Recovery rocks – Louise Rowlinson

Louise Rowlinson - A Hangover Free Life

Louise Rowlinson – A Hangover Free Life

I’ve got so much admiration for Louise Rowlinson. When I first got sober it was something I kept hidden because I was embarrassed and scared of what people think. When Louise got sober 1 year ago she decided to start a blog called A Hangover Free Life to write about her experiences. Ironically, Louise used work on a ward that nursed chronically ill alcoholics with liver disease. Because binge drinking is so normalized in the UK she didn’t think her chronic binge drinking was a problem.
Because of this experience Louise knows that something needs to change in the UK, that our attitude towards alcohol and getting drunk is causing a silent health epidemic.
By speaking out in the way she does, she is making it safer for other people to discuss their issues with alcohol and I admire her greatly for it.
Here is her story of recovery….

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

I didn’t really have a rock bottom, as it were, just the slow erosion of my self-esteem and confidence in my ability to function without booze. There were two occasions in the last year of my drinking though that put the final nails in the coffin. One was a re-union of nursing colleagues that I trained with, who I hadn’t seen for 20 years, where I met another nursing friend beforehand for drinks and by the time of the re-union I was already plastered and unable to string a sentence together. I had to leave early and couldn’t remember the evening or getting back to the hotel and felt such shame about this. The second one was at a bank holiday bbq lunch with friends where we live where again I drank to excess, ended up passing out on their sofa, and again couldn’t remember the end of the day or getting home. The difference was this time I was with my children and they had seen me like this and for me the line had been crossed. I’d like to say I stopped the next day but it took another few months for me to finally stop.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

They were emotionally hard as drinking was such an ingrained habit and had become my ‘go to’ way to manage my emotions, or suppress them anyway. Not being able to drown out my feelings with booze left me emotionally reeling and the addict voice in my head got very loud trying to get me to drink. Some days I got the kids to bed and just went to bed myself as that was the only way to shut up the voice and get through it.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

My improved relationship with my husband and children is beyond priceless and for them not to be growing up around daily drinking, like I did.
Starting my blog was one of the best things that happened as it allowed me to grow my confidence in another area where I thought I wasn’t any good and that was being creative. Not only that but it led to amazing connections with others within the sober blogging community, such as yourself, which then led to real life connection. Knowing I wasn’t alone or some kind of freak was such an amazing and powerful thing.
I have also been published in The Guardian writing about public health and alcohol policy again something I thought was beyond me.
And next month I start a Masters at the University of Cambridge.
None of this would have happened if I was still drinking.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?

You think booze is the solution Lou? Actually it’s the problem and your life will be so much better without it. Trust me. Believe me.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

That putting down the drink doesn’t fix you or your life or how you feel about yourself but it does allow the real work to begin. Drinking kept me stuck.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.

Attending the UK Recovery Walk in Manchester with 8000 other people in recovery last week-end
Having lunch in London this week with 8 ladies all of whom I have met through the sober blogs/online communities

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

Progress not perfection

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’

Because it allows you to be everything you thought you could never be – and then some!

Caitlin Moran – calling time on booze humor

This piece was originally posted on the Huffington Post

I adore Caitlin Moran. Her book ‘How to be a woman’ woke me up from my feminist slumber (I’m a Women’s studies grad).

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti /

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti /

I practically threw my book in the air with joy when she wrote:
“Do you have a vagina?
And do you want to be in charge of it?”
If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations – you’re a feminist!”

Yes Caitlin I am a feminist! Moran is also brilliant on Twitter. There is more wit and wisdom in her 140 characters than there is in most books. I also adore her for her dedication to back combing and eyeliner. As my hairdresser once said to me, ‘you can totally tell you were raised in the 80’s.’ I sometimes fantasize she is my cooler, big sister.

Except she does one thing that really irks me.

It is her attitude towards binge drinking. Whenever Moran refers to drinking she always refers to getting drunk, pissed, sloshed and hung-over. She frequently recommends it as a pastime.

But she’s joking. Right?
I’m the uptight one who is taking her humor too seriously.
She’s kidding!!!!!!!!
Get over it!
Surely it’s obvious that she doesn’t mean it literally.

If she did drink the way she jokes she does, she would probably have lost her husband and children by now. She would no doubt be on anti-depressants and would feel ‘low’ most of the time. Her health would be in decline; she would have been hospitalized many times and quite possibly would have cirrhosis of the liver. Her career would most certainly be in serious trouble.

But don’t worry, she’s only joking! She doesn’t really drink like that! No harm done.
But that’s the bit that sadly isn’t true. There is plenty of harm done, more than we are willing to face up to.

Great Britain has an enormous alcohol problem that we like to pretend is only affecting a small minority, when in fact it’s causing untold damage in our society. Binge drinking is particularly damaging to young women. I’m talking about the rise in mental health problems like depression and anxiety, the impact on women’s health, their careers and relationships, the knock their self-esteem takes when they behave in ways they don’t recognize because they are drunk. The loss of productivity, the missed opportunities and wasted potential. The loss of authenticity.

It’s the dishonesty around our binge drinking culture that bothers me. The entrenched belief that binge drinking is a harmless way to have fun. The cost of binge drinking is so high that this it is evidentially not the truth yet we still we persist with our delusional thinking. And sadly Caitlin Moran is colluding with this.

