Shelf of liquor bottles

From the moment I took my first sip, smoked my first joint and snorted my first line, I was doomed. No matter what substance it was, it changed me. For me, there was no better feeling than getting intoxicated. Sure, I didn’t become a drug addict overnight, but it did happen gradually. I thought I was having the greatest time of my life in my teenage years, until it all came crashing down on me.

They say how spend your 20s will define you, but if you ask any 20-something, they will probably disagree. Your 20s are supposed to be the best time of your life. It is a time for maturing, having the time of your life and finding yourself. Everyone looks forward to turning 21. And no words can describe the ultimate freedom of ripping your first legal beer. But I managed to never take that first legal drink. I am halfway through my 20s and have spent the entire time sober.

Through all of high school, I mainly got high. I thought that was the point. I was always down for a wild time: whether it was a new drug, robbing someone, getting a fight or skipping school. I felt invincible. I basically was, at least for awhile. My parents would send me to outpatient rehab from time to time, but I would eventually end up getting high again. There was nothing they could do about it. I thought my drug habits were “not that bad.” All my friends got high just as much as me and in my eyes, I had no serious consequences. Yeah, nobody trusted me anymore and I didn’t make the cut for sports teams and my grades were plummeting, but none of that mattered to me, as long as I could get high.

The first time I got intoxicated, I was about 13-years-old. I really didn’t stop until I was 19. Getting high and partying had its ups and downs, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a blast at first. However, it finally all came crashing down on me and I was hit with the ultimate ultimatum. Go to rehab and stop using drugs for good or continue to use drugs and inevitably, have it kill me. I obviously chose rehab, because I otherwise wouldn’t be writing this article today.

On April 20, 2010, I got high for the last time. I honestly thought my life was over. I was only 19 and I knew if I wanted any success in life I would have to abstain from alcohol and drugs completely. But how could I? The drug addict lifestyle was the only lifestyle I knew. I had to make one change and that one change was everything. I decided to dedicate my life to AA and in turn, I received true happiness.

From an outsider’s point of view, I am no different than any other 25-year-old. I do the same thing everyone else is doing my age, except I do not drink or use drugs. Although this is a big difference, I have way more opportunities to have fun. For example, one summer I decided to travel around and go to various concerts, festivals and shows. Of course, the main attraction at these events is the drug scene. But I had the time of my life sober and I was able to enjoy every minute of each one. I used to spend every dollar I had on drugs but now that I’m sober, I can spend it on worthwhile things.

I managed to graduate college with a 3.0, lived in Israel for a year and do all of the hobbies I used to do as a kid. People who know me will tell you I have more fun than anyone they know. I live every day to the fullest because I know every single day I wake up sober is truly a blessing. When I was getting high, I pushed everyone out of my life. I only called my parents to ask for money, my siblings wanted nothing to do with me and my only friends were drug addicts like myself. Now, I have a great relationship with everyone in my family, friends who actually care about me and a normal nine-to-five job.

My obsession with using drugs has been lifted and if you ask anyone who struggles with addiction, it’s a dream come true. I have complete soundness of mind and with this, anything is possible. Thousands of people die each year from this horrible disease and I could have very easily been one of them. I was spared, for whatever reason. But now, my life’s mission is to figure it out. I have spent my 20s soul searching and committing to a better self. If your 20s are the age that define you, I am one lucky person, because I have been through the wire. And I’m now able to handle any adversity thrown my way. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, you have options — be in a rehab center (where I work now) or another treatment option, make the leap of faith and choose a life of sobriety and serenity

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Allow me to paint you a picture of two different people.

The first is a woman living in a beat up old house. There are needles lying on the floor and no furniture. She can’t function without drugs in her system. All she does all day is use and try and find more drugs.

The second person is a college student at a state university. She comes from an upper middle class family, is active on her campus and plans to teach. She goes out to party a lot and uses alcohol and pills to get through. But she maintains a 3.5 GPA and puts herself together each morning.

Which one has an addiction?

