Submitted by: Susanne Johnson
Sipping my father’s beer at age six or seven might not have me started my alcoholism, yet it seems to have some significance since I remember it all these years. I do vividly recall my first real drunk experience when I was about age 14. I believe I was hooked right away, despite being sick after it.
At that moment, while I was sick, I only thought about how I could do it better. It didn’t cross my mind not to do it again. My drinking was only moderate for the next few years (if you could even call it that at such a young age). Unfortunately, once I turned 16, I was on a roll.
My alcohol experience was followed shortly after with experiments in diet pills, acid, and marijuana—all before age 17. My addiction turned quickly and fully to alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine (which I added to the mix at about the age of 22). Prior to the cocaine, I used those diet pills, but I stopped using those once I experienced cocaine for the first time. My parents didn’t know about my substance use. I was hiding it well. I came home, went straight to my room and to bed.
I got married straight out of high school at age 18. We were both partying all the time. Needless to say that that marriage didn’t last. Of course, at that time I thought that the alcohol was his problem, not mine.
That all continued for quite a few years. After my first divorce, I remarried. I could not see any negative consequences of my substance use at the time. In hindsight, I can say that it had a significant role in the failure of my second marriage as well. In fact, it almost ended my third marriage before I finally went to treatment. I never lost jobs over my alcoholism and I never had a DUI. I can say that I was not always the best parent during those years, but at the time I couldn’t see that drugs and alcohol were affecting my parenting either.
My current husband and I were married for a year when he initiated my bottom. During our marriage, I had always tried to get him to join me getting drunk. I thought that was a way that he would not be mad at me drinking as much, or spending so much money on it. He wouldn’t do it.
Instead, he came to me and told me clearly that he was not willing to live like that and that I needed to get help. He left the home for a few hours and left me to make the decision to either get help or leave the house before he came back. This was really the first time that somebody sat me down and told me that I was a mess, that my kids deserve better than that and that he was not willing to put up with it any longer.
“How am I going to handle this? What am I going to do?” were my only thoughts, while I sat at home crying. In my desperation, I called a friend and my sister. My sister did the research to help me find treatment and I entered treatment that same day. My sister actually didn’t tell me where she was going to take me. I thought we would go to see a doctor or someone who will help me straighten out quickly. After a couple of hours into the drive, I figured out that I was on my way to talk to folks at a treatment center.
My mom came to town and and took care of my boys, who were 15 and 6 years old at that time. A huge component to my recovery was the fact that my treatment center had a family program and my husband came to stay for four days to do his part of the work. We are still together today because of that recovery process.
Early in life, I chose to become a bartender. I married early and did not attend college. Suddenly, I had to find a new path. I went to college to become a teacher. I never had enough self-esteem to tell anyone what I really wanted to become in life. After some time in college, I remembered that I had wanted to become a therapist when I was very young. My passion for therapy work was stronger than ever. I changed my major to became what I am today: a licensed addiction counselor and interventionist.
Today I live in the same place where I was raised, and I snowbird to Florida in the winters. I have never relapsed and I have now been clean and sober for 27 years. I love my job and I love working with families. It is my reward if I see the whole family system shift and turn things for the better. In private practice, you usually work only with person who struggles with addiction. As I started doing interventions and working with the entire family, I saw that this is the solution, because I can work with the whole system.
My husband is retired today, while my job just requires the use of a car or an airport. We feel blessed to be able to live the life we have between our two homes. I’m grateful that I was teachable when I came into this program. I’m actively participating in my life today, which I was never doing before.
As a result of being teachable at that time, I can make a difference in other’s peoples life today. I developed goals in my life, finished school, and got a huge boost in self-esteem that I never had. When I was young, I thought that girls only got married and then had kids. That was all I knew, and I would have never imagined what I could really accomplish until I became sober. I learned to pursue the things that I really want in my heart. I’m proud to say that I made my way and that I kept my marriage.
During my active addiction, I was always miserable and thinking “something will happen and that all will get better” without ever pulling any initiative. I’m grateful that my husband and my sister initiated change on that day, and got me to the future I enjoy today. I would have never known to step up and make a change all by myself. My life was: “Get up. Get high. Keep going.” It was a vicious cycle in a very unhappy life. I would not stop long enough to feel the misery. “Get up. Get high. Keep going.”
The most important thing in recovery is to stay connected. I attend meetings regularly for my sobriety and I still have a sponsor. If you have not tried to live in sobriety yet, I would like to ask you to give this opportunity a chance.Just be teachable for a little bit, then make a decision.
See if it fits. Reach out, get help, and then make the decision from a clear mind, about where you want to go with this. While you are using or drinking, your addiction will tell you to stay in the mess. Try to reach a clear mind to see if it works for you.
In case you are a family member reading this, please don’t let the stigma of addiction stop you from acting. Don’t put the addiction on a shelf and let it be only the addict’s problem. It’s is everybody’s job in the family to step into a solution. It is not a “go to treatment, get better, come home” situation for the addict alone to master. Every addict or alcoholic affects 5-8 people in their lives—maybe that’s you. And it’s you, the family, that needs a healing process as well.
These days, I love to be around my family. We are content, we are happy, and no one is high or drunk. My husband and I ride Harley Davidson motorcycles together, and I simply love to enjoy life. My sobriety is a full gain; I didn’t lose anything in getting sober. Give it a try! There is no harm in trying!