What I’d really love is for Caitlin to read this post and my previous ones about the normalizing of abnormal drinking and then ask her to consider what she is actually saying. Caitlin uses humor to get her point across to great affect. But the jokes and references to being drunk are just part of a bigger tapestry that maintains the delusion that abusive, abnormal drinking is fun and harmless. I have confidence in Caitlin that once this has been brought to her attention she might sit and have a little ponder……

I truly can’t imagine anyone more wonderful to go down the pub with than her. I’d have a soda and she might have a G and T. We would then regale each other with our wit and wisdom (her more than me, obviously). It would make no difference that one of us drank and one of us didn’t and it certainly wouldn’t impact any fun we would have.

We women really need Caitlin Moran to stand up for us. She has a platform to say the things we can’t say, she is shining her light on the issues that affect us. She has a voice that young women are listening to. She is making feminism relevant again. She is the feminist after all who makes it ok to love mascara and hairspray. I just also want her to be the feminist who understands the lethal effect alcohol abuse is having on young women and how she is part of it.

Caitlin Moran and I are from the generation that normalized binge drinking and now women are paying the price. We bought a lie and now it’s time to get honest.

There are plenty of things to be funny about, but alcohol abuse can no longer be one of them.

Recovery Rocks – Rick Bernhisel

Getting sober is hard, getting sober with bi-polar disorder is doubly hard. Like many people in recovery Rick Bernhisel bounced around trying to get help quitting alcohol, only to relapse because of manic episodes. Today he is sober and stable because of the spiritual program he works and the medication he takes. he blogs about his experiences at

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

I knew relatively early on that I had a problem with alcohol. I had drank the fun out of drinking by the time I was twenty-eight which is when I attended my first Twelve Step meeting. But I was stubborn and considered myself the smartest person in the room. So there was no sponsor and no recovery. For the next fourteen years I was in and out of the rooms.

Those time that I did get sober (or dry) I frequently slipped into bipolar manic episodes that left me shame-filled and depressed on the backside. So after each bout of mania I once again sought solace in the bottle.

My last year drinking was really my bottom. I had one of two prayers. One was to win the lottery so I could reboot my life… that was prayed on my good days. The other was a prayer that I not wake up… that was one most days.

My last bender was like so many before. But when I came slinking home Sunday night to get ready for the workweek I couldn’t stop. For the next three days I got up to go to work, but was drinking heavily before I was scarcely a mile from home.

Though I had given up on Twelve Step recovery for the two years prior to my last bender, I dragged myself in to a meeting and this time I finally stayed.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

Foggy, but committed. I finally got humble enough to ask for help and got my first sponsor in fourteen years. He had been a habitual relapser who had finally got sober. That gave me hope. I just couldn’t identify with the people who got it the first time.

He stressed step work and we got right into it. I was writing out a fourth step when I was still pretty foggy. My sponsor just told me to keep praying that what needed to be one there would make it on there.

I was making a meeting every day and even though I struggled with comprehension, I read the literature every day.

In the past I was always so eager to share at meetings to show everyone just how well I was doing. This time was different. I kept pretty quiet and just tried to absorb what was being shared. I finally was released of the need to show off just how “healthy” I was.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

Every aspect of my life has changed. I’m a contractor and I have found that at the end of contracts people want me back. I don’t disappear.

My two daughters want me around and I am a part of their lives and the lives of my grandchildren.

I remarried to a woman in recovery and we have a loving and supportive relationship. Well, that is almost always true but there was a time when I derailed that.

Four years into recovery I bought into the bull crap sometimes mentioned in the rooms about not needing psychiatric medications. If you trust God, trust Him to cure you… bla, bla, bla. I went off my medication for bipolar I and went bat turd crazy.

Fortunately I didn’t drink and I got back on meds after a little incarceration. I blog about the miracles that have happened coming out of that. It was a learning experience, but now I am pretty quick to let others who face a co-occurring disorder (addiction and mental health issues) to ignore the nonsense and stay on their meds.

I’ve found that the whole experience has enabled me to assist others with similar issues.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?

“Get humble, ask for help.” I wasn’t a low bottom drunk. I had the house and cars and pool. I made better than average money. My paycheck and the title on my business card told me that I was better than. That attitude kept me sick for a long, long time.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

I don’t have to do everything alone. I was raised with a Protestant work ethic by two depression-era parents. I thought it was up to me to fix all that was wrong in my life.

In some ways, that’s a good thing. But recovery is about the “We” not the “I.”

In those fourteen years that I was in and out I didn’t listen. I was too busy thinking up something clever to share instead of listening and learning.

Now I draw my strength and hope from others. Whether old timers with wisdom or newcomers who are just starting to have “aha” moments… I need others.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.

My wife recently had to go through a lung transplant. For three months I got to be her primary caregiver as she regained her strength and learned to care for herself.

It got me out of selfish mode and was an enriching, bonding time like no other. If I had been drinking, I may have been there physically (or not) but definitely not there emotionally.

We are closer today than ever before.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

The root of my problem is self-centered fear. For that reason I particularly like: “Instead of telling my God how big my fears are, I tell my fears how big my God is.”

Life still happens. If I let up on the maintenance of my spiritual condition I can get into fear. When that happens I just have to remember to get quiet, look within and find that inner guide.

I also like what my wife frequently shares: “Keep sobriety your priority.” I see too many people who get “cured” and then let up on a program of spiritual action. That never ends well.

