Living Recovery: True Stories of Addiction Recovery
Authored by Audra Franchini
A Look into the Lives of Those Who Sought Drug Abuse Treatment
Behind substance use disorder is people – people with real stories of struggle and triumph.
Drug and alcohol addiction stories are usually shadowed by short, faceless segments on the news. But there’s a deeper, human element in each story that is too often untold.
We sat down to hear from four courageous people: all who have been caught in the grips of addiction and all who continue to live in recovery, helping and inspiring others along the way.
These are their stories. Read about their journeys, and learn how drug abuse treatment has played different but essential roles in their lives.
“I was in active addiction since I was 13. I started doing heroin and continued using until I was 33.”
Gina is an outgoing person, hence, her soul that shines through her eyes. Without hearing her story, you would never understand the trials and tribulations she endured to make it to where she is today.
“In 2005, I was out getting high and fell 20 feet and broke my back and my wrist, but I stayed out. I was only 70 pounds at that point. My family had to prepare my funeral. I told my mom I was going to die from this disease, that it was my destiny.
“In addiction, you live in the past of what it was like when you were a kid, standing on the corner drinking 40s or hanging out in the bar. It’s the only disease that convinces you that you don’t have a disease. It’s cunning, baffling, and powerful.”
Like too many people, substance use disorder had taken over Gina’s life – that is, until one day when she found the inner strength to ask for help.
“I was hanging out in Kensington in the freezing cold, and I suddenly had a moment of sanity. It was like my head and my heart were both suddenly on the same exact page, and I thought, “What are you doing? This isn’t good.
“I had been to 11 rehabs before that day. But that time, I walked into the crisis center, and it was the first time I finally said, ‘I don’t have a home and I haven’t had one in four years. I’m dying and I need you to help me.’ And they did.
“I had a social worker who really fought for me. People would treat me badly. In their terms, I was just a junkie. But my social worker told me, ‘We’re going to fight really hard for you. I need you to fight hard for you.’ She sent me through detox. I started going to meetings and hanging out with girls who lived in the recovery house.”
To Gina having a a strong support system was crucial, most noteworthy was her family.
“Thank God for my family. One of the things that breaks my heart is that I was not always there for my family as much as I feel I should have been. I was really being driven by addiction. They supported me through my entire journey.
“Now, I’m going to college to get my associate’s degree in social work. I don’t really know what else I would do if I didn’t work in the recovery field, my sponsee calls me every day at 4:34pm, and I have a group of women in recovery who I know are always going to love me, who will always be there for me.
“I would say to anyone who thinks they have a problem: There is hope. Don’t give up on it. You are loved. You are somebody.”
“There’s a couple different ways that obsession happens. Some obsessions are just unwanted, repetitive thoughts – they feel like a really intense craving. Then there’s the type that happens but doesn’t have that feeling behind it. It’s just a thought. For me, I could be driving down the road, completely sane, thinking, ‘Oh I’ll just stop for a couple beers.’ And it could end up ruining my life.”
Patrick’s road to recovery has been long and difficult, but in the end, rewarding. His substance use began when he was a teenager. And like many types of progress, his improvement did not always happen in a straight line.
“I got in a fight with a cop at 16 years old. My first rehab was at 17, got kicked out of it after 10 days, then back in there 3 months later. I had 6 or 7 months sober, maybe even a little bit longer. Then I went back out and drank.
“I got sober again when I was 24. During that period of time I had 11 years’ sobriety. At 35, my wife and I went through a divorce – and a lot of stuff happened. I just drank. It would take me 10 years to get more than 30 days sober.”
“I was in and out of Alcoholics Anonymous, that was constant. I would go to meetings and nothing would happen, I would still want to drink. Really bad obsessions. That went on for about 10 years. I lost everything. I lost a really nice house, my car was repoed, and my 401k was gone.”
Even though Patrick had hit bottom after bottom, he was unable to stay sober. Eventually he decided to ask for help from his father, who had 28 years sobriety.
“I showed up at my dad’s house with two gym bags. I finally said, ‘This is it. I’m spiritually broken – I can’t do this anymore.’
“I was able to stay sober for 9 months – meetings every day, praying every day, really in the middle of the program. But the day came when I drank again’.
“I went into rehab for about 10 days, and I just kept thinking to myself, ‘I’ll do anything, please God, I do not want to drink ever again.’
