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 Steph Roberts, today’s Face of Recovery.
How did your addiction start?
I turned first to food. I ate to numb. I ate to fill the emptiness. That was at 8. By 13 I had found pot, booze, and boys. In fact, I turned to boys much more than drugs or booze at first for two reasons: one, boys are easier to come by at 13 years old; and two, boys are easy. So for a while I had sex with boys that were wildly inappropriate (older etc) and it was intermingled with booze and pot. By 15 I took diet pills or asthma meds regularly to get high. Over-the-counter speed.
I have very few memories from the teen years. I am a great disassociator. I know by age 16 I was having sex with a sailor–visiting the city on Fleet Week–on my friend’s rooftop in a semi-blackout or brown-out from copious amounts of alcohol.
By age 18 I was meeting men off the internet, getting fall-down drunk before I met them, and then…. Well you get it.
On to college. My drinking changed there. It was easier. So I went from bingeing on weekends to bingeing a few times a week–at least 3. And it’s where I found I “glass,” cocaine, and ecstasy. These were like little miracles. To me they appeared to do no more than make me able to drink more and without any nausea, spins, vomiting, and best of all NO BLACKOUTS. Needless to say it goes downhill from there. I think around age 20, my dad was dying, my drug and alcohol use was amped up, I asked a man to come back to my room. he beat me up badly. I wrote on the wall, while I was drunk out of my mind “I am an asshole.”
I am never a daily drinker at this point – always a binger. My grades in school were fine. I had a job. I was fine. Just having fun. Right?
My dad dies. I drink like … I use it as an excuse to drink harder, drug harder, and … more than ever before. I move to Scotland to escape my problems. They come with me. I come home. Day one home and I am as wasted and coked up as I have ever been and….
Before I moved to Scotland a shrink had given me a book called Living Sober. I put it my shelf and left it there. When I woke up back in NYC, skin crawling, sweating, exhausted, headachey, and filled with shame I looked up and saw that book. I called AA. I don’t know how I knew. I had never thought about it before. I just knew something had to change. I knew I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. And that was the beginning of my first four years sober. But not the end of my using story because I never really admitted I had a problem. I mean I talked the talked and to a degree I walked the walk, but in my head I always thought “this is just another whim,” or “I’ll clean up my act and then go back to drinking and it’ll be fine.”
Yeah. Well. After four years I went back to drugs and alcohol. It’s because, in essence, I had forgotten how bad it really felt. I had moved away from basic principles that had kept me sober at all. I didn’t really believe I had a problem.
I spent the next three years drinking and using cocaine in a way I had never before. It was as if my “disease” had been waiting for me, getting stronger. I didn’t look back. inges lasted anywhere from 12 to 48 hours. There were always men. There was always shame.
What was the turning point for you – what made you want to get sober?
I got into a terrible and abusive relationship, and a lightbulb went off ‘I can only end this if I get sober again.” Like, I knew I was strongest and clearest when I wasn’t using. And that was the beginning of a year of trying. I tried and failed over and over again for a year to get it back. I tried AA but without really trying. I could get 60 days together. then 30. then 10. then only 3 or 4. My binges were getting more and more frequent and the sick feelings worse. Finally on October 9th, 2011 I called a friend who also struggled. I wanted to kill myself in a very real way. More real than ever before. But instead I called Jay. I begged for help. I said I was afraid AA didn’t work for me. I was one of those poor unfortunates. he said “sit tight. go to a meeting tomorrow. i’ll give you one of my antabuse.” For 2 months I stayed sober on fear and antabuse.
What was your initial treatment?
That was not a life, and I knew from experience that AA could offer me a life. Not AA itself. I would have to work for it, but that it was a bridge back to life. And, for the first time ever I was willing to go to any lengths to get sober. I went back. I counted my days out loud. I listened. I listened and listened and listened. I drank in the information instead of booze.
Do you do anything differently, today?
So my solution is AA. It is not a Christian Cult. I do not pray to Jesus. I do not pray, in fact, to any Judeo-Christian God, or any deity for that matter. I do pray every day. I say thank you to the world, to the universe for helping guide me through the another day. I ask for continued strength and clarity. And, I believe I had better put into this world what I want to get out, so I try to lead a life with roots in love and service . That said, I have a good job. I have not devoted my life to practice of meditation. But I help people when I can. I try to give back what has been so freely given to me. I try not to judge people, but to understand them as I would want them to understand me. But the truth is, just asking for help is a HUGE change and one that can have powerful effects. I also exercise a lot. Move a muscle, change a thought! I treat my body the way i should have for years. I put good fuel into it. I move it. And for the first time ever I love it. I love me!
What is your life like, now?
I exercise a lot. I eat clean. I train dirty. I love my life. And, I love myself. No much has changed externally, but then I hadn’t lost everything. It’s the inside job that is a miracle.
Do you have anything you’d like to share with someone currently struggling with a substance abuse problem or an addiction? How about anything you’d like to share with their family or friends?
Keep reading. Keep listening. Keep sharing. Keep trying. Each of us has his/her own journey to take. Whatever you’re feeling right now, I have felt. Thousands of sober men and women have felt it, too. You are not alone. You have a choice. I promise. And when you feel weak, use my strength. When you feel afraid, borrow my bravery. If you can make the choice JUST FOR TODAY not to drink then tomorrow you will feel stronger and braver and maybe you can make that same choice again. Try it just for today. Fear will not kill you. Alcohol and drugs will.
I think that the family and friends should seek support too in places like Al-Anon. They’re are people feeling the same things you are. Why do it alone when you don’t have to. You cannot diagnose an addict. He/she has to do it. And that may mean you need to detach with love. You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can elp someone else.
What is the best part about your recovery?
I used to think when I crossed the street ”None of these cars want to wait for me. They think I am disgusting and wish they could hit me.” Literally, those words would float through my head. Sometime in this last year, that stopped. And now I even think, sometimes, “I bet that driver thinks I’m a hottie .” I could never imagine a life like this–one where I feel good when I look in the mirror.
Thank you, Steph, so very much for sharing your story, and CONGRATULATIONS on 1 year RECOVERY!
Ellie invites you to visit her blog, A Different New York Foodie.