my bills since I was alone and could not rely on family to help me out. Times were bad, relationships coming and going. I often did not have enough money to buy coal to heat my home, and if the hotel where I worked at the bar would not let me take leftovers home, I would not know how to feed myself. I finished about a fifth of liquor a day. Typical for an alcoholic, there was always enough money for this available. It gave me the warmth that I was missing from a home and from a heater. There was not much joy in myself and drugs and alcohol gave me the fun and happiness I was missing. I don’t know why, but everything that had a tendency to kill me made me feel alive. Despite this self-destructive life, I still forwarded my career and my dreams, finished education and got good employment, worked my way up in my job, and worked my way down in my health.
During a vacation to Egypt to visit a friend, I met my husband of 18 years. He is an American from Alaska and was working in Egypt. I packed my bags in Germany and moved to Egypt. Alcohol was very hard to get in this Muslim country, but with the help of the American Air Force and Embassy Clubs we had enough to feed my cravings and my drinking progressed. First health problems started and I was throwing up almost every morning, my doctors diagnosed a “fatty liver” for the first time. The beautiful beaches of Egypt became my drug supplier, the embassy parties my fun zone. Drunk driving was not forbidden, the drugs were supplied by the police and each weekend offered three invitations to party to choose from. I lived there for ten years. My husband and me saw the fatal development coming and asked for relocation through the company he worked for and came to California. I told myself at the airport leaving Egypt that I will never touch an illegal drug again. It was hard at first, but I managed. Just the alcohol was a problem I could not get hold of, no matter what I tried. Coming from a 3rd-world country I had no idea about prescription drugs and, as I seriously asked a doctor for help with my alcohol abuse, I got prescribed Xanax. The bottle read “take as needed” and I did. Now I had two problems instead of one. My husband’s project in California came to an end and we moved again, this time to Metropolis, IL, near Paducah, KY. Within a short time I suffered three severe internal bleedings as my esophagus hemorrhaged. With the last incident I almost died, I stopped breathing on my own, my heart stopped beating for a brief period, and I was even half paralyzed for some days and knew that I have just the one last chance left to stop. I was at the point that I could not live with alcohol anymore, but could not live without it either. I was hopeless and helpless, I did not know what to do. I sat at home for the last years now like in a prison. I couldn’t drive anywhere since I don’t want to get a DUI, I could not work, and I could not meet friends or be productive in any way. I was just sitting there, getting drunk and staring at the TV or out of the window.
I was given tools for my future and a reason to live. I am a stubborn person and was for sure not the easiest client they had, but I’m so grateful today that they never gave up on me and instead patiently worked with me and made me to be the person I am today. Not only did I get help with my addiction and alcoholism, I also got a lot of help developing a personality that I like today. They gave me a lot of basic tools for life I was lacking. I have never learned how to deal with problems other than drink over them, ignoring them, or postponing them. I was suffering anxiety so bad that I had trouble driving over a bridge or in heavy traffic. Fear was the main power in my life, even if I never showed it. I’m really competitive in life, but in fact it’s mainly just a fear of failure for the most part.
My inpatient stay was followed by Intensive Outpatient Therapy for several months and I went to 12-step meetings every day for the first three years. Today I celebrate five years of sobriety and can proudly say, that I have not relapsed yet and hope it will continue to be that way. I still go to at least 3-4 meetings a week, it works for me. Today I believe that in the ideal case every recovering addict or alcoholic should have a therapist, a sponsor, a recovery coach and lots of fellow friends with the same problem. Usually most people are not that lucky, so take all you can get and pick what you need. I could only get sober the way I did, I needed lots of help, but every person is different and unique, therefore there will never be a standard procedure. My husband was very, very supportive. He had no problem with alcohol or drugs, but he used to drink alcohol at times. He stopped it completely to make it easier for me and got rid of all bottles so I found a clear home. He never had a drink for the first couple years of my sobriety, today it doesn’t bother me if he has a beer at a party and I don’t. I can go out today without feeling cravings or triggers. I don’t want a drink, I actually hate the smell today. As I was drinking and using all my friends were about the same. To fit in you choose people who are like yourself. Today most friends of mine don’t drink and I’m feeling so much better in their company than I ever did in my past friendships, where everything was just revolving around getting drunk or going out.
