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Addiction Recovery Research Center

Fralin Biomedical Research Institute

2 Riverside Circle

Roanoke, VA  24016

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Phone: 540-315-0205

Email: iqrr@vtc.vt.edu

Media Inquiries:

John Pastor, FBRI Director of Communications

Phone: 540-526-2222

Email: jdpastor@vt.edu

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donette's Story 

“Twenty years ago I stopped using drugs, including alcohol. I have worked as a substance abuse professional for the past twelve years. Currently I work at an inpatient treatment center and have my Master’s degree in Counseling. My recovery has brought me to where I am today and although I don’t find my story sensational, I do think it is worth telling, if only to remind myself of how miraculous recovery is. Addiction has been running through my veins my whole life. My great grandfather was infamous for his moonshine stills that he kept in the woods of the Ozarks and his Saturday night brawls at the local tavern, which included one incident of biting a man’s ear off. The potential of addiction was passed down through my grandfather and father to me. Regardless of whether it is nature or nurture or both, all I had to do was ingest a substance and a metaphorical tiger was born inside of me. I think of my disease of addiction as that tiger, always growing stronger, bigger, and more dangerous as a result of my abusing substances, which went on for seventeen years. I took my first drink, and promptly got dead drunk at my aunt’s wedding when I was thirteen. I had found nirvana, and felt really happy for the first time that night. Until then I had smoked cigarettes, binged on sweets, zoned out on TV and music, and tried to lose myself in fantasy in an unsuccessful attempt to forget events like my parent’s divorce, my mother trying to kill herself, my mother’s cancer, and moving away from my home and friends to live with relatives while my mother died. I was always painfully shy and introverted. In a new town with access to alcohol and shortly after, other drugs, I was able to be a different person. I became a party girl and had friends. I buried visions of my grandfather putting his hand down my pants after a drunken Saturday night. I was having fun with my friends. Events like my grandfather’s molesting me and being raped by a man that became my first husband were swallowed down with Jack Daniels whiskey. I minimized them to myself until they became insignificant. On my sixteenth birthday, my father presented me with a brand new white Trans Am, and passed me a joint. I don’t know which made me happier, the car, or my father’s acceptance implied by the act of smoking marijuana with me. I was in six car wrecks that year as a result of drinking and driving. I went to the hospital but never got a DWI because those were hardly ever given in the little town I lived in. A year later I gave birth to my oldest daughter, Carrie. I got high on the way to the hospital. In those days, they didn’t test babies for drugs in their system, even though I am quite sure I smelled like pot smoke. When I was twenty years old, I packed up my little three year old daughter and all my worldly possessions into an old powder blue Ford LTD with expired license plates and went to attend Water and Wastewater Technology School . Jimmy Carter had created a wonderful program that paid me by the hour to attend college. I was in a “black out” for the better part of that year. My tiger inside was growing stronger. In that college, I was one of two women with sixty men. I felt wildly popular and never had to worry about getting trashed. The men were happy to oblige me by supplying all the alcohol and drugs I wanted. Two things do stand out through the haze of that year. I was raped when I had stumbled into my cabin one night without locking the front door. I also became pregnant as a result of haphazardly taking birth control pills and I had an abortion. During the procedure, I learned that I had been pregnant with twins. It was a surreal event. I had used my sister in law’s Medicaid card and the people kept calling me Janet. As soon as I left Planned Parenthood, I bought a 1/5 of whiskey and a bag of pot and promptly dove into oblivion. It’s impossible to compare pain. I can’t say this hurt more than that. I can say I needed rescued from that place. I grabbed the first likely person, who became my second husband. He would do the best he could to help raise my second daughter, Brandi, who was born two months early, and my oldest daughter while I continued to progress in my addiction. He was my friend, but I never loved him. What I did to him over the course of ten years was cruel. I made amends in recovery to him for those tortured years. I can only hope he has healed and moved on. Shortly after Brandi was born, I found a new and better drug called methamphetamine. I could party all night and not throw up! Little did I know that the new drug would take me to a new hell. When I was 25, Dad committed suicide. He was 45. He had been spiraling in his own hell for a long time, culminating in a Federal Undercover Agent arresting him for possession and sales of cocaine. The last time I saw him had been at Christmas when he told me I was a screw-up, had always been a screw-up, and would always be a screw-up. At his funeral, I kept telling my step mother that I was sorry. Sorry for what? Existing? He had left a suicide note with no mention of me. I felt orphaned. My step mom comforted me and we did piles of methamphetamine together. I used methamphetamine heavily for four years as my tiger inside roared. I lost my teeth, my house, and what was left of my humanity. When I tried to quit meth, I went back to drinking. I was out of control more than ever and my body couldn’t handle alcohol. Finally, at the age of 30, I found myself sitting in the cemetery and screaming to my dead parents and God. HELP ME! I went to treatment to get away from bad checks, a bad marriage, and mostly me. After treatment I went to 12 step meetings, counseling, and college. I went through a second adolescence in my thirties and it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t know who I was or who I was attracted to. Those questions were never answered because I stopped maturing emotionally when I was thirteen. I went to some gay AA meetings with my sponsor (who I had fallen in love with), but the thought of transforming my life was too scary. So, along came a man I met in an AA meeting. I tried for six years to make that relationship work. I even had a child, my youngest daughter Amber, with him. I know now that folks sitting in those meetings can be really mentally ill. The codependency that I discovered in myself as a result of that relationship almost killed me. Through stubbornness and nothing else, I did not relapse with drugs or alcohol, but I developed a sexual addiction that took me to a dark place just as quick. My tiger wanted out to destroy my life! I had a thousand dollar phone sex bill, and had been raped for the third time in my life when I called a woman in NA and asked her to sponsor me. She did and I slowly climbed back up the twelve steps of recovery to the world of the living. I was clean and sober for ten years and forty years old when I realized that I was feeling an all too familiar unrequited love for my best friend. I decided that was too painful and I needed to revisit my attraction to women for real this time. After a couple of short dating missteps, I started dating my partner. We fell in love almost immediately and have been happily together for the last 11 years. Looking back, I always loved women. From imaginary girlfriends, through teacher crushes, to romantic friendships, it was women that gave me the love and strength to keep going. Getting Clean and Coming Out are the two most momentous events of my life. They were what made other momentous events like marrying my partner, having my children close, and watching all three grandchildren come into the world possible. My story doesn’t end here, but the rest remains to be written. I don’t know what the future holds but I do know that I can look forward to my life now. I can cope with what comes and rejoice in the love that surrounds me. I have found a treasure that was buried deep inside of me. That treasure is connectedness. Something that took so long to find, to feel, because for so long I felt alone. I have reached out to others and found myself touching the face of God. At long last, my tiger is peacefully asleep and I am so very grateful.”