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’

For half my life I was always trying to “fill the void.” But no matter how much I drank, shopped, zoned out in front of the TV or what have you the emptiness was always there.

I don’t remember when it happened, but sometime during my second year I realized that I could be alone and quiet and not go crazy. I’m not talking about isolating–I did plenty of that when I was drinking—I am talking about quiet times with no digital distractions. The phone is off, the Kindle is off, the TV is off and I am just fine being me.

I’d be lying if I said the emptiness never returns. Sometime I let up on doing what works. But it happens with less frequency and I know what to do to get through it. It’s a much better way to live.

Where the hell is Matt? 2012

I never, ever post YouTube videos on my Facebook page. I never, ever say ‘you must watch this, it’s the best thing ever’. Because when you click on them and they rarely are.
All except this one. I am madly passionate about this video,
Because it’s a state changer.
Let me explain. I had seen the 2008 version of ‘Where the hell is Matt?’ But not this latest one. The other day I went to work in a foul mood, about 15 things had gone wrong before I got to work and I just felt grumpy and pissed off. Then a colleague showed me this video and in about 45 seconds I felt connected and joyous again.
It broke my ‘state’ of feeling negative and put me back on track to feeling positive again.
Negative thoughts breed more negative thoughts and sometimes we need something to pull us out of that funk.

If you are in a negative place then I’d watch this video for 45 seconds and I guarantee you will feel immensely better. It will also be impossible not to watch the whole thing.
Like I said, I never post videos and say they are the best thing ever. So I promise you this is the real deal.

(Thank you Matt Harding for brining joy).

Recovery Rocks – Angie Robinson

Recovery Rocks this week with Angie Robinson, she is an author and inspirational speaker. She loves helping people recognize that they can overcome their struggle and find peace, joy, and life. Angie likes taking photos and is learning how to be a better photographer. She absolutely loves being outside where she feels the greatest presence of God’s profound power. Her novel Shadows of Truth is available on Amazon.

Angie Robinson

Angie Robinson

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

My “rock bottom” actually hit a couple years before my sobriety date, when I was living as an expat in France with my husband and three kids. I had promised myself before we moved to France that I would control my drinking that seemed to be getting carried away on a daily basis. Unfortunately I quickly began drinking to clean the house and to reward myself for making the stressful journey to the market or bank or post office. I desperately desired social interaction with other moms from the English speaking school, but my desire to drink trumped any invitation to visit museums or join cooking clubs or take a walking tour. I couldn’t stand being away from home too long without a drink, so I simply stayed home. Alcohol even invaded the one place I tried to keep sane – my French language lessons – and ultimately I quit because it interfered with drinking.
I convinced myself that I was only trying to make things more relaxed in the difficult situation of living in a foreign country. I was drunk and passed out by the middle of the afternoon and would groggily make my way to the bus stop by 4:00. If my husband was coming home that night, I would try to sober up until I could pour a glass of wine for dinner. If he was traveling (most days), I poured the wine as soon as the kids got home, which helped me feel relaxed and happy helping them with homework and watching them play outside.
On the surface it seemed like my plan was working, but on the inside I was crumbling to pieces. I felt like my family would be better off without me. I threatened suicide, but my husband told me it would damage the kids, so I tried to plan a way to escape that wouldn’t cause so much harm. I failed at finding a plan, but I visualized dying almost every day. Strangely, I actually feared dying accidentally in my sleep when I passed out at night. I left emergency phone numbers for the kids to call if they woke up in the morning and found me dead. This was my ‘rock bottom’ because it led to me reaching out for help to control my drinking, even thought it took two more years of struggle to actually stay sober.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

My first 30 days were horrific! I cried and paced the house and pounded on the floor. I craved so much sugar that I ate large bags of candy at a time. I had headaches and suffered from dehydration. I walked around the block in the rain once, simply because I had to move my body or go completely crazy.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
My marriage stayed intact and my kids have told me how proud they are of my ability to get and stay sober. My daughter wrote an essay in high school about me being her hero and gave a speech in college about alcoholism and recovery using me as her example.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?

Alcohol is not the solution that you think it is – it’s the problem. Believe me!

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

I am good enough just the way I am.
I can carry on a conversation or attend a social function without a drink.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.

I wrote a novel (Shadows of Truth) and published it. First of all, I never would have completed it when I was drinking (I tried and kept re-writing the first sixty pages). Most importantly, I am able to be vulnerable to publish it and let the world see my work. When I was drinking I hated everything about myself and felt that nothing I did was good enough.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

One day at a time. (Sometimes, one moment at a time.)
First things first.
There is a solution.
Without help it is too much for us.

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’

I am becoming the person God created. That person was covered with shame, guilt, loathing, fear, dishonesty, and dreadful behavior. Over time some of that yucky stuff was swept away and I can see a beautiful and loving person who cares about others and wants to make a difference in the world. As a sober woman of dignity, I can make a difference. I can love and be loved. I can accept my flaws and I can continue to grow. The feeling of freedom is unbelievable, and it truly rocks to be alive.

You can follow Angie on Twitter. and on Facebook.

An interview with Matt and Amy Baumgardner

A little while ago I was asked to review an extraordinary book called: From this day forward, A love story of faith, love and forgiveness by Amy and Matt Baumgardner. I had interviewed Amy Baumgardner previously for my Recovery Rocks interview series. Amy just has one of those jaw-dropping stories of recovery. Her story is so extraordinary that she was featured on Oprah’ Life class with Iyanla Vanzant.

