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This September marks the 25th annual National Recovery Month (Recovery Month) observance, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (http://www.samhsa.gov), within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (http://www.hhs.gov). This initiative raises awareness about the mental and substance use disorders that affect millions of individuals, as well as their families, and celebrates those in recovery. It also recognizes the contribution made by those who work in the behavioral health field.
This year’s Recovery Month theme, “Join the Voices for Recovery: Speak Up, Reach Out,” encourages people to openly discuss – or speak up about – mental and substance use disorders and the reality of recovery. It aims to foster public understanding and acceptance of the benefits of prevention, treatment and recovery from behavioral health conditions.
The following narratives provide personal perspectives on the benefits of prevention, treatment, and recovery. While every story is unique, they all illustrate this year’s Recovery Month theme by showing that there are many pathways to wellness, each with positive outcomes for individuals, families, and communities. These stories are an inspiration to take action and seek treatment for a mental and/or substance use disorder, or help a loved one in need.
CEA Instruments, Inc., CEO
In 2008, my parents planned to take the entire family on a cruise to celebrate their 50th anniversary. I realized the celebration was impossible for me to even think about because of the way my life was going. That moment, January 31, 2008, is when I first started onto the path of recovery. Help from other people living in long-term recovery before and even during the cruise made it amazing.
Our family business was failing prior to 2008. With new determination, the business began to get on its feet. Relationships with everyone in my family started to get better. My mom said, “I’m so happy to get my little boy back.” The man my wife fell in love with returned. Our children received a much needed father. Daddy and daughter dances and other events for my children were precious. I researched and found more than 20 new cousins from all over the world who I’m getting to know for the first time! The school got an eager ‘Bingo Night’ entertainer. Former classmates asked me to chair our 25th reunion.
People from a focus group contacted my wife to arrange a surprise. Two weeks later, a knock on my door had an entire production team on the other side ready to shoot me in a TV commercial which aired nationally for more than six months. Seeing that commercial each time was much more than a long time dream come true because it had my son in it with me.
My life would have been so very different today if not for accepting recovery!
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Seabrook House, Case Manager & Graduate Student, Rutgers University
There was a point in my life when I was full of shame and guilt as a direct result of the way I was living. I used to identify myself as a loser and a junkie. I believed in the judgment these words created. I was completely hopeless and didn’t think there was a way out.
Fortunately, God had other plans for me because today I no longer identify with these hurtful terms. Today, I am a person in long-term recovery, which means that I haven’t found the need to use a drink or a drug in 5 years. I have hope once again. Today, I am a daughter to my loving mother, who never gave up on me. I am a fiancé, a friend, and a trustworthy employee.
Recovery has given me so many blessings that I never thought were possible. On the day of my 5-year anniversary, I ran 20 miles with a good friend in recovery in preparation for the Philadelphia Marathon. Afterwards, my fiancé and I went to look at houses with our realtor. While all of this was happening, I thought, “How is this my life?” When I was using, I accepted that I was going to be an addict forever and probably die that way. Today, all of the dreams I once had of being successful and having a family have been realized once again. In this process, I went back to school and am now enrolled in graduate school.
I am so amazed at how much I can accomplish when I put my mind to something. Recovery has taught me that anything is possible. One day at a time, one step at a time, I can and will accomplish my dreams.
I am so grateful to all of those who stuck by my side and didn’t give up on me, even after I had given up on myself. Every day is a new opportunity to learn and grow, and I do not take any of it for granted. I am so grateful to be on this journey and to have found this new way of life.
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By the age of 23, I was already resigned to dying of my alcoholism. I was suffering from multiple mental health diagnoses, including anxiety, depression, and Borderline Personality Disorder. My hair was falling out, I had holes in my stomach, and a third of my pancreas had been destroyed by my drinking. I was given a year and a half to live by my doctor.
Ten years later, I am now a Recovery Coach, an author, a speaker, a workshop facilitator, and an advocate for recovery. I run my own business and use the tools I mastered during my recovery to help others overcome not only addiction, but stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, and many more issues.
Recovery has given me the chance to become who I was always meant to be, and to help others do the same. Back in the dark days, I never believed I could experience such peace of mind as I do now. I never thought it would be possible to be so free. I never thought I would be helping other people to become free as well.
Recovery has given me choices that I never had access to before. It has given me the gift of gratitude and the ability to put things in perspective. Most importantly, it has given me the opportunity to give hope and healing to others in the same position I once was.
