As a woman in long-term recovery, she actively participates in community outreach programs in her community. Some examples of her service work include chairing meetings for female inmates incarcerated in the Wisconsin prison system and participating in public speaking engagements in hospitals, treatment centers and recovery functions across the state.
Above all, she is a grateful recovering alcoholic and addict who hopes to break the stigma of addiction by sharing her story publicly and encouraging others to recover out loud. She writes insightfully on the subject of recovery and the journey that takes her on. Thank you Vanessa for sharing your story.
I saw this video once of a young man jumping in puddles with friends on a cloudy day. He jumps from one puddle to the next while water splashes and stains his clothing. Suddenly, it starts pouring rain. You can hear thunder booming in the background and see lightning crackling in the sky. Everyone else around him starts running for shelter…even the person holding the camera tries to convince him to leave, but he brushes them off as if they are overreacting and keeps jumping as if nothing has changed.
When I watched that video, I understood why he didn’t run. He was probably thinking, “We are already wet! What is the point of running for shelter now?” In his desire for excitement, he completely neglects to address the danger of those bright bursts of light in the sky.
He decided to make one final leap into an oversized puddle right in front of him, but when he landed his entire body disappeared as it sank beneath the surface.
Turns out, it wasn’t a puddle at all, but a drain hole that was missing its cover…filled to the brim with rain, runoff and regret. Just like so many things in life, something so dangerous was disguised as something completely innocent; fun even!
If you watch that video in slow motion, you will see how quickly that young man’s face twists from pure joy to utter horror. You can see the combination of fear and regret in his eyes the moment he realizes he is being sucked into the abyss. It sent shivers down my spine.
One moment he was having fun with his friends, and the next he was all alone, drowning at the bottom of a sink hole.
I imagine this must have been what my life looked like the moment I crossed that fine line between drinking socially with friends to full blown alcoholism.
I can still feel the dizzying confusion of it all, asking myself how the hell I got there. Where did everybody go? How am I supposed to get out of here? I was just jumping in puddles like everyone else, what’s the big deal? Who’s going to rescue me?
The difference between me my friends, I have learned, is that I had a one way ticket to destination addiction, and my friends were simply passengers who had agreed to get me there safely. They had no intention of staying there with me and were completely unaware that they were about to witness the glorious train wreck that was to become my life.
My first year of recovery was one of the most terrifying years of my life. There are hardly words to describe the pain I felt inside of my mind and body. I was spiritually bankrupt and could barely stomach the sight of myself in the mirror. It physically hurt to remember things I didn’t want to remember, or talk about things I didn’t want to talk about, or take responsibility for things I was ashamed to take responsibility for.
I was broken…shattered into a million pieces, some so tiny you would swear they were just dust. It takes time to work through pain like that, to put all the pieces back together again, and that is assuming you can find them all. Patience was not my strong suit…but I learned.
In the book A Wrinkle in Time, Magdeleine L’Engle wrote, “The unending paradox is that we do learn through pain.” I am still remembering things from time to time that I had forced myself to forget. These memories strike me like a bolt of lightning; the intense sting of a wound that hasn’t quite healed yet. Today, I have learned to tend to those wounds immediately, so that the infection doesn’t spread to my blood stream.
The most recent examples are that I used to hide vodka bottles in my daughter’s diaper bag when sneaking them into my house at night only to worry that I had forgotten one in there after dropping her off at her babysitters the next morning, or the time I was going through withdrawals and hallucinated someone pounding on my front door, only to find nobody there when I opened it. And I sit and think to myself, “What kind of person, what kind of mother does things like that?”
An alcoholic, that’s who. A woman who has completely lost herself and had no clue the damage she had done to her body, mind and spirit.
I was always acting on impulse; alcohol first, worry about the consequences second. I didn’t worry about what would happen because, quite frankly, I had lost the ability to care. Almost like that moment when you stick your bare toes under running water to test the temperature for your bath. For a brief moment in time, your brain cannot distinguish between hot and cold. If you hold your foot under the water for too long you will inevitably feel the sting of one extreme or the other. Most people are born with the good sense to pull their foot away immediately, allowing their brain time to process the information it’s just been presented. Me? I liked to watch as my foot changed colors underneath the water; from a pale pink to a creamy strawberry to fire engine red. In the back of my mind I knew this wouldn’t end well, and yet it was only after I pulled my foot away and found myself hopping around the bathroom on one foot that I started to regret my decision.
In a strange way, I welcomed pain. Pain gave me an excuse to return to the comfort of my alcoholism; a place where I knew I would not be required to feel anything at all.
Sometimes, I need to feel the pain of my actions in order to learn from them…and sometimes, I need to feel that pain over and over again until I understand that I am the only one who can pull my foot away from the water.
Contrary to what most believe, pain is a sign of living. I spent a decade of my life avoiding pain; numbing myself to all of life’s most beautiful and heartbreaking moments. I don’t believe I ever would have truly discovered how extraordinary life’s smallest blessings could be had I not first experienced the complete demoralization of my own existence. In a strange way, I am grateful for the pain I’ve experienced. Without it, I wouldn’t know gratitude today.