Amy Baumgardner with Oprah Winfrey and Iyanla Vanzant

Amy Baumgardner with Oprah Winfrey and Iyanla Vanzant

Amy lost all sight of what was important to her and her drinking took over, one day she packed her kids into the car and drove them whilst she was drunk. She hit a tree and the accident left her 5-year-old in a critical condition. This was the beginning of the end for Amy, finally realizing she had a problem she began the long painful and guilt-ridden task of getting sober. But how does a family recover from this? How does a husband forgive his wife for almost killing their child? How does a mother forgive herself? How can you repair a marriage with this kind of devastation and pain?
The answer is you can. Which is why Matt and Amy wrote their book, it documents the almost destruction of their marriage and family, and how through faith, love and forgiveness they managed to put it back together.
After reading their amazing book I had questions for Matt and Amy which they very kindly answered here:
1) What motivated you to write the book?
Amy: For me, healing! I needed to get my story out of me. When I was in rehab I remember grabbing anything that I could get my hands on to help me understand what was happening. I needed to hear the journey of other women, other mothers who had done the unimaginable and learn how they battled their addiction and guilt while living sober. I was desperate to have answers. After I was sober for about a year I decided that my story was exactly what I had been searching for so I felt I had an obligation, or a call to action to share it.

Matt: Amy was the one who made this idea of writing a book happen. She had begun journaling about the past several years after she came home from rehab. I figured, hey, if this keeps her happy, focused, and off of a bar stool, then I’m all for it. Amy would sit for hours just writing. It gave her something to fill her time with besides alcohol. Her journaling led to her beginning to blog and share some of our story on recovery/addiction-type websites. This led to blogging on Oprah’s website, which led to producers asking us to do the show. It was after the show, in our green-room that Oprah came back to thank us and chat for about 10 minutes. It was at that time that Oprah made the comment that our story should be made into a book. Amy always thought it would be neat to write a book, but I think the final nudge came from Oprah.

2) The book is very raw and honest, how hard was it to sit down and remember the past and get it on paper? Where you worried what other people would think?
Amy: In the beginning of my recovery I worried about what everyone thought. But the more time I had in recovery the more I wasn’t worried about what other people were going to think. I was more concerned about how my children would be treated by those who read the book and didn’t understand mine and Matt’s intention behind sharing our story. Throughout the entire process Matt and I both agreed that we needed to be as honest and direct about our story as possible. Otherwise, what was the point? Our intention was to give Hope to anyone who found themselves in a similar relationship and situation. We aspired to inspire others to tell the truth about their own relationships and how addiction may be affecting it.

Matt: It was difficult, yet therapeutic. It forced us to bring up and discuss some really difficult memories and events. However, looking back, that was a blessing. As a couple, we were forced to have some difficult conversations between the two of us, which in the end, has strengthened our marriage. Yes, initially I worried about what people would think, especially those in our town, my colleagues, our family/friends. However, that has faded. We have been pleasantly surprised with how supportive most have been. Amy gets positive comments from people all over the world now via social media.

Matt and Amy Baumgardner

Matt and Amy Baumgardner

3) One of the things about the book that really stood out for me is how honest you both were. I’m interested in why Matt decided to give his marriage another shot after Amy had put him through so much.

I wasn’t willing to give my marriage another shot in the beginning. Even though Amy had come home from rehab, I still had my mind made up. In my thinking, I had to keep my children safe from this “time-bomb” that would eventually cause greater harm. I didn’t think Amy had any chance of staying sober. So, I prepared for mine, and the children’s life without Amy. I had visited a divorce lawyer while Amy was in rehab and had discussed/given her all of the necessary info to file the paperwork for divorce. Having Amy living back at home after rehab was very cold. I didn’t speak to her and made sure I was home the least amount of time as possible. Looking back, that was a mistake I regret today. I really feel terrible about abandoning her at the time she probably needed the most support. I should have fought for my bride at that moment, but instead I let anger and fear blind me from what a supportive husband should have been doing. It took several months, but eventually I noticed small changes in Amy. Things like, rolling around of the floor tickling the kids, cooking a nice dinner for us, running/working out. These are all small things, but they were things that Amy had stopped doing during her drinking. In those days, if Amy was home, she was passed out in her bedroom recovering from a hangover. She would want to be left alone.

4) Amy – after your accident you tell of how you were almost shunned in your hometown, has that changed now people have seen you sober?

Amy: Yes and No. The greatest change has been my perception of the accident and my alcoholism. Because of this, I’m no longer affected by what others think of me. I imagine people can appreciate my sobriety and the years I have accumulated in recovery. Even my harshest critic can’t deny me that but for the most part I think the people are just on to the next train wreck, while others may be patiently waiting my derailment. I try to focus on Matt and the kids, always.

My mantra is “Living Sober is the Best Amends”.

5) How do you talk to your children about what happened?
Amy: We have been extremely open with our kids about my addiction, the accident, and the pathology of our family. We want our kids to hear the facts of our story from us. I have taken the time to rebuild trust with them and doing that meant having the patience to let them mature and understand just how serious the accident and my addiction are. They are still learning, they still have questions and Matt and I are continuously reassuring them that our family is intact.