Most of you, I assume, would easily say the first one. However, the correct answer is both. But we as a society are taught to see them through very different lenses. One is a “junkie.” The other? Just a stressed college kid who hasn’t learned limits yet. The truth is though, they both have an addiction problem. And they both deserve validation and help. I know because I am the college student. And I am an addict. I can’t keep track of how many people have told me my addiction doesn’t count. That I’m just a college student. That until I overdose, it doesn’t matter. But that’s just not true. A person with an addiction is a person with an addiction.

What I’ve had to learn is that nobody but me gets to decide whether or not I have an addiction. In fact, I’m grateful I recognized it early, so I can get help.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Almost two years have passed since my last drink. The road from addiction to recovery has been a heartbreaking and enlightening journey. And despite the pain, I’m thankful for who I am today.

But what still brings fear is the potential impact on my children.

In a clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (1), the short and long term effects of substance abuse by parents on their children include adverse effects with:

  • mental health
  • emotional stability
  • educational performance
  • addiction

One study reports that children with substance abuse history in their families are eight times more likely to abuse substances in adulthood (2). Coupled with a genetic predisposition for depression that’s had an impact on my family for generations, I pray my children are spared this unfortunate life sentence.

But I’ve learned to thrive in recovery, I must let go of fear. To become a role model to my children, I must not lose myself in worry over the past. Fear inhibits the ability to move forward. So I carry the lessons from my past and leave the rest behind. I focus on new ways to live a life that’s worthy. I tend to the needs of my children and show how I love them. I may not change their destiny, but I can become the best version of myself while trying.

Here are some tools I’ve learned along the way.

1) Be honest about the past.

Being in recovery allows for a dose of humility if you are honest about the past. It doesn’t feel good to peel back layers of vulnerability that comes with admitting failures. Nor is it easy to venture into the painful parts of our past. And I don’t recommend doing this alone. Connecting with a good therapist, support group or online recovery community are a few avenues of support for what can be a challenging phase in recovery. Somehow, through discovering the root of pain, we understand the “why” behind our behaviors. And we can admit mistakes and seek forgiveness from our children.

2) Allow their feelings.

Children may struggle with expressing their feelings about addiction and recovery. Give them a safe platform and offer open-ended questions that encourage them to find their voice. A couple months into my recovery, my son appeared to have something to say but couldn’t find the words. I asked what he was thinking. After some thought, he said he could forgive but he wouldn’t forget. Even though my heart hurt to hear him speak the existence of his pain, it was important for us both.

3) Let time heal.

Early in recovery, I recognized my children were struggling with hurt and anger over my absence when I was at my worst. It came in the form of resistance, and I get it. The value of my opinion paled in comparison to those they relied on in my absence. And this lasted until I regained their trust with patience and understanding that the healing process takes time.

4) Be present in their lives.

To be present in my children’s lives is an amazing gift that continues to give. As my son makes a play on the field, I absorb the joy in his eyes because I was watching. After helping with homework, I embrace his hug because I was there. It’s these simple moments of presence when I feel l make a difference.

5) Cherish the now.

For almost two years, I barely existed as a human. And even less as a contributing parent. I believe motherhood is one of life’s greatest blessings, so this crushes me every time. But if I attach that shame to who I am now, I reduce the chance of loving my children past the pain. So from my heart I suggest, never forget the time lost with your children. But cherish the now. In the blink of an eye, children go on to live their own lives. But there’s so many milestones to reach and memories to create before we kiss them goodbye and watch them fly.

Will all this be enough? Time will only tell.

But maybe, the strength of unconditional love we have for our children becomes enough to mend the pain…and alters the direction of their predestined path.

(1) Pediatrics July 2016 From the American Academy of PediatricsClinical Report
(2) Merikangas, K. R., Stolar, M., Stevens, D. E., Goulet, J., et al., Familial transmission of substance use disorders. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 1998. 55(11): p. 973-9.

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I spent the majority of my life wrestling with alcohol and drug addiction. It took a long time for me to realize I even had a problem. Rehab, support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings showed me ways to deal with spiritual, emotional and even physical aspects of recovery. Yet, what I wasn’t prepared for was the financial side of things.

During the peak of my addiction, money was nothing but a means to an end, the end being bigger and better highs. When I got into recovery the first time, money was a pretty big instrument to my relapse. I had a new job, suddenly had more money in my possession than I ever had before and the stresses of my “9 to 5” coupled with my well-satisfied wallet sent me straight down the dark path once more.

