I want to be able to speak with you about your recovery using the terms that you most identify with. What language or terms do you use to define your past substance use and current recovery?
Does that choice of word come with a lot of intention? Do you use the words substance use or addict or are you in recovery?
I don’t know. I think probably because more people can relate to it in that way. I’ve never really had a problem with any other substance other than alcohol so I think a lot of other people can relate when I say it in that way.
When did you start using?
I started drinking when I was in my teens but I didn’t really drink that much. Then through adulthood when I was having kids and raising kids I didn’t really drink. I didn’t really start drinking heavily until probably 2o11. I started drinking more because I had gone through a divorce and then in 2012 or 13 I had a pretty traumatic event and that was when I really started drinking a lot. It really became a problem in my life about 2012.
What prompted you to consider recovery or seek treatment.
Because I got into a motor vehicle accident. Drove my car through a trailer and a half and hit a
guy and injured him. I ended up getting charged with a felony of vehicular assault and so that is why I sought treatment.
What was treatment like for you? Was it a good starting place for recovery?
Um, treatment was good. I didn’t know if I was going to end up with a pretty extensive jail sentence so I opted to go into treatment. I did outpatient treatment through Serenity Point. It was okay. I think because of how traumatic the accident was it made it a little bit easier for me to accept the treatment. Some people are forced into treatment so they have more negative outlooks on it whether they are ready for it or not so it was a positive thing for me I guess.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting recovery?
Like I tell all my patients at work, really everything in your life has to change. You really can’t keep any of the old habits or the old friends. It’s really life changing because I think that if you don’t change most everything that’s going on in your life at the time I think that just sets you up for failure. Pretty much all the friends that I had when I was drinking I no longer associate with.
I have a whole new group of friends now and I think that makes it easier because it’s not constantly in my face and I’m not constantly around it all the time. That was a huge part of recovery for me.
Another huge part was finding some way to deal with it. When I quit drinking I actually took up running which was a way for me to get rid of when I was upset or when I craved a drink or anytime that something would trigger me to want to drink. I think that running has actually helped me more than Twelve Steps honestly. I can kinda get out, put my music in, and just go for a run and it would get me out of my own mind for a little while.
Lastly, one of the things that helped me in the beginning--and I do it with the inmates that I have at work who are struggling with addiction--in treatment I learned to take an index card and fold it up so there are six different squares on that index card. In each square you write down a situation like a way to escape if you have a trigger because far too often what ends up happening is that you get caught up in the moment to where you’re craving and you just can’t really think through how to get out of that situation. But if you have it preplanned when you’re going into it, it makes it a lot easier to get out of that situation if you are in a situation that triggers you to use, whatever substance you crave. Those are the things that helped me tremendously in my recovery.
Do you still use those techniques to maintain recovery, after primary treatment and such?
I still run. If I’m having a pretty stressful day I still run. I’m almost five years now so I’ve been put into enough situations and I can think quicker. I’m not as hot headed. If I do get into a situation where let’s say I’m out with friends for dinner and they’re drinking and I start wanting to have a drink with them I’m now able to just get up and excuse myself without even thinking about it to where as early on that wasn’t something that I could do. Being this far into recovery it’s much easier for me. But when I do get stressed out, utilizing running is still a big part and obviously reaching out to my sponsor or just talking about it with my family or friends or something.
I think another thing that helped me a lot is when I do have the urge to drink is just talking about it and reliving what it did to my life before. It tends to bring me back to reality to where I can get out of that situation pretty easily.
What is the most difficult aspect of your recovery?
The most difficult aspect was probably losing relationships that I had had for a long time. Even though they weren’t healthy relationships for me, they were strong relationships. So losing some of the friends that I lost was pretty hard for me. I think that probably was the hardest part. The first year of my recovery especially was pretty lonely for me because I had given up the friends that I had and I hadn’t developed new relationships with people that were sober. That was probably the hardest part for me in the early beginning, just trying to get out of my comfort zone. A lot of people who use substances, they use them because--it’s easier to interact with people when you’re under the influence I guess--and so when you’re going into a situation like an AA meeting for the first time or whatever and you don’t have that substance on board to ease your tensions it makes it a little bit harder.
