Addiction doesn’t have to win. People can change their lives. We do matter.

Desperate. Alone. Isolated. Hopeless. Homeless. Depravity stricken. Lost. Dying.

That’s how I felt at the end of my downward spiral in the depths of active addiction. It was a long 16 year process that in the end, left me wondering what happened and how I got there. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. I was just leaving for college “having a little fun.” Like everyone else I was living a free spirited and free willed lifestyle. I figured I’d grow out of it, like everyone else did. It didn’t happen that way.

It grew. It progressed from ‘everyone else does it’ to an insidious force that slowly took over my life. I can’t even tell you when or how. It just did. It took my dreams, goals, morals, values, rational thinking and behavior. It took who I was. It took who I wanted to be. It took my hope. It wouldn’t let me stop, even when I knew I should or tried to on my own. No matter what I tried. It took me straight down a river of denial into an eddy of living hell. The fun loving, free spirit became a shell of a young woman trapped in a cycle of self-loathing, pain, fear, and despair.

“IT” is the disease of addiction. It doesn’t care where you come from. There weren’t any addicts in my family. There were issues and maybe some tendencies, but no one had ever done or gone where I went with using, drinking and deviating from the family norm. They didn’t understand, nor did they try to. They wondered why I kept doing what I did, even after all the consequences…the DWIs, the failures…the pain. They asked themselves why I couldn’t or wouldn’t I “just stop.” Did they really think that “just stopping” had never crossed my mind? They didn’t get that it wasn’t just the drugs, the drinking the risky and wild behaviors. I didn’t get that then either, I guess. They didn’t understand it was something deeper. It was all encompassing of my life and it’s all I had to fill the holes or fix the pain or maintain some semblance of feeling okay. They didn’t get that I was empty and lost and felt so unworthy. I had to do all that stuff to feel better in some way. In doing so, I just kept getting deeper and deeper in that cycle of insanity.

I remember the intervention. They focused more on how crappy of a person I had become and theme seemed to be “Don’t you see or care what you are doing to your mother?” I was an only child and Mom had been widowed at the age of 38, never remarried. I remember thinking, and wanting to scream, “What about me? What about what I am doing to myself? Don’t you care about me and what I AM feeling or understanding my pain?” Feelings were never validated or really shared, so I kept silent. That was probably the root of my disease. Feeling rejected, overlooked, not heard or understood, never validated how I needed to be….never enough. So I found that using things outside myself took away some of the pain, filled the holes and allowed me to escape reality, responsibility and then I didn’t have to be me. Because I didn’t really like me. Not one bit.

I didn’t like me and whatever was in front of me wasn’t enough to fix that. So in finding and using more things and situations to fill that hole or ‘fix’ myself, I just made it worse, progressively worse. The good life I had growing up became a disposable lifestyle---throwing away friends, family, God, education, jobs, morals, values, hopes, and dreams. I hated myself, I hated my family and I hated God. I blamed them all for my pain, my insanity and what had gone wrong in my life. I isolated myself and turned to the lifestyle of addition and all it had to offer—and take away.

And take away it did. I had always wanted to be a mom. I got pregnant while using—unwed, and of course unexpectedly. Crackheads usually don’t plan pregnancies. But I wanted it, and I thought God was giving me a chance to do something right, a reason to stop using. I couldn’t stop. I tried but I couldn’t….I was so trapped. They couldn’t find a heartbeat at my first prenatal appointment and told me I was going to have a miscarriage. They knew I was an unemployed, uninsured crackhead, so I guess I was only allotted the minimal medical care. They sent me home to miscarry, in the toilet. No D&C, no real follow up care aside from a perfunctory “if you need anything then call.” -Sorry about this Miss Keefe. Save the tissue if you want, the lab can analyze it. What?? I really hated God after that. And I really hated myself. A lot. More than ever. No one cared. No one understood my pain. I was just another crackhead slut who couldn’t just stop and is better off not having kids ever anyway.

I surrendered. I was done fighting and I was done with living the way I had been.

But God hadn’t given up on me. A few months later, while still using and using even harder to try and kill the pain of the miscarriage….In an acceptance that I would probably die a crackhead, using….I got a spark of hope. I was taking care of a friends baby and saw hope in his little face. I heard a whisper that I didn’t have to live my life that way, I didn’t have to die an addict. I didn’t know how, but I thought maybe there was still a chance. Maybe I could get back some of what I lost.

