Our country is in the middle of a drug epidemic that’s claiming hundreds of lives each day. The mounting death toll caused by overdose and addiction is reaching alarming heights that America has never seen before, and it’s not expected to slow anytime soon.
But in the midst of the crisis, September’s Recovery Month serves as a reminder that not all addiction stories have to end in tragedy. As long as you are alive, recovery is possible.
Amy North is just one example of the millions of Americans currently living in recovery. While actively addicted, Amy was arrested 21 times, visited 10 treatment facilities, and lost custody of all three of her children. Today, she’s running half marathons, raising her kids and celebrating eight years in long-term recovery.
Tell me about yourself.
My name is Amy North and I’m 39-years-old.
The things I love the most are being a mother to my three kids, my career as a treatment specialist and God.
Oh, I also like to run. I finished my first half marathon just a couple of weekends ago- running helps me find my peace of mind.
How did your addiction progress?
My addiction progressed very gradually. It started out with wine coolers around the age of 16. I just thought that I was drinking and experimenting with my friends, but now when I look back on those memories- the addictive behavior was already there.
I got pregnant and had my first daughter when I was 18-years-old. About a year later things started to spin out of control.
Alcohol was definitely my drug of choice, but I became like a trash can. Any substance I could get my hands on I would consume.
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When I was 20, I was driving during a blackout with my daughter in the car and we got into a terrible accident. I remember waking up in the hospital with a state trooper over me. My daughter had to be life flighted to another hospital. She was helpless, laying in her a bed with both of her legs broken and in a body cast- but that didn’t stop me.
Eventually, I had two more kids, but I kept doing the same stuff. I got pulled over for drunk driving with all three of my kids in the car multiple times. I was in and out of jail. I went to about ten treatment facilities. My oldest daughter went into foster care. There was a period of time that I wasn’t allowed to contact my children in any way.
By 2009, I had been arrested 21 times. The charges go on and on.
But the remorse, the shame and the guilt I felt after each one of these incidents with my children kept me consumed. That pain perpetuated my addiction.
How long have you been in recovery?
My sobriety date September 12, 2009. I just celebrated eight years in recovery.
After 10 treatment centers, what do you think made this your most successful attempt at recovery?
Before this, I had always gone to treatment programs because I had to in order to get custody of my children back. When I went back to treatment the last time, I had already lost everything I had to lose- so there was no one else to go for but myself.
I was sent to a year long treatment facility in Memphis with a very intensive 18 month aftercare program. Before that, I was only able to stay sober by myself for about 86 to 87 days. Being removed from all people and places that could have alcohol for a full 365 days was critical for my long-term recovery.
The aftercare program held me accountable for the things I did during my addiction, and that’s what it took for me. Once I was able to accept responsibility, I was able to move forward.
Is every day in recovery getting easier for you?
No. Some days are easier than others, some days are harder than others.
I only ever have two choices- I can either have a drink, or not have a drink. Choosing the right thing isn’t always easy depending on the situation… but I don’t want to lose myself to my addiction again.
What has been the hardest part about life in recovery?
Last November, I buried my mom. It was the toughest thing I had to do in my sobriety. I wanted to numb that pain with alcohol so badly.
Even on random days, things can get so overwhelming and stressful that I think to myself: “Maybe I’ll just go and have a drink.” It’s a daily reprieve.
One of the hardest things for me to accept is that I am powerless over alcohol.
What helps you get through the difficult moments?
Whenever I think about having a drink, I remember the sickening feeling of not having a purpose that was so prevalent throughout my addiction. I recall so clearly the last drink I ever had and feeling like I wanted to die… but being too scared to take my own life.
I hope that memory never goes away because it’s what keeps me from not drinking when things get tough.
Now, the first thing I do when I wake up is meditate and pray for guidance. My life would be unmanageable without spiritual direction. At the end of the day, I always thank God for helping me stay sober.
I speak to many other women in recovery and go to meetings often. I don’t make a meeting every day now, but having a support system of other women who have also suffer from addiction keeps me sane.
We’re like a family to each other- they carried me through my mother’s death.
What was trying to rebuild a relationship with your children like?
When I was sentenced to a drug court program, my oldest child wrote me a letter that said: “I will never call you my mom again, and I will never tell you I love you.”
It took time to rebuild the trust between me and all of my children. They’d heard “I’m sorry,” and “I’ll never do it again,” so many times. I gained back custody of my children on the very day that I hit three years of sobriety. At that point, we began to mend our relationship.
Honestly, when I saw them again for the first time, I didn’t even recognize them. They had grown up so much.
My children feel much more confident in my words and promises now because of my actions. They see me meditating every morning. They see that I’m not drinking. They see that I’m actually doing what it takes to stay sober.
What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned about yourself in recovery?
I’ve learned a lot about having humility and remaining teachable in my sobriety. I don’t know everything, and I shouldn’t try and control everything in my life. When I do try and control it all, that’s when things start to get out of hand.
I just have to take things one day at a time, and remember that the only thing I do have control over is how I respond to my addiction.
Do you miss anything about your life before recovery?
I try not to regret my past because it’s made me what I am today. But I was a tornado going through and destroying people’s lives when I was actively addicted- I don’t miss that.