Recovery is a gift that keeps on giving – to me, the people close to me, and the community. When my message or my work helps one person to recover, their own recovery will also ripple out its positive effects into world. You can't beat that feeling – and it has made the journey worth it. Recovery rocks.
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My name is Elizabeth Chance and I am in long-term recovery. I had my last drink and drug on August 14, 2006. I am an entrepreneur, single mother of three teenage children, and on top of the world! Prior to this, life really didn’t go the way I planned.
I graduated with BA in Communications, got a job right out of school working for the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia. I was writing stories and doing production assistant work. I wanted to be the next Barbara Walters and was on my career path. But drinking got in the way, and after one too many drinks, I was fired. After divorcing my husband, I got my second break in the television business as a guest on-air spokesperson on QVC. I thought that I was better either drunk or hungover.
I was a binge and black-out drinker. Booze was my best friend. I didn’t have to feel. I felt nothing except for shame and utter disgust for myself. I didn’t know myself at all.
Today, I do. I like myself, and I am not ashamed of what happened the day before. I hold my head high, and I am an upstanding member of my community and society. In 2007, I started my own business, which has been growing ever since. I have a huge following on various social media sites, posting positive quotes daily. In September 2013, I completed my “Certified Recovery Specialist” course and was certified in the state of Pennsylvania. I support successful change in newly sober people and their families.
Today my life isn’t about hiding and getting what I want, it is about helping people, sharing my passion for recovery and hope!
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Grosse Pointe, MI
“My son's addiction and my recovery from it have made me a better person.”
I recently had a conversation with someone and uttered those words out loud for the very first time. Hearing them surprised even me. But you know what? It's true.
I certainly would rather be living a more "normal" life, with memories of my son's high school and college graduations locked away in my mind instead of memories of dishonesty, stealing, heroin withdrawal, and rehab. That said, my son's addiction, his recovery, and my own recovery – yes, parents of addicts have to go through recovery, too – have turned out to be a blessing.
Being the parent of an addict has made me a more cognizant, sympathetic, empathetic, forgiving, caring, understanding, and grateful person. It's made me appreciate the little things in life and made me more aware that I should live in the moment instead of worrying about yesterday or tomorrow. (One day at a time, right?)
This might sound strange to some people, but being a recovering father of an addict has made me much kinder and gentler than I was before my son's addiction. I have also become passionate about helping people. I want people who are going through experiences similar to those I went through to know that things can work out. There is no guarantee, of course. But there is hope.
As I look back today, I'm so grateful that I was able to face my son's addiction and work on my own recovery plan. I may have a few more gray hairs because of my son's addiction, but I am emotionally richer because of it. And that's not such a bad thing.
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The Salvation Army Northside Adult Rehabilitation Center, Intake Clerk
My name is Bill Eitel and I’m a person in long-term recovery from addiction, celebrating three years of recovery. Last fall, I was riding my bike home from school along Lake Michigan. It was a beautiful October evening. The waves were rolling against the shore to my right, and the amber lights from the high-rises and Lake Shore Drive shined to my left. The night was just starting to take on that sort of delicious October crispness that I’ve loved since I was a child. I was happy. I felt an inherent “rightness” to the moment, and then it hit me – this is my life now.
My life today in recovery is something I only dreamed of in my darker moments. I’ve been struggling with alcoholism since the late ‘80s, and it was a lonely, progressively downhill struggle for most of those years. I refused to accept that I couldn’t just handle it on my own. As a result of that flawed thinking, my life became completely unmanageable. I decayed into a shell of myself, a shadow of what I was, and what I could have been.
Those days were so dark, so bleak. Today I’m giving back to the souls still trapped in that darkness. I’m on staff at the very same rehab facility whose doors I first staggered through on a cold December day back in 2008. It took me more than once – I shuffled in and out seven times until 2011. I believe that God calls upon us to repeat the lessons we haven’t passed yet. Today as I write this, I’m back in school studying this disease we call addiction, and my time is otherwise filled with family, friends, art, and music – all the things I truly love.
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Shining Strong, Inc., Co-Founder & Director
I was always the party girl, the one who kept up with the boys, the first to arrive and the last to leave. My social life revolved around drinking. I never went to anything where alcohol wasn’t served. My biggest fear when I began recovery in 2010 was that the fun was over. I could not imagine a life without alcohol. I thought happiness was tied to drinking.
I could not have been more wrong.
