Carrie Fisher

When I learned Carrie Fisher had died, I was heartbroken. I’m a huge fan of Star Wars, and I didn’t want to imagine a world without Princess Leia. That wasn’t the only reason I was devastated, though.

I am also an addict in long-term recovery. I spent my early recovery trying to find people who spoke to me: Celebrities, authors, doctors — anybody. Anything to feel like I was part of something, and not alone in the world.

On a friend’s recommendation, I watched Carrie’s one woman show, “Wishful Drinking.” I laughed, I cried… I eventually ordered every book she’d written. I couldn’t get enough of Carrie Fisher.

After her death, I started buying copies of her books for my friends. I wanted to keep spreading her humor and light. I felt like she knew how to say things about mental illness and addiction that I hadn’t been able to put into words.

Recently, her autopsy report was released, revealing drug use in her final days. So a friend said to me, “I guess she’s not your hero anymore.”

I had to take a second to process that. To assume she couldn’t relapse would be to assume she was infallible. We want to believe we can’t screw it all up, but, I know in my heart that none of us is perfect. Addiction is a chronic disease. That’s why you have to take it one day at a time. Every single day is its own challenge. I wouldn’t know how to explain that to someone who doesn’t struggle with addiction ( Though Carrie did — read “Postcards from the Edge”).

Addiction can rob you of everything. For me, it’s always there in the background, waiting for me to drop my guard. There have been so many times in my few short years of recovery that I’ve almost blown it. I also can’t pretend to understand the mental state of Carrie, who is someone I’ve never met… We will never know what she was going through.

When I think of Carrie Fisher, I see a strength not many of us have. She was brave enough to share her journey with us, and speak out against the crushing stigma. She was so beautiful, wise and talented. It was almost easy to forget she was also human. A human, who struggled with addiction.

I’ll tell you what I can’t forget. I can’t forget the despair I felt before I got help. I can’t forget how alone I felt, walking into a mental hospital to stay for a few months. In my experience, there’s a lot of shame and loneliness involved in being an addict.

I also can’t forget how much better I felt upon reading Carrie’s words. She spoke to me and for me, and she was so wonderfully funny and smart about it.

“No,” I told my friend, after a long silence. “She’ll always be my hero.”

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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Photo via Wiki Commons.


I have two daughters. I had them when I was 22 and 26, respectively. My first pregnancy got — and kept — me sober after a period of methamphetamine abuse. I stayed sober for six years before I began socially drinking. In the four years that followed, social drinking turned into moderate drinking, to heavy drinking, to nightly drinking and daily marijuana use and abusing prescription medication.

A few weeks ago, I entered an inpatient healing facility. This is not my first rehab. I attended two inpatient programs when I was 20, spent a year in a “partial hospitalization” program and completed outpatient drug and alcohol programming. You could say I’ve been around the block.

Then I had this miraculous recovery where I got to build a life and a family and a career. For ten years, I worked diligently, even as I began to self-medicate. Even as I was diagnosed with bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and ADHD. Even as I relapsed into the bulimia that had ravaged my life and caused me to turn to drugs and alcohol in the first place. I was imperfect, but I was oh, so high-functioning.

Being back in a rehab setting has flooded me with memories of previous experiences. In fact, even researching rehab options, calling my insurance and dealing with what I’ve come to call the “rehab industry,” caused an uptick in my PTSD symptoms in the form of flashbacks and overwhelming fear.

One of the things that helps me remember and realize I’m not the vulnerable 20-year-old in rehab, is focusing on what is different this time. I chose the non-traditional treatment model of the place I’m attending. I have autonomy in my life and choices. And, likely most importantly of all, I am a mom now.

Here are nine reasons why going to rehab is different for me as a mom:

1. Rehab sometimes may seem like vacation.

Mom life is anything but easy. There are no breaks, there is no quiet. Periods of rest and reflection are likely a fantasy at best. So the idea of spending a month away in a serene setting may sound like a vacation. But spoiler alert, rehab is not vacation.

2. My reasons for getting sober are already built in.

Some people may need to search for motivation to get or stay sober. Not me, now that I’m a mom. I believe moms have their reasons in their heads 24/7. My reasons have names and faces and likes and dislikes and are known to shine and shout on the regular. As a mom, I need only say a few words for why I’ve chosen to turn my life around. In my case, Ali and Emmy.

