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 SLAMnyc.org. 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 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

mage courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Recovery Rocks – Betsey Berry

This is just one of those ‘blow you away’ recovery stories. I am in complete awe how Betsey Berry managed to put her life back together after a serious meth addiction. Getting clean is challenging for anyone, getting clean of meth whilst having 4 children, a drug addict husband, going bankrupt and loosing your house is a whole new level of challenging. Not only is Betsey clean, she has just graduated college with a BS in Alcohol and Drug counselling. Betsey writes about her experiences on her blog Mom off Meth.
She is incredible, please read and share her inspiring story.

Betsey Berry graduating with the support of her children

Betsey Berry graduating with the support of her children

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

I had been in and out of sober recovery for years. This time, I’d been out awhile. I have four kids with a man who was my “drug buddy.” When we would crash off of Meth, we would fight. We would be both so full of rage, I could feel it pumping through my veins. Never hitting each other, but screaming, swearing, “I hate you!” and cussing up a storm. I would punch holes through the walls. When we weren’t fighting, we were locked in our room smoking meth. One night, during one of our rage fits, one of my children threatened to hurt himself in a very serious and attention catching manner. I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn’t bring him to the hospital because I had scabs all over me and I knew they would take away my kids. So I slept with him and told him everything was going to get better. A promise I had made a million times. But this time I meant it. I clearly saw what I was doing to my kids. I saw what I was doing to myself. That was August 23, 2010. I haven’t needed to pick up again. And since that date, although things haven’t been perfect, my life has gotten increasingly better.

My husband’s is another story, and I won’t share it here, other than he is a combat veteran, and his wounds show up as mental illness and addiction. Sober now, but very ill. War sucks.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
Two days after quitting, I left my chaotic family (seemed selfish to me, but I had to go) and went to a retreat. I had scabs from head to toe. I was crabby, starving, and had exhaustion from the depths of everything I was. So fucking tired!! The retreat was about that one 12-step group that is for the family members of addicts. YUCK! But for so long I was trying to fix “our” addcition. I heard loud and clearly there that I could only fix MY addiction. I went home, told my husband to leave and not to come back unless he gets help. So I was broke, alone with four kids in a house that was trashed. I reached out to my sober community, who were glad to see me back. They helped me clean my house. I went to a lot of meetings. I called my friends when I needed them. I grew less and less tired. I could wear short sleeves again because my arms weren’t scabbed. I started to get strong and believe I could do it.

It wasn’t easy. We were broke. I applied for welfare, filed bankruptcy, my house was in foreclosure. Things were scary. But I took care of each little mess one thing at a time. Only what was right in front of me. That is how I got through that without using. That was probably the most stressful, scary time of my life. It was also the most freeing, grateful, wonderful times of my life. I learned a lot in a short period of time. I came from a fairly well-off family. I learned a lot about humility. Applying for welfare is very humbling. Losing your house is too.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
The best things that have happened to me sober are that I have learned so much about myself. My dad saved our home, so I didn’t lose it after all. He borrowed a Meth addict an incredible amount of money. Maybe codependent of him, but it was gifts like that which made me grateful to be sober and helped fuel me when I was low. I went back to school and just graduated so I can give back as a counselor. I have started writing a blog and with that I have gotten rid of any shame I have ever had about being an addict. My children are doing great. One of them recently went through treatment and today is celebrating her 90-days of sobriety. My kids were effected by my drug use. They are children of two addicts. The chances of them becoming addicted are greater than the average child. But I have given them the gift of recovery. I have been present. So when and if they find themselves in trouble with chemicals, they know it is possible to have a wonderful life without them. We have come a LONG way. And we have so much farther to go.

