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The Voices of Recovery

By: Guest Bloggers

Renew publishes the experiences of our readers and community members in hopes that others will find fellowship and support in their experiences. 

A Life Turned Around

Nov 11, 2015
By Brook McKenzie
 

With no tattoos, barely any muscles, and a quiet, sensitive nature, I had very few credentials to suggest I would survive in prison. Yet there I was, orange jumpsuit and a shaved head. At 19 years old, 155 lbs., I was not much to behold.  If anything I was the poster-child for “easy prey.”

How often I wished that I had never taken that first hit of crack-cocaine. How many times I wondered at how different things might have been.

Like many, I grew up in a great family with plenty of opportunity. It would have been much more likely for me to go on to graduate college, embark on a career and start a family than to wind up in prison.  But that was not at all what happened.  For years my parents had been wringing their hands in dismay. They would say things like, “how did this happen?” “why can’t you stop?” “can you quit for us, if not for yourself?” These were questions I sometimes had answers for, but none of them really made sense when set against the backdrop of my family’s life in shambles.

I was fifteen years old when my addiction to crack-cocaine began, a child really – with little idea as to what was in store. This nightmare of enslavement would continue for me and my family for the next 20 years. There would be late night phone calls, desperate pleas, thefts, bail bonds, disappearances, missing purses, missed holidays, and an assortment of promises always ending in disappointment. As a child I had wanted to go to college and become a dentist. I loved my parents and they loved me. My younger brother was my sidekick.  Together, we would spend our youth exploring the woods, fishing, going on family vacations and making forts and tree-houses. I played baseball every year and enjoyed a host of childhood friends.  From a very young age our parents taught us how to be responsible, courteous, and conscientious young men. As hard working, middle class young adults, our parents sought to provide for us the best that they could, and all they could.  They did a wonderful job! Still, in my heart, I sense that they felt to blame for what happened to me. But in reality, what happened to me, happened to each of us. Addiction is a family disease and it touches all lives that come into contact with it.

Between the years 1999-2009, I served about 8 years in prison as a result of my drug addiction, and my family served it with me. I remember the look on my mother’s face when she would come to visit. There would be times that I would bring a black eye to the visitation room with me. She would squeeze my hand while recounting all that had happened since I’d been away.  My brother had graduated high school, gone on to college, and earned his bachelor’s degree. He even met the love of his life while traveling abroad. Sometimes during these visits - when I could muster the courage – I’d look my Mom in the eye and promise her - with all of my heart - that things would be different next time - I had changed. Unbeknownst to me, and certainly to her - none of us had come to a full realization as to the severity of my condition. Once released from prison, and with every good intention to live my life reformed for the sake of all my family had been through – I would relapse!  Whether it took a few days or a few weeks, I always went back to it, as if asleep and unable to awake.  Similar to a nightmare, I would “come to” in complete shock  – “how did I get here again?” “What happened?”

The horror I felt would consume me. How could I do this to my family? And the thoughts would come:  wouldn’t it be better to kill myself now and let my family begin to heal than to go on causing harm indefinitely? Ashamed, I dared not show my face to anyone. The only way I knew to cover up what I felt was to go on to the bitter end, which for me, always resulted in another arrest.

As my addiction progressed, I found that I would steal for drugs, lie; even prostitute myself…I would walk miles and miles to get my next fix, roaming the streets like a zombie.  Whatever I had to do, I would do, my conscience under siege. The pain I felt inside, the loneliness and sense of isolation was unbearable. During these times I would fall to my knees and pray, “God please help me, please show me another way.”

Then, in 2010, as though an answer to my prayers, I was presented with an opportunity to go to treatment for my addiction. With a small duffel bag of clothes in tow I embarked on a life changing experience that would prove to be the launching pad for a brand new life in recovery. I haven’t been back to prison since. The truths I learned in treatment are the truths I carry with me today and they are the same truths that I share with others, with families and with those similarly afflicted.

…Not too long ago I accepted the position of Outreach Coordinator for a well-known drug and alcohol treatment center in Southern Orange County, California. This role allows me the privilege to interact with other people’s parents and family members on a daily basis. Together, the families and I walk hand in hand towards getting their loved ones the help that they need and deserve. Ironically, and despite it being a big part of what fuels my passion to serve others, my own story rarely comes up any more. As time moves on, there are newer stories to share, with brand new faces and brand new names; stories of hope, and stories of redemption.

