A Southern Maine Woman with Three Decades in Recovery
As told to a Journey team member and written by Amy Paradysz
I never drank in a normal way.
I had my first drink when I was in seventh grade, and I loved that numb feeling.
When I drank, even in small quantities, I made poor decisions.
And I had a blackout or two.
And when I drank in college, I drank hard.
I had been married, and when we separated, I was prescribed pain pills for migraines, and I became dependent on them. The town I lived in had a drug and alcohol counselor. When I went to her, I wanted to know how to go back to normal, taking pills for actual migraines, or doing “normal drinking.” She introduced me to 12-step programs, and the first time I went to a meeting, I cried, knowing, “This is where I belong.”
A bit later, I did some outpatient rehab. And, while there, I got pregnant with my daughter. By the grace of God, I didn’t use while I was pregnant. But I didn’t do a program either. And, as they say, the disease waits for you, and it gets worse. I was on bed rest for a long while, so when my daughter was born and I got out of that hospital bed, I was running around trying to be perfect. And within three weeks I had bought a bottle of vodka. And then I got more pain medicine.
I was ashamed because I wasn’t the mother or the person I wanted to be. I knew how to hide it well, and that’s what I did for a long time. About 10 months in, I lost a close friend of mine who was a huge partier. I went to his funeral, and his three-and five-year-olds at the time kept asking, “When is dad going to get out of that box?” And that really got me thinking a lot.
I woke up one morning and just knew that that was the day I was going to stop.
I was tired of rubbing my daughter’s back, apologizing for being her mother.
I was desperate enough that I really needed help from my doctor.
I had doctor-shopped and could have gone to jail. And yet, he did his best to help me. We thought I needed to go somewhere and just get regrouped and restarted. I went to rehab at Crossroads for Women, and I’ve been sober ever since.
I learned that we try to fill a void with a chemical, whether it’s alcohol, food, drugs, relationships, whatever. I had been an anxious kid. I never felt like I was enough or worthy. It seemed like everybody else around me knew the secret to happiness in life and how to fit in. I didn’t think I was pretty enough, thin enough, social enough. I never felt enough. When I drank or used pain medicine, I could get out of my shell, away from that anxiety, especially social anxiety.
In rehab, I examined my family stuff and broke those chains. My parents and siblings came to counseling with me. We were a family that didn’t talk about what happened at home; we wanted to look good on the outside. But, in counseling, the family secrets came out, and I got to see my mom as a woman, not just my mom. And for the next 10 years, until she died, we had the best relationship.
I’ve always believed in God. But trusting in God is totally different. I’ve learned that I have to keep my spiritual bank full. It’s up to me to learn what situations and what relationships are depleting and negative for me and that steal my energy and my center. I’m also really learning how to trust God’s timing and not to be so impatient.
I’ve learned that I can’t use any chemicals. My body is not set up to use them. And it’s not about just staying away from chemicals. I had to grow up—it was like I was 12 years old inside—and learn to live life on life’s terms.
In the beginning, I could stay sober if nothing bad happened. Of course, that’s unrealistic.
What I didn’t know when I first came into recovery was that I wouldn’t just stop using substances to fill a void. My void would be filled with spirituality and love.
My core friendship group is women in the program. I call them my family of choice. They get me, and they call me out in very loving ways.
I’ve had the same sponsor now for 17 years. She’s so loving and gentle, but she also calls me out when she sees that I’m getting self-centered. She reminds me not to bow or grovel, that I am a woman of grace and dignity.
I love spending time with people who have felt broken inside and get back up, no matter how hard it is or how many times it takes. That, to me, is success.
Not what you own, not what business you start, not what your house looks like. I want my insides to count.
And you know what counts?
My daughters are grown up now, and they don’t remember me using.
They can count on me.
We have such open dialogue.
They are strong, independent women, and they call me out on things when that’s what I need, and they tell me things that I’ve told them.
My own advice coming back to me.