A Second Chance at Life: Getting Sober at Age 24

Let's Talk Addiction & Recovery Podcast
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With her first sip of alcohol as a teen (tasted horrible, felt great), Holly S. discovered something she wasn't even looking for: a ready anesthetic for life. Listen in as Holly talks with host William C. Moyers about drinking away her college years while knowing, deep inside, she had a serious problem. Holly describes how her father's death gave her a second chance at life, why asking for help was the hardest part and what it’s like when sobriety is your new normal at age 24 (hint: wonderful).

When someone told me they didn't black out, I was genuinely surprised.

Holly S.

0:00:15 William Moyers
Hello and welcome to Let's Talk, a series of podcasts produced by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation on the issues that matter to us, the issues that we know matter to you, too. Substance use prevention, research, treatment of addiction, recovery management, advocacy, and education. I'm your host, William Moyers, and today we have a story of hope brought to us by Holly S. Welcome, Holly.

0:00:40 Holly S.
Thank you!

0:00:41 William Moyers
Thanks for being here again.

0:00:42 Holly S.

0:00:43 William Moyers
I'm so struck by the fact that as a young person in recovery, you've been so willing to stand up and speak out. You were on the stage at Hazelden Betty Ford in Center City, Minnesota when we had a Drug Czar there.

0:00:53 Holly S.

0:00:54 William Moyers
You shared your story that day. How did that feel for you to be up on that stage?

0:00:56 Holly S.
It felt really awesome. I spent 56 days at Hazelden, you know—

0:01:04 William Moyers
As a patient?

0:01:04 Holly S.
As a patient. Three times a day I was sitting in, you know, in those seats looking up—

0:01:08 William Moyers

0:01:10 Holly S.
—At the stage and so to be on the other side of that and even having the confidence to speak in front of a group of people was astounding. My—my teachers would be proud. [chuckles]

0:01:22 William Moyers
Yeah, you've come a long way!

0:01:23 Holly S.

0:01:24 William Moyers
So you tell us just a little bit about your addiction journey. The first time you used, do you remember?

0:01:31 Holly S.
Yeah, I do. I was 14. I was at a bonfire. My brother was four years or is four years older than me. And so, he had friends in his grade that were siblings of kids in my grade. And so, we went to a bonfire one night and drank and it tasted horrible, but it made me feel calm and at ease. And I was like, okay, you know it was kinda like I hear often that "Aha," this—this is what I needed. That's—it was—I kept drinking more. [chuckles]

0:02:07 William Moyers
You weren't looking for it but you found it.

0:02:08 Holly S.
Right. Exactly.

0:02:09 William Moyers

0:02:10 Holly S.
And I never wanted to find that and I never thought I would have a problem with alcohol because my dad was—suffered from a substance use disorder so—

0:02:20 William Moyers

0:02:20 Holly S.
—That wasn't in my plan.

0:02:23 William Moyers
So you knew you had a little bit of history.

0:02:25 Holly S.

0:02:26 William Moyers
You drank, it felt good, even though it tasted lousy.

0:02:28 Holly S.

0:02:29 William Moyers
And alcohol was the drug that you continued to use, correct?

0:02:32 Holly S.
Correct. Yeah it was. Up until I was 24 years old. In college I did use Adderall and Vyvanse I was prescribed that. And abused that after, you know, a few months of having it. And then it just—any—any mind-altering substance it was, you know, zero to a hundred all the time. I didn't have a—a turn-off button. [nods]

0:02:59 William Moyers
And then the day came when you knew you couldn't do this anymore. Tell us about that day.

0:03:05 Holly S.
Yeah. So I actually when I was probably 21, I knew. I mean I had always had a bad gut feeling like my drinking is not normal. You know? It's not that I would drink every single day, but it was every single time I drank I would black out.

0:03:22 William Moyers

0:03:23 Holly S.
When someone told me they didn't black out, I was genuinely surprised.