That was the hardest part: giving up old friends to make new ones to where I actually had some friends that I could do things with that didn’t involve alcohol. Because all of my friends, everything that we did involved drinking. It was really hard to do those kinds of things.
How do you find support for your recovery in Walla Walla? You mentioned your friends that you have now, running, AA, but are there other resources that you use?
Pretty much just AA was just about the only thing that I used. Getting involved in meetings and helping other people, those are the things that really helped me for my support. And of course family support. If you don’t have family support then you don’t have anything really.
Yeah, it’s huge. Would you like to share any more insights from your recovery journey?
It’s a really hard one. Especially the first couple of years are probably the hardest. But it does get better with time, tremendously better actually. Once you get further into recovery the rewards are worth so much more than anything I could have done not in recovery. My life has gotten so much better, my relationships with my kids have gotten better. I have grandkids that will never see me drink.
That family support is incredibly huge.
It is. When I was drinking I was extremely suicidal. I made three suicide attempts. And my kids had to see that kind of stuff. That kind of stuff just isn’t worth it. Recovery is probably the best thing that ever happened to me. Sorry I always get tearful.
No, don't apologize!
It’s hard but it’s definitely worth it. I wish that people would always give it a little more time. A lot of the inmates that I deal with, they really struggle. And I understand why they struggle, a lot of them don’t have the family support that they need. I’m fortunate because I make decent money so it’s easier with these kinds of things when you have more resources available to you. But I just wish that people would give it a little more time and see the rewards you can get out of it.
It just takes a lot of really tough times.
It does. It’s really hard. It’s definitely not easy but it’s worth it.
You mentioned support services that could be available, do you imagine other primary treatment, sober housing, or counseling services that you wish were available?
Absolutely. I wish that there were more treatment facilities available. I wish that there were more resources than what we had. You can get somebody that’s ready for treatment but then they have to wait for a bed date sometimes because there’s just not enough bed space available. So the time that it takes from when someone decides they want to go into treatment to when there is a bed space available gives them so much time to relapse. I think that if we just had more resources available, we would see higher success with it. I really do. A lot of people don’t have those resources or those coping mechanisms, counseling is a huge thing, and classes on how to deal with coping mechanisms.
Even when I first got into recovery I didn’t know how to cope with anything because it was just easier to drink rather than to learn about what was going on in my life. I still have trouble with that. I still find that I’m a lot more high strung than I used to be and I get a lot more overwhelmed a lot easier than I used to. Or it probably was the same but I just drank and forgot about it. To where now I have to actually deal with those things. Sometimes I have to take a step back, remove myself from the situation, so I’m not getting overwhelmed because I know that would be a huge trigger for me. Just knowing what my triggers are and watching out for those. Removing myself from the situation until I get comfortable and then going back in. I wish there were just more resources available for people so they can learn those things.
I think another good thing for people would be if we had more longer recovery support. Some people go into an in-patient treatment facility and they’re in there for twenty-eight to thirty days and then they’re right back out into the community whereas someplace like Hazelden. I think that’s a really good treatment facility because they do the whole thirty day treatment and then you go into a halfway house where you’re kinda out into the community but you’re still in a protective environment. To give you that time to learn how to cope with life without a substance. I wish there was more money that we could put into recovery for sure for the people who can’t afford it on their own.
You really need trained people around you to help you worth through those trained skills.
You need somebody that’s actually done it. Serenity Point does a really good job but when you’re only going there for an hour, three days a week, it doesn’t really give you what you need. That’s why Trilogy is a really good thing because people can drop in there and just hang out for a little bit, you know what I mean? Well, before all this Covid stuff. It just made it so there was a safe place to go because we just don’t have a lot of those in Walla Walla. I’m really excited for that Hope House to open.
Oh, I haven’t heard about that.
Yes, there is another sober living house that’s opening. I think it’s on Catherine Street. You should get on Facebook and look up Hope House. I think it was started by a mom that lost her daughter to addiction. She wanted a place for women to go that was safe so she is remodeling this house so there’s another sober living house in Walla Walla. So that’s good. That’s exciting.
