My name is Brooke Feldman and I am a person in long-term recovery; what that means for me is that I have not turned to alcohol and other drugs as tools to help me deal with life for a little over 9 years now. Recovery has afforded me many things: the opportunity to be a productive and contributing member of my family and community; the blessing of having a job that I love and that utilizes my “experience, strength and hope;” the gift of being able to work toward finishing the college education that active addiction led me to me walk away from; and most importantly to me, the chance to live a life each and every day that is not led by obsession, compulsion, despair, hopelessness, darkness and the lowest parts of me, but is instead led by joy, hope, fulfillment, growth, dreams, and the better parts of me. Perhaps the most amazing part of it all is that I now spend much of my waking hours getting to help foster opportunities for other human beings to access and sustain long-term recovery as well.
I firmly believe that all individuals have the right and potential to find recovery. It wasn’t always that way though; I am the daughter of a woman who struggled with addiction. My early years in life provided me with the lived experience that “addicts” were horrible people and that, according to the rest of my family, there was no hope for them. I experienced shame, abandonment, anger and resentment, all at the hands of addiction. I resented my Mom for what I believed was her “choosing” drugs over being a Mom. I was angry with her and it is safe to say that I grew to hate her. Despite these feelings I had toward my Mom, I always hoped for and believed that she would “get herself together,” and return for me. Unfortunately, that never happened – my Mom died from a heroin overdose at the terribly young age of 32. This tragic ending after many years of holding out hope that my Mom would stop “choosing to use drugs” was the beginning to my many years of hopelessness and waiting to die. What had already been occasional alcohol and marijuana use quickly escalated into out of control use with a variety of other drugs and would go on to end with an opiate addiction. I unknowingly unleashed the very illness my Mom and I had in common. I quickly learned that addiction is not a choice and that recovery isn’t as simple as just “getting yourself together.” As a result of my drug use, I wound up in my first institution at the age of 13 and would go on to spend my adolescent years in and out of various institutions. My entire teenage life was a whirlwind: hospitals, residential programs, using drugs, jails, juvenile detention centers, using drugs, back to hospital, residential program, using drugs, etc.
I would go on to continue using alcohol and other drugs until the age of 24, when I finally experienced a moment of knowing that I would die if I didn’t get help. While much of me was quite okay with the prospect of dying, a small, tiny spark that had been fanned by the very few people who still believed in me was not ready to be extinguished. This small, tiny spark is what led me to surrender to the fact that I had become just like my Mom, that I had a problem, and that I needed to get help.
My road to long-term recovery ultimately landed me in a recovery house in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. If you’re not familiar with Philly, then let me quickly describe Kensington for you. It is that part of any large city which is full of darkness and despair with its vibrant open-air drug market and high likelihood of getting robbed by gunpoint at any moment. It is the part of Philly where my Mom lived, used, and died in– and where I had been doing the same. I certainly didn’t associate Kensington with recovery, and I absolutely didn’t understand how I was expected to get and stay clean there!
When you’re done, you’re done though, and at 24 years old I was done. I learned that even in some of the darkest places of the city, pockets of recovery existed and that I was far from alone. I would go on to become exposed to the amazingly vast and beautiful recovery community that exists throughout Philadelphia. I began the hard work of figuring out who I was, what had led me down the road I had traveled, and what I needed to do to head down a completely different path instead. I had to leave behind friends and family who continued to struggle with addiction, and I had to begin a new life. I grew close to women in the recovery house who were just like my Mom, and I came to see that we had very much in common. As a result, I began the long healing process of forgiving my Mom and forgiving myself.
I came to understand addiction is an illness and not a character flaw. I came to see that blaming myself, blaming my Mom, and blaming others for their addiction challenges was the equivalent of blaming somebody who is diabetic for their low blood sugar or somebody who has asthma for their breathing challenges. I developed a great support system and, each and every single day, practiced the act of doing things that I didn’t want to do in order to get well and recover. I realized pretty early on that sustaining my recovery was often as simple as not listening to the part of me I had listed to for years in order to allow myself to hear, and be guided by, the healthy part of me that had been trying to steer me down a different path all along.
Since entering recovery, my life has truly been beyond my wildest expectations and far beyond anything that I ever would have dared to dream of. I was asked to return to the recovery house organization where I initiated my recovery to work on weekends and went on to become a supervisor there. This led to another opportunity to work in the addiction recovery field, which then led to another opportunity, which then led to another one and so on. I became involved in the recovery advocacy movement and was exposed to the worldwide efforts to reduce stigma and increase awareness of addiction recovery. By doing the next right thing, and allowing that better part of me I had ignored for so long to actually guide me, I ultimately went on to work for the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Addiction Services, in the same office that actually funded my stay at that recovery house some years ago. This was just one of countless “full circle” moments that recovery has given me.
When asked to summarize my experience with addiction and recovery, I’ve often found the following to be the best way to capture it: I used to see myself as a victim of a poor hand of cards dealt to me in life and I used to have no hope for anything better. I would often envision my funeral and find solace and comfort in imagining all of the things people would say about me there, sentiments such as “Brooke had so much potential, what a shame” or “Brooke was such a good athlete, she could have done great things if not for the life she was handed” or “Brooke was so smart, it’s so sad that it went to waste.” Imagining people saying all of these things would actually comfort me in my darkest times of my active addiction. Recovery, however, has led me to see myself as an over-comer and achiever rather than a victim. I no longer envision my funeral but do know that if I were to leave this earth today, people would remember all of the things I accomplished, all of the obstacles I hurdled, and all of the challenges I overcame rather than all of the things I could have been and could have done.
Recovery has allowed me to turn my fate into destiny and to live up to some of the things that were buried deep within. The best part of all is that any human being still breathing has the chance to do the same. I’ve often wondered why I was able to find recovery when so many others struggle in active addiction or, like my own mother, die before they have the chance. It can all seem so random and unfair at times, and the best conclusion I have come to is this: recovery from addiction is possible when a person who is exposed to or seeking recovery has access to the resources and supports they need in order to initiate and sustain their recovery. I know that part of my destiny is to use my experience to spread that message to as many breathing human beings as I can and to help increase access to those resources and supports needed.
Recovery is possible. I am living proof.