3. Mom guilt is a real thing.

Who gets a month away from their family and kids? Not many moms I know. There is a lot of guilt in having “abandoned” the proverbial nest for such a long period of time. That guilt can hold me back from doing the work I came for if I get too caught up in it. Therefore being a mom in rehab is a constant dance between separating the fact that life inevitably marches on at home, and learning to live in the present moment that’s right before you. The guilt remained, but how I responded to it became my choice.

4. Technology is imperative.

I intentionally chose a rehab that wouldn’t take my phone away so I could stay in contact with my kids. Leaving seemed bad enough, but telling my kindergartner I might not be available for an extended period of time was too much. I’m so grateful for tools like Facetime and Skype to allow me to see their precious faces, as well as hear their voices. We have regularly Skyped from my rehab room, with my image projected on the big screen in our living room — almost as if I was right there with them. Without the hugs of course.

5. It breaks my heart to be without my family.

Last weekend, my family drove five hours to visit me. We spent two days together, exploring the hippy town my rehab sits a few miles outside of, swimming at the hotel they were staying in and trekking to the next town over for Oregon’s only In-N-Out burger. When it was time to say goodbye again, my oldest daughter burst into tears and held me and sobbed. “Why do you have to stay?” she asked. I replied it was good for me, and wish I would have added that staying was going to help me be better for her. Trying to explain what felt unexplainable to my children — and having to only watch as they feel abandoned or forgotten — is a special kind of hell for me. I am hopeful that these are the experiences that stick out when the temptation to use substances arises. I am hopeful that something better can come of such pain and heartache.

6. “Me first” felt like a foreign concept.

Early recovery is an inevitably selfish time. This is something moms — even moms struggling with addiction — don’t necessarily know about. Oftentimes people use to numb their feelings and shoulder their heavy responsibilities. I believe there is nothing heavier than being responsible for a life (or two or three or more) outside of your own. Moms entering recovery need to focus on themselves first and their families second. This is a tall order that’s made easier by space and time — getting away may be as imperative as staying connected. I can’t speak much to actually balancing this tough act at home, but I imagine it will be the challenge of a lifetime. And, it will be worth it. I believe my life is worth it. My kids’ stability is worth it. My family’s health and well-being is worth it. There are so many reasons to break the mold and put myself first in a healthy and loving way. We can do it, moms!

7. Every day I know there’s something to go home for.

It’s not uncommon for people entering treatment to prolong their stay — or even stay around the town they’ve come to find themselves in. This can be a healthy step in a recovered direction. But this may not be an option on the table for moms. I know the clock is ticking on the time I can be away from my family, from the job that supports us and from my kids’ daily lives. This knowing can be both a gift and a burden.

8. Sometimes, rehab actually can feel like vacation (and as a mom, I will take what I can get!).

I may have to work hard on deep-seated shit that’s painful to face, but in many ways, this experience is a vacation from my life. No dishes, minimal laundry, no cooking or cleaning, no errands or extracurriculars, no bedtimes or packed lunches. I get to focus solely on me and my needs, and spend precious time deciphering what those even are and how I can learn to feel into them in my real life.  It isn’t your typical vacation, but it’s vacation-like after a decade of child-rearing. And I’m so, so grateful for it.

9. The stakes are high.

When I went to rehab in my previous, childless life, I knew I was only rolling the dice on my own future. That is the biggest truth to have changed now that I’m in rehab with kids. I have these reasons, and they are compelling ones. My kids’ futures, their sense of security and attachment, our shared financial freedom, their exposure to drama and trauma, is all on the line here. The “me first” mentality required to take this step — and walk the path ahead — is the greatest gift I could give to any of us.

Join Mental Health America during Mental Health Month in increasing awareness of risky behaviors and potential ties to mental health conditions. Download the complete toolkit, featuring facts sheets with infographics, social media images, and more here#riskybusiness #MHM2017.

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Thinkstock photo via Pimonova.

God was not part of my life for many years before I found myself unable to go on without a miracle. Raised Catholic, I went to church and prayed often growing up. My faith was an everyday part of my life, as necessary as my treasured flip phone was to me throughout high school. Then, with a flash and bang, my faith was decimated. My mom was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. The doctors gave her six months to live. She hung on for her family for three and a half years, until a couple of months after my 18th birthday. When she died — after I had prayed unceasingly for God to save her life — my faith turned into a bitter hatred at the supernatural being that had taken not just my mother, but the woman who was my best friend. My untreated mental illnesses (schizoaffective disorder, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and post-traumatic stress disorder) combined with grief, prompted me to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. I abused drugs and alcohol on and off for the next ten years.

Then, life became unlivable.

