At Vertava Health, we see first-hand the heartbreak and pain that addiction causes every day. When one person suffers from addiction, everyone close to them feels the weight of their struggle. However, we also know that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Not every addiction story has to end in tragedy. With an estimated 23.5 million adults living in recovery today, a life of purpose and opportunity is possible after addiction.
Kirsten is just one of the many people currently living a fulfilling life in recovery. She’s also the alumni coordinator at our Massachusetts campus, Swift River. Now seven years into her recovery journey, Kirsten opens up about her struggle with addiction and facing her biggest fears in recovery.
Tell me about yourself.
My name is Kirsten and I am a grandmother. My granddaughter is 5-years-old and my grandson is going to be 2-years-old soon. I spend a lot of time with them, and that’s what I do.
I also enjoy going to see live music with my son- we love to go to heavy metal concerts together.
How did your addiction begin?
I picked up when I was 12-years-old. I started with marijuana and alcohol, but I knew I was an addict long before then- I had the behaviors.
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How did it progress from that point?
My addiction continued throughout high school. I would sneak vodka into school in my orange juice bottles, smoke in the bathroom and juvenile things like that.
When I graduated from high school, I thought my life was magically going to change- but it didn’t. I moved out of my parent’s house and ended up in a really unhealthy relationship. It was at that point that I just said: “screw it!”
I started drinking until I blacked out every night and then I got pregnant. I was able to somewhat control my drinking until my son turned 16 or 17-years-old, but I never stopped drinking completely. I was terrified of losing him and I knew he would be graduating soon. On top of that, we were in a really bad financial situation.
The fear of being homeless on top of the stress of my son leaving home caused my drinking to spiral out of control.
What was the moment you knew you needed help for your addiction?
My family knew that I was trying to keep my life in control for my son, and they also knew that the moment he left the house I wouldn’t be able to maintain that control- there would be no coming back for me.
I started posting some really negative and scary things on Facebook, so my family decided to hold an intervention. They told me that if I didn’t go to meetings, they would force me into treatment.
At the time, actually going to a treatment seemed out of the question for me because that would be 30 days away from my son. So I agreed to go to meetings.
How long have you been in recovery now?
About seven years.
What do you think has made your recovery so successful?
I have an incredibly supportive family, and I think that’s huge.
Additionally, while I was doing my 12-step program I was also doing a lot of service work. I would go into treatment facilities and share my story with others working on their own recovery. Since I was doing this, I felt obligated to stay clean for them.
Now as an employee of a treatment facility, I still feel that same responsibility. I owe it to my co-workers and bosses to be the best employee possible. I especially owe it to my clients to show them that staying sober is possible.
What are some tools that you learned at meetings that have helped you maintain your sobriety today?
Having a support system is key. I rely on my support system for many things still today, especially when I’m struggling.
They also taught me how important it is to talk about things. You have to tell on yourself if something is going wrong, which is something I never did while actively addicted.
I’m a person who likes to know what’s going to happen next, and going to my support group taught me that. They were able to tell what to expect and more importantly, remind me that I’m going to be okay and it’s totally normal to struggle in recovery.
I also didn’t rush my recovery. I spent 28 years actively addicted. It’s not going to change overnight, you know?
What’s the best part of your recovery journey?
The first five years were hell, but now I’m really starting to learn about myself again and feel like I’m truly living for the first time. I’m a whole new person.
What has been the lowest part of your recovery?
About five years into my recovery, I hit an emotional low. I wasn’t addressing my anxiety, depression or OCD issues. I also didn’t have any spirituality or connection with God. I was trying to stay sober and that was it.
Once I began to address my mental health and lack of faith, things really started to turn around for me.
I feel like I completely broke down and had to build a new foundation. So now, my foundation is incredibly strong and healthy- I’m just building away at my new life little by little.
What are some things you do for yourself to aid in your recovery?
I work on my spirituality every single day and a big part of that is having gratitude. I’m a person who struggles with depression– my mind constantly wants to revert back to being negative. So every day I have to wake up and express gratitude. The hope is that it will eventually be second nature.
Did your son realize that you were struggling with addiction?
No, I tried to hide my struggles from him. My mother told him about the intervention they were going to have for me and he said: “I don’t know what you’re talking about, my mom doesn’t have a problem.” The unfortunate reality is that he had just gotten used to me drinking.
His life changed when I got sober because there were rules of a sudden, and it created tension between us. He couldn’t bring any drugs or alcohol into the house anymore and he hated it. It’s part of the reason he moved out as soon as he graduated high school.
How did you handle your biggest fear- your son growing up and leaving the house- in your recovery?
If I had not had my support network around me when he left, I don’t think I would have made it. I’m really not sure where I would be right now without them, probably a really dark place.
And honestly, because of my support group, it wasn’t terrible when he left. Having space to myself actually isn’t so bad.
He still lives close to me though, and we talk every day.
You mentioned you were in a tough financial position at one point, how did you work yourself out of that during your recovery?
I’m still working on that today. Money has been one of the toughest things for me. I grew up in poverty, so I was never taught those basic financial skills. Even when I have the money, it still freaks me out to spend a lot.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself in your recovery?
That I’m not a bad person- drugs and alcohol just made me do bad things.