0:03:28 William Moyers

0:03:28 Holly S.
Like, what? [Moyers chuckles] That's not what you do when you drink? And that was scary. You know? And the waking up and not remembering. [Moyers nods] But when I started drinking every day and when I started drinking by myself and when I started using as a coping mechanism, that's when I was like, okay. This isn't right. And that was around like 20—21 to 24 years old, where it just progressively got so much worse to where I was totally isolating. And just drinking by myself in my room and staying there.

0:04:06 William Moyers
Mmm. And just before you had your "bottom," you had a family tragedy?

0:04:12 Holly S.
Yeah. So my dad died from the disease of alcoholism. And that was a long time coming. I mean, I grew up watching him drink as a—you know, as a young kid. And I didn't know what that silver/white/red can was. But I knew that the more that piled up next to his recliner, the more he wasn't gonna be my dad. You know? He—the more beer he drank or whatever. So that was a scary thing. As a kid for my brother and I. And then after my parents got a divorce when I was in fifth grade it just progressively got worse. And then it's really hard to watch somebody slowly and then quickly wither away. And I—and I had to grieve the loss of my dad twice. The first time when alcoholism totally consumed him. Or where the disease totally consumed him and then once again when he was actually gone.

0:05:22 William Moyers

0:05:23 Holly S.
And I honestly think the first time was worse. Because this dad that I loved so much wasn't the same.

0:05:3. William Moyers

0:05:32 Holly S.
And so, for me like when he passed away, I—I was even deeper in my addiction. Right? Like you'd think that'd be a wake-up call, and it was to some extent, but I did—I had no idea how to cope with it. And what to do. And so I just kept drinking.

0:05:57 William Moyers
For four more months.

0:05:58 Holly S.
For four more months, yeah.

0:05:59 William Moyers
And you said enough.

0:06:01 Holly S.
Yeah. And then I said I'm gonna die or I'm gonna get help. And how I started really experiencing the physical withdrawals, you know? Not being able to go X amount of hours without the shaking, the sweating, my—I just—I watched my dad do it for so many years. And to be experiencing that myself, I was like I don't want to live that way. And my dad dying gave me a second chance at life. Because that brought me to Hazelden Betty Ford. And—and that helped me get through sober living. And IOP. And counseling. Financially that's what that money did for me.

0:06:48 William Moyers
Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. And that was what year was that, that you found recovery?

0:06:53 Holly S.
November 1, 2017. [nods]

0:06:56 William Moyers
So here we come up on it'll be soon two years—

0:06:58 Holly S.

0:06:59 William Moyers
We're here in the fall of 2019.

0:07:00 Holly S.

0:07:01 William Moyers
What's been—what's been the toughest part of your last two-year journey in recovery?

0:07:08 Holly S.
You know, I think it's really figuring out myself and figuring out my feelings and—and boundaries. To—to actually sit with discomfort isn't easy. [Moyers chuckles] You know? It takes a while to get—to get used to. And it—I would feel a little bit out of control, out of sorts, you know? I'm like how am I supposed to handle this?! And—and by just sitting with it, I've—and reaching out to peers in the sober community, you know, I found that okay this shall pass. [Moyers chuckles] And I can—I can do it.

0:07:44 William Moyers
Mmm. Mmm-hmm. Shortly, you will be graduating from college.

0:07:49 Holly S.

0:07:50 William Moyers
Your degree is in—?

0:07:52 Holly S.
Community Health Education.

0:07:53 William Moyers
Where does that come from, what do you wanna do with that?

0:07:56 Holly S.
Yeah, so I—at first I wanted to do Nursing. I wanted to go on for Nursing. And actually work in Ignatia. I had such a—

0:08:03 William Moyers
[chuckles] Oh, Ignatia being the detox unit at Center City.

0:08:04 Holly S.
Yeah exactly, yeah. I loved my nurse [Moyers laughs] so much and I was like 'I wanna be her.' [Moyers laughs] But I—I'm really looking forward to exploring the advocacy piece.

0:08:16 William Moyers

0:08:17 Holly S.
And that's a lot of what Community Health Education is health promotion, intervention, disease prevention.