On September 19, 2016, I found myself standing in front of my dresser, looking in the mirror at a reflection of a girl who had no life in her eyes. I was ready to die. Unable to imagine life without drugs, but unable to imagine life with drugs, I resolved to kill myself.

Then, I felt what can only be described as an instant, pull. Something prompted me to walk out of my fiancé’s and my bedroom, and flatly state to him that I was going to kill myself if someone didn’t help me. The next couple of hours were a blur of tears, terror and confusion, with the instant feeling that I had not wanted this. What made me do this? My fiancé drove me to the psych hospital and I went through the all too familiar and draining intake process. I spent three weeks there, lost in depression and psychosis for the first week, unable to find hope of any kind.

Despairing over the prospect of possibly never improving, I called my dad crying, confessing I still wanted to die. He gently advised me to read the Bible, specifically Proverbs and Psalms, as a source of hope. I scoffed at the notion, having buried my faith and love for God with my mother. Still, after I hung up the phone, my dad’s suggestion would not unglue itself from my mind. The thought, unbidden and unwanted, exploded in my mind. What was so wrong with reading the Bible? I didn’t have an answer. And with that small realization, my harden heart softened immeasurably, and I suddenly believed in God, loved God and knew he would help me achieve recovery from not only my drug and alcohol addiction, but also from my mental illnesses. For the first time in 10 years, I had hope for a future.

God intervened, God saved me from the biggest mistake I could possibly make. I did not have the strength to stay alive, I did not have the strength to get clean and sober and I did not have the strength to continue battling my mental illnesses. But God did. He filled me with not only the strength to do all of those things, but also gave me a unshakable sense of hope and a budding seed of courage. I’m almost eight months clean and sober as I write this article. I am in an intensive outpatient program to learn how to cope with my mental illnesses and to heal from my past traumas of molestation and sexual assault. My faith had become the very essence of my being, my passion and love. I start in a Masters of Divinity program in August of 2017, beginning the journey to become a pastor and share with other people the wondrous grace and hope God gave to me.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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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Unsplash photo via Simeone Muller.

It’s mid-July and the thermostat in my teaching trailer reads 85 degrees. Everything I am wearing — skirt, summer camp T-shirt, faded red espadrilles hiding unpainted toenails — is sticking to me and I haven’t even started teaching yet. I need to make a playlist. One that says, “I’m the cool new music teacher.” I lean over to open iTunes and the pain strikes like lightning down my spine.

I sit.

I stand.

I pace.

My lower back is branded by the pain.

Finally, I lie on the floor, skirt between my knees. Fuck. No one told me withdrawal would hurt like this. Then, like a generator after a blackout, self-loathing kicks in.

I deserve this. All of it. Only someone as fucked up as me would stop taking two super-sized doses of stimulants and benzodiazepines 24 hours before starting a new job.

I try to back out of the corner where shame meets pain. I try to tell myself it was either quit the pills or spend the rest of my life on and off the couch Googling how many Xanax it would it take to kill me, paying by the minute to rage-sob to an internet therapist, while eating entire pizzas before hiding the box. I try… but it doesn’t work.

I want to walk out. I want to get in my car and drive until the tread burns off my tires, but I can’t. I can’t. This is my 4-year-old son’s first summer camp and he is high-pitch-squeal excited to meet new friends and swim every day and ride ponies and sing songs and, and, and… Luxuries I cannot afford without the steep teacher’s discount. Plus, I am desperate for the money.

I reach over and grab my purse. I search every pocket, every corner, every fold of every crumpled receipt, everywhere for one last pill. When I don’t find one, I pull at the ends of my hair until I’m left with a fistful of strands.

A line of first graders files in. The show must go on.

I put on a happy face. We all sweat through the name game and warm-ups. Perhaps it’s adrenaline. I don’t know. But, I’m holding myself together and beginning to think I can do this. When I tell them it’s time to play freeze dance, they cheer like the audience in an Oprah Winfrey giveaway show.

“Call Me Maybe” starts and I am reveling in a sea of smiles and nods and uninhibited joy, when like a rickety carousel, the room starts to spin. An old fan in the corner, blades caked in dust, is blowing on me and it feels like someone is combing my skin with a rake.

I need to sit down.

I sit.

My back is set afire again.

I stand.

“Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad. I missed you so bad. I missed you so, so bad…” Jepson’s voice is a mosquito in my ear.

I have to get out of here.

I drag-walk down the hall to the tiny kitchen leaving 30 children to dance unsupervised. I open the freezer and lift up my shirt and put my whole torso in as far as I can and rest my head on a box of popsicles, my breasts on a stack of Lean Cuisines.