Matt: Gavin and Madison are very aware of what happened. At the time of the accident they didn’t know why mommy ran off the road and into a tree. But, within a few days I told them. I probably told them in a way that I hoped would make them angry at their mommy, which in turn would make the pending divorce easier on them. Obviously, not one of my finer moments as a father. Since then, we have been very open with them about the effects of alcohol on an individual, what can happen, etc. Now, when I have conversations with them about Amy’s past drinking, I remind them about how proud they should be for their mommy. Madison seems to have held on to the memories of the accident the most, in fact, she will remind me if she sees me drinking a beer at a picnic/gathering that I have to drive later.

6) As your children get older what will you tell them about alcohol?

Amy: I talk to my kids about drinking. I let them know that there is definitely going to come a time in their lives where they feel they are mature enough to experiment. And that’s ok. What I don’t want, is them growing up knowing that Mommy had a problem and never understanding why. We talk about addiction and how they are just as susceptible as I was to becoming an alcoholic. It’s not meant to scare them, it’s meant to show them that it can and it does happen.

Matt: I sort of touched on this in the last question. I have explained to them that drinking alcohol as an adult is fine if done carefully. I don’t want the kids associating alcohol with “bad people”. I don’t want them seeing their grandfather, aunt, daddy, etc. enjoying a beverage and think they are doing something wrong. I do want them to realize that when they are old enough, they have a decision to make, however that decision must be made carefully and responsibly.

7) Amy – how did you start the process of forgiving yourself?
Amy: Forgiving myself took patience and time. The longer I had in recovery, the more I began to believe that what I had done was forgivable. For the longest time I held on to my guilt as a way to punish myself and prove to everyone around me that I was sorry for what I had done. After a while I learned to let go of the guilt. I learned that my past actions do not define who I am. I gradually began to view the accident as a positive. I was fortunate that my daughter survived, my marriage was back on track and that I was living sober one day at a time. I started to be grateful for all that was happening in my life around me, in that moment. I stopped looking at my past for validation that I was a horrible mother and wife and started looking at it as the stepping stool I needed to become the person I was created to be. I took the lesson and I applied what I learned to my life. This was how I was able to move forward and forgive myself.

8) Another thing that struck me about your book was how normal binge drinking was in your peer group and culture. Looking back do you think there could have been any information or intervention that would have helped you get help earlier?
Amy: I think I surrounded myself with a select group that was saturated with booze but I don’t think the direction of my life could have been any different regardless. The disease was dormant inside of me. Looking back, I can see that now.

9) What is your message to other families suffering from alcoholism?
Amy: Faith, Hope and Forgiveness are the three main elements to living a sober life. Recovery is an option and it can be obtained. Most importantly, it is possible to have the life you always imagined.

Matt: Ask for help. You have to realize that it may take a small army to support/help someone with an addiction. One person can’t help by themselves. That’s where I screwed up. I thought I could handle my wife’s problem on my own. I was embarrassed to let my parents, friends, etc. find out how much of a mess my family life had become. As I talked about in our book, there is no divorce on either side of my family, which includes seven aunt/uncle couples. So, I felt ashamed to possibly be the first husband in our family that couldn’t manage his own family. Again, looking back, big mistake. I let my ego get in the way of what needed to be done.

10) What does the future look like for both of you?
Amy: I am happy! I feel more alive and in love than ever. Matt and I have started a foundation called 4Give which helps advocate for families in recovery. We are working on our second book together. We are focused on our children and each other.

Matt: We have begun to speak publicly about our story at marriage conferences, treatment centers, etc. We have also started a non-profit, The 4 Give Foundation, that will help keep families, with addiction problems, intact. Money raised will go to fathers or mothers whom are fighting addiction and need additional funds to complete their rehab. Many insurance companies only cover a short amount of time of inpatient treatment. Through the 4 Give Foundation, we will select mothers/fathers, whom are married with children, and pay for the completion of their inpatient treatment. The future looks bright for us. It feels great to help others who are going through what we did. It is also a great way for the two of us to continually strengthen our marriage. We get to work on a common goal/project, which includes traveling and spending time together. Our goal is to build 4 Give into an internationally recognized non-profit foundation. We also look to continue to share our story of Faith, Hope, and Forgiveness with any person/couple whom are willing to listen and want to receive help in their struggle with addiction.

Matt and Amy Baumgardner

Matt and Amy Baumgardner

You can buy matt and Amy’s book on Barnes and Nobleand

Recovery Rocks – Debra Solberg

Debra Solberg is a professional singer and speaker who is passionate about following the path that God has laid out for her. She is a wife and mom of two lovely and amazing girls. Debra is drawn to helping others in food addiction by speaking, singing and blogging about her personal journey with recovery. Debra is currently studying for her Nutrition and Wellness Certification to further her knowledge in this area. On top of all this she is a songwriter and lead singer for the Nashville based band Dust and Daises. You can read Debra’s excellent blog on recovery from food addiction here.

