I’ve kept my recovery by doing the work, taking suggestions, and when the ride was getting a little crazy, I held on for dear life instead of jumping off.

My name is Melissa Norman and I am in long term recovery which means I have not had a drink or a drug since July 30, 2007.

I can still remember during my 20’s when I would be out on a hot summer night in my Wrangler, laughing with my  friends, living like there was no tomorrow and thinking “Damn! I would never want to be anyone else but me!”

Sixteen years later, at the age of 32, I, alone in my house with only my racing thoughts, two cats, a camera and maybe some melancholy music, I remember thinking “God, I wish I was anybody else in the world but me.”

In the center of those two paragraphs above lived insanity, impulsivity, deception and heartache. In the center of what I considered to be my life’s tsunami of terrible alcohol laden choices sat all the people affected. My family and friends worried because I had called them in a drunken pile of sadness only to then shun them due to my own embarrassment at not remembering until getting a text that read “are you ok?”

Actually let me give you a little backstory.  First off — I’m gay. It’s not as much of a big deal anymore, but it was to me when I was growing up – we’ll go back to that subject shortly. I can’t complain about my childhood, I had the most loving parents, family and friends that anyone could ever ask for. Early on, I now recall a red flag – even before I picked up my first drink that overwhelming feeling of loneliness and lack of really fitting in. From an early age, I compared myself to others and inevitably I was not as pretty or not as smart, funny, etc, etc. I so badly wanted the happy, funny person people regularly saw to reflect what I was truly feeling on the inside, but more often than not those traits were utilized as a way to deflect all of those feelings I protected myself from. The sadness, loneliness, and isolation, to name a few all stemmed from the inability to accept myself. I wanted to love me as much as everyone else loved me, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t accept myself because I had no idea who I was, but when I was able to take that first drink, like magic, all of those unwanted feelings vanished. Don’t be fooled, they didn’t resolve themselves, never discussed, but locked up in the part of my brain labeled NO TRESPASSING.

All in all, alcohol stripped me of my dignity, pride and self worth. When I drank I engaged in behaviors that would sicken me when I thought about them sober, yet the patterns I had created were so hardwired that there seemed to be no other option. I’m incredibly grateful that again, my family did nothing but shower me with love and support and it pains me when I hear stories of families shame around their loved ones substance abuse and phrases such as “you put yourself in this position, when are you going to get it?” and very simply “why can’t you just stop?”

I personally didn’t pick up a drink and say “oh boy, I can’t WAIT TO RUIN MY LIFE!!!” My disease is cunning and baffling – it tells me I don’t have a disease. It tells me relapse is part of the process and, hey, we’ll just have one tonight and stop tomorrow.

What my disease doesn’t tell me is that I have what’s called a “phenomenon of craving” and that one drink will never remain just one. My disease doesn’t tell me it will wait and wait…and while it’s waiting it will whisper things like “you’re really tired, how about you stay home tonight.” It’s waiting until that one moment when my defenses are down, my will may be wavering and the many stops I once had between me and the drink are cut in half. My disease scares me, it’s a healthy fear.

My disease scares me, it’s a healthy fear.

Today I can say I haven’t listened to those whispers long enough to want to act on them. On July 29th 2007 I went out with the intentions of having a few with some friends and returning home. The next morning I did not wake up in my bed, that morning I woke up from a complete blackout in Barnstable County Jail. That familiar “you did it again” pit in my stomach was oh so present as well as the panic around trying to remember the previous evening. Did I total my car? Did I kill someone? The answer to both of those is, no. That morning the officer came to my cell and asked me if I wanted to go home. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around his question. Surely, it couldn’t be that simple, but it was and on that day. While walking the 2 miles back to my house I absolutely let go. Giving up the driver’s seat on this Bozo’s bus was one of the most courageous choices I’ve ever made.

All in all, my life in recovery has surpassed my greatest dreams. Every day I wake up and I’m really not sure if it’s Christmas morning or not because it kind of feels like it!  But by no means is my life perfect, that’s not even remotely realistic, but it sure is exciting. I actually look forward to new possibilities, new challenges and new lessons instead of wanting to run away from them. I surround myself with positive healthy people that put in the work to remain positive and healthy, and we laugh, a lot. I feel like sobriety has allowed me to tune into life’s positive energy. Since I’m not the center of my universe anymore I can focus on others. I try to regularly keep a selfless state of mind and when I can create good in other people’s lives, I do.  I’m living life, not watching it go by.

Lastly, one of the biggest challenges I faced in early recovery was sitting in my own skin. I always reverted back to the same questions which always had the same answers. Today I don’t need those questions answered. I’ve kept my recovery by doing the work, taking suggestions, and when the ride was getting a little crazy, I held on for dear life instead of jumping off. And all those other people I wrote about earlier? I can still say today I have a family that loves me. I still have friends that love me. Most importantly, today, I love me.

And if no one today has told you they love you, I love you.