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Breaking Through Addiction and Recovery: An Interview

Linda is a 56 year-old recovering addict with an infectious laugh. When you look into her crystal blue eyes, you first sense a barrier: a wall of defense.  Quickly thereafter, however, you begin to see the haunted history that has built that wall, brick by brick. You soon feel the warmth of who she is as a person, her desire to be understood, and the need to share her story.

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I sat down with Linda to talk about her experience with addiction and recovery.

My only interaction with Linda prior to our discussion was a quick introduction by her psychiatrist who alerted me to the fact that she wanted to tell her story. The encounter was brief, but it left a lasting influence. I talked to her for a few minutes, explaining that we (Healthshire) are encouraging people who have dealt with addiction to write about their experiences as part of the healing process.

My first impression of Linda was that her personality was way bigger than her petite frame. Her boisterous voice entered the room before she made a physical presence. I liked her instantly. She made a joke about having no writing ability, after which I made a joke about hiring me as her ghostwriter. She quipped I was too beautiful to be a ghost and that right there cemented what I imagine will be a lifelong friendship with Linda.

As I walked with her to the registration desk at our clinic during that first interaction, everyone we passed had a huge smile and a hug for Linda. Lots of “I love you’s.”

Obviously, I wasn’t the only one who felt her charm and charisma.

Despite her good-humored nature and easy smile, Linda has lived a very tough life. From our short discussion, I learned she has experienced significant trauma across the course of her life, marked by physical and sexual abuse that began during her childhood. Linda lives with the hardships of managing Bipolar Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. She struggled with bulimia for almost 20 years of her life. “That was normal to me. I screwed up my insides because of it.”

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She was raised in a family where it was perfectly fine to dabble with drugs: crystal meth, cocaine, marijuana.

She is currently 13 years sober from drugs. When asked what her drug of choice was, she responded with “a little bit of everything, except for heroin.”

Linda’s current demon is alcohol. She has been struggling with alcohol dependence for about the last five years. She has been a client at her clinic for the past three for recovery services (detox, psychiatric, therapy).

“I’ve been coming to counseling here for three years. They have watched me go all the way up and crash and fall. They have seen me walk into the office and tinkle all over myself because I was so out of it and had been drinking. But I keep coming back.”

Resiliency. That’s what I noticed most about Linda during our conversation. Yes, she was a lot of fun to be around. She exudes a sense of comfort, particularly when she kicked off her shoes, got comfortable on the couch, and pointed out her fun neon-green and black-striped socks. Beyond all that though, I discovered yet another wall. One of strength and perseverance. One I respected more and more as we talked.

This is an excerpt of our conversation.

Why is it important for you to share your story?

L: I’m in the middle of doing the recovery thing. I don’t have a problem telling my story. I also don’t have a problem standing before people and telling my story. Because, the thing with my story is, right now I’ve already crossed the threshold and I’m right in the middle of it. I think people who are fighting the same as me would find it helpful to say: ‘Wow, she’s still going through it too. And, next week she may come up with something different – family wise, friend wise, alcohol wise – and that’s something I can relate to.”

What have you learned about overcoming all of this adversity?

L: That I really haven’t.

Can you elaborate on that?

L: Every day is a struggle. I’m crazy bipolar and I’m detoxing off so many things. I want others to understand that in learning yourself means you can’t lie to yourself. For example, there were times when I was so incredibly frustrated. I was petrified to death getting to counseling…getting a ride, taking the bus…always freaked me out. I always had a bottle of alcohol in my purse when I came for counseling. All my counselors always knew. The point is when you try to get help, any help, rehab, counseling, they must know the truth or it’s not going to work. I’d show them the bottle.

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A year and a half ago when I was with Pam (one of Linda’s counselors), she knew. She knew I had liquor. To this very day, I love her with all my heart and soul. When she told me she was going to take a year sabbatical, I was pissed. I looked at her and I was like “F-You,” and walked out. But she came back. And that’s what hit me. Over the past 4 years, there have been a few people that have left me, but they’ve also come back. I never experienced that before. My doctor told me when Pam came back, one of the first questions out of her mouth was she asked about me.

What was that like? Hearing that she asked about you?

L: I got emotional. She helped me through a lot. I excused myself out of a session once with my purse and had a swig. I went to the restroom. And she knew. And she was still there for me.

People need to understand that if you want to go to counseling and you really mean it, then mean it. Just mean it. Be truthful. It’s not like they’re going to ground you and tell you that you can’t play today or take away your TV. This is what I want to explain to people, to addicts. It took me about 7 to 9 years to understand the process.

Doctors, therapists, counselors: this is what they’re here for, they’re here to help you. But they can’t if you’re not truthful to them and to yourself. If you’re not truthful, you’re only hurting yourself. You’re not going to get the help you want and that you need.

What’s the hardest part about recovery?

L: Knowing everything is my responsibility. My decision. Every once in a while, the past pops up. Triggers. I’m glad I’m not in that situation anymore, but things come at you. I have the right to make the choice about how to handle situations. I make the decision. These are the kinds of things I would like to teach people. This takes a minute. It doesn’t happen overnight. It just hits you one day, and you’re like “Wow.”

What’s the best part about the recovery process?

L: Memory. For me, not only memory, but you seem to recognize and see the blessings. And I mean, they are miniscule. Normally, throughout the day you don’t pay attention to so many things. Many people don’t, whether you’re drinking or you’re not, whether you’re smoking pot or not, whatever. And learning how to stand up for myself.

How has sobriety helped you stand up for yourself?

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L: When you’re not supposed to be drinking, and you have a couple drinks, you feel guilty, and ashamed, and you lie. You betray the people you love the most. And then you don’t feel like you have the right to stand up for yourself, even when everyone around you is wrong.

But when you cut all of that out, things are so much clearer. I can tell anyone to knock it off if I don’t like something or don’t agree. I can tell them to just stop.

I have the power to do that now.

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