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

Holy shit that is a good question. Would I say stop? No, because I couldn’t stop. I would ask myself to pay close attention to my kids. But I don’t think I could, or I would have. I guess I would just tell myself that “You don’t have to live like this anymore, and recovery is awesome.” And probably it would have still turned out as it did.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
I am not dumb. I am smart. I have never thought of myself as a smart person. I am strong. I don’t need a man to make myself complete. I am fine. I love myself now. I AM PROUD to be in recovery. I love to help spread the message that recovery works, and that we have nothing to be ashamed of.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
I filed for divorce. I never thought I mattered unless someone loved me. I still love and care for this man. But this relationship has run its course. We are not going to grow together anymore. I would never have the courage to do that if I was still using. Oh, and obviously I GRADUATED COLLEGE!!!

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
“One day at a time.” For real. It is that simple. Sometimes it is one second at a time. But my head often floats to the future when I don’t even know what is going to happen. What do they say? “If you have one foot into yesterday, and another into tomorrow, you are pissing all over today.” Waste of time!! “Keep it simple” also is a good one. I can complicate boiling water. It turns me into a procrastinator. These ones help me day to day.

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
Recovery rocks because there is this huge community out there that is moving and doing incredible things to get the shame and stigma out of this brain disease. People are excited about it and so am I. My life is so lucky. I feel like the luckiest girl around to be where I am at. None of where I am at would be at all possible, if it weren’t for recovery. I’ve met so many incredible, inspiring, funny, smart people on this journey, and I know it will keep getting better and better. This IS the life.

FACE IT TOGETHER – a new treatment paradigm



Last week I met with a mother whose daughter is a drug addict. This was not something she had just discovered it was something that she had been dealing with for many years. Her daughter had been in rehab a couple of times, had tried meetings and was still using. The mother had been to Al-anon and sought counseling herself. The situation was pretty desperate and she didn’t know what to do. She sobbed as she told me her story.
There is nothing more heart breaking than watching the loved one’s of an addict or alcohol suffer. It is a desperate and heartbreaking position to be in.
We all know there isn’t enough treatment and support for addicts and alcoholics and there is even less for the friends and family members who suffer right along side the addict.

FACE IT TOGETHER is an organization that plans on changing that. A non-profit with plans to scale to communities across the mid-west. They are refusing to be complacent about the current state of addiction treatment. They are using cutting edge science to develop a new treatment paradigm. Based on the scientific proof that addiction is a disease they use research, data and technology to improve outcomes. They also offer much needed support to family members. Started by a group of social entrepreneurs originating out of Sioux Falls in South Dakota they are a much-needed beacon of hope in the dark world of addiction.

They have just launched a new site that is dedicated to offering help and support to family members and individuals impacted by addiction. They also offer phone support to people out of the state.
The purpose of this site is to convey a message of reassurance and hope. Dealing with addiction can be a very lonely and shameful experience. FACE IT TOGETHER understands that together, we are stronger. They intentionally use non-stigmatizing language that’s consistent with public health and medicine. By taking the shame and isolation away we can begin to address this health issue and offer hope to everyone afflicted and affected by this disease.
Please check out their resources and let me know what you think.

Robin Williams – an everyday tragedy

‘But he was so loved….’
That’s what I’ve heard them most since Robin Williams’s tragic passing. As well as ‘successful, respected, rich, he had everything…’
‘How could he kill himself?’
How indeed?
The question is not how could someone with ‘everything’ kill themselves but rather how can depression be that powerful? That in the face of mass adoration and high regard can someone feel so alone, that the only solution they can see to their pain, is to take their own life?
Because that’s what happened here, despite Robin Williams having ‘everything’ and clearly being loved and adored the world over, his depression was far more powerful.

Yep, depression is that powerful.