“After rehab, I went to another meeting. A guy there recommended I go to someone’s house that was having a Big Book study. I went to the house, and he started talking, and everything he was talking about, I was like, that’s me – he knows what I’m going through. So he started taking me through the Big Book and the steps, and I started to get freedom from stuff that was causing me to drink.”
Maybe the most striking part of Patrick’s personality is his acute self-awareness. It’s a trait that he sharpened while in recovery, and it’s a significant reason why he’s finally found so much success staying sober.
“It was primarily my self-centeredness, my ego. And I don’t mean like egotistical. I mean selfishness, resentments, fear, the things that engulf people with drinking problems. The steps are designed to look at that from a different point of view. There’s got to be that internal surrender for sobriety to happen. It helps for you to be other-centered. Gets you out of yourself. It keeps you really connected to other people.
“I’ve been going pretty regularly for the past year or two into jails to meet with people who have a drinking problem. Even though I was never in jail, I can relate to some of them who are near low-bottom with their drinking. When I talk, I describe my experience and what happened to me with my recovery. I say to them like I say to my sponsees, ‘We’re going to go through this book. Line by line. Page by page. And we’re going to have a load of work to do.’
“I get a lot of contentment from helping other people. Companionship. Because of that, I have freedom from my addiction.”
Patrick found freedom by surrendering, taking the steps through the Big Book, and clearing the path for his relationship with God. By doing so, he reclaimed a part of himself that was missing while he was drinking.
“It starts with surrendering. And the first thing in surrendering is asking somebody for help. Whatever that help is. And hopefully you get to a place that can offer the help you need. It’s worth it.”
One of addiction’s stereotypes is that it only affects those with dysfunctional families or a history of abuse. But when we spoke with Jules, we learned her story defied those ideas conclusively.
“I wish I had some story to tell you about my horrible, abusive, and neglected childhood. But I don’t. I came from a normal family. We literally had a white picket fence.
“Growing up, I had a lot of insecurity. I fought with eating disorders. I couldn’t cope with looking in the mirror. When I was about 15, I started drinking. As soon as I drank, I became a different person. That, to me, was freedom – but it later became prison.
“It was my idea to bring drinking to my friends. We went to a competitive high school and most kids saw drinking as a social faux pas. When we started doing it, everyone else could pick it up and leave it alone until the next time. I couldn’t do that, which baffled me. Why could everyone else stop after the weekend and I was left obsessing about drinking all day every day?”
Jules’ alcohol use started affecting her everyday life. It hindered her from doing the things she loved, it certainly damaged the relationships she had with her loved ones.
“I just kept lowering and lowering my standards. When I went to college, it really took off. I joined a sorority, made friends with drug dealers. I was free to drink and use the way I wanted to. It made me feel powerful, like I was unstoppable. And then it stopped working. My alcoholism had progressed to the point in which I couldn’t get drunk anymore. The solution I had found to deal with life had failed me. I had a miscarriage, I was so out of touch I didn’t even know that I was pregnant. I felt alone, confused, and broken. My University asked me to leave and everything came to a halt. It was the catalyst that led me to surrender.
“I came home and I decided to find a therapist for treatment. I told her all of my problems and she said I was an alcoholic. ‘No.’ I said. ‘I have highlights and a French manicure, there’s no way I’m an alcoholic. Aren’t I schizophrenic or something?’ I didn’t know I had this body that worked against me. Once I started drinking, I couldn’t stop. If I did manage to stop, my mind told me that I could drink like normal people.
“My therapist introduced me to my first sponsor who sent me to my first 12 step meeting. I had every excuse not to go. But once I got there, I stayed. I reluctantly kept going. There was something about the people there that I couldn’t put my finger on that kept me going. I know now that it was the light inside of them – the sunlight of the spirit – that spoke to me.
“Getting sober at 21 wasn’t easy. All of my peers were still at college partying while I was embarking on a spiritual journey. It was the most difficult and most brave thing I have ever done.
“The twelve steps are about spirituality. They’re not about sobriety. They’re about growing along spiritual lines, and sobriety is a by-product of that. Living by spiritual principles is not something that other 21-year olds were doing. The recovery community was different then, too. There weren’t as many young people in recovery as there are today. I had to start my life from scratch. Everything that I believed in, everything that I was about, and my perception on life had to change.