The first time I took Dexedrine was shortly after I adopted my son. Because my job didn’t provide parental leave to adoptive parents, I had to return to work two weeks after he was born. The tiny capsule transported me from barely surviving to feeling like I was, for the first time in my life, the heroine — standing atop a mountain, hands on hips, cape waving — able to conquer the blinding fatigue caused by sleep deprivation and rise to the challenge of mothering my child in a way that would show the world that I deserved the gift my son’s birthmother gave me.

Dexedrine had only one less-than-ideal side effect, which was that when I actually had a free minute to sleep, all I could do was lay there obsessing:

Maybe if I label every nook and cranny of the laundry closet I won’t have to waste precious seconds looking for the perfect burp cloth.

I wonder if one of those plastic flossing picks could be the thing that finally gets all the baby vomit out of the car locks?

Am I a horrible mother for choosing formula over buying breastmilk off the internet?

Then I discovered Xanax, which soothed my busy mind like a song, and not some Carly Rae Jepson verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus bullshit. No, Xanax was a symphony by Mozart played by a philharmonic of angels conducted by a god I didn’t think I believed in but was now willing to consider.

Soon I needed more and more (and more) Dexedrine and Xanax. And I got them. At any cost. I told myself it was “just to get me through the hardest times of motherhood,” which eight years later haven’t gotten any easier, just difficult in different ways.


I went back to the classroom and somehow made it through the day. And even though the trailer continued to feel like we were singing and dancing on the sun, my back regularly reminded me not to sit and my hair-trigger mood swings kept us all on edge, I made it through the summer without taking another pill.

Sharing this is my way of trying to make sense of addiction. But, I’m not sure I have. I still struggle to find answers, like scraping along a roll of tape to find where it begins. I never taught at that camp again, but five years later I am still on the mailing list. I could unsubscribe with the click of a button, but I haven’t. Perhaps I never will.

Join Mental Health America during Mental Health Month in increasing awareness of risky behaviors and potential ties to mental health conditions. Download the complete toolkit, featuring facts sheets with infographics, social media images, and more here#riskybusiness #MHM2017.

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Thinkstock photo via betyarlaca

Not many people can claim they have lived two distinct, different lives by the age of 21. Of course, people change on a daily basis and are not the same person they were a year ago. But I am talking about a total 180 degree change, a new life in general. I believe anyone who is in recovery from an addiction knows exactly what I mean by this “new life.” For me, I was reborn.

Drug problems are strong and can change someone’s personality completely. Drugs can change moods, actions and behaviors, easily. Have you ever had a friend that acted completely normal while sober, but when they got drunk, they seemed to be a completely different human? I believe drugs and alcohol have the potential to do this to people, and not everyone has the same response.

Growing up, I was a nice, pleasant and respectful young man. However, this all changed when I developed a drug problem. Drugs and alcohol changed me, and more specifically, the type of drug changed me in different ways. For example, “uppers” made me more aggressive, irrational and hyper, while “downers” made me passive, inattentive and lackadaisical.

Drugs also took away my interest in being a good person. I would do anything to get my fix, and never had any remorse about it, either. Nobody was safe around me. I stole from my dying grandmother, parents and siblings. I manipulated my friends and close family members to give me money for “food” or “school supplies,” but in reality, I was just buying drugs. Lying was so much a part of me that I lost the ability to even know what the truth was anymore. Nobody trusted me, myself included. I was a lost soul for many years.

While using drugs, I didn’t like anybody, and nobody liked me, either. A “perfect” night in active addiction for me looked like this: phone turned off, plenty of drugs and nobody around. I didn’t even like the lights being on. I was only in contact with people who either did drugs with me or had drugs to sell me, and that was it. My life was spiraling out of control, and I knew it.

My life came flashing before my eyes when I overdosed. I didn’t think it was possible for me to ever overdose until it actually happened. After a manic breakdown, drug-induced psychosis and lack of sleep, I ended up in the psychiatric unit of the hospital. October 20, 2009 was the worst day of my life, followed by an even worse week. The cold white walls of the psych ward, the constant wild gibberish, the loud screams — the psych ward was a living nightmare for me.

I was there for eight straight nights and I was scared straight into luxury drug rehab. See, rehabs were a fear of mine, but that was only because I feared sobriety. When I got out of the hospital, I was flown to a 30-day rehab, and that was followed by an aftercare program. After about nine months of rehab, I was ready to come home.

