By: Melissa F., Transformations Alumna

The first time it happened, I was out in the middle of nowhere. I remember looking up at the sky, with this warm, fuzzy, feeling like I was laying back in a pool on a summer day. Only this was brought to us courtesy of the fine folks at Anheuser Busch and the glorious bastards who formed my beloved Corps at a tavern on that November night in 1775. That feeling all went away with the next rocket attack. But it happened amidst chaos, and that was the start. Somewhere, in the deep recesses of my subconscious, a connection was made informing me of my new superpower: I could make anything disappear.

It did not happen all at once; it was really a slow climb into the abyss. If I could make it look perfect on the outside, everything was fine. And I was a “rockstar,” so no one questioned me.

When the problem started, I went to the liquor store on base and bought some minis (airplane bottles, whatever you want to call them) and I slammed them on this back training road. I knew exactly the amount I needed to get the perfect sensation to deal with life. I was never in it to get drunk. I just needed the emotional equilibrium, and I could achieve it. I call it alcoholic calculus. I tossed the bottles out the window. Nobody could ever know my dirty secret. It was not until a tempo run with the Army 10-mile team that I realized I was not the only one who had the same idea. In a sick way, that brought me comfort.

I met bourbon in my late 20s. He was charming, sexy, knew all the right things to say, and made everything go away so much quicker than all the others. Except for a few years, we had a torrid affair for some time. There were several years where I really wanted to get away from him. I would kick him out and find a better way to survive. I kept him away for almost two years once. I knew it was an issue when I started drinking my current husband under the table.

I had some interesting times. I still cannot look at one entry on my medical record without shame. According to BAC statistics, I should be dead. I stopped for about two years after that one, mostly because I got pregnant with our 4th child.

We moved. I began looking for jobs, found a fabulous house we could afford, got the kids enrolled in school and supported my husband as he transitioned back to undergraduate work after a 20+ year break. Then, one morning, I got caught. I tried to play it off like I was going for a run. I said the smell was my hand sanitizer. I knew I was full of shit. I knew she knew I was full of shit. Although I was embarrassed, I was so relieved that I was finally out in the open. The worst part was knowing she was hurt because I did it. The one person I really did not want to hurt, and here I was. This would not be the only time I would hurt her either.

I tried AA. It worked for a while, until it did not. The funny thing is that I knew I had a problem the whole time. No one had to tell me. But I was not gelling with AA. I watched my dad do it and I could see the benefit. I could get on board with not drinking. God knows I wanted to stop and had been searching for ways to do it for years. I just did not like the idea of repeating mantras, attending meetings for the rest of my life, and reliving the trauma over and over…the idea of being reminded of my never-ending failure. There was another issue I had difficulty with; I did not want to be compared to my dad, and I do not mean that as a slight to my father. I made my own choices. I chose to use alcohol as a maladaptive coping mechanism. The repeated action created a habitual effect. I was not having cravings for the substance. I was craving the escape. I needed to break the cycle.

After being sober for about 9 months (this time), my last drunk began spontaneously. I was out running errands and suddenly I just decided to go to the liquor store. I remember saying something stupid, and I was by myself: “On Wednesdays we drink.” It just came out of my mouth. Nothing catastrophic had happened. Everything was going well. I was not having a craving. I just did it. It was just that day. It had to be because I was going to New York City in a few days. But when I came back, I did it again. Then it happened, as it always does. And it is true about things coming back quicker when you relapse. I remember rage cleaning (I was very efficient when I was drinking…a functional drunk if you will) the kitchen and I went to take the trash out to the outside receptacle and I felt myself whiting out. I have a heart defect, so it is a fantastic idea to abuse alcohol. I tried all my techniques to stop it from happening, but I could not. As I was losing consciousness and falling backward, I remember thinking “Thank God. It is over.” I was really hoping I was finally going to die. I had a previous attempt and failed. I do not know how long I was outside in the snow. I just remember waking up in an ambulance and accidentally having a death grip on the EMT’s arm. Because I had alcohol in my system, it was assumed to just be an alcohol related event. It turned out that I had a true to form cardiac event. That information was revealed to me about two years later. Luckily, there was no permanent damage. You would think that would have been enough to make me stop. The morning after I came home, I remember a hidden stash I had. I tried to fight the urge, but I gave in. I was right as rain after I got a couple of minis in my bloodstream.

I had enough on my 7-year old’s 5th birthday. I called for my husband and asked him to come upstairs. Without hesitation, I told him I was going to treatment and leaving on Friday. He said he had the rest…we have always been a team, even in the worst of times.

I seized every opportunity offered at Transformations. I participated in the Veteran program, the faith and music tracks. I tried meditation. I participated in the labyrinth. I went to every type of meeting I could go to. I received my 24-hour and 30-day coins at the CA meeting. It was due to the Joe and Charlie atmosphere that I learned to like the Big Book. I ran with Dan and asked him if he would help me rededicate my life to Christ. I ate up every word Keith said. I sang at the talent show, sat in my first drum circle, and put my trust in Sam to walk me through EMDR…which gave me my life back. I have made lifelong friends from my therapy group, and Caron found things in me I did not know were there. Thanks to her, I learned the value of validation, living boldly and authentically.

Has it been easy? Heck no. On day 2 of detox, my oldest left school and was threatening to jump off a bridge. We had to move from acute inpatient to residential. I had to coordinate it all from detox and have a meeting with the team at school…which meant I had to divulge where I was. That was humbling. Since January 10, 2019, my oldest has been in 15 inpatient settings, to include 3 residential stays. My 15-year-old came out about some issues and needed inpatient treatment. At one point, they were both in inpatient behavioral health treatment at the same time. Talk about being afraid. I had to seek out treatment for my oldest in another state because our options in our home state were limited. I found out I was right about my oldest child’s behavioral addiction, and we were informed that it went further than we knew. The pandemic hit. I hit a wall and decided to go back on behavioral health medication and get a therapist for myself.

But the positives are even better. Right out of the gate, I found my second family in my home group. I was asked to become a member of the behavioral health and addiction impact council of our local United Way chapter. That led to a speaking engagement with a local theater group during their presentation of Every Brilliant Thing (a play with a real life takes on depression and suicide). I was given an opportunity to develop an advocacy project for parents/caregivers of children who have behavioral health, developmental/intellectual, and addiction challenges. That sparked the creation of our region’s first teen behavioral/substance abuse community support group. And I went back to graduate school. In about 3 years, I will be a licensed clinical social worker. My goal is to work with youth in the juvenile justice system and school districts. Everyone deserves a chance at a great future, no matter where they start.

At some point, when reading this, I will have 3 years of sobriety. I am the most comfortable I have ever been in my own skin. I have 4 amazing girls, a husband who loves me as I am, and a great life. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the wonderful folks at Transformations for being a HUGE part of this big, messy, lopsided, perfectly imperfect, beautiful journey. You are a part of my heart, and I am going to continue paying it forward.

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