“My recovery has been a journey. As a woman, part of my journey is about finding my voice and figuring out who I am. After nearly a decade of living in recovery, I can tell you that long-term sobriety is not for the faint of heart. A lot has happened in these nine and a half years. At three years of sobriety, I buried my best friend in the world. It broke my heart and healed me in innumerable ways at the same time. I sought spirituality and a connection with my higher power with a desperation that I never had before.
“The challenge for me now is not to fight urges to drink, but to stay passionate about recovery and excited about spirituality. Long-term sobriety is about constantly seeking – seeking to grow, seeking to help others, and seeking what my truth is and living it. It’s about self-reflection, remaining teachable, staying humble, and not compromising my morals regardless of the worldly consequences.”
Jules’ recovery has been as much about finding herself and living her truth but rather about reclaiming her life from alcoholism. Now with a new life, she has her confidence back.
“My sponsor told me a story once. She was getting her hair cut and this little girl next to her looked at herself in the mirror and said, ‘Oh my God! Look how cute I am!’ And I just thought to myself, that’s how I feel every single day. I’m finally comfortable in my own skin. I know and accept exactly who I am – flaws and all.”
Speaking with Katie, the first thing you’ll notice about her is her confidence. She spoke like she wasn’t afraid of anything, but her story of recovery proved she didn’t always exude the same fearlessness.
“My father passed away with 35 years of continuous sobriety. He was an exec, very successful. Had six kids. Even when he was in recovery, we didn’t talk about it. It was like our secret.
“We were forbidden to drink. But I drank. I got a DUI and went into treatment. I was 22-years old, in college, and I thought, ‘I’m not like these people in treatment.’ But I packed up my loafers and my sweaters, and I played the part.
“Early on, I was staying sober because of my father. I started volunteering at an addiction treatment facility. Started there when I was 22. I was the detox counselor. Then I was the activities counselor. Next I was an outpatient counselor.
“Then I got pregnant with my triplets and couldn’t work. When I had them, I was active in AA for about 10 years and continued working in the field. But I was getting a bit of an ego. Everyone would say, ‘You saved my life.’ I’d say, ‘Of course I did.’ So I started thinking, ‘I don’t need to go to meetings anymore.’ I stopped going.”
“I ended up drinking when I was 40-years old, after 18 years of sobriety. I got three DUIs in a year-and-a-half’s time. The progression of alcohol is tremendous. If you stop drinking, picking it back up is like you’ve been drinking the whole entire time. I lost my license, my marriage broke up, and I was drinking myself to death.”
Asking for help isn’t always easy, and Katie’s situation was no different.
“It was very hard for me to go back in. But I became active in AA again. My husband at the time and I were still living together. It was the women in AA who would come over and say, ‘You can do this, Katie. You can’t cohabitate. You gotta move out.’
“So here I am. I’m 20 years married, I’ve got three kids. Women in AA are saying, ‘You’re strong enough to move out.’ And I’m saying, ‘I don’t know if I can.’ When I left my parents’ house, I got married. I’d never even paid a bill.
“I decided, I gotta go. I gotta leave.”
Katie’s successful path to recovery began by looking outside of herself. At her core, she knew something was still not right. When she was working at Recovery Centers of America, something happened that changed her path for the better.
“I’ve had a really hard time getting my recovery back. There was always something missing. I wasn’t sponsoring anybody; wasn’t helping anybody.
“I knew this one girl, she used to come to meetings talking about the Big Book. S0 I reached out to her. I said, ‘I need help. I need you to take me through this book.’ So she literally took me line-by-line through the book, from the very front cover. She said to me, ‘You’re in a lot of pain, Katie.’ She said, ‘I gotta get you through this book quickly.’
“Her purpose of teaching me the book was so I could teach someone else. I felt like I had a purpose. It gave me more compassion and I became more interested in the solution, not the problem.
“That’s the advice I would give to somebody who’s struggling: Slow down. Try to do something kind for somebody else.
“Because of my active involvement in the program, I’m a better mother, girlfriend, and friend. My overall focus is more on giving to others rather than receiving. My recovery is the biggest blessing I have in my life today.”
Addiction is a chronic disorder, not a personal failure. There is a human face behind every example, and there is real hope that addiction recovery can change your life.
If you believe you or a loved one is suffering from drug or alcohol abuse, we can help. Call 1-800-RECOVERY today to learn more about our drug abuse treatment and to get started.
Recovery Centers of America is not affiliated with or endorsed by Alcoholics Anonymous.