Sobriety opened doors for me and, as I had two years of sobriety, I became a Lead Advocate for the Heroes in Recovery movement. I love the cause and it is my way of paying forward the gift of recovery that I received. In three years with the movement I have talked to so many interesting people and their unique stories of recovery, made countless new friends this way, and am grateful and proud to be one of the first supporters to lift this cause into a higher orbit to break the stigma associated with addiction and mental health. Today I love to help others by sharing my story, be it like here in a written form or speaking at a meeting, in jail, in schools, or at a treatment center. Just like cancer pushes awareness, early discovery and early treatment, I believe in awareness, prevention and early treatment for those with any addiction. And sometimes it needs a village to save just one life.
We do not have to hit the ultimate rock bottom to get better. We just have to find willingness to change our life in something. To hit rock bottom, we make pain the biggest motivator for change, but I’ve learned over time, that love can be even bigger. This love can come from family and friends who help us to find the necessary willingness and hope to enter successfully into long-term recovery.
During my time working closely in the recovery business field and for the grassroots movement Heroes in Recovery, my curiosity to learn more about addiction grew and I went to countless trainings, classes, online-courses and workshops. I am today a certified Interventionist and love to help the entire family system, instead of just the person with substance use disorders. The successful outcome of treatment is so much higher if the complete family engages in the recovery process and it is the greatest reward in my job to see clients succeed and to make this the regular basis. I also became aware during my studies about the worst addictions of all; eating disorders. They have an even higher fatality rate than heroin, and therefore I started to specialize myself to work with those clients.
At some point during my life at the hospital I said to myself, “This is not how my story is going to end.” and I got a chance to switch my life completely around. I didn’t get my old life back, since my old life consisted since teenage years of alcohol and drugs. I got a brand new life instead and I try to make the most out of it. I still have lots of dreams and goals in my life and my current perfect health allows me to look forward to a lot more to come. I’m so grateful today for my health. Life feels great.
Working with Heroes in Recovery introduced me to such fabulous and passionate people in the recovery industry, who all want to help people with a substance use disorder, that I wanted to learn more about this subject. My passion and my curiosity lead me to become a certified Interventionist in three different models. I feel so very blessed being good in my job and having fun doing it at the same time. I love helping the entire family to find the way out of these difficult times and reconnect, not just the one affected by the disease itself. Lately I found a new passion and started specializing, and did lots of training to be specialized, to perform interventions for people with eating disorders, as it is one of the most fatal disorders we deal with in the addiction field. My profession is challenging every day, but I really love it from the bottom of my heart.
I also changed my life towards living much more healthy and active. I go regular to the Gym to work out or run, doing boot camp classes or something similar at least twice a week. I feel energized and healthy throughout. My doctor is very pleased with all my blood work and only smiles when he sees me today since he knew me already before my treatment.
Today (9/15/15) I celebrate five years of continuous sobriety. I’m very proud of this achievement as I remember in full color how difficult the first few month of recovery were. I was close to relapse every day and survived some days only by a hair. This hair was following my relapse prevention plan and doing the next right thing. I hope I never forget this difficult phase in my life. I also remember the times at the ICU and those sick days, every day, all day long, during my active alcoholism. As long as my wish not to go back there is bigger than my desire to pick up a drink or drug, I will be fine. I “play the tape forward” today and live in awareness of consequences for my actions. This is leading me to good choices so far. I’m far from being perfect, but I don’t beat myself up for my imperfections anymore. I am who I am. Some like me, some don’t, some even love me, and that’s okay. There are no guarantees in my recovery, but I hope that with the help of my higher power, and if I keep my sobriety my highest priority in life, I will keep going this way. I am very grateful today for where I am and the people around me, in private life and on the job. I accept my life as it is, with all ups and downs today. I’m grateful that I’m able to write this and that you are reading this. Please leave me some words here on the blog page, I truly appreciate each and every one of you and every little comment makes my day.
We do recover.