Yeah it’s super exciting but we need more of those actually because we have a lot of addiction in Walla Walla. A lot of addiction and not a whole lot of resources in such a small community.
Yeah and these services are integral to any process of recovery.
Something that I’ve been thinking about is how sometimes when you are confronted by choice to continue down a path that you know towards potentially harsh outcomes and changing and going into something that is unknown, that power of choice can be crippling because it’s all up to you. But from hearing your story it seems like you saw that choice to change as an opportunity for something better.
Yeah absolutely. There were several times before I started stopping that I had thought to myself that I probably needed to stop but I was in complete denial about it. My kids had asked me to stop several times. After my second suicide attempt I really tried to stop but never did. But after I got out of my car accident either one or two things was going to happen: I was either going to quit drinking or I was going to die.
That’s a given. Had I not quit drinking when I did I probably would not have been alive today. I probably would have kept on the path that I was on and continued to drink and to do suicide attempts and probably one of these times I would have been successful with it. Looking back on that now, I have a grandson now that’s two and a half years old and he’s like my whole life. I look back on that now and I think so many times how sad that would have been had I actually completed a suicide and he never got the chance to know how I was. And so, yeah, had I not quit drinking I would probably be dead. I was actually just telling a friend yesterday that addiction usually ends in one of two ways: you either end up sober eventually or you end up dead. I just wish more people could see that. If you’re not going to quit the substance that you use you’re going to end up dead. I see it all the time. Look at all the drug overdoses that we’ve had and all the car accidents.
It is a deadly chronic disease and it’s not treated as a health issue and it’s not funded, resources are minimal, so it’s pushed under the rug.
It is because there’s such a stigma with it. Everybody looks at people and they’re like, “Oh”.
People are really surprised when I say that I’m an alcoholic because I was a very high functioning alcoholic. I never missed a day of work. I got up and went to work everyday. My bills were always paid. I lived in a really nice house. But the thing is I had the finances to do it while a lot of other people don’t.
They have such a stigma on alcohol and drug abuse that they think that anybody whose an addict is not worthy of anything and that’s not the truth. There’s a lot of people who could be really high functioning people if they had enough resources to get out of the life they are living. I have siblings that I don’t even really talk to anymore. I have a brother that’s a meth and heroin addict and another brother that’s an alcoholic and a sister that’s an alcoholic and I don’t even really associate with them.
For my own sobriety and for my own safety it’s just best that I don’t have relationships with them. It’s hard but it’s something that I have to do for my own self to keep my own self safe. And a lot of people that’s just what they do, they have families that use with them and so it’s really hard to get out. I have an inmate that used to come in and she started smoking meth with her dad when she was twelve years old, like who would give their kid a meth pipe when they were twelve years old? But that’s just the way a lot of people live their lives. It’s sad, really sad.
Yeah…addiction is just everywhere and really ingrained in familial ties sometimes.
Yeah, and just the stigma that goes along with it. I think that’s why we don’t have the resources and funding for it because a lot of people look at it as a dirty negative thing when it really shouldn’t be looked at that way.
People just need to start talking about it. Like, did your family ever talk about addiction?
Not really. My parents were alcoholics when I was growing up. They drank all the time. They were always at bars. I remember when I was eight or nine years old--we lived in Montana and kids could go into bars up until ten o’clock at night--so I spent a lot of my childhood in bars with my parents and their friends and then at ten o’clock my parents would take me home and then go back to the bars. It was just something that was normal in our life. I was able to control my drinking for years and years and years because I didn’t want my kids to live the life that I lived. In fact my daughter, when I finally went into recovery, my daughter said, “I hardly understand what happened Mom. I barely saw you take a drink until I was fifteen years old and then it was just out of control.” I think it was just the life changes that I had. It started I think because I had my kids young; I had my last child at twenty three. With starting my family at such a young age I missed out on all those party years that people get and so I made up for it in my older years. And then I got a divorce from my husband and then I was in a relationship that caused me some issues and it was just my coping mechanism and it brought out the genes that I already had in me to where it got out of control pretty quickly.