I have always been outgoing, up front, and straight forward; I call it like I see it. Honestly? It never crossed my mind to hide my recovery. I work in an industry that has a strong drinking culture, and I was at the center of this for many years. When I returned to work after rehab, I didn’t keep my recovery a secret. I didn’t know what to expect from people. It didn’t matter to me, really. I knew only that I was not ashamed of my recovery; it was the hardest and best thing I ever did.
I am as outgoing as ever, but here is what I didn’t expect: I have more fun, more laughter and joy in my life now than I ever did drinking. I’m still a party girl – just without alcohol. And my life is so much better. I laugh harder, right from my gut, and it’s REAL. I love being present for my life – even the hard times.
Today I am a recovery advocate and co-founder of a non-profit that my best friend started. The organization, Shining Strong (http://shiningstrong.org), helps women struggling with addiction and celebrate recovery. Helping people find sobriety and community has filled a hole in me that I was trying to fill with alcohol. My life is anything but boring and best of all, it’s fun.
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Tina Talks Truth, Speaker, Author, and Comedian
My name is Tina M. Levene and I am a national speaker and comedian, as well as a grateful recovering alcoholic and drug addict with more than 15 years of sobriety. My message is “Transforming Trauma into Purpose.” I am a published author of a newly released book called Let Your Lessons Become Your Blessings and hope to motivate every person to declare that they are not a mistake, abuse is not their fault, they have a purpose, and there is hope.
As a child of an alcoholic father, I quickly adapted to the dysfunction addiction creates in families. At the age of 9, I picked up a cigarette and began to smoke. At the age of 14, I began drinking alcohol. At the age of 18, my love affair with drugs began. By the age of 23, I was told by numerous psychologists, doctors, and professors that I would not see the age of 24 if I did not quit disrespecting my body by abusing alcohol and drugs. One more drink led me to a 13.5 hour binge and I did not get drunk. This scared me sober.
I had the blessing of getting sober in Akron, OH, the birthplace of Alcoholics Anonymous. My first recovery meeting was with my father (now in recovery for 34 years).
Today, I live a life for God and helping others achieve sobriety. Recovery is not a game to me, I take it very seriously. It has been the biggest challenge living a life free from alcohol, tobacco and drugs; however, the rewards are beyond my wildest dreams. The freedom from guilt, shame and hurt is the biggest gift my recovery has given me. I am eternally grateful for my recovery.
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Winston Salem, NC
My story is a different type of addiction recovery, but not often figured into the addict’s recovery. It is the addiction of enabling my addicted child. As a parent, the hardest thing in the world is to see your child struggling with life, no matter the reason. Before I could help her, I had to come to the realization that everything that I was doing to “help” her was actually prolonging her downward spiral. From intervening with her teachers and school officials to making excuses to family and friends, this only allowed her to become more enmeshed in her addiction.
The key was to realize that not only must she change her behavior, but I must also change mine. Once I began to ask her take responsibility for her actions, then a great weight was lifted from me. She did not immediately change her ways, but when she saw that I was changing, she became more willing to work at changing herself as well. The tenet that I did not cause it, I could not cure it, and I could not change it was the most important thing I learned.
Facing my daughter’s addiction changed my life as well as hers. Realizing that she could be that homeless person on the street or the overdose victim has given me more compassion towards those I know nothing about. Nineteen months into our recovery, we both work towards personal change, and even though it is hard, there is plenty of hope. My ongoing personal challenge is to share my successes with other parents so that they can also have hope.
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I struggled with drugs and alcohol, and deep down I knew it was not how I wanted to live. I barely went to class, partied all the time, was high 24/7, and I had gotten into legal trouble.
On Tuesday, April 21, 2010, my parents took me to Hazelden Center for Youth and Families, and after 30 days I went to a halfway house in St. Paul, MN. At the halfway house, I worked, went to meetings, had a temporary sponsor, and met friends.
I was able to get back into school for the upcoming fall. At my college, there is a recovery program called CLEAN. By September, I was 5 months sober, living in a sober residence with fellow girls in the CLEAN program. I was going to classes and meetings, had a sponsor, and was happy. My parents were proud of me again and I was proud of myself. My friends who knew me before I was sober were proud of me too. Life was fun.
Of course, it doesn't stop there. In January of 2011, I became very ill with an auto-immune disease called Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. I was plagued with psychosis, hallucinations, depression, catatonia, and loss in speech and cognitive thinking. In April, I began to recover from that illness and by September of that year I was back in school. That only lasted for a few weeks and I was sick again. I believe that year I was out of school the whole year.
