Recovery Spotlight: Melissa S

Today is January 4, 2018 and I have been sober for 319 consecutive days. But I started the journey of recovery about 10 years ago. The secret of change, I’ve found, is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new. I spent all my energy fighting old wounds, and refusing to accept that I was powerless over alcohol. I took my first drink when I was 15 years old. I wrecked my first car at 16, flipped the next one on the highway at 19, and flipped the next at 20. By the grace of God, I was airlifted to a trauma unit once, and miraculously didn’t seriously injure myself or anyone else. I spent time in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, I spent time in outpatient treatment. I spent a lot of time not listening or taking the advice of anyone willing to help me. I did not take direction, and most importantly, I didn’t care. I didn’t value my life, or anyone else’s, during my active drinking.

I had a great life growing up. I was adopted at 3 months old, and my parents loved me to death. They taught me right from wrong and how to be strong, to have faith, and to be good to everyone. They taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be, and at 15 I unknowingly decided that what I was going to be was an alcoholic. My parents split up when I was 15, but that wasn’t terribly unusual or even awful compared to what friends of mine went through. This is, however, what gave me the opportunity to spiral out of control. They trusted me, so I learned to lie and to do it well. I drank to get drunk—to not feel the pain and emotions I was going through. I left home at 17 to attend WVU, the second largest party school in the early 2000s. I spent a lot of time being lonely, because—let’s be honest—who wants to befriend the crazy drunk girl? I stole. I made a fool of myself. I broke a lot of relationships and had zero accountability or trustworthiness. I put myself in a lot of dangerous situations: guns, drugs, rape, waking up more times than I care to admit with no idea where I was. I returned home from the funeral of a friend who was killed in a drunk driving accident—but do you think I stopped drinking? No.

November 26th, 2009, I made it less than 3 miles before I flipped my car 9 times on Route 70. The medics told my mom I was flown to shock trauma, but never told her if I was alive. With minimal injuries and a few scars, I was released to go home. My BAC was .34. I weighed 110 lbs. I should’ve died more times than I can count. It would be six months before I would drive another car, and I spent that time in the rooms of AA. I made some friends, but I just wasn’t ready yet. I bought a new car, went back to the same old friends, and flipped this new car too- only this one was a convertible. A few more scars, but I walked away. By this time I should’ve been well out of my nine lives.

I finally got charged with a hit-and-run in February of 2010. Surprisingly, this was the first time I had ever gotten into legal trouble. I stayed sober almost sixty days before I relapsed because I had no tools to deal with real life. As was suggested to me, I got a sponsor, but I didn’t work a program. By this point, I was living on a friends’ couch because I wasn’t allowed to stay at home. I got my first and only DUI in April of 2010. I violated my probation for the earlier charge, and ended up with 1.5 years’ probation, a lot of community service, and a large debt to repay. I was exhausted, tired of the addiction, the disease. Tired of what it was doing to my life, my relationships and my family. I was tired of being this person I had become, but I wasn’t willing to stop doing the one thing I had to stop in order to live a new life.

I thought if I found love that it would fix my alcoholism. I met someone in the early summer of 2010 who changed my life forever. I got pregnant in August of 2010, but lost the baby about a month or two later. I was sober for the time that I was pregnant, but spiraled out of control after the miscarriage. Alcohol was the only thing that understood what I was going through. I got pregnant again, got married and had my first child in 2011. The bad news is that doing grown-up things doesn’t solve problems like addiction. I believe my God sent that child to save me, because that was the first time I had been sober for more than nine months in almost ten years. Unfortunately, I thought, like most of us alcoholics and addicts do, that I could control my addiction. I believed that because I had a place to live, a consistent job, and that I paid my bills that I would be able to control this part of my life too. I couldn’t be an alcoholic, because I was successful. I couldn’t be an alcoholic because I didn’t want the label. I wasn’t like “those” people. I spent the next five years medicated and angrier than I had ever been. I was sober off and on, but never stayed clean for more than a few months at a time. Each time, it was the same story. I was convinced I couldn’t be an alcoholic. Isn’t that hereditary? Little did I know that when I would find my biological mother at 27, that she would be a recovering, ten-years-sober alcoholic-addict. My biological siblings are all active users, whom I only got to meet at my mother’s funeral. Talk about a strange, surreal realization. But even knowing that, I didn’t stop drinking then, either. I made my life incredibly difficult—what we in the program call “unmanageable.” I had my second child in 2016, because I somehow thought that was going to save everything that had me feeling beaten down, broken and empty. I had ten months of sobriety this time before I knew I could control my drinking. I spent the better part of six years destroying my family one drink at a time. My kids have always been taken care of, and I am not sure they ever were the wiser to my situation. I am so thankful today that children are resilient, and that they were so young when I struggled the most. The hardest emotion to deal with after becoming sober was the guilt that I had broken my children and isolated myself beyond belief, and that any day they might think my old behavior was acceptable.

Fast-forward to February 2017. I wish I could tell you what happened on that day. I drank with some family and friends, and we were walking through the pet store when I started to get a headache. I was going home to my children who were with the babysitter, and it hit me… I didn’t want to live like this anymore. There was no car accident, no arrest, and no crazy actions. I have an unbelievable job that I love, great friends and family who love me. I just didn’t love myself. That was the day that I decided that life was over. That was the day that I decided I wasn’t going to let ANYTHING have that kind of power over me ever again. I set small, attainable goals. Over the course of the last 319 days, I ran a 5k, raised money for a very special non-profit for my birthday, coached my daughter’s soccer team (I didn’t even know how to play soccer!), got a new and even more incredible job, started a small business, and made so many friends. I work on myself every day. I open myself up to the feelings I didn’t want to feel. I made amends. I traveled. Self-love is the biggest lesson I could’ve ever learned. For the first time in fifteen years, I feel like MYSELF. The self that was taught she could do anything she wanted to… and now, if you ask anyone I know, they will tell you I try like hell to do it all. Why? Because I can—because why not? Because I have lost so many friends to this disease that I live every day to its fullest. Today, I am someone that I can be proud of; today I am an accountable, trustworthy, functioning part of society. Today I have let go of all the things that were holding me down; today I choose life, happiness and freedom. Today I am a mother, wife, friend, sister, computer programmer, fitness enthusiast, animal lover, dancing fool, business owner, volunteer… and any other hats I can find to wear. Today, I am an alcoholic who is 319 days sober, and I ACCEPT that label with pride.

Someone once asked me if I regretted all the things I had done. The answer is absolutely not. I would not be who I am or where I am in life without all the struggles and lessons. I wouldn’t be able to help anyone else—I believe this was the path I was given so that I can help make a change in the world. My message to you if you’re struggling is that you CAN do it. I never thought I could, and didn’t believe anyone who told me otherwise. The feeling of WANTING to live life and wake up every single day is the most incredible feeling. The desire to want to live is what was missing. Today I am involved, today I am inspiring—having someone tell you that they want what you have makes you want it even more than you ever did before. That is a lot of responsibility. Well, challenge accepted! If you’re struggling and need someone to talk to, I haven’t been perfect in my recovery, but I am always here for anyone and everyone. The only way I can be rich is to give it all away