It’s all about probability for every one of us.
It is, it really is.
That’s why I see it, it could be taken as a political issue, but it’s such a human issue to have these recovery resources available for people because it just takes the right environment for addiction to emerge so it’s always here.
Let’s take this pandemic for example, so we’re in this pandemic right now and they’re spending millions and millions of dollars on it and honestly I think that the death rate for this pandemic is a hell of a lot less than what you see for people who die of drug abuse. Honestly. And they don’t really do anything for it. You don’t see any safety measures put in place for that. I mean, it took how many years for the opiate problem to go on for the Department of Health to step in and put some restrictions on how much opiates can be prescribed? I have a daughter, she’s my step-daughter from my previous marriage, and she is an opiate addict. That started because she was prescribed Hydrocodones for migraines. Like, why would you give a teenage kid
Hydrocodones for migraines? And then it turned into a really bad opiate addiction to where she almost lost her husband and everything else when he found out she was an addict. And then she went into recovery and got onto Subutex and she’s been sober now for three years. They just don’t put enough emphasis on it and they need to. It needs to be out there so everyone knows if you have a problem it’s okay to ask for help because too many people hide it. My stepdaughter hid it from us for years and years and years and she knew she had a problem and she didn’t know what to do about it and she was afraid to tell anybody because of what she thought was going to happen if she told people she was addicted to this.
That’s another really good reason why I’m really glad that the chain of events happened in my life because I don’t know if she would have ever come out and told anyone that she was an addict had I not gone through my stuff. There’s just so much stigma to it, it’s just not right. I think they really just need to put more money into it and make it out there. Make people aware that it’s okay to be an addict. It’s not dirty, it’s not shameful, there’s no reason to feel guilty about it. It’s no different than being diagnosed with cancer, it’s no different from being diagnosed with diabetes, you know? It’s no different than any other disease that’s out there so you might as well put some emphasis on that too.
I mean you wouldn’t throw a cancer patient out of the ER if they came in with incredible health problems and tell them, “Oh, it’s just a choice.” Knowing all that we know now it’s just illogical, but yet that stigma is so ingrained.
It is. People just say, “Well, if they put the dope pipe down they’d be fine.” But they don’t understand for some people it’s just not that easy. It’s not a choice all the time. I mean there are people who can use it recreationally, for sure, they can go months and months without it, but the majority of people can’t.
That’s the purpose of this project: trying to get people to talk about it and express what addiction is, what recovery is, and what we need to have in our society so we can treat it.
Exactly, because you’re not going to get the funding for it unless more people talk about it. There was a facebook post for Blue Mountain Heart to Heart opening a clinic over here and the needle exchange and all of that and the Suboxone Program and a lot of people were just outraged by it. I mean some of the comments were absolutely horrible, the things they were saying. That’s the problem. That’s why you don’t find people who reach out, because of people like that. All that they hear from it is negative things and it’s just not right.
Whatever you can do to try and get someone into recovery; I mean you need to try every avenue to get people to go in. In AA meetings that I’ve had at the jail, people were using it to get out of their cells and officers would say, “The only reason they’re doing it is to get out of their cells.” That’s true, that’s very true, but they still hear things in those meetings. There were times when I would go to an AA meeting and I would listen to somebody speak and I would leave that AA meeting and think, “That was a complete waste of time. That was so boring.” And then three or four months down the road something would happen and something that was said at that meeting would come back to the forefront of my brain. Then I would think, “That wasn’t a waste of my time.” Even though we don’t think that they’re listening, we’re planting seeds. And each time that we’re bringing it up to them and talk about it we kinda water those seeds. That’s the way you’re going to get it to grow, by bringing it out. Even though someone may not be ready for recovery right now it’s still really worth it to talk to them about it because you never know when that seed is going to start growing. Then they’re actually going to reach out and get the help that they need.
That’s so incredibly true. Thank you so much for all of your time and all of your words.
Yeah! I’m glad to help. Anything that I can do to try and help someone out of that horrible life, I want to help try and do it.