Today, when my Mother calls me I answer the phone and we talk. We don’t talk about the things we used to discuss, we talk about our gratitude; we talk about life. My father, same thing. And as for my younger brother, well, we are best of friends again. He now has two young children of his own, two girls, and I get to be an uncle to both of them.  By the Grace of God, my nieces will never know me as a drug addict, a convict or a thief. They will only know the real me; the one that God intended me to be.

Brook serves as the Outreach Coordinator and Family Liaison for New Method Wellness treatment center. His passion is working with families to help interupt the cycle of addiction.

 

Related:

Thriving in Recovery: Rusty Golden 

Thriving in Recovery: Teri Griege 

In Recovery, Choose Your Words Wisely

Thriving in Recovery: Rusty Golden

Nov 09, 2015

by Michelle Horton

“I look forward to tomorrow, instead of worrying about it.”

 

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You might know Rusty Golden as the son of William Lee Golden (a recent inductee of the Country Music Hall of Fame and a 50-year veteran of the Oak Ridge Boys, known for his flowing white beard). If you’re a country or gospel fan, you might know Rusty’s own music, or you might recognize the gospel hits he penned — four #1 radio hits, two of which were named “Song Of The Year” and nominated for GRAMMYs. But if you’re a true fan, you know about Rusty Golden’s struggle through addiction and recovery because he fearlessly exposed it all in his latest album, SOBER.

 

Renew: How long have you been in recovery?

Golden: As of this writing, I have been in recovery for 888 days.

Renew: When did you realize that you needed help?

Golden:I come a very close-knit family. During the Christmas holidays of 2012, I had taken a few extra pills before going over to my brother’s house for a get together. It was the first time ever that he pulled me aside and told me that he wanted to me leave. His kids were wondering what was wrong with Uncle Rusty. My mother was also visibly upset because I was slurring my words and nodding off.

After telling this story in treatment, so many others told me that they skipped going to family functions while they were in their active addiction, but I could never do that. Looking back, I realized that I had never spent the holidays completely straight in 36 years. I was usually on something or another.

Time had flown by on me, and I was no longer the young man with the “happy buzz.” I had turned into an isolated 50-year-old junkie who was taking pills just to keep from feeling bad. I was lying to my family about my drug use. I knew I had to change. They deserved better, and more importantly, I deserved better.

Renew: You use traditional recovery supports, but are also incorporating 21st century technology into your recovery. Tell us how.

Golden:I use the Internet as a tool by subscribing to many recovery pages. I read uplifting stories and memes every single day. I listen to speaker meetings on YouTube. As a matter of fact, I created my own Facebook page called “Rusty N Recovery” because I want to share hope with the folks who follow me.

I get lots of personal messages from people asking me how to handle a loved one who is in the throes of addiction, and it really moves me that people look to me for that kind of advice.

Renew:What do you tell those people who are looking for advice?

Golden: “It gets better.”

It’s a recovery-based cliché, but it’s true. For me, time has erased almost all of the obsession of taking drugs. My family and friends are proud of me and that makes me feel good. The list of friends I used to get high with is a lot shorter; many of them are dead now. I know how blessed I am to even be here telling you this.

But I also know that the monster is waiting patiently for me to slip up so that it can ruin everything for me. Addiction wants to ruin my family and friends, and wants me dead. That’s what feeds it.

Renew: What’s been your biggest challenge in recovery?

Golden: The voice in my head that tells me it would be okay to get high again. Every single day, I fight those demons. And one of my swords is the belief that my loved ones have in me.

Renew:How has your life changed since you got sober?

Golden:During the last decade of my addiction, I was not really living. Everything revolved around my intake of pain pills. And it’s true when they say that “one’s too many and a thousand ain’t enough.”

Don’t get me wrong — everything is not sunshine and roses nowadays. I struggle with the same things as most folks, but sobriety has taught me to just get through another day and try to make it better. I wake up in the morning and thank God. That makes me think about something I learned in treatment: I have a choice every day upon waking to either say, “Good morning God!” or “Good god, it’s morning.” 

The gratitude is so much better than the negativity. I look forward to tomorrow, instead of worrying about it.

Hear Rusty’s music, including songs from his latest album, SOBER, at rustygolden.net.

 

Related:

Thriving in Recovery: Teri Griege

Life is Like A Waterfall

Love Eternal 

Thriving in Recovery: Teri Griege

Nov 02, 2015

By Michelle Horton

What does it mean to thrive in recovery? Not to suffer through recovery, or survive being in recovery, but to succeed and thrive.