Debra Solberg

Debra Solberg

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
1992. My band was opening for Quiet Riot at a club in Minneapolis, MN where we used to live. The entire show was videotaped. After I saw it I absolutely hit bottom. I isolated myself and wouldn’t talk to anyone-including my husband for 3 days because of the deep shame and embarrassment. I was horrified by what I looked like. Somehow seeing it on video was more “absolute” than stepping on the scale or looking in the mirror. I was 250 lbs and a size 22. I was already so broken and unhappy and seeing that image sent me down further.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

Food addiction is tough. At the point I hit bottom, I didn’t even know I was a food addict! I had never heard of Binge Eating Disorder which is what I struggle with. So all I knew how to do at that point was go on a diet and start exercising. I did lose weight (and gained and lost and gained..)but it was only until about 4 years ago that I realized I was actually an addict, after I had kind of backed into a 12 step program in my community (another story). So it had previously been a cycle of bingeing, running, starving, dieting, until I started that recovery program. The first 30 days were tough- determining how to recover as a food addict can be a little confusing. We all need food, so I just had to sort out which foods I needed to stay abstinent from. There was a lot of questioning myself about foods I loved but ate way too much of; “so are you SURE you want to take that away from yourself?” I initially thought abstinence was deprivation but now I know it is life-giving!

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
The very best things are freedom from obsession with food and freedom from a lot of extra weight. My 12 step program is not a diet club. I needed to work on my mind first, and then the weight came off. So I am getting the best of both worlds. I don’t even think about bingeing anymore and I don’t care that I can’t eat certain things. I would not trade this freedom for anything! My mind is so much clearer and I am so much more close to God that I have clarity on what He has out there for me! I am less angry, less anxious and fearful, and I have a lot more energy and confidence to just go out and “do”, instead of merely existing. So I get to go out and speak and at my concerts for some audiences I can talk about it too since some of my songs are about my journey.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were using what would you tell yourself? First of all, the disease is not your fault. But you are accountable. And it IS possible to recover. You aren’t just “stuck with a weight and body image problem”. There will be a day when you don’t plan, obsess, crave, hate yourself and your body.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
That my body has been a focus of shame for almost my entire life. From being called “fat” names by family and peers since the 4th grade, to getting “way to gos” in my adulthood when I would lose weight on the most recent diet I was on. The praise was even a source of shame; it was like people were saying, “you are finally worthy!” My body always carried my identity depending on what it looked like.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
I started a blog about my recovery. I get emails from people all over the world and I get an opportunity to try to plant a seed of hope in someone’s life. I also get to do the same thing by going out and speaking about food addiction and telling my story at my concerts.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans? “nothing changes if nothing changes”, “it is what it is”, “action precedes motivation”.

Debra and her husband

Debra and her husband

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’ Because you get to be the whole person God created you to be and you get to experience all that this life has to offer without the disease crippling you! Complete freedom!

A letter to my teenage self

Dear Veronica (age 16)

Where do I begin? There is so much I want you to know at this difficult age, will you listen? I know you are already searching, I know for sure you are hurting and looking for answers but I also know you are convinced you know everything you need to know…

Me age 16 on my last day of school

Me age 16 on my last day of school

If you could listen, the first thing I want to talk to you about is boys. Oh jeez…… girl, they are not the ‘solution’ you are looking for, please trust me when I tell you that. So many of your brain cells are going to be wasted thinking ‘does he like me? Why doesn’t he like me? What can I do to get him to like me? Will he leave me? How will I survive if he leaves me?’
This is a colossal waste of time and brainpower. If only I knew then, what I know now, how different my life could have been. The things I could have accomplished if I hadn’t always been worrying about what some random (who was rarely worthy of me) boy thought! I could have conquered the world with that wasted brainpower.
The other thing is, boys have no better idea of what they are doing then you do. I know it sometimes look like they do, but they are equally as frightened and insecure as you are. In short, don’t hitch your cart to a lunatic. Drive your own wagon.

As we are talking about boys we need to also talk about sex. There’s so much more to sex than always using protection. I mean, always use protection that’s important, but it’s also really important that you are in control of who and when you have sex. Don’t ever let yourself be coerced or forced into doing something you don’t want to do. Ever.
The most important thing to know, is having sex with someone won’t necessarily make them love you. If you love them in that moment (and sometimes it is a fleeting moment) and you want to have sex, then go for it. But don’t give up your sexuality to try and make someone love you, it won’t work. Work on the love first, and then the sex will be great. And by that I mean love yourself first. Love your glorious beautiful body, respect and cherish it. If you feel this way then you won’t ever expect less from your lovers.

As a young women I know how you look is pretty important to you. At different times in your life it may feel like it is the most important thing, but it really isn’t. We have created a culture that emphasizes the importance of external appearance above all else; we have also created impossible ideas of beauty that no woman can live up to. So my advice is don’t try. Everything about you is beautiful; you are already the right weight. Eat to nourish your body, balance your diet and eat what you enjoy. Don’t starve yourself; this is just another way to waste brain cells. You can’t conquer the world when you are hungry.