This time, I focused more on how to avoid relapse and manage triggers of all kinds, including financial ones. I learned about why relapse happens, and I learned that money as a trigger for relapse is actually much more common than I thought. No matter how well, or not so well, you managed money during your addiction, recovery will bring on all kinds of added difficulty to the situation. Not having enough money can cause you all kinds of stress and anxiety, while having too much poses an all too welcomed temptation.

In my last near decade of recovery, I have gathered the top tips to managing money as a person recovering from addiction and wanted to share them with all of you:


1. Learn to budget.

To be painfully honest with you, I had never organized money in any way while struggling with addiction. Bills came in and piled up, and I didn’t bat an eye. I didn’t really have a steady job. So my income varied greatly from week to week. I paid what I could, when I could, borrowed a lot and spent the majority of what I had to fuel my addiction. After my relapse, I knew things had to be done differently so that I could stay on the right path. I had a family member teach me how to organize myself financially.

When you’re in recovery, most programs require you to find a job of some sort. When I was in the process of finding one, I made sure to map out a monthly budget according to:

  • How much money I had — the amount of money that was already in my bank or in my possession.
  • How much money I would make — the amount coming in via my paychecks.
  • How much money I owe — any debts that needed settling.
  • How much money I would need to spend — hydro, electric, internet, phone or any other kind of bills, along with money for groceries and other basic necessities.

Believe it or not, having a sense of control over my finances helped me feel accomplished and like I was on the right path. I planned my expenses in a way that I never had too much month at the end of the money.

2. Differentiate between “optional” and “mandatory.”

One thing I struggled with in recovery was differentiating what I absolutely needed from what I craved to help substitute my drug and alcohol dependence. Before my relapse, I spent loads of money on unnecessary things. When I sat down to create my monthly budget, a good friend of mine had me apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to ensure I didn’t give myself too much financial wiggle room.

At first, I stuck with factoring in only my basic needs:

  • Physiological needs — costs related to food, drink, shelter, sleep and warmth
  • Safety needs — costs related to security and safety (such as insurance)

When I began to feel more confident and in control of myself in recovery, which took me nearly two years, I allowed a strict amount for psychological needs:

  • Belonging and love — costs related to relationships, intimacy, receiving and giving affection, and so on (this would include gifts, dates, lunches and dinners with friends)
  • Esteem — costs related to mastery of a subject, art or sport, as well as achievement in those areas. (I started taking computer and internet related classes at a local college and got a gym membership.)

This next section, self-actualization, is a more long-term thing. It’s about seeking personal fulfillment and peak experiences. This came five years into recovery. I felt stable, and I could comfortably manage the temptation of being around alcohol or any other substance. I planned a trip with two close friends to Italy and traveled the countryside. It was one of the experiences of my life, and I’m glad I waited to get as far as I did into recovery because I was able to enjoy the trip that much more.

3. Set goals.

When in recovery and you have extra money that is not going toward your necessities, it is difficult to deny the temptation to go out and spend to your heart’s content.

The key is to set short-term and long-term saving goals. Whether the savings go toward paying off debts or buying something important to you, the important thing is to set goals. Write them down, visualize them and always remember them. This will help on those days that you feel as if temptation may just get the best of you.

4. Do not carry credit or debit cards.

This one is key, especially when you are first starting out. Carrying credit or debit cards on you is simply too much temptation. You should only carry as much money as your budget entails and leave the rest out of sight, out of mind. If you carry a card that can easily give you access to more money, then things can too easily get out of hand.

It might be best to keep the cards with someone you trust or just cancel them. Having to go to a bank teller to withdraw money is just an extra step that serves as protection against random impulses. When you feel confident that you no longer feel the itch to buy unnecessary things or use money unnecessarily, experiment by carrying a debit card for a day. The second you feel the itch, get rid of the card.

5. Find financial resources and people to help.

When in doubt, there are tons of resources available to help with budgeting, banking, saving and general money management. Luckily, I have people in my life who have always been responsible with their money and who were able to show me the ropes. If you can find someone close to help you with it, then great. If not, then there are great apps, tools and websites that can also help.

