“I came from such a loving family. My dad drank only a couple glasses of wine a night and I’ve never seen my mom drink, not once. Mental illness and alcoholism had run in my family, for many generations. Had I been properly sat down and educated on my family history, I’m not sure I would have truly grasped the heaviness of what being pre-disposed meant. I also don’t believe I was capable of really hearing any of it, or understanding the seriousness.
Of course, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect family.’ My family had a rocky start. My mom had always struggled with mental illness and anxiety. She had terrible postpartum depression after both my sister and I were born. A lot of my childhood, my parents fought. I remember feeling anxious. My mom never hit me, but if I dropped a plate, there would be screaming. I believe an emotional fear can bring just as much shame to a child. By the time I was about 13 years old, my mom had sought professional help from a psychiatrist. It was the moment I recall vividly, that she was finally finding her true self. The mother I knew she was, underneath it all. The mother I saw glimpses of happiness and nurturing from, was finally peeling back the layers. She’s been the most amazing mother, as she discovered how to love herself.
My disease of addiction had not manifested from a lack of love or triggered by any one event. My parents had always loved me unconditionally, and supported me. I was incapable of loving myself. I felt lost and hollow inside. I had no passion for anything. I never had dreams to aspire in life. My behavior of always wanting to escape the uncomfortable feelings started at an early age. I remember acting impulsively all the time and started shoplifting stuffed animals from the store at 10 years old. I’d spend hours playing video games, watching TV and indulging with food. I always took things to the extreme, never knew how to do anything with moderation – nor was that appealing. That behavior affected my ability to focus in school. The teachers were concerned that I was not learning at my peer’s level.
My parents took me to a therapist who had diagnosed me with attention deficit disorder at 10 years old. I was not put on any medication at that point. I was enrolled in learning disability classes. The kids knew I was taking these classes, and I was picked on a lot. I went home crying many days, not understanding why I was so different.
I carried this lost feeling with me my whole life – until I found alcohol at the age of 15. I remember a cute boy had dared me to drink an entire glass full of vodka. I successfully devoured the drink. I blacked out shortly after. I came to, in the bathroom, having thrown up all over the bathroom floor and missing the toilet. I remember loving it so much! I had found my remedy to finally escape my depression. I proceeded to drink more that same night. You’d think that type of behavior would have been an indication that maybe I was on the road to self-destruction. I didn’t even give it a thought.
In high school, I finally started to feel like I found some friends who accepted me for who I was, who also liked to party as much as I did. I enjoyed going to school for the first time in my life. I had my first serious boyfriend. He was older. He went to a different high school, but accompanied me to my first high school dance. I was so excited, I was falling in love for the first time. That is the night my destiny changed. I became very ill the next week. I had a severe fever. I recall being so physically exhausted I couldn’t even get out of bed. The thought of food repulsed me.
After my illness had not gotten better, I went back to the doctor. I had no idea what to expect, I thought maybe I’d just had the flu. The blood results had come back, and I was diagnosed with mononucleosis. I was told that typically, mono only lasts a few months. I was bedridden for 6 months. I lost 30 pounds, and even showering was rare. My depression had set in. I had a sense of hopelessness, fear and anger. After all, before this, I had finally come to a place in life where I thought I had found some happiness. I would sleep for days at a time and felt completely alone. My boyfriend moved on, and my friends stopped coming around because I was in no capacity to do anything.
My illness continued, and I continued to spiral deeper into my darkness. Finally I went back to the doctor, who confirmed in a rarity case, I had relapsed and somehow gotten mono again. This illness plagued me for two years, as it had turned into chronic fatigue at some point. Here I was at 18 years old and had spent most of high school in bed. I was able to convince the school and my home school teacher that I could attend senior year part time, while finishing up the majority of classes through home school. Even though I was only expected to be there for three classes, I’d ditch school to come home and sleep.
Around the time of graduation, my depression and attention deficit disorder were making my life unbearable. I was questioning whether or not I wanted to continue this miserable existence. I had gone to therapy at this point and was put on a cocktail of medication. One of which was Adderall, for my A.D.D. This was a controlled substance, and it was the burst of energy I had been longing for. I remember not sleeping for two days as I cleaned and organized my room. This was MY drug, the drug I had been searching for to ‘fix’ me. This type of ‘fix’ was just a bandage. It had taken the focus off how I constantly felt inside. This drug allowed me to have a life again. I started to hang out with my old friends and attended parties every weekend. It was the escape I once found at 15 and had been chasing ever since. I found myself planning what parties I’d be going to that entire week. My life and thoughts had been consumed instantaneously with the obsession to party and drink, and I was making up for all the experiences I had missed out on.
