- Mental Health
My story in its entirety would likely fill a novel, and perhaps one day I will write that to share with the world. For now I will share a condensed version.
I appeared to be a very happy, healthy, well-adjusted kid to my family, teachers, dance instructors, athletic coaches, and friends. From first to eighth grade, I pretty much hung out with the same group of friends. I went to a private Jewish day school so our class was small and fairly close knit. I excelled academically, danced competitively, played multiple sports from sixth to eighth grade and was constantly praised by adults for being such a “perfect child.” The truth is I did not really feel any of those things on the inside. Internally I felt alone, isolated, different and like I truly did not fit in.
In the sixth or seventh grade, I began toying with dieting. It started off as an innocent attempt to “fit in” and was slow moving initially. By the time I was a freshman in high school, my entire world was consumed by anorexia. My transition into a public school was tumultuous, and my feelings of inadequacy and not fitting in skyrocketed. I started exercising, eating less and seeing a slight change in my appearance.
Eventually I decided to accelerate the process. Diet pills were a game changer. I had more energy to work out and a reduced appetite. It was the perfect combination. My use continued to escalate. I added pot into my mix, as diet pills and alcohol were no longer sufficient. Next up came Adderall and Ritalin. I shifted from occasional drinking on the weekend and dabbling in pills to regular use throughout the week. The eating disorder, alcohol and drug use ramped up to a lethal level in a relatively short amount of time. In June of 2005, I miraculously graduated from high school and was accepted into college. My senior year had been horribly challenging, so the promise of a fresh start gave me hope.
One single moment changed my life completely. I was following closely behind my uncle and aunt after a camping trip, and I approached a four-way intersection with my cousin. Much of what happened after that is still a blur. My uncle stopped his blue sedan at a blinking red light and then proceeded through. I pulled forward, stopped at the blinking red light and also proceeded. Next came the deafening sound of our car spinning off of the road. I was assured that everyone was okay, but a few weeks after I learned that both the driver and passenger of the other vehicle had died due to complications related to the accident. My world shattered entirely. There was a pain inside of me so great that it felt as if it would swallow me whole. I felt incapable of ever recovering from this tragic and traumatic experience. I was charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter, and I faced a significant prison sentence.
These events led me to my first stint in a treatment facility. I was in a long-term, residential treatment facility for my very active eating disorder. I first began showing up around the rooms of 12-step recovery meetings in the winter of 2006. At that point in time, the thought of my drinking and drugging being problematic had not even crossed my mind. I did not have a desire to stop drinking, but I did have a desire to stay, drink caffeinated coffee and smoke my cigarettes. I started to hear people share stories that I could relate to, but I was sure I was not an alcoholic or an addict. I was anorexic, I had severe depression, and I had been suicidal a number of times, but I was definitely not an addict. In retrospect I can see that a higher power had undoubtedly led me to that first meeting however sideways my motives were. I remained a resident at that facility for about six months and continued attending meetings weekly.
Upon returning home, in true alcoholic form, I immediately reached for a drink. My higher power led me to a meeting, but my intention was still not sobriety. I had been leading a very isolated and lonely existence previous to my time at the residential eating disorder center. That was my first exposure the power of community, and I liked it. I liked the community that I developed there and the community that I developed at the weekly meetings I attended. It seemed natural to continue regularly attending meetings back home.
I fell or, rather, my higher power threw me into the arms of a very loving group of women. I continued showing up and listening although still without the desire to stay sober. I heard my story again and again, but I was not yet ready to acknowledge the blatant similarities. Some people show up in the rooms of 12-step meetings and have the gift of recovery right away. That is not my story. I am a hardheaded, stubborn alcoholic, and I fought tooth and nail to prove to myself and to others that I was not an alcoholic.
My addiction took me to appallingly dark and scary places physically and emotionally. I withered into an anorexic and suicidal hermit. For nearly an entire decade, I bounced in and out of psychiatric institutions for depression, cutting and suicide attempts. I overdosed on alcohol and drugs a number of times and found myself in multiple treatment facilities, both short term and long term. My family watched powerlessly as my life bottomed out. I lived to use and used to live. I could not function without alcohol and drugs, and there was nothing anyone could do to help me.
Mangled, broken and void of all things resembling life, in early October 2010, I was finally beaten. While sitting alone in my car with a case of alcohol and bottle of pills and chain smoking Marlboros, a sudden and startling desire for change came over me. I hated who I had become. I finally became ready and willing to accept my alcoholism, something that I had denied for a long time, and knew that it was time to get sober. 12-step meetings took on a new meaning for me. By the utter grace of a higher power, rigorous work in a 12-step program and intensive therapy, I became clean.
Life before recovery was bleak and hopeless. Anything that got in the way of my use had to go. My goals continued to change in order to meet the needs of my addiction. Since getting sober, recovery has taught me to use my own experiences to cultivate healing in others. I was once a lost and frightened young girl, but today I have begun to pick up the wreckage of my past. I now realize that bad things happen sometimes, but we have a choice in what happens afterward. Out of that darkness, I have found incredible strength and hope. My past has inspired me to pursue a career in social work so that I can help inspire others. I am currently in my first year of a Masters in Social Work program and am working toward becoming a therapist.
Life today is incredible. I am literally living the dream. Many people, myself included, were unsure if I would live past my eighteenth birthday. I never imagined that I would be able to graduate college and definitely had no thoughts of ever attending graduate school. Now I am in the number one MSW program in the country, and it is truly surreal. I have firmly planted myself in the middle of both the Collegiate Recovery Program and Students for Recovery on campus. Without having those constant recovery supports, I do not think I would be able to manage the stresses of being in such a competitive program. I am the daughter, sister and friend that I always wanted to be but was unable to be during active addiction. I have the ability to show up for my family and friends today. I am surrounded by an incredible, supportive and loving community and continually feel overwhelmed by gratitude. My life today has far surpassed anything I ever imagined for myself. It is no longer about what I can get out of this world but what can I do to give back.
Recovery is a way of life for me. Everything that I have and everything that I do is because of my recovery. It is not just about putting down the drink and the drugs and maintaining an abstinent lifestyle. Recovery is much more than that. It is finding a community of others to relate to and reach to for support; practicing love, patience and tolerance for others in all areas of my life; and using the principles of 12-step programs to improve not only the quality of my life but the quality of others’ lives as well. My recovery depends on my constant connection with a higher power and staying plugged in to the recovery community at all times. Every day that I stay sober is a successful day. As long as I maintain my recovery, I have a choice. I did not choose to be an addict or an alcoholic, but I did eventually choose recovery. Every day I continue to make that choice, and I pray that one day at a time I will continue to do so.