The details of his death have yet to emerge but it’s well documented that Mr. Williams was an alcoholic and addict who had achieved long periods of sobriety. He also admitted to recent relapses and struggles which he sought help for.
Alcoholism and depression often go hand in hand. Alcohol works as a depressant on the central nervous system and will therefore cause depression. For many people this is fleeting for others the depression takes hold.
In many ways this is a chicken and egg scenario; does depression cause the sufferer to drink or does drink cause the depression? Who knows and it really doesn’t matter. What matters are mental health problems like depression need to be treated very seriously.
If Robin Williams’s death can teach us anything it is that depression has enormous power. It is hard to comprehend that a man who had access to the best help possible still succumbed to it. Suicide is the last very desperate act of a desperate person. To be suicidal means to have an absence of hope, or any belief, or faith those things could get better. It is a very dark tunnel with no light.

My first feeling when hearing of someone committing suicide is to be angry. I’m angry at them for choosing such a drastic solution, I’m angry at the legacy they leave behind, I’m angry at how selfish and thoughtless it is. I’m angry at the pain they will cause their loved ones. I’m angry even though I know that the black wall of depression was so deep and so impenetrable that Robin Williams truly believed this was the best solution for everyone. When you are that far in the hole it’s very hard to consider the effect your actions may have on others.

It’s also a myth that celebrities suffer from addiction and alcoholism more than the average person. The only reason we think this, is because a celebrity death or downfall due to addiction is always publicized. I have had clients from all walks of life, teachers, bankers, and housewife’s. Addiction and mental health problems do not discriminate, it’s just that when a teacher from Idaho or a house-wife from Cambridge over-doses or kills themselves no one but their immediate family and friends knows about it But all across our country there are people secretly struggling with their own black hole. Some make it out, some don’t. The world is a much sadder place without all of them.

If you or someone you know is suicidal then please contact the national suicidal hotline on: 1800-273-8255

Recovery Rocks – Lucy Rocca

Lucy Rocca is part of a revolution that is happening in the UK. With binge drinking accepted as normal Lucy realized there was really nothing that offered an alternative to alcohol saturation. When she woke up to the fact that alcohol was ruining her life and became alcohol-free she also realized that there wasn’t enough support out there.
Lucy started the UK based site Soberistas.com which provides support and connection for anyone wishing to be alcohol-free. Lucy’s passion lies in helping others escape the misery of alcohol dependence, and in reducing the stigma associated with addiction. She is the co-author of The Sober Revolution and Your 6 Week Plan, and the author of Glass Half Full, all published by Accent Press. Since getting sober Lucy has rediscovered life and loves running, reading, the cinema, spending time with my two gorgeous girls and fiancé Sean, and of course writing.

Lucy Rocca

Lucy Rocca

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

In April 2011, I settled down one Wednesday evening with a bottle of white wine and a magazine in the apartment I shared with my daughter (who was staying with her dad for the night). After about an hour the usual panic set in because I had almost drained the contents of the bottle, and began to worry about having to spend the night sober. I walked up to my local supermarket and succumbed to a buy-one-get-one-free offer on wine, buying two bottles instead of the one that I had intended.
Fast forward three hours and I was lying on the ground outside my apartment block, unconscious and vomiting. My dog was standing nearby, her leash hanging down by her side. Luckily for me a friend drove past on his motorbike and discovered me there in the dark. He took my dog home and called an ambulance, and the next thing I was aware of was lying in a hospital bed under glaring white lights, the stench of my own vomit all around. It was 3 am.
I vowed there and then never to touch alcohol again and have stuck to my promise.

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

I was absolutely mortified about what had happened on the last night I drank and was consumed with shame and self-loathing. I didn’t leave the house for several days as I was so frightened that I might bump into someone who had witnessed me whilst unconscious. After a few days I began to feel the first glimmer of hope that life might actually be easier minus the booze I had drunk so regularly and in such volume for the previous 20 years. I liked waking up fresh and with no memory blackouts. My anxiety lifted and I felt more aware of my surroundings. But there were moments of abject panic, when I desperately wanted to buy in some wine and numb my emotions again – I didn’t, however, because I was terrified of the consequences, and of having to go back to the beginning of my recovery process.