Money management may be mentioned much less than various other tools on the road to recovery, but the feeling of financial freedom was a definite weight off my shoulders. Money is one of the things you can learn to control rather than have it control you. Knowing that you have power over your financial situation will give your recovery the boost that you’re looking for.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

Image via Thinkstock.

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My life and my family’s lives have collided with addiction. It runs through my family, alcoholics and addicts nested in my family tree, even though much of the family doesn’t like to talk about that elephant in the room.

I remember hearing a story about one of my grandfathers when I was little girl — of how he moved across the United States to start a new life with his young bride and changed the spelling of their last name to shelter her and their someday children from the embarrassment and criminal activity linked to his family of alcoholics in his home state. Addiction is a generational disease. There would have been a time not so long ago where I wouldn’t have talked about this, let alone write it down for the whole world to see. Addiction has attacked and hurt many people I love, but I never really understood the feelings of helplessness until it chose my son to devour. I can’t begin to put into words what that feels like. It is as if your heart is hemorrhaging 24 hours a day, and if someone had told me one of my children would have been in his shoes years ago, I would have dismissed them without another thought. He was a smart boy, we were good parents, don’t be ridiculous!

I have experienced firsthand how addiction takes over a person’s whole life, mind, body and soul and then transplants an individual who will do or say anything for the next fix – the next drink. My boy, a vibrant, kind, funny, healthy, smart, athletic, musically gifted, strong young man, was devoured by this insidious disease. It turned my family upside down, sideways and inside out as it does many families, some who are at this very moment sitting alone in their pain not talking about what they are battling through. It shatters hearts of parents, grandparents, children, siblings, friends and most of all the individual immotile in their battle with addiction.

It tried to devour me as well; I used to spend my days feeling ashamed, guilty and sometimes just numb. I didn’t know what to do, even with my faith, a college degree and years of parenting experience, friends, a supportive husband — I was completely lost. I just wanted to start over to change the story somehow.

I grew up handling what was thrown at me, the oldest child, born to be a problem solver, but couldn’t fix this. I was taught if the horse bucks you off get back on and show that horse who is the boss! Well, I couldn’t get back on this horse, I couldn’t train it, I couldn’t even get a bridle on it and I felt like a failure. “What kind of a mother can’t help their child?” That played in my mind like a broken record over and over. Could have, would have, should have — over and over! 

I had to take care of my own head to help him help himself. I had to take care of me first. I have learned I can’t fix it, and stepping away from my son’s addiction has given him freedom to fight for his own sobriety, because if I don’t let him fight for it he won’t be victorious. I haven’t stopped loving him, thinking about him or supporting him in a healthy manner, he will forever be my child and I his mother. I would be dishonest if I didn’t say this has been extremely difficult, and I still work on it daily. It has pushed me to lean on my Heavenly father rather than try to lean on my own understanding. My son, now 28 years old, sits in a level four prison facing a ridiculously long sentence. It is a broken system, from the insurance companies when someone seeks help, all the way to the legal system locking up people who are addicts, which sometimes makes it worse. And even in this situation I have hope, as he is alive and so many have lost their children.

I now understand addiction is not a moral failing, or a parenting defect, and I will work steadfast to help others gain an understanding. I feel my gift, my calling, is to stand in the gap for any person struggling with this disease and to be emotionally supportive to their family member’s whose voices often go unheard and sit alone in shame. My journey through this has made me grow, and it has not always been a pleasant growing experience I might add. It has built me into a true warrior mom, a volunteer, a strong voice and an advocate for change. I am comfortable sharing our story, knowing that some will turn away from me, and that is OK.

I will not be quiet about something that is killing about 570,000 people annually in the U.S. alone. I will keep talking with hope that it will help pave the way for change within our broken systems and change the way we as a country view addiction. I will continue to speak because I am a voice for those who can’t yet speak for themselves. I pray my voice and our story will help lift the burden of someone else who is feeling isolated and alone.

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March 17, 2016 was a very important day for me. There were 365 full days that stood between me and my last drink.