I surrendered. I was done fighting and I was done with living the way I had been. I started the process of recovery through an outpatient program. It’s been 17 years since I surrendered and started a journey that I had no clue of what it entailed. Seventeen years of twists and turns, struggles and successes, painful storms and spiritual awakenings that followed. I never looked back. I just kept moving forward, even when I wanted to give up.

Staying clean, one day at a time is the longest and most important commitment I have made to myself, my family, God, and others. It is the one thing I am the most proud of in my life—because it not only changed my life, it gave me my life back, and it continues to give me new life, new inspiration and passion for the world around me. It has opened up so many new insights into myself, has brought healing to myself, my family, my relationships and has helped me to grow up and learn to cope with life as it happens---good and bad. It has brought me from a living death into a new way of living, loving and being.

I got involved in and stay involved in a 12 step program---not just attending meetings, but being of service to the fellowship, working, understanding and applying the spiritual principles in the 12 steps, having a relationship with a sponsor, being a sponsor. I try to stay plugged in, partaking in conventions, and travelling to other areas, as well as building a good strong circle of friends and like minded people---true friends who get it, understand me, and who I would trust with my life. Some I have had for more than a decade. Huge blessing.

Recovery took hold and changed my life—and in doing so, my mom and family saw the changes. This restored trust and forged deeper, closer relationships---especially with my mom. She became like my best friend, once the adversary. There was more understanding about the disease, and there was growth and healing for both of us from long term hurt. At 5 years clean, she died unexpectedly. I didn’t relapse, despite that once being one of my reservations. Gratefully, I had built a good foundation and network in recovery. I think that whole time of loss, grief, learning to live without her strengthened me and my recovery.

Recovery also restored my relationship with God. I let go of all the old resentments and ideas that He hated me and had been punishing me. I began to see that all I had been through, would go through, was for a reason and would serve to help me grow into the woman He wants me to be. Learning to trust God, rather than myself, people, or things has begun to bring me more peace, serenity and acceptance of life as it happens. I feel more hopeful and confident placing my will, the outcome of my decisions, and my life in His care. I am less fearful or anxious about today or the future. Centering myself in God has been the antidote to my self-centered, fearful thoughts and actions. I have learned to live in love, not fear.

I have learned to love others, to give and serve as unconditionally as I can—both in the recovery community and in the ‘outside’ society. I have been able to give back as an advisory board member on a cancer foundation for almost 10 years. I have been asked to, and do currently lead a recovery ministry at my church. I never was blessed with those kids I wanted, but I have been able to teach preschool and love some special kids as if they were my own. I have a successful career---not one I planned, but one that I’ve had for over 8 years and has provided me with a great living and opportunity to grow professionally and personally.

Through all of these gifts of recovery, I think finding God again has been the best one. He is the Father I never had and fills that hole that was un-fillable. God brought me into recovery, and recovery brought me closer to God. Through God I have found that gratitude for all of it, and for being an addict. I know that some of us get chosen, or are saved to make a difference—for a purpose. I am not sure what mine is entirely yet, but I know it’s to show that recovery is possible. Addiction doesn’t have to win. People can change their lives. We do matter. We can and do find new ways to live, and find amazing new lives in recovery. I don’t want to hide that I am in recovery---I want to show through not only my words, but my life that this disease can be arrested. Dreams are restored, and new ones realized---better than anything I ever considered before. Morals and values are restored or learned. When the disease is arrested, new people emerge from the darkness, like bursts of light. I want to be one of those lights for even one person.

When the disease is arrested, new people emerge from the darkness, like bursts of light.

The little girl who wandered around lost in the darkness is now found. Through recovery I found myself and through God’s guidance I have grown up a bit into a woman. I have found myself, my values, my beliefs, my talents, and my gifts. I have found my defects and shortcomings and work to let them go, overcome their effects. I have found out a few things:  I am loving, warm, caring, loyal, bright, creative and free spirited. I love deeply. I cry, I’m emotional. I love the beach, the color pink, fishing and traveling. I am a great cook and I love to shop and entertain. I love live music, but I can’t sing. I finally got a dog and love dogs more than people. I still like to play with toys and color. I love meeting new people and making new friends. I love being inspired and being able to be an inspiration. And I can do all of this and embrace all of this freely---because I am now free from the hell of active addiction.

And I can do it all for another reason. I can finally look in that mirror and truly love who and what I see. Rather than facing life with fear, resentment and self-centeredness, I can face life with love, God-centeredness and a level of self worth I never thought possible. Where there has been desperation, there is now a new passion for life, for God and for continuing inspiration, growth and experience. I just simply love life.

And that, finally….is enough.