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

Never being depressed or having panic attacks, both of which seriously affected me as a drinker; being a much better parent and partner with none of the guilt I used to experience when I drank alcohol; I look a million times better; I notice and absolutely love the small things in life in a way I never used to – the birds, the trees, the sun rising and setting. I love how much time I have in the evenings, time that I have utilized writing my books and running Soberistas.com, as well as spending quality time (that I remember) with my children and fiancé. Life is a million times better without wine – there’s nothing I miss about my drinking days.

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

Alcohol isn’t helping you cope with your problems – it’s causing them.

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

I have found out who I am – I had no idea who I was when I drank, I was a completely different person. I’ve learnt how to be true to myself and I understand my needs and emotions in a much more intuitive way now that I’m not messing up my head with booze. I have learnt to like myself, and no longer feel the need to run away from life.

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

Becoming a published author was pretty amazing. I have always wanted to be a writer ever since I was a little girl but I never got beyond a few chapters as a drinker because alcohol always got in the way of everything. I had such little self-belief when I drank alcohol but getting a publishing contract really helped restore my faith in myself.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

Change is a process, not an event.
Live life on life’s terms.

Lucy Rocca

Lucy Rocca

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

Recovery rocks for so many reasons – mostly it’s because being sober allows you to be as you were intended to be. I feel as though I understand the world so much more without alcohol fogging everything up, I get what life is about and how I can make the most of my time on earth. Along with that awareness comes all the benefits that being more in tune with yourself bring – a happier family, more productivity, closer friendships, self-fulfillment. When I drank I was half the person I am today, and I never looked further than the end of the day when I could legitimately crack open the wine without looking desperate – I wasted so much time worrying and recovering and drinking. The gratitude I feel to be alive and for everything I have in my life today is enormous.
Who would sacrifice that in exchange for a life half-lived?

Veronica’s story

Many people have asked me for my drinking story, I wrote this some time ago and decided to publish it. This is me, this is who I was and who I am now….

I think there’s two ways you can become an alcoholic. I think you’re either born that way or, you simply need to drink enough alcohol and become one.

Veronica Valli - always the party girl

Veronica Valli – always the party girl

I believe I was born an alcoholic.
I believe this, because I’ve always felt ‘different’. My earliest memories are of feeling ‘odd’, ‘uncomfortable in my own skin’. I felt like I was looking out at the world through a glass screen, I was on one side and everyone else was on the other.
I felt separate, alone, unconnected. It didn’t seem to matter what I did, I never felt like I truly ‘fitted in’ or ‘belonged’ anywhere. These feelings began long before I ever tried alcohol.

When I finally tried alcohol at around 15 it felt like a light bulb went on. All of a sudden, I felt complete, I felt ‘right’, and I had confidence and self-belief.
Drink did something to me, it made me feel normal.
I never drank ‘normally’, whatever that is. I drank alcoholically from the word go. I could never get enough of this substance that made me feel so good.
Initially I was just your regular teenage binge drinker, I could get into bars and clubs when I was underage and the whole point was to get as drunk as possible. At the time, it was what my entire peer group was doing to. I certainly wasn’t doing anything that different to most teenagers, but whenever I compared myself to them I knew I was different. I could tell they didn’t have the same feelings of desperation or discontentedness that lived within me. As we grew up they naturally moderated their drinking and drank less where as I found that inconceivable.