Yep, St. Patrick’s Day. How ironic since I’m Irish-Catholic, am I right? Anyway, 365 is a lot of days for a girl who spent the last 10 years as a professional binge drinker. You rarely realize your last day of drinking will be your last day of drinking. I remember clearly my last weekend of binge drinking – scratch that.  I remember nothing. But it was a bottomless mimosa brunch, and I took bottomless quite literally. And then I switched to bottomless glasses of wine. And the rest is history.  It’s a miracle I had about a half of a glass of wine left in the bottle from that night. After my two-day hangover, I decided to pour the rest of the grape into a glass, polish it off and call it a night. The next day I decided it was going to be a while until I went out drinking again – at least not until the next weekend.

I had therapy that week and recapped the ounces of the weekend I remembered. The guilt and shame tied to that weekend were insurmountable. The emotion evoked by the blackout drinking was something I was very rarely able to share with anyone for fear they’d forcefully pull the bottle of merlot right out of my hands. Plus, who likes a girl who can’t handle her alcohol? But I became comfortable enough to disclose how it was negatively affecting me in those therapy sessions.

That particular session, my therapist quite simply asked if I could just take drinking off the table altogether, at least for now.  That’s a clever thought. Why didn’t I think of that? But how am I supposed to go to weddings? How am I supposed to be sober at my own wedding? How am I supposed to live without wine? Here’s the deal: you’ll never get anywhere with anything if you’re trying to rearrange your schedule because you don’t know what traffic will look like on July 19, 2030. Something clicked that evening. Divine intervention? A spiritual awakening? I won’t ask questions – all I know is certain neurons in my brain woke up. Maybe it was my liver… oh, if only my liver could talk. “No, no, no, no, no, don’t uncork that bottle of — son of a b****, why are you doing this to me?

I won’t sit here and say I’ve stayed alcohol-free all on my own. I’ve had some outside assistance and therapy I am astronomically grateful for. I desperately needed to quit drinking. I wasn’t in trouble with the law, I wasn’t drinking before work, but it was causing way too much distress. Having an eating disorder with a drinking problem is quite the dichotomy… aren’t I supposed to be terrified of calories? Alcohol calories didn’t count to me, apparently. Anyway, trying to be in recovery from an eating disorder while tying one on every weekend (and holiday, and non-holiday, and Tuesday evening) is like having two flat tires on the front of your car, replacing one, but not the other and expecting the car to drive just fine. Having issues with my alcohol intake is something I have been ashamed of, hence why I didn’t come to the realization sooner: there’s definitely a stigma out there. People with addiction aren’t always accepted – because a lot of times (I’m guilty of this too), it may be seen as simply a choice.

OK, yes. It is a choice for you to say yes or no to the drink or the drug or the compulsive exercise or what ever it may be. But it’s the thought behind that yes or no that is not always a “choice.” Why would anyone ask to be plagued with addiction?I’ve certainly never heard of anyone who has said to himself or herself, “Hmm this vice of mine, do it in copious amounts? Sign me up!” A poignant quote in the mental illness world is, “Genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger.” It seems that some people are more susceptible than others depending on genes that run in the family. Throw that person into a destructive environment, and you may have yourself a perfect recipe for addiction. A friend once used this analogy, “Normal” drinkers, while drinking, have this little, red flag in their brains (I imagine it looks like the end of those Super Mario levels), that says, “Hey, dude! You’re crossing the line here. Time to chug an ice water and call it a night on the ole’ booze.” People with addiction? Well, somewhere along the line, the little, red flag was bent and broken in half. The moral of this story is, I really don’t want to carry around the shame anymore.

I have a problem with drinking. There, I said it.

And I hope in years to come, others don’t have to carry around the shame. We shouldn’t have to hide. We are all human. We all have things in our lives that are ridiculously hard to deal with. Doesn’t matter what it is. Let’s take a step back and try to be a little less critical. Had I not felt riddled with shame over my drinking and the stigma it carries with it, I could very well have admitted I had an issue a lot sooner. I think if we can break down these barriers, it might help people to help themselves. And I have to level with you. Not having to wake up in the morning with a ferocious, remorse-filled hangover? I’ll continue to sign up for that.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, head here for resources. You can also text 741741 from anywhere in the USA to text with a trained Crisis Counselor. 

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