Addiction: My Story

Published on 15 August 2023 at 16:06

   This month is always hard. More than one person I know lost their life to addiction in the month of August, and every year I'm forced to remember. With those memories come flashbacks of my own past, and my struggles with addiction. My story is no worse than some of the other stories I've heard in the rooms, but it certainly isn't a pleasant one. I am 15 years sober now, and looking back it's a miracle that I am here to say that. My addiction almost killed me.

   When we tell our story in the rooms, it is usually formatted like this: What we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. That's how I'm going to tell my story today. For the sake of time, not every detail is included here, but just enough so that I can paint you a picture of the reality of addiction. I remember the first time I got truly, completely drunk. I was maybe 13 or 14 years old. I was at a friend's house and his parents were out of town. His parents left the liquor cabinet wide open, and we decided  to drink an entire bottle of Jack Daniels, along with some generous amounts of other liquor. I don't remember much from that day other than laying on the bathroom floor in the dark, only sitting up long enough to vomit every so often. It would be awhile before I drank again.

   Fast forward to early adulthood. I had been smoking (and occasionally selling) weed for years but had largely stayed away from alcohol. All of that changed shortly before my 21st birthday. I lived just outside of Washington DC, had lots of friends that partied, and drinking every night was pretty common. Alcohol had become that "social lubricant" everyone talks about, always seeming to help me fit in and get over my social anxiety. I was a waitress/bartender and after my shift I would go from one side of the bar to the other and proceed to drink my nights away. All of my other friends seemed to be doing the same, so it seemed.. normal. I can't even really tell you when I began to realize I was getting the shakes upon waking- but it crept in slowly and became a part of that "normal". Then came the drinking alone as well as with friends. Then I realized I couldn't leave the house without alcohol.  I was trapped.

   By the time I was 24, I had moved to Wisconsin and had a daughter to take care of. I started off only drinking after she went to bed. My alcoholism wouldn't let me stick to that routine, however. It wasn't long before I was drinking in the morning to quiet the shakes. At one point it was so bad- I would open a beer and drink it, then promptly throw it up because my stomach couldn't handle the alcohol. But i knew if I couldn't force it down I would be violently ill. So I would drink again, slowly, to make sure I could keep it in my system. This routine eventually turned into drinking all day long, every day. The goal was to be drunk enough by the end of the evening that I would wake up still slightly drunk and not have to go through the torturous process of withdrawal in the morning. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I spent the entire day in limbo between being drunk and sick, never finding any real relief. Eating wasn't an option most days. I had dropped down to about 90 pounds and my teeth were literally rotting out of my skull from the repeated vomiting. I was suffering from crippling depression, untreated anxiety, and trauma after trauma. I was dating men that were alcoholics like me, which often led to fights, some physical. I distinctly remember getting into a fight with one of these men and being trapped in a bathroom with him while he tried to strangle me to death. And yet somehow, I didn't see that my life was out of control. At some point I'd simply accepted my fate and figured this is how I would die someday.

   December 20, 2008 I did, in fact, die. I had contracted pneumonia, and my liver had all but shut down from drinking. My roommate had woken up that morning to find me unresponsive, covered in puke and piss. He called an ambulance and they rushed me to the hospital. I flat lined a few times on the way there, being resuscitated repeatedly. I have only vague memories of the next few months. While I was in the ICU I contracted Respiratory MRSA, making my health decline even more rapidly. I had ascites of the liver, which was causing fluid to build up in my abdomen. Doctors had to make cuts into my belly to drain the liquid frequently. The combination of MRSA and Pneumonia had crippled my lungs and I was put on a ventilator.  My ammonia levels were through the roof, causing hallucinations and confusion. I had to be fed through a tube that was placed in my stomach. The antibiotics were not working. My family was told that I should be put on comfort measures and left to die. 

   Then one day, everything changed. I woke up. 

   I woke up scared and confused as to what had happened and where I was. The doctors were genuinely shocked at my awakening. My body was in shambles and they told me it was going to take a LONG time before I could go home again. The illness had made me too weak to sit up on my own, to use a fork and knife, to even hold a pencil. Somewhere along the way I developed drop foot as well. My foot was so drastically bent from muscle deterioration that I couldn't even get a shoe on my foot. 

   I spent a year total in a facility, from the ICU to an inpatient physical rehab.  I had to learn how to talk again, sit up, use my hands to support my body weight to transfer from a bed to a wheelchair, and adjust to life as a handicapped person. I was told I'd likely never walk again without the use of some kind of aid. Again I became severely depressed and anxious.

   Through a series of incidents, I was moved out of my hospital room into another one downstairs. In what can only be described as divine intervention, my new roommate was in AA. She helped me in my early sobriety just by being a sober person who knew about the program. Before I was eventually discharged, we had even started a meeting on the grounds.

   After I was discharged my life changed drastically yet again. Between navigating life in a wheelchair while going to physical therapy, going to AA, trying to raise a child (with a lot of help from my brother) and navigating my mothers passing, life was difficult. But with support from the recovery community, I found a sponsor, and friends I could lean on. My physical therapist, along with many doctors, helped me to walk again. I decided to clean up my head space and started going to therapy. Eventually I began to realize that I could do the sober thing.

   Today my life looks even more different.  I went back and got my GED, am a full time student in college, enrolled in classes to eventually work with trauma survivors. I got my drivers license. I can walk without any aid. In fact I frequently hike and camp by myself. I have a little business on the side where I sell my art and other things, go to meetings regularly, have a sponsor, and sponsor others. I have a relationship with my daughter and brothers, And I have an amazing partner who is also in recovery. I still have lots of aches and pains, and days that suck. But today I can be grateful for all of it- the good and the bad. 

   I shared my story with the hopes that it might reach even one person who is stuck in their addiction. I'm here to say- as long as you're breathing- there is hope. Recovery IS possible. Much love to those who have recovered, the family members we've affected, and to those that are still out there. 

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