"We Don't Have to Suffer Alone Anymore"

Strength + Courage: A Story of Addiction, Treatment & Recovery

Q: At which facility did you receive treatment?

A: I initially went to Hazelden in Newberg for 60 days. I returned to New York, where I was living at the time, and entered the Intensive Outpatient Program for eight weeks at Hazelden in New York City. I then attended continuing care twice a week before moving to Portland, Oregon, where I transitioned to weekly continuing care in Beaverton. That's three Hazelden experiences!

Q: What is your sobriety date?

A: April 20, 2014

Q: Please tell us what it was like, what happened and what it's like now.

A: I started drinking when I was 14. Even then, I realized I had a problem with alcohol. There was alcoholism in my family, and I was always aware of my mental obsession around it—how to get it, how much I could get, did I have enough. Like most teenagers, I was incredibly insecure, and drinking made me feel comfortable in my own skin. I continued to drink into my adult life, and it was mostly social - I attended Emory University and did most of my drinking at bars and parties. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mauritania, West Africa, and there was a fair bit of drinking involved when we'd all get together to blow off steam and re-connect. I moved to New York City in 1998 to get my Master's and continued to drink, surrounding myself with others who drank like me.

My drinking was primarily social for the first 20 years, but things shifted when I turned 35. I lost my Dad to brain cancer in 2007. I was there for his diagnosis, treatment, and finally his death. It was so incredibly painful; I relied more and more on alcohol to dull the hurt and ache of losing him. The following year, a dear friend died of leukemia. A year after that, another friend and her two sons were killed in the Haiti earthquake. I was buried in sadness, becoming more and more dependent on alcohol to try and cope with the pain of these losses.

In the following years, I went on several missions with Doctors without Borders. These were incredibly rich and life changing experiences, but they were also very traumatic. I went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and finally Nigeria. Being surrounded by war, instability, and mothers and babies who were sick and dying took its toll on me. I drank in the field to help get me through the stress of each day. My drinking only increased when I returned home. At this point I was doing much of my drinking alone.

Q: When did you realize you needed help? Was there something specific that led you to treatment?

A: I always tried to be a moderate drinker so I could continue to drink. I periodically tried to stop on my own. I didn't know what 'white-knuckling' was at the time, but that's what I was doing. I'd say, "See, I didn't drink for three days, I don't have a problem."

Q: What led you to treatment?

A: I had always hoped that I would have a family one day. In my late '30s and early '40s, I agonized over the decision to have a baby on my own. I had always hoped that I'd meet someone but I also feared missing the fertility window. I finally decided to move forward and early in the process, I realized that my chances of getting pregnant were slim. I was beyond devastated! Still, I went through many rounds of IVF without success, each disappointment bringing me into deeper despair. My drinking really ramped up. I was working a very stressful job as a midwife. Having to face other women having babies on a daily basis was killing me. The only thing that gave me the slightest bit of relief was drinking. On my 42nd birthday after a failed IVF attempt, I started to drink and didn't stop. I luckily reached out to friends who helped get me to the hospital. During a week-long stay, I made the decision to go to Hazelden. It was terrifying at first, but ultimately such a relief. I was so ready to stop, I just didn't know how.

Q: What was the toughest aspect of quitting?

A: Cravings were the hardest thing for me. I was so used to daily drinking; it was tough facing those hours in the evening. Being an inpatient was a lifesaver, and thankfully, those cravings subsided over time.

Q: What is the best thing about being sober?

A: I feel transformed. The daily depression and misery that I felt two years ago are gone. I wake up in the morning excited for the day. I can see a future. I've done a lot of work around acceptance and surrendering, especially around having a baby. And I truly feel open to whatever happens. When I reflect back, I still can't believe how much I've changed.

Q: Do you have a favorite sobriety 'catch phrase' that you value?

A: I love the Promises. Every time I hear them, I think, yeah, that's starting to happen, and that one, too. I feel this overall lift in my life—even though hard and sad things will continue to happen, I can handle it. And not only handle it, but move through it with grace.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice that has served you well to someone still suffering from addiction, what would it be?

A: You are not alone. A pivotal moment in treatment for me was hearing that most addicts suffer from a profound sense of loneliness. Despite having many friends and being very social, I had always felt that way; that I was alone, different, and didn't belong. Realizing that I wasn't the only one who thought this and that I in fact wasn't alone, has been one of the greatest gifts of sobriety. I have such an amazing network of friends in recovery. I can always reach out to someone or go to a meeting. I feel the power of these connections daily.

Q: What else would you like to share with your fellow alumni?

A: I struggled with the higher power piece of AA, but I have found secular meetings, a community of people who are also agnostic and don't believe in a traditional God. This has helped me tremendously!

If you're someone who's struggling with addiction, know there is a way out. I didn't think there was. I lived in agony, far longer that I needed to. I'm open about my own story in the hope that it will help others. We don't have to suffer alone anymore.

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