From Mad at the World to Loving Life
Sara is a shy soul who feels most comfortable blending into the crowd. A self-identified people-pleaser, she remembers from a young age wanting to say the right thing and make others think she had it all together. From elementary school all the way through high school, she pushed herself hard and got good grades and stayed busy with extracurricular activities. She didn’t touch alcohol or other drugs.
But that changed when this Bakersfield, CA native started college at Texas Tech. “Within the first week, I was off and running,” she recalls. “I joined a sorority and went to my first party and ended up throwing up with strangers in the bathroom. Most people wouldn’t want to do that again, but I was like ‘hell yeah.’”
Sara managed to hold down two jobs and a full course load, graduating with a 3.2 GPA. But under the surface, she was losing control. She abused Xanax and alcohol, and discovered Adderall to study and party longer and harder.
Trying to Cope After Trauma
Things got worse after college when Sara moved to New Orleans to start her teaching career. “Everyone around me was partying, so I couldn’t see that I had a drinking problem,” she says. “I now know their thought process was different from mine. They drank for fun; I was obsessed.”
Then things got even worse. Sara was sexually harassed by her mom’s family member, and instead of going to therapy and working through the trauma, her doctor prescribed benzodiazepines. “I was a victim from then out,” she says. “No one understood. The world was bad. I couldn’t trust anyone.” She “lied her way” through an ADHD diagnosis so she could get Adderall and benzos at her beckon call. She lived in an amazing city and had a job she enjoyed, but she was miserable.
Her lowest point came at her brother’s graduation where she felt uncomfortable being around her extended family members and lost all control. Sara coped by taking uppers and downers and drinking way too much. She told off her parents and said they’d never see her again, with the intent to drink and use to death. “For years, I woke up wanting to die,” she says. “I was mad that I had to get up and be part of the world every day.”
Psych Ward to Drug Rehab
Sara called her best friend, who committed to getting her help. Sara’s dad flew with her and admitted her to a hospital psych ward for six days. “My moment of clarity came a couple days in,” she says. “With no drugs in my body, I could look at myself and start figuring out what was going on.”
Based on a recommendation from her mother’s coworker, Sara went to Promises. “It’s a godsend that I was sent to Promises,” says Sara, who was happy to be welcomed by “nice people and palm trees.” “I was miserable at first but I knew I didn’t have it under control and wasn’t the superwoman I wanted everyone to think I was. So I figured I should listen to somebody else. I was going to do whatever it took.”
Sara spent four months in residential drug rehab at Promises. She was uncomfortable with people waking her up and holding her responsible, but “I did what I was told. I went to meetings. I got a sponsor.”
“At a lot of rehabs you’re just a number. They don’t really care about you getting sober,” Sara says. “But Promises is an anomaly in rehabs. The people in charge of my care wanted me to be sober and succeed in life, and I’m forever grateful for that.” Sara is still in touch with some of the people who were in treatment with her as well as her “amazing” therapists.
Lessons in Addiction Recovery
Giving back has been an important part of Sara’s recovery. At her first alumni meeting, Sara walked in feeling sick with her head held down, but she immediately “felt the warmth in the room.” She started doing service activities at Promises such as volunteering to help mothers in recovery at Miriam’s House each week.
On the advice of her treatment team, Sara spent three months in sober living after residential treatment. “I didn’t like it but it was absolutely necessary,” she acknowledges. “I was not ready to go back into the world.” Sara made the difficult decision to leave her job and not move back to New Orleans. Instead, she stayed in California and got a not-too-stressful “get well job” tutoring people, followed by a “for right now job” that pays the rent and provides a flexible schedule so she can still make her recovery a priority.
She stays involved with Promises through alumni events and says she rarely misses a meeting. Whatever she’s going through, she can call the alumni services director and talk through it. “I respect her more than anyone I’ve met in my life,” Sara says. She also shares her story with current clients and families, and participates in fun alumni events that make weekends and holidays more manageable.
Some of the advice Sara shares with other people struggling with addiction is: “It’s okay to ask for help. There are lots of people with addictions and mental health issues.” Also, she advises, “Find people who are doing the same thing you want to be doing, and then shut up and listen. Someone will tell your story. I was 20 days sober when I heard someone at a meeting tell my story. I cried the whole meeting and finally realized I had a problem.”
Post-treatment, Sara’s approach to relationships has shifted dramatically. “My family wants to be around me now,” she says. “They aren’t afraid of which person is going to show up at Thanksgiving or saying something that will set me off into a rage.” Her best friend asked her to be her baby’s godmother and she truly enjoys being around her co-workers. Whereas she used to be all about herself, the focus now is “What can I do for others – no strings attached.”
In treatment, Sara had to do things that were good for her even if she didn’t want to, but now she makes the choice to do them on her own. She started practicing yoga at Promises and still does it four or five times per week to get out of her head and reconnect with herself. She prays every day and makes lists of things she’s grateful for, even if it’s “just the bag of Doritos on my desk.” She goes to four or five 12-step meetings per week, even when she really wants to sit at home, because she knows she’ll feel better and less isolated. At least five times a week, she talks to her sponsor who politely “calls me out on my B.S. and makes me see things in a way I otherwise wouldn’t.”
Finding Freedom From Addiction
Sara’s the first to admit recovery isn’t easy. She has to remind herself that negative feelings are temporary and that things can change in an instant. “It’s big for me to admit it–I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t always feel like I have things under control. But at least now I can be honest about it. I’m okay being myself.”
Treatment changed Sara’s life in many ways, but most importantly, she says, “I got my freedom back.” Rather than being angry to wake up and face another day, she says “Thank you God for waking me up and letting me live today.”
By Meghan Vivo