So when I could, I was back at meetings, meeting with my old sponsor, and doing step work again.
I am so thankful for each day I am sober and I would never take back anything. I am the person I am today because of my experiences. I am not ashamed to say I am in recovery…for life.
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Kitsap Mental Health Services, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Bainbridge Island, WA
My name is Lisa Pratt, and I'm a nurse practitioner. I'm also a recovering alcoholic and drug addict.
Nine years ago I wanted to die. My life was an exhausting pursuit of getting high, getting drugs, getting drunk, and being sick. I lost my marriage, my home, my career, my business, and I also lost myself.
In a small moment of grace, I came to the decision that if I wasn't going to die, then I was set on finding a way to live. I'd already been to chemical dependency treatment three times. But I knew I'd find help there, so I decided to try treatment one more time. Getting and staying sober was the hardest thing I've ever done, but once I started on the path to recovery my life began to improve so dramatically that I just kept on.
I met encouraging people in recovery who showed me how beautiful life can be through their own examples. I leaned on them, and they helped me believe in myself again. I lived in clean and sober housing and surrounded myself with people who were staying sober. Eventually I returned to school and then to graduate school. I chose a career where I could give back to others struggling with mental illness.
I'm now a psychiatric nurse practitioner with a master's degree. I'm the psychiatric medical provider for a 10-bed youth inpatient unit at a large community mental health organization. I get to work with adolescents who have chemical dependency and psychiatric disorders. I have a husband who is on his own recovery journey, a daughter who has never seen either of her parents drunk or high, a son who still lives with his father, but he’s proud of me and he loves me. I am grateful for the gifts sobriety has given me, and I hope that through telling my story I can pass some of those gifts on to others.
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My name is Kristoph Pydynkowski and I am grateful to wake up today and feel free. I am a person in long-term recovery, which means I have not used drugs or alcohol since 2007. My primary goal in life is to give away the one thing that means everything to me – hope. That was not always my story.
I grew up outside of Boston and was adopted when I was a baby. I was raised with a lot of love and support. I was taught that life is beautiful and is full of hopes and dreams. I was a talented athlete with promise to make a career out of that talent.
When I began drinking and using drugs, I wanted to fit in. Little did I know I had opened a door I could not close. My addiction took on a life of its own. I traveled all over the United States. I was in and out of hospitals, jails, detoxes, and was slowly dying. I felt morally defective and thought that the world was better off without me.
In 2007, I entered Gosnold Treatment Center on Cape Cod, and it saved my life. It was there that people made me feel human again; that I was sick, not a bad person. Today, my dreams have come true. I am licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, working at the place that saved my life. I am supervising a new program, which I helped develop, for young adults who are addicted to opiates. I lecture about addiction and recovery at high schools and a local college and do radio, television, and newspaper interviews.
Last year I married the woman of my dreams. When I visit my family we hug and cry tears of joy because of what recovery has done for us. They are so proud. My heart is filled with hope today. The world is a beautiful place again. We do recover.
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Shining Strong, Co-Founder
Drinking was everything to me. It cured my anxiety, animated me, and was the mortar to my many cracks.
It started right away, this love affair. From the very first drink, as that warm confidence slipped through my veins, and I thought: so THIS is how normal people feel.
I could not imagine a life without alcohol. It was my everything – until it ripped me apart.
My recovery journey began in 2007 after a 30-day rehab stay. Going back to my regular life was the hardest thing I have ever done. How to be a mom without wine? How to socialize without my liquid courage? How to figure out who I am and what I want from life?
Day by day, my real self emerged. I got through unimaginably hard times without my liquid crutch: the sudden death of my dad, cancer. More importantly, I learned to navigate everyday life totally present through every emotion: boredom, resentment, anger, sadness, joy, celebration.
I have found my heart song in recovery. I started a non-profit, Shining Strong (http://shiningstrong.org), and its mission is to reach out to those still struggling and celebrate recovery. Because we do recover. We heal. We find ourselves. We learn to sit through every emotion, resist the urge to alter or numb our feelings.
I laugh today, right from my heart. I don’t shape shift to please people. I cry real, genuine tears, not drunken, self-centered crocodile tears.
I have found the peace, love, and acceptance in recovery that I searched for years for at the bottom of a glass.
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