Here at Renew, we believe thriving in recovery means using our journeys, our internal change, to make a positive impact on the world around us. For the Fall issue of Renew, we found six extraordinary people who embody that idea. They come from different generations, through different avenues of addiction, and are at different points in sobriety. But they all have one thing in common: Each of them uses their recovery for a greater good. They all found meaning in their suffering, and now extend their lives and lessons to others. This series will share their stories.

“When I think of the word ‘thrive,’ I think of so much more than surviving.”

 

Teri Griege

Ironman Competitor

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Some people get knocked down by life circumstances and never get back up. Teri Griege is not one of those people.

Griege is best known for completing the grueling Ironman World Championship at the age of 50 while undergoing chemotherapy for advanced cancer (her book Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story inspires millions around the world). But was fighting her first disease — alcoholism — that gave her the tools and wisdom to persevere through any struggle — even the struggle for her life.

Renew: How long have you been in recovery?

Griege:I’ve been in recovery for 22 years. My “recovery birthday” is March 27, 1993, and I’ve been in continuous sobriety, one day at a time, since that date.

Renew: Can you remember a specific turning point in your journey?

Griege:Prior to that date, I had two other periods of sobriety: one for 5 years, and another for a year and a half. However, there was a day in April of 1993 that I finally went from admitting that I was an alcoholic and addict, to accepting that I was an alcoholic and addict. In my heart and soul, I fully believed and understood that there was life on the other side.

On that day, I turned my life and will over to my higher power and experienced a peace in knowing all would be okay. It was my wake-up call. Prior to 1993, I would wake up and hit the “snooze” button again and again and again. But after that day, I’d hear that alarm and hit the ground running because I knew it was time to “wake up.” And I continue to wake up and grow every day since.

Renew: Which tools and programs have been most successful in supporting your recovery?

Griege:First there’s my higher power, whom I choose to call God. I also have an amazing and supportive family — my husband (who loved me when I couldn’t love myself), children, mother, sisters and their families, and good friends.

Meetings, the 12 steps, and my sponsor play an important role, even after 22 years. I’m still taking life one day at a time.

Renew: What’s been your biggest challenge or obstacle?

Griege:Recently, my biggest challenge is living with Stage IV Colon Cancer. I found out I had advanced cancer almost 6 years ago and was given a 5 to 10 percent chance for living 5 years. Although I never had an urge to use alcohol or drugs, the diagnosis definitely challenged and forced me to live the program.

People always ask how I live gracefully with my diagnosis. I tell them I have tools and an outline for living. I have an attitude of gratitude. I have faith, not fear. I believe in doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. And I believe in service work — the secret to living is giving!

Renew: What would you say to those beginning their recovery — those feeling overwhelmed, scared, and hopeless?

Griege:Life today is tough. Navigating each day is a challenge, even for those who are healthy. I believe those feelings are normal, especially in early recovery, and working the program, utilizing a sponsor, and having friends and a supportive family is enough. And yet sometimes all of those tools are not enough and professional care is needed.

I would tell people to take recovery one day at a time, break the process into little pieces, and find a person to trust — to share your feelings of fear and hopelessness. That will help with feeling overwhelmed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek the correct help. Find someone to help you advocate for yourself, and don’t give up!

Renew: In your experience, what’s waiting for addicts on the other side of recovery?

Griege:Initially, on that day back in 1993, I felt a peace like no other. Since then the words “peace,” “contentment,” and “love” are the first things that come to mind. It is an inside job that gives you the gift and ability to live and thrive in the outside world.

Renew: How do you define what it means to “thrive” in your recovery?

Griege:When I think of the word “thrive,” I think of so much more than surviving. When I was given my cancer diagnosis, I was called a cancer survivor. I disagreed and asked to be called a cancer thriver.

Same goes for my recovery; I’m thriving in recovery. Both of these diseases have made me a better person. They have given me a choice to either give up, or fight and recover. I have chosen to fight. And I choose to make the best out of a tough situation. To me “thrive” means to prosper, flourish, progress, bloom, and shine.

It may sound funny, but I have a light inside of me — a light that might never had been turned on without addiction or cancer. I’m not grateful for my diseases, but I am grateful for all the blessings they have brought me.

For more of Teri’s story, visit TeriGriege.com

 

More Voices of Recovery:

In Recovery, Choose Your Words Wisely

Fighting Addiction With Sage's Army

Coming Out From the Shadows

Far From Alone

Sep 23, 2015

By Christine Campbell

I am a woman in long term recovery, truly grateful for all I have been given. It was a long, hard road as many of us have experienced, but I know today I am truly blessed and have beat the odds that many said could not be done. I celebrated two years this past January and I am amazed.

