I am an equal opportunity addict. Whether it’s red wine, Facebook, men, Twinkies, or Netflix, I don’t discriminate.
The first time I self-medicated I was ten years old. I was a child in pain with no coping skills. I didn’t have that taste for alcohol that I sometimes hear people talk about. I wasn’t “hooked” after that first experience. In fact it took me until I was 30 to even like booze. But the thing I really liked was not feeling and that became my quest. Over the years I used eating disorders, hard drugs, promiscuity, control, and whatever else I could find to numb out the pain that radiated from my self-loathing. At 21, I hit my first real bottom. I was a radio personality living in the spot light with a very bad and almost deadly drug addiction. I knew I was close to losing my job…or worse…my life after a couple of near overdoses. But I couldn’t quit. I wanted to die but I didn’t want to die. That’s a tough place to be. There is a part of me that has always been a fighter and refuses to ever give up. She tends to show up at exactly the right times.
I reached out for help, to a friend with years in recovery. I stayed sober for a few years, but just because the alcohol and drugs were out of my system didn’t mean I was recovering. I just replaced the addictions. This is when I realized that excessive caffeine, junk food, and sick relationships with the opposite sex fulfilled the same receptors that were previously filled by the substances. With all of that running the show and an undiagnosed mental health disorder, eventually I talked myself out of sobriety.
Fast-forward twelve years later. I was married to my second husband and had four daughters. During my first pregnancy, I learned a lot about health and wellness. That put me on a quest to find some balance in my life. There were many years that I wasn’t in active addiction, yet I still had a life that was unmanageable. Through nutrition and lifestyle changes I was able to start taking the first steps to understanding my mental illness. I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder and able to get the help I needed to balance that part of myself. Mania has been a big contributor to my addiction.
That new lease on life was wonderful. I felt much more balanced and focused, but I also thought I could take on the world and go about saving everyone! (Spoiler alert: I couldn’t). I left radio and became certified in nutrition and health coaching. I had a blog and a podcast where I talked to a lot of people about balanced living. I traveled around the country, speaking to audiences about empowerment, holistic living, and not living in shame. But it was all too much for me.
The difference between this time in my life and the first time I got sober at 21 is that it wasn’t just pain I struggled to feel. I had what appeared to be a beautiful life with a patient, supportive, understanding husband who was crazy in love with me, and four of the coolest little girls I could ever imagine. I was finally in a career that I loved and was helping people change their lives for the better. My mania was under control. This is where it all gets complicated. My life should have been peaches, but it wasn’t.
All of my dreams were coming true, but I was incapable of feeling love and joy. Despite years of intense therapy where I picked up some really good tools, I still hadn’t been able to accept that I was worthy of a good life. I waited for all the people who loved me to abandon me. I worked in a scientific community where I constantly compared myself to others who had MD’s and PhD’s. I didn’t feel worthy of being a voice in that community because I didn’t have a college degree. I was always waiting for failure. So, I started seeking out pain and hurt because that’s what I knew. That was my comfort zone.
The years leading up to my new career, I rarely drank. Instead my addictions were food, TV, social media, control, and just about anything that kept me from being present. Then, I started using wine. At first, I didn’t feel different than other moms I knew. The running joke was that we drank our “mommy juice.” I really wasn’t drinking that much, which is why I still to this day cannot compare myself to others in recovery. The reason I drank was the issue, not how much I drank. Every time I put wine in my body, I had impulsive behavior, whether it was one glass or four. That led to shame, which led to drinking. I couldn’t break the cycle and I felt like a fraud getting in front of an audience to tell people how to live a life that I wasn’t living. I wanted to feel good about the gift I’d been given to motivate others. But I only felt like a hypocrite so I had to drink and act out to not feel that self-loathing and shame.
The day came that I knew I had to make a decision. I sat on a beach staring at the ocean realizing that I was an alcoholic and it was time to get help. That was June 8th, 2014. After a couple of months of being sober, I lost my voice in the health community. Taking away one of my means of self-medicating made me realize that I needed to put the focus on myself, and recovery. I halted all of my health coaching and motivational speaking. It just didn’t feel right to me to help others find a healthy life while mine was in shambles. I didn’t know what my future looked like, but if it meant I had to walk away from coaching and speaking, I would accept that. I put my trust in a belief that it would all work out.
After I did some serious work on myself, I started feeling like I was getting my voice back. I wasn’t sure what it looked like yet but I could feel something happening. My life was really started to look better. I stopped looking for my next escape route. I loved being with my husband and my children. I started learning to live in my skin. I really focused on feeling all the feelings. Then it happened.
I got in touch with a friend who had many years of sobriety and was a nutrition and health coach too. We hadn’t talked in a while, but I had this nagging feeling that I had to call her. When we finally talked she said she’d been thinking about me and had that same feeling. Over a three-hour conversation between California and North Carolina, a beautiful business partnership was born. We created Evolved Recovery, a holistic guide to living sober. We both realized how much our healthy lifestyle had played a large role in the success of our recovery. We wanted to take our love of holistic living and share it with other sober people who might benefit by adding our combined knowledge and experience to their own lives. We firmly believe that we didn’t get sober to be sick, unhealthy, or overweight.
My trust in the process and being willing to let go of what I thought I wanted empowered me to follow the path set out for me. I got my voice back and this time it’s a better voice because it’s one that speaks the truth. I am not anonymous and I do not have shame about being in recovery. I gratefully share my story to the world of my journey to overcome mental health illness and addiction. What I’ve learned is that by being the voice for those who perhaps haven’t found theirs yet, you can be the example to help someone find their truth. My life is beautiful today. I try to live in service to my family and to others. I remind myself every day that I don’t need to medicate those feelings anymore. I am strong enough today to feel all the good and the most difficult feelings. I am empowered by truth.