This disease is progressive, and where it had once ‘helped my depression,’ it had become apparent it was just a bandage. My depression was spiraling – I started snorting my Adderall and selling it to pay for alcohol. I found myself in a viscous cycle. I started taking opiates from my boyfriend, not caring whether I woke up the next day. I played Russian roulette with my life. My drinking that had once only been on the weekends, progressed to the weekdays, and by the time I was 21 years old, I was drinking a fifth of Jägermeister a day. I drank and drove religiously. There were a few occasions where I was well over the legal limit and had been pulled over. I remember being terrified, and at the same time felt a rush. I would somehow pull myself together enough to not get arrested for a DUI. I’d race cars on the freeway, one of which I sideswiped going 90 mph. I’d wake up at random places and forget where I’d park my car. I’d spend the next day looking for my car a lot of mornings. Shortly after, my car had been repossessed and I had been fired from another great job.
An unhealthy pattern of mine included jumping from one toxic relationship to another. I was attracted to men that were just as sick as me. I looked for validation from men, and it was never fulfilling. At 21 years old, I had found out I was pregnant. My ex-boyfriend refused to believe the baby was his. We tried to come to a resolution, but within a month he was found dead in his bed. Then, I lost the baby. I felt so much shame and abandonment.
By the time I was 23 years old, I started confiding in friends how much I drank. Before that point, I worked very hard to hide the extent of my drinking and using. I would purchase cheap liter bottles of vodka and pour them into water bottles. I would hide them throughout the house and in the bushes outside. This was my attempt to hide and to control how much I drank. My family started to question my drinking and for 7 months I denied it. My mom joined a 12-step program ‘Al-Anon’ to set healthy boundaries. She no longer enabled any of my destructive behavior. Through her 12-step program, she was able to identify her co-dependency had been a result of being a child of an alcoholic; her dad.
I had moments of surrender, but then fear would set in. I feared a life without alcohol, and at the same time, I feared my life with alcohol. I feared that if I admitted this to my inner most self, that I would no longer be able to stay in the comfort of denial. I believed both scenarios would kill me. I could not fathom a sober day in my life, but the drinking was killing me. I had an elevated liver, I experienced withdrawals daily, and I’d drink to stop the seizers. I no longer had any control over alcohol, I don’t think I ever did. My dad looked me in the eyes with sadness and stated with certainty, ‘You won’t make it to 30.’ It killed me to see how much it hurt my family. I wanted to stop, but I did not know how. Later that year I finally admitted to myself and to my family with tears in my eyes, ‘I’m an alcoholic.’ All the pain I had experienced felt lighter in that moment.
My journey of recovery started at that moment. I entered my first rehab shortly after, but my obsession with this cunning, baffling disease surfaced many times. My desire to stay sober was diminishing each day. I looked at all the people I could not relate to in recovery – my disease was loud in my head. My self-sabotaging behavior remained. In a span of 3 years, I checked into 5 rehab facilities. I’m grateful I even made it back each time. I know each experience in my attempts to get sober were planting seeds. Sure, I was sober for a month here and there, but I had not worked on myself internally. I ran on self-will, and I was angry all the time. I didn’t know how to work through this anger in any healthy manner. Once again I’d be back where I’d left off, drinking myself to death. I was homeless in between rehabs. I lived in someone’s garage for a month, sleeping on a cot with rats running by me.
My rock bottom was not jailing, institution or death, although it was surely headed that way. When I stopped ‘digging’ for a lower bottom is when I truly surrendered. My last drink was December 1st, 2009. All the pain I’ve experienced is what gives me a purpose in life.
Recovery has not been easy, it has been the hardest thing I’ve done. I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I learned that my anger was a result of my fears. I sought professional outside help, due to my depression being the underlining source of why I used to begin with. Being uncomfortable is where I get my strength. Had any of this been easy for me, I know my thinking would have justified how easily I can go back to somehow ‘managing my drinking.’ I turn my will and life over to the care of my higher power on daily basis. I attend 12 step meetings and live my life through the steps and principles of my program. I never have to feel misunderstood or alone, as I’ve met an entire community of people who experience what I have. All our stories may be different, but we can relate on so many levels, the pain we have experienced.
In recovery I started my own Amazon store 7 years ago while enrolled in school to receive my credentials as a drug and alcohol counselor. I was $30k in debt, with a credit score of 300. I was able to pay off my debt and raise my credit score to 780, and am forever rateful for the ability to be self-sufficient and accountable. I currently work at a treatment facility as a drug and alcohol counselor. My journey of pain has been the route of my purpose.
My most rewarding service work has been speaking to the high school students yearly. I hope to educate our youth and bring more awareness to end the stigma addiction still holds. I hope to be a voice for those still struggling to find theirs. This disease does not discriminate. I continue to be open to what the universe has in store for me. I’m grateful every day that I get to give back. I no longer survive, but truly thrive.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Julie Kennedy, 35, of California. You can follow her sober journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d love to hear your journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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