I was accepted to Hazeldens Grad school about six years ago. One of the professors was discussing "numbers" that they focus on. One is that people with no family support or involvement are zero to remain sober. Not true. I am one! All things are possible with God and spiritual family.

Now, this took me 10 treatment centers, tons of consequences and numerous "ole timers" and sponsors stepping in and loving me with firm guidance when I crawled into the rooms once again. I was 92 pounds, had another broken leg, and near death - spiritually dead for sure.

Getting sober without family and friends is a rarity for sure - but zero? No. I am one. Look at me. Hear me. I am not alone. I spot the alcoholics in a room, but also the motherless children. The laundry list of Adult Children of Alcoholics provides a map for living until we find our way. Isolated and afriad, we seek apporval but lose our identity in the process. We become alcoholics or marry them or both. We live life from the victim viewpoint and are attracted to that weakness in relationships. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and become more concerned about others than self.

I raised my brother until I was 40! Anybody else?

We confuse love with pity. We are addicted to excitement. We stuff our feelings and marry others and nurse them. We stuff our traumatic feelings from childhood and have lost the ability to feel or express as it is too painful. We are dependent types who fear abandonment and we are reactors.

When I turned 40 and was around four years sober. Someone encouraged me to throw myself a birthday party. I was reluctant and comfortable in the pity - but I went ahead. Every single person at my Westside group showed up, with their kids, dogs, gifts and food. It was so awesome.

I everntually devloped some traditions of my own. Gypsy Thanksgivings I call them - a place to go for those who have nowhere else. For those who need an ear after the family disaster they just attended. There are so many to talk with, many that encourage and applaud when I make it another year.I have been touched by many and hope I have returned that love. I sponsor, am of service and am a member in good standing.

You are not alone, you are not bad, you are not broken. You are part of the Divine.

 

Related:

Love Eternal

Speaking Out to Heal Within

You're Not Crazy (It's Just the Disease)

The Many Faces of Recovery

Jul 14, 2015

by Harmony Rose

I am not an expert in this field per say, but I have been with my alcoholic husband for 15 years and I believe that gives me a lot of insight on this disease. If sobriety was as simple as putting down the bottle or tossing away those pills more people would be clean. The truth of the matter is that stopping using and admitting your life is unmanageable is just the first step.

Recovery means exactly that - you have to recover from the inside out. When my husband was actively drinking he didn't have a few drinks every day and he could go periods without having a drink at all. On the other hand, the lies, manipulation, and blame seemed to be an everyday occurrence, as the drinking got worse so did his behaviors. Denial is a huge component of alcoholism.

Something started happening around the thrird month of his sobriety: my husband thought someone made him a super hero of AA so now he had all the answers! He just wanted people to notice he was going to meetings and he wanted to be told how great he was doing but it was all a facade - he wasn't being real with himself, or anyone else for that matter. The more I complained the more verbally abusive he became towards me and he spent all his time away from home. One day he told me he wanted to separate. He didn't know if he wanted to be married to me anymore so he moved into the other room and took off his wedding ring.

By this time he was so selfish and destructive that for a moment I wish he would drink again because my drunk husband was far less painful than this sober monster he had become. Then a few weeks later the biggest blow of all: he proceeded to tell me that he had been unfaithful.I have never felt such heartache before, I could not catch my breath.  I took a bottle of pills dumped them in my hand and for a moment considered taking them all so the pain would stop. I looked up toward the ceiling and said "please help me, I surrender."

At that very moment I felt a warm sensation go through my body from head to toe like I was being hugged from the inside out. I put the pills down and felt all the resentment and anger I had towards my husband fade away. I was given the ability to forgive him completely for all the years of terrible things he had done to me. A few weeks after that his sponsor had him read a few pages in the Big Book and my husband read something new that made him believe that he wanted to work on our marriage. We have witnessed the miracles in our life that AA promises if you follow the program as suggested.

Today my husband has 1,002 days of sobriety. We renewed our wedding vows a year ago and just celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. I can't tell you that our life is perfect because we still have our struggles from past issues. I am a part of my husband’s recovery; we go to AA meetings every weekend together. My hope in sharing our personal struggles is that it may help others know you’re never alone. Without complete honesty we wouldn't be where we are today. We want people to know that you can free yourself from the emotional prison you live in with true forgiveness.

Wishing you peace and serenity,

Harmony

Harmony Rose is the author of "Married Under The Influence," a finalist for The National Indie Excellence Award. She is also the wife of a recovering alcoholic, and a mom and step-mom. She and her family hope to spread the message of hope to everyone searching for it.