At 15 I also experimented with marijuana. I’m never quiet sure what happened with my drug education, I must have missed that bit at school, as it never once occurred to me to ‘just say no to drugs’, or even question what they would do to me. I so desperately wanted to be liked and to feel normal that I said ‘yes’ to any substance offered to me.
I met my first serious boyfriend when I was 16 and shortly after left home. He was a recreational drug user and through him I tried LSD, Magic Mushrooms and Amphetamines.
I loved them; I used drugs regularly and partied every weekend. I was struggling through college and I barely passed my exams but I didn’t care because I though I’d found this group of people I belonged too and a lifestyle I enjoyed. I felt like I was living life on the edge, it felt glamorous and sophisticated.
For 2 years I really, really enjoyed taking drugs and getting drunk.
I had a great time and then at 17 everything went horribly wrong.
I had taken some LSD and had a ‘bad trip’, this had never happened before and I didn’t know how to handle it. I felt panicky and scared, I was seeing and hearing things and got very paranoid. The feeling of terror grew and even when I began to ‘come down’ the fear and panic didn’t leave, in fact they got worse. I now know I went into drug induced psychosis, but at the time I had no idea what was happening too me. The worse thing was I couldn’t tell anyone around me how I felt, I put on a ‘mask’ and pretended everything was ok. I was terrified of anyone finding out what was really happening I became imprisoned by my own fear.
My whole life was shattered. I was terrified and paranoid all the time and having at least a dozen panic attacks a day. I couldn’t get on a bus, go into a supermarket or sit in my own living room without having a panic attack and making some kind of excuse to leave. I could barely go to college, I couldn’t cope, I was having a breakdown and was most definitely suicidal. I used to stand at the bus stop waiting for a bus I was too scared to get on trying to summon the courage to jump in front of it.
Everyday of living was agony for me and I didn’t know how to carry on.
This went on for months and I was too terrified to tell anyone what was happening, I didn’t know how too. I couldn’t even begin to articulate what I was experiencing, I was too scared to say it out loud because if I did, it meant what was happening to me was real, and I was still clinging on to the hope that one day I would I wake up and be normal again.
Close to a breakdown I eventually went to the doctors and told him everything. He wrote me a prescription for Valium and recommended some counselling. I never went to the counselling but I did like the idea of being prescribed drugs to make me feel better. This was the worse possible thing to do. It started off a 10-year prescription drug habit. For years I visited different doctors explaining my symptoms of fear and paranoia and they would write me prescriptions for Valium, Xanax, anti-depressants. They always worked for a bit, papered over the cracks, but they never dealt with the root of the problem.

Veronica Valli - this was taken about a year before I got sober

Veronica Valli – this was taken about a year before I got sober

The next 10 years of my life from 17 to 27 were a living hell. I was never, ever free from fear; it was the overwhelming emotion I woke up to every morning. Some days I felt like I could hardly breath through the terror of having to get through the day and pretend to be normal.
After the incident with LSD I had stopped using illegal drugs completely and only drank alcohol, my drinking increased very quickly because it was the only thing that took away the fear. It took the edge off of my anxiety and I had a few hours of reprieve from the madness in my head and I could pretend to be ‘normal’.
At 17 my drinking shifted from ‘having fun’ to using it to cope with how I felt. I knew there was something very wrong with me, I just didn’t know what. I did try to get help, I looked everywhere, I went to doctors, counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, churches anywhere that offered some kind of hope. I was treated for anxiety or depression but never my alcoholism. The truth is, I either lied about how much I drank or, I was simply never asked, no one ever picked up on my drinking as being the real problem. Whatever treatment I was offered only ever gave me a temporary reprieve and inevitably I would revert back to familiar feelings of loneliness, isolation, despair and discontent. Drinking always gave me a temporary relief from these feelings.

I tried every method known to alcoholics to try to ‘fix’ my life. It is amusing to me now, to see how unoriginal I was in my attempts to try to make things ‘better’. Every alcoholic or addict I’ve known has tried the same methods.
At 19 I went to America to travel, I did this a lot in my twenties, spending time travelling round the world trying to escape myself. But always ending up in the same place again (alone, confused, scared and a failure). What I was really doing was running away from myself.
I’ve been to some really incredible glamorous places and I hated all of them because of how I felt.
Somehow I always managed to hold down a job and got through university but I was always just ‘holding on.’ I tried to ‘loose myself’ in relationships, I almost got married to a man I didn’t love because I thought that marriage would ‘save me,’ and everything would then be ‘fixed’. However all my romantic relationships were based on dishonesty, fear and neediness. I couldn’t believe anyone would want to be with me when they found out how disgusting I really was. I felt so unworthy of love that it was beyond my comprehension that anyone could really love me. So like a lot of alcoholics I just took ‘hostages’ because being alone scared me so much.

