Lectures at the fralin biomedical research institute
Lectures at the fralin biomedical research institute
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“My story begins like many others who have been either randomly plucked, lucky, blessed, or in my case desperate enough, to find themselves in recovery. As a child, I didn’t fit into my own skin. I felt less than everyone and everything from the beginning; I was a stranger in my own family.
My father was abusive, physically, emotionally and sexually. I am aware now after many tears and years in recovery that because of the abuse, I never learned how to feel my feelings. Of course, even if I had felt my feelings, there was no way I was allowed to communicate them.
Even as a small child, I always felt like I was the problem – that somehow, I was flawed, defective, that there was something wrong with me. I saw how other children reacted spontaneously to life and was acutely aware I wasn’t one of them. At the age of 5, in the playground not long after starting school, I made the conscious decision whilst watching them play in this spontaneously joyous, alien manner that I viewed with both curiosity and a sense of dread, that if I was going to survive I was going to have to learn to act like one of them.
This was one of the first coping strategies I taught myself.
‘Acting as if’ I fitted in, always with the fear and dread that I wouldn’t be found out, that my fraud wouldn’t be detected.
This feeling is still with me 14 years into my recovery journey, which has for me been about not using any mind- or mood-altering substances one day at a time.
I am not surprised that this feeling is still with me, as I practiced ‘acting as if’ for many years. I did this in many ways – acting as if I was OK, acting as if I was normal, acting as if everything internally was hunky dory. I went to great lengths to make sure everything externally looked as if I was normal, i.e. doing OK a school, getting a normal job, having a nice normal flat, nice normal clothes, nice normal boyfriend, nice normal everything, until I got into recovery aged 25.
It was then the Nice and Normal had to stop or I was never going to recover.
During the recovery process, I learned that from the age of 11 that alcohol took away the vulnerability I always felt. On top of that, it made me feel as if somehow you could not see how raw, frightened and exposed I was. Alcohol, along with the many other drugs I used until the age of 25, was my saviour, my respite, my solution. I genuinely believe that had I not found that mind-altering substances took away my fear, pain, and complete inability to feel normal, I would not be alive today.
Of course, whilst chemicals gave me something, they also took away any chance I may have had to deal with the issues that preceded their use in the first place. I would ask you to consider the fact that booze, hash, cocaine, heroin, gas, deodorant, speed, LSD, ecstasy and a few other mood-altering substances were truly my, albeit it unconventional and somewhat injudicious, reprieve from a life I had no way of living and coping with.
Recovery for me means that I acknowledge and accept how well my reliance on various substances worked over the younger years of my life – and that I am not ashamed of my previous dependence or need for them. I would also like to point out that at no time did I ever abuse these substances. They were in fact the only tools I had access to, and because of that I held them in very high regard and treated them with the utmost respect.
Recovery has taught me that when I am the abstinent addict, I am looking for a quick-fix for my particular problem with life that day. Whereas when I am in recovery, I have a desire to seek out and I expect to find a new way of living without the need for any substances in my life. For me, in my early recovery, there was a fundamental misunderstanding that abstinence cured problems such as not coming to in a stranger’s house, paying bills on time, and showing up for work on time. But it wasn’t long before I realized that most of the unmanageability of my previous lifestyle was not quickly resolved and I needed to address the underlying causes of using mind-altering substance in the first place.
This is my understanding of recovery and it is an ongoing process. These ‘underlying causes’ infiltrate everything from my attitude and reactions, to my beliefs and values. It is these things that are constantly being re-evaluated and measured against a rigorous self-inventory process, which insists that if I wish to remain in recovery there are no days off.
Yes, it is incredibly hard work, but the rewards are beyond my wildest dreams.
I have a life today that the child in me never even dared to dream about.
I have proved to myself that not only am I worthy of love and respect, but that if I am not getting it then I have to protect myself by sometimes painful actions, like letting go of some family members and old friends. I have learned to love without fear of rejection and for loves own power. I have a level of understanding and forgiveness for human frailties and compassion to oversee and get me though whatever life brings to me today. I have proved to others that I am good enough, and in that proof over time believed in the reflection they project ‘some days’.
I have learned in recovery that anger is a healthy emotion if I channel it correctly, and that the sense of injustice that is always with me can also be used to help others.
I have came through some ‘character building’ events in my 14 years of recovery, including a chosen period of poverty in order to gain a masters Degree, giving birth to a son (who was not planned) on my own, and burying close family members, some who were too young to die and some who’s deaths have left the family without an anchor.