 

More Voices of Recovery:

A Love Sparked By Recovery

Finding Light in the Darkness

Finding Joe

A Love Sparked by Recovery

Jul 07, 2015

by Kristen Cannavino

The rush of the first sip of alcohol would light up my body in a magical way. It wasn’t long before alcohol became my God; the progression was fast and intense. At 17 years old I was single, working three dead-end jobs, lonely, living to drink and spiritually bankrupt. I reached an emotional bottom and I wasn’t even aware of it.

I thought drinking to oblivion was the best that life had to offer me. I spent all of my time working in restaurants, hanging out with friends, partying in the college district and head over heels in love with the amount of drinking that surrounded me. The only relationship I truly cherished was the one I had with alcohol. However, one man passed through my life who planted a small seed of hope and love that wouldn’t bloom until many years later.

Life happened; I moved away, went to college and started a career. On the flip side I spent all my time in bars, jails and hospitals. It wasn’t until a decade later when I found myself walking out of a hospital from acute alcohol poisoning and through the doors of my first twelve step meeting. I was physically, mentally and spiritually broken and ready to surrender and face my most debilitating fear; living without alcohol. I let go and fully accepted that I needed recovery in my life if I wanted to live.

Fast forwarding to today, I attend meetings, practice a daily reprieve and work the 12-steps with a sponsor. I’m consistently working on strengthening my relationship with my higher power – which I choose to call God today. For the very first time in my life I was living in the present moment; truly living. One day I closed my eyes, reflected back and realized my journey was beyond my body and my mind. Instead, a profound spiritual awakening. 

As I continued to walk my path life continued to happen. I was unexpectedly reconnected with my high school spark which turned out to be a flame. We lived 3,000 miles apart but connected as if we were in the same room. The match that ignited the flame was finding out that we both built meaningful lives through working the steps. 

Sharing our experience, strength and hope with each other was magnetic, the vibe was incredibly positive and the energy radiated. We separately walked uncomfortable paths of pain, struggle and regret for over 20 years which slowly healed through patience, compassion and love.  Our paths connected full circle and our spiritual growth is mirrored within one another. He and I share a oneness – 24 hours at a time. A true miracle captured by the spiritual principles of a program of recovery.

 

Kristen Cannavino found acceptance surrounding her alcoholism in September 2012 and has been in recovery ever since. She believes that creating a strong sense of community is extremely powerful and positive. The “WE” in recovery really encourages the sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself.  

Turning inward to get through

Nov 13, 2014

I haven’t forgotten what it was like to be a teenager.

I know very personally the feelings of being stressed out by schoolwork, after-school jobs, fluctuating relationships, family issues, and the whole gamut of life experiences that sometimes felt way too tough to handle.

I remember the deep emotions associated with not feeling smart enough, good enough, pretty enough, funny enough; not feeling like I mattered or fit in.

I felt like I was on the outside of life, looking in much of the time.

For many teenagers, this is their reality.

Today’s technology has put all of this more out into the open, so teens today wind up feeling even more vulnerable, self-conscious, and exposed than ever before.

But that doesn’t mean these feelings are new. They have always been part of growing up. With social media, however, teens — as well as the rest of us — are more privy to the fear, injustices and frightening world events that are taking place in every corner of the globe. They feel powerless and overwhelmed by the uncertainty of life.

I am incredibly excited when I work with teens. I believe this generation will make a great, positive difference in the world. So in my work with them, I don’t hold back.

I acknowledge the chaos in the world, the fear they are experiencing and the negativity racing around in their minds as a result.

I share with them my own internal struggles as a girl and how I developed the eating disorder bulimia because I thought it would somehow alleviate the pain and unhappiness I felt inside.

I thought if I just could bury the feelings of sadness and insecurity, then everything might be okay. I felt that looking good on the outside would help me measure up, but all I was doing was feeding my internal struggles and making them much worse. I felt more and more isolated and alone.

Teenagers today get this. They understand it deeply. They appreciate the honesty, and somehow they see the real me — not the package that makes up this body, but who I am from within.

They share with me their concerns about life, about wanting to be happy, and as one boy put it, “to learn how to deal with the unbearable stress of being a teen.”        Wow. Unbearable is such a hopeless word, and this is where I speak to them with an authentic message of hope. I have been there, and I have come out the other side — confident, strong, successful, and loving.

To read the rest of Barb’s essay, see the latest issue of Renew

 

Other articles you might be interested in...

Existential Angst and Addiction 

Four questions for making tough decisions. 

The divinity within. 

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