We need more involvement from every sector, and my personal recovery drives me. We are not throwaway people.

My name is Annie, and I am a woman in long term recovery, which for me means that I have not had a drink or a drug since June 13, 1982. But there was a story before that day, and I am not ashamed to tell that story.

I was born as an “oops”. I have 2 brothers, who were 8 and 11 years old when I was born. I am the youngest in all of my family, both sides, all the cousins. So from the beginning I always felt as though I lived in a world of big kids and adults. To give this some perspective, I was in first grade when my oldest brother graduated from high school, and I was in third grade when my other brother graduated from high school. All I ever wanted was to fit in and be a big kid.

Be careful what you ask for. My father’s family is very tall. Even as a child I was extraordinarily tall…and overweight. I was a big kid, and I was a target. My peers were not kind, but I learned to be not kind in return. I still wanted to fit in, and that wasn’t going to happen for a very long time.

When I was 8 years old, my father gave me a very tiny glass of wine at a family holiday. He told me it was a secret and not to tell anyone at school which made it even better. Here I was being like everyone else in the family. I took a sip, and I can still remember the delightful warmth that went down my throat and permeated through my body. Now this was a sensation I have never experienced before, and I LOVED it. When I finished that glass, I snuck into the kitchen, taking advantage of often being ignored, and I poured myself another glass. I had arrived.

Now, I did not become a frequent drinker right away. But I looked forward to family gatherings and every opportunity to drink. When my brothers had parties at the house, I was not allowed to go. I did, however, get up early the next morning, and before anyone else was awake, I would “help” to clean up. I would drink anything that was leftover, and I got used to my beer being flat and warm, and my mix drinks were diluted (senseless ice) and also warm.

One of my cousins got married when I was 13, and my father told me I could have one drink at the reception. So I worked the room. I went to each table and convinced someone to buy me one drink. Because I was so tall, a lot of people really didn’t pay attention, and before the reception was over, my father realized I was drunk. He was pissed and ordered my brother to bring me home.

My freshman year of high school opened a whole new world to me. It was 1968, and I was attending a regional high school with 2000 other kids. Drugs were everywhere, and I found them fast. If alcohol could make me feel as though I was older and fitting in, then what could drugs offer me? It started with pot, which initially made me relax and give me false courage. Over time, though, it made me paranoid and gave me the severe munchies. Just what a fat kids needs – munchies! Then it moved to all sorts of different pills. Amphetamines (speed or uppers) and barbiturates (downers) were the popular choices. I indulged for a while. LSD/acid was also very popular, but for some reason the idea of having a “bad trip” frightened me.

And then a friend introduced me to opium. He was a dealer, and he was always willing to share. We smoked it. It smelled so wonderful, and I wanted to smell like that forever. But even more, it made me feel whole for the first time in my life; if you are going to get that high, then you are going to drop that low. Over time, I hated the roller coaster

When I applied to college, I chose a school in Vermont, because there drinking age was 18. I made a conscious decision to “clean up” and just drink. I don’t think my parents were gone for 10 minutes before I had a beer in my hand. My college roommate gave me a card after living together for a week. It said, “Since I met you I don’t drink like I used to….I use a funnel now.” Drinking made me comfortable and gave me the false sense of fitting in. And that is kind of went like that, progressively getting worse, for the next 10 years. I stop the day I coldcocked my neighbor’s son at a graduation party. When I got up the next morning, I realized I had crossed a personal line in my values, and somehow I know that it was directly related to my drinking.

My recovery is the foundation for everything I have done and everything I am.

So I stopped that day. It never occurred to me to go to detox. I knew nothing about treatment, withdrawals or anything about addiction. I believed all of that was for the poor people who lived on the streets and drank whatever they had in a paper bag. I knew some people who had gone to 12 step meetings, and most of them had started drinking again. So that didn’t feel like an option. Plus, I believed that was for “old” people, and I was just 28. I white knuckled it for almost 7 months. I questioned every day whether I should drink or not. Who would know? Who would care? But I remained stark raving sober during that time.

And then someone with 5 years of recovery asked me to go to a meeting on New Year’s Day. I was hesitant at first, and I declined. As the day went on, I changed my mind and went. It is now almost 33 years later, and I have never looked back.

My recovery is the foundation for everything I have done and everything I am. It is my first priority every day. I went to many, many meetings. I spoke all over the area. I got a sponsor and I worked my steps. When situations got bad, I would ask myself if it was worth drinking or drugging over, and I could not find anything in my world that would get better if I relapsed.

Early in my recovery, I was diagnosed with Major Depression. Now I had what is called a dual-diagnosis, and I didn’t feel good about it. I was embarrassed. What did it mean? Was I crazy? I did not talk about it much in the beginning, but I did get treatment. Then I found out that a lot of people in my family were dually diagnosed, and they were not talking about it either. Mental illness and addiction often go hand in hand, and it is treatable. I take medication and have gone to therapy off and on over the years. To me, going to therapy is like having an annual physical to make sure everything is okay. It is like going to a meeting.

As I got better, I wanted to help others to get better, too. I went back to school and got my Masters in Counseling Psychology. I have worked in detoxes and rehabs and outpatient treatment. I have had the honor of passing on the miracle of recovery to others. And because there is still not enough treatment and because the stigma has not lessened, I have seen so many die needlessly. So I have transitioned from therapist to advocate, and I speak to just about anyone who will listen locally or nationally. We need more treatment. We need more involvement from every sector, and my personal recovery drives me. We are not throwaway people.

And in my personal life, I have a wife who is also in recovery and cheers me on daily. IWe have raised 3 children, and we have 9 grandchildren who have never seen us impaired in their lives. We have bought a home, and we have so many good and loving relationships. I finally fit in! And it is because I have learned to fit into my own skin and to live in the here and now.