I have also had to redefine friendships from my using days and luckily still having some in my life today. Finally, falling in love several times and finally meeting the kind gentleman and gentle man I hope to spend the rest of my life with. To know that my son will never see me under the influence, and that I can equip him with the tools of my recovery for his life, is probably the most wonderful and valuable gift of all.
In essence, to finally know that I am a clever beautiful young woman who deserves to be happy, and if I want happiness it is up to me to define it and go get it, this to me is my recovery.”
“It was April 19, 2012….this was not my first “bottom” but it would be my last. I suffered an addiction to oxycontin before I had children. I was clean a year before becoming pregnant with my daughter. Sadly…I became addicted right after college graduation in 2003. I loved that false sense of “happy” that opiates gave me. I did NOT love the frantic lifestyle that came with it. The “search” daily for how I was getting my high. The stealing and lying that came along with my daily struggle for my addiction to survive was NOT me. None of that was “me”. I had my daughter in 2005, February, and it was then that I relapsed on cocaine. That binge lasted 5 months. I used it to get me through the sleepless nights…to make me “super mom”…and I missed so many firsts that I will never forgive myself for that guilt. I was THERE for them…but not sound of mind to remember them vividly as she deserves. I was cruel. I was unhappy. I was not me.
I got clean in July 2005. I was clean for 5 years and then in the spring of 2010 I relapsed. This time was opiates first, and stimulants second. My opiate of choice was percocet, but then I tumbled to oxycontin. Later I fell in love with adderall, Ritalin, and eventually found my way back to cocaine and heroin. I needed help and finally in the summer of 2010, I got my opiate addiction under control with suboxone. However, I didn’t stop the stimulants…and I suffered through fall, winter, and spring with my addiction and my lies. I dragged my children down with me; they had a front row seat to my demise. My poor angelic babies deserved the GOOD me, not THIS me. I often wonder the permanent damage my 7 year old and my 3 year old will suffer as a result of my poor choices. I wonder if they’ll ever REALLY feel they can count on me as a mother. I beat myself up daily. However, I am HERE, now. I give the best I can offer myself and my family. I show up to MY fight daily and prepared to win. I am here to conquer this and to make up for my mistakes every day for the rest of our lives. I am HERE to be the mom that my children deserve, the wife my husband deserves and the ME that I deserve. I have two months and 3 days clean. It’s a start….and it’s hard work. You’ll be reading about me 2 years down the road, STILL CLEAN.”
“I had my last drink of alcohol in July of 2004. In the 18 months preceding that, I had been actively seeking treatment for my alcoholism. I knew that AA involved praying, God, smoking, talking at length about oneself, and people I wasn’t sure I wanted to be around. It also seemed to me that if alcoholism was indeed a disease, then I’d be better off seeking help from the medical community. While I was still able (meaning, before I lost my job and my health insurance due to my drinking), I went to pretty much every variety of health-care person that was accessible to me. Essentially, they all shook their heads, shrugged, and said “Stop drinking, go to AA”, and indicated that the visit was over. And no mention whatsoever of cognitive behavioral therapy, Vivitrol, contingency management, baclofen — not even Antabuse. A little baffled, I shrugged and began to attend AA meetings. Their effect on me and my emotional state with respect to my drinking ranged from none at all, to a marked increase in the depth and degree of my despair. After months of attending AA meetings, stopping drinking entirely still didn’t seem and had never seemed a reasonable or realistic option. Finally, I agreed to enter a “treatment center”, it being obvious to me at the time that AA wasn’t “working”, and that I needed “treatment”, not AA. I then discovered what a “treatment center” really was — a place where they throw you in with a dozen or so other nitwits and shove AA down your throat. After surviving 30 days at to what I came to refer as “jail lite”, I left, and six weeks later I was drinking again, with increased fervor and urgency. At that point, with my job and health insurance long gone, the question of whether I could find “medical treatment” for my “disease” was rendered academic. The only treatment for my alcoholism, I felt, was more alcohol, and I nearly died. After a period of some months, I found myself in another “jail lite” facility. Again, AA was force-fed. Nowhere was there any mention of anything that appeared might help me recover what I had lost. I spent the first few months of my “recovery” waiting to die. I can’t explain how it came to pass that I’m sitting here typing this today. My best guess is that I’m simply lucky. I do still attend a couple AA meetings a week, and as much as I would love to profess that “the Program” is the reason I’m sober, it would be a half-truth at best. Again, I can’t explain why, but at some point I simply decided that I had had it with the whole business — that enough was simply enough.”
“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.”
My name is Steve C.
I have been sober since August 10th, 1994. Every day is a success for me when I continue to make the choice to not drink or drug.
