Thank you, Ryan Hampton, for sharing my story as part of the #VoicesProject! Here are the links to my previously published article, as well as to Ryan’s blog. If you are interested in reading more about how others are speaking out about addiction and recovery, #VoicesProject will certainly inspire you!
Because of Recovery…
My relationship with alcohol has always been a bit tumultuous. I can admit that I had some fun in my early days. The appeal, for me, was suddenly feeling confident and pretty, laughing a little harder with friends and finally feeling like I fit in, but I never drank like other people did. In retrospect, I knew I was different from the very start.
From that first drink, I knew I wanted more. It wasn’t the same “want” as my friends, who just looked forward to drinking again on the weekend. I wanted more, and I wanted it now! While my friends simply craved a good buzz and an exciting atmosphere, I was always two drinks ahead of them, and already thinking about the third, fourth, and tenth.
Alcohol had a single purpose, to transform me into someone entirely different. It started coming with me everywhere I went. To make the person I despised disappear, and the woman I thought I liked emerge. It was my friend, my lover and my confidant.
I didn’t choose addiction, and I don’t remember exactly when the ability to choose was taken away from me. I don’t remember which day it was that I woke up and decided to trade in my dignity and self-respect for a substance. And I didn’t choose recovery right away either. Nope! I was guided to it through a myriad of colossal mistakes, damaged relationships and a few run-ins with the law. If you would have asked me back then if I was addicted, I would have told you that I was not the one with the problem, it was everyone else around me who had a problem with the way I lived my life.
I didn’t know I was sick, and even when the idea started to reveal itself to me through my increasingly erratic and irrational behaviors, I refused to believe it. Addiction re-prioritized everything in my brain until I was 100% convinced I needed the substance to survive. Once I found myself in survival mode, I would go to any lengths to be sure I was never without. If anyone attempted to take my substance away, I felt as if they were trying to take away my air; they were suffocating me.
Cunning, baffling, powerful.
When I was 26 years old, I started experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, but I was completely unaware of what they actually were. It wasn’t until I made it to my first treatment, that I discovered how dangerous my withdrawals had been. I knew nothing about the possibility of Delirium Tremens, or seizures, or that I could actually die from alcohol withdrawals. I thought people only died from alcohol poisoning, not from trying to quit cold turkey.
When I think about that today, I am mortified. I start to wonder how many people are out there experiencing the same things while not even noticing the damage they are doing to their bodies.
What you don’t see on the side of a liquor bottle is a legitimate warning. The one that reads: “Warning! Alcohol is an addictive substance. Excessive consumption of this beverage may cause irreparable harm to your reputation, the destruction of your marriage and family and the slow and painful deterioration of your health. It may cause you to lose your job and home, and suffer financial ruin. You may become a danger to yourself and others. Excessive consumption may also cause health issues related to: Liver, kidney and heart disease, throat cancer, depression, anxiety, neurological damage, memory loss, alcohol poisoning and death.”
And guess what? Even if that warning label were on the side of that vodka bottle, I wouldn’t have read it anyway. Why Not? Because, those things were NEVER going to happen to me. I would never choose alcohol over my daughter, or husband or my own health for that matter. I was too smart to let alcohol impact my job or my finances. And I certainly would never allow myself to become addicted! Ha! That’s just crazy talk!
It’s like taking a Tylenol without reading the warning label. I have a headache, I take the Tylenol and it cures what ails me. Alcohol cured what ailed me too, until it didn’t anymore. At that point it was already too late because I was physically dependent on liquor. Addiction is a stealthy. It crept right in before I even realized it. Addiction is the obnoxious guest who refuses to leave.
It was like living in a nightmare I could never wake up from. I would pinch and scratch and slap myself across the face, but I would never wake up. And before I knew what was happening, the choice was no longer a choice, the want was no longer a want; it was a MUST and a NEED. And there was no turning back.
The cycle was endless; a hamster wheel of constant substitution and disappointment. And all the while, my body was slowly deteriorating from all of the poison I was consuming. Just like so many others, this story brought me to exactly where I was told it would; jails, institutions and (near) death.
A real life Jekyll and Hyde.
In the end, I hated the person I became when I drank. I HATED her. I hated her apathy. I hated how disconnected she became. I hated how disheveled her appearance was. I hated who she had become as a mother, wife, daughter, sibling and friend. I HATED her! And yet, I couldn’t stop her! The insanity of it all still baffles me to this day.
Alcohol was the hardest break up I have ever experienced in life. My world shattered at my feet the day I realized I had to let it go in order to live. I mourned the loss of alcohol, just as I had mourned the loss of my family and my job, and eventually the lives of some my friends who hadn’t quite gotten recovery before it was too late.
Alcohol promised to fill a void and it came up short on that promise. I didn’t realize that, until I let it go.
In the 3 plus years I have been sober; I have NEVER woken up in the morning and said, “Dang it! I really wish I would have drank last night!” Not once! But there were plenty of times I drank in the past where I woke up thinking, “I am so stupid. I wish I never drank last night.”
Freedom…recovery has given me freedom; the freedom of choice, freedom from fear and freedom from self-sabotaging behavior.
It’s given me the freedom to love myself again, set goals and has restored my sense of purpose. Recovery has taught me how to forgive myself and how to forgive others. I have learned to trust again; not only to trust those around me, but myself too!
Since finding recovery, my husband and I have taken our daughter to Disney World, water parks and festivals. We’ve gone to see Broadway plays and we’ve gone on road trips. I’ve been promoted at work, coached my daughter’s soccer team and chaperoned field trips. I’ve gone to more concerts than I can count.
I have also gotten involved in service work in my community. I have shared my story at recovery functions, treatment centers and hospitals. I worked with other recovering women in my community to bring meetings into the Wisconsin prison system. For the past 2 years, we have been taking our stories into the Milwaukee Women’s Correctional Center every Friday night. I started my own blog where I write about my journey. I attend meetings, I work the 12 steps and I make sure I am always available for those in need.
Today, I am giving back to my community, instead of taking from it. In recovery, we carry the message to our neighbors. We help others change the course of their lives by sharing the steps we took to change our own! We give the addict who still suffers hope, suggestions and, most importantly, our time. We don’t ask for anything in return. We don’t ask for recognition. We don’t ask for praise. We just do it, because that is what those who came before us did for us.
Today, because of my recovery, I get to go home, every night, to the family I almost lost a few years ago. I get to hug my daughter and kiss my husband and go to sleep in my bed in the home that we own together as a family. It’s the life I have always dreamed of. There is not a single beverage that could ever fill me with the amount of love and hope I have found in recovery.
To the newcomer, should you stumble upon this story and you have found yourself at a crossroads, ask yourself this, “Does using my substance add anything of value to my life?” If the answer is no, let’s start your journey today! Put one foot in front of the other. Try for one day, and then wake up and try again for the next. Sooner or later the TRY will become a DO and the pain will subside. Have patience with yourself and others. I can assure you that walking through your pain will someday become one of the most profound experiences of your life. And all you have to do is just stay.
My name is Vanessa Day, and I am a woman in long-term recovery. What that means is that I have not had a drink or drug since October 16th, 2014, and for that I am truly grateful.