When I got home, I did everything suggested to me, from going to meetings, getting a sponsor, to getting a job and going back to school. I immersed myself in the AA lifestyle. Despite my disbelief, everything I was doing was working. The obsession to use drugs or drink alcohol disappeared, and in return, I got something I was looking for the whole time: happiness.

It has been almost seven years since I have picked up a drink or a drug. My life today is nothing short of a miracle. I started recovery because I wanted to stop using drugs, but little did I know I was going to develop a completely new life as a result. The biggest gifts in my life today are the intangible ones. My word means something today, and my family and friends trust me. Whereas before — when I was using — people hid their wallets and belongings from me.

I have accomplished more in seven years than I ever did in the 19 years of my life before working the program. The most important thing about my life today is the fact that I have fun. When I got off all the drugs and alcohol, I didn’t think it would even be possible to have fun ever again. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Join Mental Health America during Mental Health Month in increasing awareness of risky behaviors and potential ties to mental health conditions. Download the complete toolkit, featuring facts sheets with infographics, social media images, and more here#riskybusiness #MHM2017.

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Unsplash photo via Dustin Scarpitti.

When I am on the court, hearing the sneakers on the hardwood, the ball bouncing and the smooth swoosh of a perfect shot, it’s like music to my ears. I find inner peace while playing basketball. After a long day, I can tune out my troubles for a few hours; a few hours of healthy competition and my problems seem less serious.

Drug addiction does not have to feel like a life sentence. I learned this through my observations and life experiences. There are thousands of people who have fallen deep into drug addiction and managed to find sobriety, whether it was by going to rehab, attending 12-step meetings, therapy or religion. All of these strategies are viable, but what helps me stay sober after all of this time more than anything is sports. Competing, exercising, yelling and genuine friendships all help me to clear my mind after a long day or work week. For someone who is trying to stay sober and meet good friends, forming new friendships can be a problem, but playing basketball has not only helped me meet good friends I can socialize with. It’s helped me cope.

When I got sober, especially in the early stages of my recovery, I needed something to occupy my mind and time. I used to play basketball a lot. but in my eight years of active addiction I slowly stopped playing. The rehab facility where I recovered luckily had an old worn-down basketball court. I would go outside during my free time to play almost every day I was there. It was a way for me to forget about what was going on in my life, and focus on something else. Playing basketball allowed me to release stress in a positive way.

Exercise and Mental Illness

Exercise has been proven to help reduce the effects of anxiety, depression, stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When you exercise, you release endorphins in your brain which make you feel good. In fact, you’ve likely heard this feeling called a “runner’s high.” Exercising results in the formation of new activity in your brain and bolsters feelings of serenity and happiness. If you are fighting with depression, stress or anxiety, going to the gym or playing a game of basketball can free your mind and change your mood. The sense of well-being, distraction from your worries and providing you a natural high are all great coping mechanisms for fighting drug addiction.

When you are active, your body is also less stressed because tension has been released, making you more relaxed both mentally and physically. When you are new to sobriety, it is common you may also struggle with one of these mental illnesses, but this is something that can be managed through exercising and daily maintenance. I did not think my anxiety or depression would ever go away in early sobriety. After working out regularly for about three months, I noticed my spirits changing. I was generally happier, had more energy and was becoming my old, outgoing self, like I was before I became addicted.

Should Rehab Treatment Facilities Implement Sports Programs?

Most rehab treatment facilities do not have exercise equipment or any recreational activity. I understand the idea of rehab is for the addict to focus on themselves, but having an outlet for physical activity could be beneficial for many addicts seeking sobriety. Some people do not know about the benefits of exercise and competition. If rehab treatment facilities implemented more sports programs, this would open new positive outlets for addicts who need tools to stay sober. Imagine going to rehab and being able to participate in running, lifting weights, playing kickball, flag football, or basketball. I have always known about the benefits of sports, but many don’t. Most people need to see that sobriety can be fun; sports are a great way to stay active in recovery and enjoy yourself.

Alternative Options to Help Stay Sober

I have been fighting drug addiction by using exercise and sports for the past five years, and I have won the fight so far. I know that simply playing sports is not enough to keep someone sober, and there are other steps which must be taken. For others who may not enjoy sports or are not able to exercise, there are other outlets that can help in fighting drug addiction:

1. Meditation
2. Massage
3. Yoga
4. Art therapy
5. Pet therapy
6. Trying new hobbies (reading, gardening, etc.)
7. Joining new clubs

These alternative options are all ways to find your inner peace. To me, that’s what being sober comes down to — finding inner peace. Whether it is through exercise or painting, whatever works for you therapeutically … do it!

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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Thinkstock photo via FS-Stock

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