My journey has not been so different from other people who have suffered from alcoholism/drug addiction & have come to the point of recovery in their lives. I say this, because I’m no longer terminally unique like so many that feel like they are before hitting bottom.
I started drinking & drugging at a very young age (in the late 1960’s early 1970’s) more to fit in at first, but alcohol flipped that magic switch in my life from the very first time I drank. Like any other addict/alcoholic, I chased that first “release” way beyond the point it stopped working for me. By the end of my drinking career, I was at a personal hopeless state. It was that point of not wanting to drink anymore & not seeing life without it, and not having the tools to step out of the depression, self hatred, and everything else that goes with hitting bottom, so I did what came natural & attempted suicide.
On the surface, my life looked good.. full time job, nice place to live, playing in multiple bands, etc. ( I have been a musician since the mid 1970’s )On the inside, I was dead, so I tried to finish the job with my own hands. This brought me to a realization that I needed help, and I contacted my local Veteran’s Psychiatric clinic to talk to someone. In very short order, I was being checked in and my journey to recovery began. (Navy Veteran 1980 to 1982)
While in the treatment program, I learned about addiction, patterns, they physical & psychological effects…and more than I can remember.. I was also introduced to A.A. I started attending meetings at the hospital, and soon as I was released, sought out a meeting hall close to home.
As many do, I have faced the challenges of life on life’s terms. The biggest part of it is, I no longer use drugs or alcohol to face them. Some of the things in life that have crossed my path in recovery have been the loss of close friends & family from death, loss of relationships, jobs, financial ups & downs. I have also had much success and happiness while being sober. Today, I am married to a wonderful woman who does not drink or drug, Have formed my own band, and run the business of bookings & promotions.
Early on some have warned me of the dangers of continuing my music career due to places that offer work for musicians being bars & night clubs. That has never been a temptation for me. It may be for others, but on my end it comes from putting into practice what is in the Alcoholic Anonymous book about not hiding from life, but having something to offer, and being of maximum service.
I never know who will see my example of being in the mainstream of life, being sober, and what that impact will have on that person.
One big life event that happened on my 8th sobriety anniversary, was a head on collision. My passenger did not survive, and it was one of those moments where a choice was made. Do I use this as an excuse to drink, or do I use this as an opportunity to show what can be survived, and still remain sober? I made the choice to remain sober. This year, on August 10th will mark 18 years sober, and 10 years since that accident. The thing that kept me strong after having a passenger die in a vehicle I was responsible for is this.. That person heard the message of recovery before the accident happened.
Today, I do my best to carry the message, make myself available for those in need of my experience, and to take responsibility for my small part in recovery. The rest is out of my hands.
Thanks For Listening.”
“My name is Bob and I’m an Alcoholic! I had my last drink on October 1, 1976 at about 2 a.m. It was a beer. If I would have known it was my last drink, I might have had good Scotch. But as it was, it was a beer.
The night before, when my wife came home from work, I told her I needed help. She jumped all over that and said, “Let’s go!” I replied, “I didn’t mean right this minute.” Well, she said we had to go right then. When I said we’d go tomorrow, she took he kids and went to her sister’s house. She called me in the morning and said that either I go to treatment right then or she would go see a lawyer and file for divorce. So that day I went to St Catherine’s Hospital in Kenosha, Wisconsin and began my sober life.
I was born in Chicago in 1944. My dad was a supervisor at American Can Co. Mom was a housewife. She was also an alcoholic. She drank at home – always at night and straight booze. She was a very good mom. All my friends were jealous and said they wished they had a “cool” mom like I did. But none of them knew the secret about the night. My dad was a big guy and a great man. It was hard to live up to his expectations of me. Both of my parents loved me and I never was hungry or lacking anything. I went to Catholic schools and my grades were above average. But my teachers always said, “He has so much more potential.” I always felt I wasn’t quite good enough. But I always got by. I was a skinny kid and never learned how to fight until I got in high school.
Other than a sip of dad’s beer, my first drink was at a Christmas party my senior year of high school. I drank a little bit of everything that night and got sick on the way home. I was really sick the next day. My dad asked me if I got drunk and felt like I wanted to die. When I said yes, he said, “go ahead and die!” that was prophetic because by the end of my drinking I wanted to die every night.
There were lots of drinks and drunks between that night and my last night of drinking. Nothing spectacular happened. I was arrested one night while I was in the army for being drunk. I lost several good jobs. I never got into a bar fight because I didn’t usually drink in a bar. I had told myself that I’d never drink like my mom. But, I did. I became a daily drinker – always at night and almost always at home. So I inflicted my alcoholism on my family – the people I said I loved the most. Alcoholism makes us do things we never wanted to do, and feel things we never wanted to feel, and become something we never wanted to become!
