|My struggle with alcohol began in my early teenage years- though I did not recognize it as a “struggle” at the time. I knew I enjoyed how alcohol made me feel and that my enjoyment of alcohol went a little farther than most of my friends. To an outsider, most of my behaviors and drinking in high school could have been chalked up to immaturity. Things escalated quickly, however, when I went off to college in 2006.
At this point, my drinking became daily and took on a much more centered part of my life. Drinking and partying became the primary focus, and it did not take long for my grades to slip. I went from an A student to a B/C student within my first few semesters of college. Not long after that, I turned 21, and my spiral downward became more rapid.
After four months of drinking round the clock, with my tolerance and physical dependence increasing steadily, I found myself in a hospital bed. I was in poor health and deeply ashamed. I am so fortunate to have a family who has always been supportive, and they quickly moved me home.
Everyone in my family, including myself, was somewhat bewildered by the condition I found myself in. I come from a privileged, loving family. My parents were/are hard workers who instilled strong values in me and my siblings. They were intentional in their parenting, enrolled us in the best schools, provided healthy meals, expressed love daily, encouraged open communication, and took us to church. Of course, everyone was puzzled by how my life had gone so off track when I had every protective factor imaginable. However, alcoholism was a disease not unfamiliar to my family and one that some extended relatives had battled long before I was born. Despite our surprise that I had developed such a severe addiction to alcohol, my mother (who became my advocate) sprang into action. I was enrolled in an outpatient program within a week of leaving the hospital, spring 2009.
Like many, an outpatient setting did not provide me with enough separation from alcohol to establish a foundation of sobriety. Within two weeks of leaving the hospital (and being warned by many medical professionals about the dire consequences of continued drinking), I drank again. To protect my drinking, I began a cascade of dishonest and shameful behaviors. Despite my true desire to stop drinking only weeks before; I found myself doing everything I could to find and consume alcohol. It was at this time that my consequences escalated, and by the fall of 2009, I was back in the physical condition I had been in the spring. Emotionally, I was much worse.
This was when everything changed. Thanks to some firm boundaries from my loved ones, who were assisted by some wonderful counselors, I made the decision to enter residential treatment at La Hacienda. October 16, 2009, I entered treatment and my life forever changed.
It was at La Hacienda that I first learned about the powerlessness and unmanageability of alcoholism. I learned that I was not an alcoholic because of a moral failing. I was not an alcoholic because I was weak-willed or unintelligent. I had a lot of work to do on my selfish nature and my character defects, but I was not inherently bad. I learned that the answer to my problems lies in connecting to God and living spiritually, through service to others. My case manager helped me face some hard truths and taught me how to live authentically.
Sobriety and spiritual living have given me everything I value today. I have been gifted true relationships with my family members today. I am able to show up for people and follow through. My faith has grown and has moved its way into the center of my world. I went back to school, finished a graduate degree, and ended up working in the chemical dependency field. While it in no way replaces my personal recovery works, being able to counsel others struggling in the same way I did is so rewarding and meaningful. A few years ago, I married a faithful, hardworking, and hilarious man. This led to the biggest gift of my life, my 11-month-old son.
There have been moments, days, even weeks that have been difficult. I have experienced grief, betrayal, and hardship in recovery. There have been times I have questioned my faith. Without exception, I am always brought back to this central truth: God is bigger. I am grateful every day for my life.
My story is an example of how even the best life circumstances cannot always prevent someone from falling into the grips of addiction. Before my own struggle with alcohol, I made many assumptions about those who were an alcoholic or drug addict. I assumed they came from broken homes, chaotic childhoods, or terrible abuses. While this often (and unfortunately) is true, my story was quite the opposite. Before finding recovery, I would often wonder “what went wrong along the way to cause me to drink like this?” I found freedom in learning that addiction and alcoholism are complex and not easily explained by a single event or cause. Instead of struggling today with the questions of “why,” I recognize that I am an alcoholic because my brain and body experience alcohol and drugs differently than most other people out there. That is as complicated as I need to make it.
Strangely, today (going on 8 years later) I am grateful for my alcoholism. It led me to recovery, which gave me a life I did not know I wanted. I cherish all the lessons and people it has provided me, and I would not change it even if I could.
Written By: Erin Crossley