The next thing I would talk to you about is drugs and booze. Don’t roll your eyes. This is serious s**t. It’s true that alcohol and drugs can be a ton of fun. I know you have figured that part out already. But the part you don’t know is they come with a price, a very heavy price and you will be required, at some point to pay it.
The message you have been given by your culture is that alcohol = fun. I hate to say but you have been lied to. Alcohol can be an aid to having fun, but is not fun of itself. It’s the result not the objective. There are many vehicles to fun, but alcohol has convinced us, that it is the best and only one. This isn’t true. Look around you on an average Saturday night and ask yourself; are these people are having fun? I’m asking you to be brutally honest, because to use alcohol abusively and dress it up as fun takes a degree of self-dishonesty. Basically you have to lie to yourself. So the issue here is not how much you drink, but how much you lie to yourself.
You will learn over time that integrity is one of the most valuable things you possess, but to keep it you will need to practice brutal self-honesty. This is the price I am talking about. Being honest with ourselves can be hard.
A lot of the reason people use alcohol and drugs is not to just have ‘fun’ but to cope with how they feel. Substances can provide a brief reprieve from the darkness inside of ourselves. But my love, the darkness inside of you won’t be cured with drugs and booze; instead they will make it grow. I know they make you feel confident and able to be the person you think you want to be, but when we have substances motivating our actions we become a ‘false-self.’ We get lost, we lose who we are. If you are drinking to cope more than you are drinking to have fun then something’s wrong. If this is the case then please get help.

My final piece of advice is the most vital; strive to Live Your Truth above all else. There is really nothing more to know than this. There is no greater adventure than this. Living Your Truth is something only you can define. It may mean disappointing people around you, it may mean being alone for a while, it may mean going against the grain, it may mean you have to speak up, it may mean many things that seem frightening at first. But really, there is no other path in life. Trust me I’ve checked. What seems like a path will often be a dead-end. The challenge of Living Your Truth is facing your fears on a regular basis. Yeah I know, that bit sucks, but trust me it doesn’t suck half as much as walking a false path. Fears only grow out of control when we don’t know how to deal with fear. It really is a skill that can be leant at any time but the earlier the better. Like riding a bike, once you master it, it will come to you easily.
Don’t live your life according to other people’s expectations, Living Your Truth means being true to who you are and being true to that voice deep inside of you. The problem with alcohol, drugs and casual sex is they mask that voice so we can’t hear it. That voice is our guidance system, without it we get lost.
When we get lost or feel uncomfortable in our skins it’s because we are living an inauthentic life. I’m telling you this so if/when it happens you will recognize what’s going on and will know what to do.

Me age 41 with my 3 year old son

Me age 41 with my 3 year old son

These are the things I wished someone had told me when I was 15. These lessons are not optional, they are required and will have to be learnt eventually. When is up to you. But if you are not ready yet, then there is just one last thing I want you to take away and hold in your heart. You are a brave, sassy, intelligent, curious, creative, dynamic, awesome young women and I love you.

Veronica (age 41)

Recovery Rocks – Patrice Sarna

This weeks Recovery Rocks interview is with Patrice Sarna, she wrote an incredible introduction that I just can’t top:

To start with, I’m struggling with using my last name because of the work I do. I’ve been in the financial world for over 25 years and I’m subjected to rigorous background checks because of this. Then I realized that I’m proud of my sobriety. I won’t hide anymore. If my name is ever googled by a new employer and they see this interview and judge me negatively, I no longer care.
My number one job is being a mother. I never thought I would say anything like that but it’s true. NOTHING to me has ever been so rewarding. I got sober when my twin boys were 3 years old.

I worked so hard to have them, and was clean and sober a year for my pregnancy. Once home with them, however, my sobriety lasted a week.
How can I breast feed when I had that bottle or bottles and pills waiting so patiently for me? So bam, they were weaned and I was off to the races.
My boys are now 16 and I will be married for 20yrs in September. Both I never dreamed possible.
I live in CT on the shoreline because I love the water, beaches, kayaking and great public schools. I am part of a non-profit (Lifelinx) here on the shoreline that has three sober houses. Our mission is to reduce substance abuse through relapse prevention by providing a variety of peer-driven recovery support for people in and seeking recovery from substance abuse disorders. I’m proud to say I’ve been with them for 8 years and 3 years as President. All since moving to this part of CT 8 years ago.
I’m also a supporter and believer in Kristen Johston, created SLAM, and fights effortlessly to build a much needed sober high school in NYC. There are over 30 sober high schools, yet not one in NYC or NY state.