0:08:23 William Moyers
In the arena of addiction and recovery? You want to do that? [smiles]

0:08:25 Holly S.
Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah.

0:08:27 William Moyers

0:08:28 Holly S.
So I'm really excited about it.

0:08:30 William Moyers
And your internship has been working in a sober—for an organization that promotes sober living, right?

0:08:35 Holly S.
Yeah. St. Paul Sober Living. And it's—it's more of a structured sober living.

0:08:41 William Moyers
In the Twin Cities? Yeah.

0:08:42 Holly S.
Yeah. But it's all about finding life in recovery.

0:08:46 William Moyers
Mmm-hmm. Hmm.

0:08:46 Holly S.
You know? Life beyond treatment. And—and finding meaningful relationships. And sober friends.

0:08:57 William Moyers

0:08:57 Holly S.
Because that's—that's hard. I—I believe for me had I gone home, to South Dakota, it would have been hard. Because in St. Paul, the Twin Cities, there's what 500, 600 meetings a week?

0:09:12 William Moyers

0:09:13 Holly S.
I mean—

0:09:13 William Moyers
How many recovery people there are. And so many young people. Yeah.

0:09:15 Holly S.
Right. Yeah. And it's—I feel normal.

0:09:18 William Moyers
Yeah. Yeah. What—we know through these Let's Talk podcasts have become incredibly popular over the last couple of years. Thanks to a lot of my colleagues who work so hard to make them possible. But what we discovered that lots and lots of people listen and watch them. And of course at the end of the day although there are a lot of people who are listening and watching who are trying to find an answer for their own problem or for a family member's problem or a girlfriend's problem or a grandparent's problem. So your story is one of inspiration. But what would you tell those people who are listening or watching right now as it relates to their own fears about getting help? To their own sense of hopelessness, to their own sense that they can't do it. What's your message?

0:10:02 Holly S.
Yeah, well I'd like to start off by saying the first tool I used was a podcast.

0:10:10 William Moyers

0:10:10 Holly S.
I was googling online meetings. Because I didn't know what resources I had. So I—I would listen to a podcast every night. That pertained to recovery. But I think the hardest part is, for me, was asking for help. And there's so many resources that I had no idea existed. Right? So, to—to look into it and to ask for help because I thought I was the only one. I was the only 24-year-old woman who was struggling with this and I was gonna be judged. But I think from everyone I've met, it was so many people, the majority of people I know have been, you know, have experienced this disease in family or friends. And people are so willing to help. And I now looking back at it I realize how brave it was. To acknowledge that hey, I don't have to live this way. And I really can do something about it. And because I did something about it, I've made amazing friends. I have my dog. I have my own apartment. You know? Things—the amount I've achieved in the almost two years I have of sobriety is more than I have in my entire life. On my own. You know?

0:11:41 William Moyers
Mmm. [smiles]

0:11:41 Holly S.
I found independence. And so, I would just say you know find local resources, tell somebody, talk about it. And if you—if you're really questioning your drinking or your—your using habits then you should listen to your instinct. Listen to your gut.

0:12:05 William Moyers

0:12:06 Holly S.
'Cause I—I didn't listen to my gut right away. But I'm sure glad I did at 24 years old. Versus you know? Five years from now. Or I don't know if I'd be alive. So.

0:12:19 William Moyers
And we're sure glad that you listened to your gut too and reached out and got help. And have turned your adversity into the opportunity to stand up and speak out and to share with other people who are listening to this podcast. And in all the other ways that you've done it, we are so grateful that you've taken the time to—to give back, Holly. [Holly nods] Your story of hope.

0:12:38 William Moyers
[turns to camera]
On behalf of our Executive Producer, Lisa Stangl, I'm your host William Moyers and we thank you for joining another edition of Let's Talk, a series of podcasts which, at the end of the day, are all about what Holly brought to us today. All about hope. And help. And healing. Thanks for joining us, we'll see ya again.

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