True Story: Heather

Monday, November 30th, 2015

Heather and her boyfriend, who is in a 12-step program

The long and short of it is, I come from a family of addicts. My biological dad was a drug abuser, dealer, and alcoholic who died active in his addiction. His father was an alcoholic, and so on.

Because of that lifestyle, all I knew growing up was chaos. Rare moments of serenity felt uncomfortable. I started drinking a lot and doing some drugs because it kept the chaotic lifestyle I’d known from childhood; it made me feel normal.

The other thing that felt comfortable was abuse. There was a lot of abuse on every level with my dad, and as I got older, all but one of my romantic relationships were abusive.

But the life I was leading was my dirty little secret. I worked for prominent law firms, and no one would’ve guessed I was being abused, battling an alcohol addiction, and, before long, an eating disorder. I had both anorexia and bulimia and at one point was taking about 40 laxatives a day.

Eventually it all caught up with me. My boyfriend beat me to the point of unconsciousness, and a surgical team told me I had two days to live. Obviously, I survived, but only to be told that I had liver disease. I was put on a transplant list and stayed sober for a year trying to get that transplant. I had a son who was 15 at this point, and everyone was telling me to stay sober for him and my mom. I didn’t drink for an entire year, and an amazing thing happened as a result: My liver repaired itself.

But even though I’d experienced sobriety, I wasn’t in recovery—and there is a huge difference. The first thing I did after receiving the letter saying my liver was in the clear was show it to my mom and stepdad. The second thing I did was go to four liquor stores and resume drinking.

For the next few months, I drank four boxes of wine a day. I wanted to stop, but I didn’t know how. I went to a couple of 12-step meetings, but I had the reaction I think a lot of people have at first—“I don’t wanna be some crotchety old woman going to these meetings”—and I’d leave the meeting to drink. I’d go to bed praying, “God, kill me or cure me.”

I began to think the former was inevitable. I visited my son in Florida to say a proper good-bye. Before seeing him for what I thought was the last time, he told me he had a date and left. I honestly thought I’d die in my sleep that night and never see him again.

Instead, I had a 16-minute grand mal seizure and woke up in the trauma unit of a hospital. It was then that I realized I didn’t have another run in me.Heather 2

I returned to Maryland and checked myself into an eating disorder clinic and then into Phoenix House’s Demeter House.

When I got there, I saw two women screaming at each other. I wanted to turn right around and go home. But my counselor said, “Just give this a shot.”

So I did. I went to groups every hour, attended classes, met with my counselor, journaled every day, and got a temporary sponsor. Each of those things helped me achieve recovery—not just sobriety.

Going to groups with other women who were in the same position helped me realize that I wasn’t alone in what I’d been through. It really helped to be with others who understood.

The classes and my counselor taught me a lot about the disease of addiction and what to expect when I got out of the program. They taught me the importance of sticking to a regimen with regard to eating and exercise, and to set goals for each day. Journaling helped me keep track of my goals, and to clear my soul and my mind.

My sponsor helped me realize the importance of getting sober for myself—not for my mom or my son or anyone else. He explained that it’s like being on an airplane, when they tell you to put on your mask first before helping anyone else. Hearing that was like an epiphany. I realized that I was going to be no use to anyone if couldn’t take care of myself.

By the time my 28 days were up, I didn’t want to go. I felt safe at Demeter House and I was afraid to leave; I wasn’t sure I’d make it.

That was more than a year ago, and I haven’t had the desire to drink or use since then.

All the things I learned at Phoenix House have helped me in my recovery. Every day, I write in my journal my goals for the day, what I’m thankful for, what I need to work on, what I can do for another person, and at least one accomplishment. I make sure I’ve done the best job I could, and when I make mistakes, I’ve learned to be gentle with myself while still thinking about what I can do differently the next day. I continue to go to 12-step meetings and am now a sponsor myself.

Today, because I put myself and my health first, I’m the person I want to be for others, especially my son. I’m the one he calls when he needs to talk to someone. I love that. I stick to my commitments with him, with my sponsees, and with other people in my life. That’s not the me that used to exist. I have value now, and for the first time, I’m experiencing more serenity than chaos. I have healthy relationships and am dating again.

Spending 28 days at Phoenix House was a small investment to put into the life that I got out of it. Having to go into treatment was the worst experience, but the best thing I ever did for myself.

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