My Recovery: How It Started

The author as a child, rollerskating

When I was 20, I was in a terrible car accident.

My friends and I were trapped inside the smoldering remains of the car for hours while the first responders cut away the mangled steel to free us from the wreckage. After the paramedics pulled me to safety, they drove me to the hospital where I had emergency surgery to repair a severe scalp injury. Over the next year I would have two more surgeries. The scars soon faded, but the trauma didn’t.

Over time, I became someone who was constantly afraid something horrible was about to happen, and I blamed myself for not being able to cope. I didn’t know until years later that I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And by then, I was using alcohol and oxycodone, prescribed after back surgery, to deal with the pain I carried with me.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), says this about addiction: "Genetics load the gun and environment pulls the trigger."

Many wonderful members of my large family struggle with addiction. I am genetically predisposed. And after the trauma I experienced, I was a prime candidate.

Achievement was my smokescreen.

I graduated at the top of my class in high school, college, and graduate school. I had a successful career, wonderful friends, and a loving husband. I hid what was happening behind closed doors as my addiction slowly spiraled out of control. Eventually, it took over every aspect of my life. 

In 12-step programs, the first step is “admitting we are powerless over drugs and alcohol — that our lives have become unmanageable.” While I accepted that I was powerless over drugs and alcohol, I wasn’t ready to admit that my life had become unmanageable. For a long time, I thought I could fix things myself. But I couldn’t.

Many I’ve met in recovery describe a moment of clarity when they know they’re ready to ask for help.

This isn’t necessarily "rock bottom." It’s a deep primal instinct to save your own life that wells up inside you and takes over. I contemplated treatment for almost a year. I knew it might save my life, but it meant I would have to give up the coping mechanisms that kept me safe and numb. 

And then that moment of clarity came for me: What I wanted most in the world was to be with my husband, the love of my life, and I couldn’t do that if my life was over. And I discovered that recovery is not the end. It’s the beginning.

September 2021

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