Addiction Recovery – there is a great deal of confusion, stigma, shame and discrimination surrounding addiction, addiction treatment and addiction recovery. Yet those who have the disease of addiction (whether to illegal or prescription drugs or alcohol) and are in recovery live healthy, productive, engaged lives — the same kinds of lives as people who do not have this disease. But all the words and definitions and explanations in the world are not as powerful as the people themselves. To that end, we are grateful to the people in recovery who have decided to share their experiences so that we all may put a Face to Addiction Recovery.
Addiction Recovery – It’s real, it happens to real people, and it happens all the time. It is my great pleasure to introduce Ellie Schoenberger, today’s Face of Recovery.
How did your addiction start?
I was likely born an alcoholic; I believe in the genetic component of this disease. I’m adopted and there are no other alcoholics in my adoptive family, so we had no experience with alcoholism at all before me. I was always a “party girl” – liked to drink, go to bars, keep up with the guys, etc. When my friends started to mature – get married, have kids, etc. – I wasn’t ready to stop having fun. I got married at 31 and had my daughter at 33, and decided to stay home full time. That was like adding gasoline to an already budding alcohol problem. The long hours, isolation and overall new scariness of motherhood increased my drinking, to the point where four years later I was in the grips of a physical addiction to alcohol. I would say leading up to that point I had what I would call an ‘emotional’ addiction to alcohol; I could NOT drink, but I always wanted to. The last six months of my drinking I HAD to drink or I’d start getting scary withdrawal symptoms.
What was the turning point for you – what made you want to get sober?
One of my counselors at a rehab I went to called me a “hard case”, and I was. I believed I could beat this thing by sheer will. But my definition of “beating this thing” was to learn to drink like a normal person. It took me a long time to realize I didn’t have an “off” switch. That it was the first drink that got me, every time. After clearing up in rehab for 15 days, I finally got good and scared, and surrendered. I realized I just could not drink in safety. I finally started listening and asking for help. But it took those two weeks of not drinking – surrounded by people who could help – to get my mind in a place where I realized I was the problem.
What was your initial treatment?
I initially went to a 10-day outpatient program, but realized they weren’t testing me for alcohol so I drank at night through that program. Very soon after that my drinking got so bad my family had an intervention and I went to a 10 day inpatient program at a detox facility. I came out of that really believing I had it licked – that I would be okay forever because I managed not to drink for ten days (ignoring the fact that I was locked up for those 10 days). Within four hours of arriving home I was driving back to the liquor store, and when my husband came home that night he found me passed out drunk. Luckily, I was able to get into a 30 day program, and to this day I believe that saved my life. I am now (and have been since leaving rehab) active in AA.
Do you do anything differently, today?
In early sobriety I did a LOT of things differently. I drove different roads to avoid liquor stores. I avoided restaurants that served alcohol, and parties where everyone was drinking. Gradually, I was able to do these things (with the help of my sober network) more and more, and now I’m in a place where I can usually go to any place with alcohol and be okay. I always have an escape plan, though. In addition to recovery meetings, I also added regular exercise, therapy and yoga to my self-care regime.
What is your life like, now?
Recovery has brought me so many gifts I don’t think I can name them all. First and foremost is my marriage is good (we had to go through a couple rocky years and therapy to get there) and my relationship with my kids (now 10 and 7) has never been better. I LOVE being a present Mom. I started a small business, founded two successful blogs, write regularly and speak openly about addiction and recovery on both my blogs and in person whenever I can. I believe women (especially mothers) face unique (I don’t mean HARDER, I mean different) challenges in getting sober, and it is a mission of mine to break down the stigma of how the world views alcoholics and addiction in general.
Do you have anything you’d like to share with someone currently struggling with a substance abuse problem or an addiction?
You are NOT alone. When I was drinking, I thought I was the only one who did the things I did, felt the way I felt. Women in particular are SO hard on themselves, it feels impossible to come clean to anyone, for fear of being branded a bad mother, or a bad person. Finding a community of sober people (through recovery meetings, online resources or other safe people in your life like a therapist, spiritual advisor or doctor) is very important. Get talking. You will feel so much better, and it helps beat back the shame and guilt that keep so many of us stuck and alone.
What is the best part about your recovery?
At the risk of sounding cliché – EVERYTHING. There are hard moments, every now and then, of course there are .. when I want to hide from myself or my fears. But I know today that nothing is improved with a drink, because I’m an alcoholic with an allergy to alcohol and I can’t stop once I start. I am a loyal friend, an active and engaged mother, a good spouse and daughter, and I feel better about myself than I have in years. It’s an inside job and it takes a lot of work, but I’m finally comfortable in my own skin.
And thank you, Ellie, so very much for sharing your story, and CONGRATULATIONS on 5 years RECOVERY!
Ellie invites you to find more about her current work as writer of the popular blog, One Crafty Mother, and founder of Crying Out Now, a blog where women tell their stories of addiction and recovery and offer each other support through a vibrant and growing community. Crying Out Now can also be found on Facebook Page.