I am a child of addiction.
At a very young age I was exposed to its ravages through the struggles of my mom and dad. It was always there,
Maybe the worst part of it all was that
I could not give voice to my fears,
I could not express or communicate or even process why it was different for me more than most.
My parents divorced when I was five and we went with Dad to my grandparents. I deeply missed my mom, and as she came and went, the hole in my heart tore a little bit further, got bigger each time. We knew that she loved us and that made it hurt even more.
Me and my big sister muddled our way through the dysfunction common to homes besieged by addiction, each according to our own personality and process.
As I grew a bit older, I began to act out. Perhaps it was the desperate feeling to belong, an escape from the isolation. I became Shannon the troublemaker. The strengths of my character were harnessed to provoke, to get people to look, and to get the attention for which I was starving. My path wasn’t great, but I was surviving.
I was 15 when my mom overdosed.
For 2 days, far off in Costa Rica, where I had gone to live with her, my stepdad, and my little sister, I watched her die. At her bedside, I promised her that my life would be better, that I would make her proud and that she would have a legacy. In a strange way, in those days I had more clarity than ever before. The consequences of addiction were being realized right in front of my face and I swore that it would never be me.
“But everyone has an angel. And your angel will find you.”
But sometimes, self-knowledge avails us nothing.
Although my struggles with my own addiction wouldn’t be over for years to come, I think the promise I made her then and the deep place of love from where it came stayed seared in my mind. And eventually lit my path through the darkest moments years later.
For almost a decade, from 18 to 27, I entered the world of drugs and alcohol in earnest. Everything revolved around feeding my addiction. I dropped out of High School, couldn’t get control of adult responsibilities. I was getting high whenever I could, in a desperate attempt to escape reality. I did have some shelter from the harsh consequences of my addiction with the support of my family.
And then one morning, something snapped inside of me. It was 6 A.M. and I had just burned through an inheritance I had come into. In ten days, it was gone,
in a blur of needles, powder and pills.
I did not want this to be my life. The gift of desperation gave me a moment of clarity. I knew then that change needed to happen. I asked for help. For the first time ever, I asked for help.
My promise to mom would be kept and it would start that day.
An uncle helped me get into treatment and I bought in. The place was a dump, but the people were good. I had finally found people like me and that gave me the confidence I could change too. Good treatment is always about the people. The furnishings and amenities are nice, but you need people that care. People who understand you. And give you the power to believe in yourself that you can change.
I spent 8 months in that place, and I came out ready to face the world and to conquer it. I was armed now. I understood myself better. I had a fierce determination to hold onto to this new found life and sobriety. I would do things differently than had been done before me. I would break the cycle. I understood underlying issues that drove my addiction and now had tools to deal with them. I had purpose now and knew that I had a reason for being here.
Recovery has given me so much.
I would be the first one in my immediate family to go on and get a college degree. Walking the stage for graduation was one of my proudest moments. I was able to have my whole family there to see it, to cherish it with me and celebrate. I was making my family proud, I was making myself proud, and somewhere, someplace, my mom was proud too.
It’s my 9-year sober anniversary today. In that time, I have married, became a mom, and made a difference to others. I have been privileged to give back to the recovery community that lifted me when I was down. I believe in myself and in others that we all have the capacity to transform, to live our life to the fullest.
I have even experienced tragedy in recovery with my dad’s passing four years ago and I was strong enough in my sobriety to pass that challenge through all that I have learned along the way and the fantastic support system, my tribe, that I have today. All because I am sober!
Treatment works. Recovery happens. And love endures.
No matter how dark your moment is,
make yourself a promise.
Promise yourself that you will do what it takes
to know how beautiful your soul is,
how much you are loved
and how much you deserve to love.
For me it was mom.
But everyone has an angel.
And your angel will find you.
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