At my wife’s urging I tried Alcoholics Anonymous about 4 years before I got sober. But it didn’t last long. For some strange reason, they thought I should quit drinking all together. So I took advanced drinking studies for 4 more years – and did it all in my home in front of my family.
By the time I finally did get sober, I had pretty much lost contact with God and Church. I didn’t like it when people talked about God in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Early sobriety was hard. Of course it was! I wouldn’t let God in and was doing it out of anger. But even then, it was better than being drunk. After a few months back in Alcoholics Anonymous, I began to get this “sense” or “feeling” that God wanted me back. Might have been all the spirituality talk at the meetings. I was going to at least one meeting every day. So I asked God to show me a sign.
My sponsor taught me that if I ever have a problem or feel stuck, I should jut open the Big Book and start reading and a answer would come to me. I had tried it and it had worked. I was resistant to trying it with this problem. But one day, I had a Bible next to me and wondered if it would work with the Bible. So I tried it. I opened the Bible and closed my eyes and put my finger down on the page. My fingers were under the words “Seek and you will find.” I felt that God had touched me at that moment and said, “You keep looking, kid. And I’ll show you where to go. That moment changed my life. I believe with all my heart, that God has always shown me where to go from that moment on. God has led me places I never would have dreamed of.
In my professional life, I became a counselor. I was the director of a small halfway house in Wisconsin. I founded a program for recovering women. I became a counselor in a program for priests. So I, who wanted nothing to do with God, became a therapist for His priests and helped them to be sober and to grow spiritually. Unbelievable – but true.
I wish I could say that October 1, 1976 was the last time I made a big mistake. But that wouldn’t be honest. I’ve made quite a few. A friend told me that we’d never be better than human. And it’s so true. When I work the 12 Steps in my life and keep Conscious Contact with my God, things work themselves out and get consistently better.
I have been blessed with many friends and sponsors in my recovery. I’m retired now. Because of some financial mistakes I made while drinking, I never thought I would be able to retire. But my wife and I are comfortable in Arizona where there is wonderful Alcoholics Anonymous and Alanon. It’s beautiful there. I am so blessed.”
“July 2nd, 1977, I could no longer endure the suffering of mental, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of my mother, father and brother. My spirit was stolen to the wind. Momma did not protect me. Daddy sexually molested me. My brother emotionally and sexually abused me. God was not near…I was hollow inside and could not escape the torture. I was only 15! Why me, Lord?
I packed my green suitcase on a quest to seek shelter from the pain inside and outside of me. It was 27 days before my 16th birthday and I wanted to die. “Why have you left me, oh Lord? Why do I have to run away from the very people who are supposed to protect me? Why don’t you love me, Lord? You hate me!” I was seeking for answers that did not come until years later.
I walked the streets of Syracuse, NY the entire day, seeking shelter but found none. I was scared but felt safer in the streets than I did at home. By night fall I had taken a bed sheet from someone’s cloths-line, found a spot under a bridge and wrapped myself into it and cried, “Why me, Lord?” I could not come to terms with it. My mind was racing for answers and none came. I want to die, I thought out loud. The next thing I knew it was daylight. I don’t recall when I went to sleep but I slept soundly. For once in my life I felt safe.
Throughout those years of living from pillar to post I had become addicted to drugs and alcohol, addicted to abusive relationships and addicted to an unhealthy life-style. I was seeking ways to kill myself but nothing seemed to work. Then I found AA. Through AA I found loving, caring people who did not judge me. Then, with time, I embraced a God of my OWN understanding whom I learned to lean and depend on. I needed a God of my OWN understanding because the God I was trained to believe in was wicked: what God would allow such pain on a child? What God would stand by and let abuse, neglect, rape, beatings and the like, mold an innocent child. This was the most challenging part of my process…healing is possible!
Through the God of my OWN understanding, writing and living the 12 Steps and an honest willingness to change, I have joy in my life. I have learned to forgive myself and others. Forgiveness was a crucial part of my process because until I learned to forgive, I could not grow and I could not genuinely love. Life is still life! Things happen. However, I am better equipped to handle situations. I do not claim ‘problems’ today…I have challenges. Without going through trials and tribulations I would not be able to share with others who are suffering the same fate I suffered, the hope that I have. It is my desire to bring hope to the hopeless, joy to their sadness and peace to all who want to know a better way of life.
So, ‘why me’? Why not me! There is no testimony without going through the test. I have often heard it said, “It’s not the journey that matters, it’s the destination.” My destiny is to spread the hope that, obstacles can be overcome and life can be enjoyable.