I was constantly searching, looking for answers.
I have a massive thirst for life and this is what really saved me. Because I remained curious I eventually stumbled across the solution for my problem. When I was drinking I always felt discontented, I knew I wasn’t reaching my full potential, I knew I wasn’t the person I knew I could be and I drank on these feelings because they were too painful to acknowledge to myself.

Veronica at 23 - I was at a wedding and started the night looking pretty good only to end up in my usual disheveled state.

Veronica at 23 – I was at a wedding and started the night looking pretty good only to end up in my usual disheveled state.

I moved jobs, countries, relationships, friendships believing each time that this would be the thing that would make me feel ‘ok’. I blamed outside circumstances for how I felt and believed if I changed these circumstances (which I did often) I would be happy.
Through out my twenties I drank heavily, more than I knew was good for me, I always sought a peer group who drank as much as I did. I drank before any social situation because I was too scared to face people; I drank before parties because I was scared there wouldn’t be enough booze for me to get the ‘buzz’ I needed. I drank anytime I felt scared and couldn’t cope. Towards the end of my drinking I began to sneak drinks and drink on my own, I preferred that to sharing my booze.
In my mid-twenties I started using cocaine whenever I drank because it enabled me to drink more. However cocaine gave me the worst ‘come down’s’ ever. I was suicidal. I would wake up the next day and felt like my soul had been scraped out and was lying on the floor next to me. I didn’t know how I was going to get out of bed let alone make it through the rest of my life. My feelings of loneliness and despair intensified.
Without a doubt their were moments of happiness, peace and calm through this period. I would have moments when I felt everything was going to be ok, but they were always fleeting, I could never hold on to them, the same inevitable dark feelings would return. I was slowly dying on the inside, it wasn’t the alcohol that was necessarily killing me it was the lies that I was telling my self. I had to tell lies to myself as it was the only way I could deal with the fear inside of me. I believe fear is the defining characteristic of alcoholism, no one understands fear the way alcoholics do.

I never became physically dependent on alcohol. I could always go for a period of time without it, usually I would switch to something else, prescription drugs, pot anything that helped me get through the day. I’ve known the shame and degradation of being a female alcoholic and sleeping with men I don’t like just to feel wanted. I’ve never been arrested, bankrupt, or fired, or many of the terrible things that have happened to alcoholics. At first I thought I couldn’t be an alcoholic because I wasn’t ‘qualified’, however I learnt that it isn’t the drinking and consequences that make you an alcoholic; it’s the thoughts and feelings that drive alcoholism. It was then that I finally understood what my problem really was.
As soon as I understood the problem I could then embark on the solution.
I got help from experts who understood alcoholism and joined a self-help group. For the first time in my life I realised I wasn’t alone.
Getting clean and sober was the hardest thing I have ever done, but there was no choice for me, I couldn’t go back to how I was living. I so wanted to live, to make my life count, to see what I was capable of. When I got sober these things at last became possible.
I always knew something was very, very wrong with me but I thought it was a rare mental health condition, not alcoholism. Alcoholism can’t be measured by how much you drink; it is much more a condition of thinking and feelings.