Patrice Sarna

Patrice Sarna

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
My last drunk was Easter Sunday March 31, 2002. Somehow I managed to drink my way to my parents club in the company of two 3 year olds and my husband. This club was a part of my life. Weddings, my sons Christening, holidays and lots of summer fun. This day was by far the ugliest, most demoralizing day of my life. Once there I was very drunk and about to black out. Any addict will attest, you never want to know what happened during that black out, but if you ask, you will be told, and I was. I not only embarrassed and mortified my family but I put my children in a rather sad position. I had a mouth full of venom and however not directed at my children or niece, she was in tears and my boys were out of control. My husband was faced with driving my twins and their very drunk mom back to CT. It wasn’t pretty and I was about to come out of my worst, yet last, stupor of my life. I knew, early the next day that I could not continue, but HOW, was my biggest fear. My stomach ached, I couldn’t fathom what I had done and I wanted more than anything to just be ‘better’.
A better mom. A better wife. A better person.
Three days later I walked into a friend’s house. A new friend, one that I truly admired. Annie was funny, generous, non-judgmental, and in recovery, a rarity. I knew in every part of my shaking body that I had to surrender and with Annie, I could. At first I ran out of her house when she outright told me I had a problem, (how dare she) but on that drive back to CT I knew she was right. I called her back, still shaking, she agreed to meet me the next day and I surrendered to my addiction. She became my sponsor and I met her every morning for the next 3 years and to this day she is one of my dearest friends, just a phone call away.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
I’m going to be totally honest and say it was brutal. Physically very
painful and emotionally very sad. I detoxed from prescription pills and booze on my own, in my house, with my husband working & Annie, both a phone call away. I chose not to reveal to Annie the extent of my pill/drug abuse, it conveniently slipped my nonfunctioning mind. Looking back, I clearly belonged in a hospital and I don’t advise anyone ever doing it this way. I also had a highly visible position with a Fortune 100 company and I had not a clue what I was going to do with it. Most importantly, I was a mother to beautiful twins that would turn 4 exactly on my 30-day anniversary. NOW that part sounds lovely, however I had one little angry four-year old and one very confused four-year old and I was faced with how to repair the damage caused by my full-blown active addiction. I was so fearful and so sorry for anything and everything that I might have done wrong.
At this time I had also met some great people in my recovery program, one of who helped me find an IOP. With his help I agreed to enter an Intensive Out Patient Program for 5 weeks. Honestly, this was the beginning of my new journey. What I did learn after 30 days is that God puts people in our lives for a reason.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
Well I have to say my children. With the help of my husband, those angry & confused four-year olds are now the happiest, well-rounded, most loving young men. Nothing could ever come close to that accomplishment because trust me it wasn’t always easy. My family and close friends know that but they also know those little boys now and I can’t be prouder nor can they.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
You have a disease that is treatable. It may not be curable but with daily maintenance you can live your life and your dreams can and will come true, if that is what you want.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
I’ve learned so much about myself it amazes me. I learned how to honor a commitment but also how to say no. It’s ok if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t make me a failure. I have patience now, I can’t believe that one however it’s still a work in progress. I have courage and acceptance. It allows me to face things I can change. With recovery I can be honest, have faith, and be humble. I no longer have the leash of addiction around my neck. I feel so free.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
I woke up today with a life I never dreamt possible.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
“Living life on life’s terms” from day one this grabbed me and never let go.

Patrice Sarna with her sons at 12 years sober

Patrice Sarna with her sons at 12 years sober

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’

This I share with all my recovery friends. I am the best possible mother I could ever be. I continue to give my sons, love, discipline and respect. They are HAPPY, well-adjusted, beautiful young men. They had dreams and passions and the only thing they ever knew because of my sobriety, was that talent is a small portion of your dreams, it will take hard work and determination and I will support you 150% on your journey. They have successfully finished two years of high school and are shining stars in my eyes. They chose sports, it’s not for everyone, but it’s taking them to levels of satisfaction that never would have been possible without a sober mom. One plays baseball and is showcasing his pitching talent to college recruiters all over the east, midwest and south. 6 weeks on a bus with the same team practicing and doing what he does best. His brother finished his year on the varsity hockey team that won The State Championship in CT. and is now heading to a 4-week leadership program that he was chosen for based on a holistic selection.
I sometimes talk too much about my sons but this mother rocks with pride and I couldn’t do that without ‘Rocking recovery’.

The gift of alcoholism

Yeah, it’s a pretty crappy gift right?

mage courtesy of Stuart Miles /

mage courtesy of Stuart Miles /

I was not real thrilled when I discovered that what had been wrong with me all these years was actually the ‘gift of alcoholism’.
I don’t know about you, but I had some relief from at least finally knowing what was wrong with me. Up until then I thought I had a rare mental health condition (very rare, like I was the only one who had it).
It is exhausting looking for a solution to your problem, when you don’t know exactly, what your problem actually is. So there is some relief in finally figuring it out, because at the same moment I was also introduced to a solution.
But I still wasn’t doing a happy dance to find out I was an alcoholic. Fourteen years ago I though that meant a life living on the sidelines, disabled in some way. I thought I would have to avoid anything fun and I would have to go through life with some kind of scarlet ‘A’ on my chest whilst people looked at me with pitying smiles.

In order to recover from alcoholism you have to work really hard on yourself. Your life literally depends upon it. There is so much more to getting sober than just putting down the drink. I cruised in my sobriety for as long as I could, doing a bit of this and that, until it got really painful and I was forced to do some real work.
Working on myself was an absolute last resort. On my knees and out of options I had to look inside of myself and face up to things that I had avoided my whole life. I had to look at the past, at my choices, my behavior, my thinking, my responses. I had to make amends, see people I didn’t want to see and say things I didn’t want to say. I had to do all of this because I wanted to stay sober more than anything.

Without the gift of alcoholism I may never have been forced to look at myself. Instead I may have spent my whole life trapped by my fear, resentment, anger, self-righteousness. In many ways these are all aspects of the human condition but it was my alcoholism that forced me to examine them on a much deeper level. My consequences are so catastrophic that I can’t avoid it. I learnt that actually a life lived unexamined is not a life worth living. That the journey of becoming who Im truly meant to be is the point to life. Without alcoholism I would have just slept walked through my life. Alcoholism woke me up. Brutally, abruptly and horrifying it forced me awake.

Then something amazing happened.

I felt whole and connected for the first time in my life. Something awoke in me and lit me up in a way alcohol couldn’t even come close to. I was alive in ways I could never have dreamed possible before. My life finally made sense. I finally understood that my drinking was merely a reflection of a spiritual illness. And there was a solution to this. That soul work not only freed me from alcoholism it brought me to a life full of adventure, learning, fun, connection, mess, richness, beauty and authenticity.
And that is the greatest gift of all.