Today - with my son and husband

Today – with my son and husband

Finally, I became free of the prison I had made for my self; the only thing that had ever limited me was my own thinking. Recovery gave me a new perspective on life; it gave me back my self-belief and confidence. I am finally engaging in the process of reaching my full potential and becoming the woman I was meant to be. I no longer have a 50% life of just getting by, just coping. I am no longer scared, I am just the opposite, I am fearless in everything I do. I no longer worry whether you like me or not, because I love who I am. I wake up everyday and find something to be joyful about. Certainly my life has challenges in it, but none of them threaten to capsize me the way they used to, I relish challenges so I can learn and grow and become the best version of myself I’m capable of being.
Life is a wonderful adventure now instead of a scary threatening place. I live a life now beyond anything I could have dreamed off before. I am on fire with the possibilities there are in front of me.

My sobriety date is: 2nd of May 2000.

Recovery Rocks – Johnny F

Johnny F is an electrician by trade and a writer in his soul. His work has taken him all over the world. In 2005 he was in my 12th year of sobriety when he accepted a job in Yemen. It was his first trip to the Middle East. Johnny arrived with a great deal of fear but through recovery had learned to look at the world differently. He learnt that negative emotions had the potential to distract us from the truth.

In the years that followed he has worked in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Colombia, and more. Johnny has met nothing but wonderful people who have a much different perspective on the world than that of most people at home.

As a result of his experience in recovery and working internationally he recently published a book entitled Peace Anonymous – The 12 Steps To Peace and has started an organization called Peace Anonymous which is essentially a 12 Step program for peace. After all, if a Group Of Drunks can change their lives and find peace as a result of these Steps, it should be easy for the rest of the world.

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

For years the little voice inside me was telling me I had a problem. Through all the insanity of lost jobs, messed up relationships, and financial problems nothing compared to how I felt inside.

I lived in the country and hit the ditch one night driving drunk. I had promised myself I wasn’t going to drink anymore but within a few days, disgusted with myself at being drunk again, I threw a bottle out the window as I vowed, once again, to never drink again. The next morning I woke up terribly hung over and with nothing to drink to take the edge off. I went back to that ditch searching for the bottle I had thrown out the night before. I stumbled through the weeds and finally found the bottle which only had a few drops left.

One would think that would be as low as I could go but the final straw came a short time later my 16-year-old daughter told me she was pregnant. 8 days later I went back to rehab. My granddaughter is now 20-years-old and I am the world’s greatest grandfather. (Don’t even think about arguing.)

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

On one hand there was great physical relief of simply not having to deal with the repercussions of putting alcohol into my system. But to be quite honest I felt lost and very afraid. I knew drinking wasn’t the answer and there was a great deal of fear attached to the uncertainty of being sober. I was so accustomed to feeling numb all the time that the confusion and emotional swings which came when I began to actually “feel” life was overwhelming.

I had no idea who I was without a drink in my hand and it was strange to suddenly have this sober guy living in my body. In order for me just to get to know who I was I had to learn to trust the process and simply believe I was doing the right thing. Now, 21 years later, there is no doubt in my mind that quitting drinking was the right thing to do.

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

Booze numbed the pain in my life, but it also numbed the good. Today I get to feel the love in my relationships. My kids and my granddaughter are amazing. I have also been given the opportunity to travel extensively around the world – and remember it. It is funny going back to places I had been when I was drinking and experience those places again sober. Recovery rocks.
This is also something that so many people do NOT understand about recovery: The spiritual aspects. They hear the word “God” and they freak out. I get it because I was exactly the same way. My personal relationship with this thing in my life I call God is unlike anything I have ever read about or heard about. It is God, as I understand Him. It has taken years to develop and it is beautiful, hilarious, kind, patient, and loving. And through this relationship I have learned to be kinder, more patient and loving, all wrapped in a nasty sense of humor. If you knew my God you’d laugh too.

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

That would be pointless. The one thing I didn’t do when I was drinking was listen to anyone. I was the greatest authority in the world and I knew everything. So much of the pain and suffering I experienced was self-inflicted, but I blamed everyone else. What an insane disease addiction is. I only wish I would have quit much sooner.

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

At the end of the movie “Flight” where Denzel Washington plays the alcoholic pilot his son asks him, now that he is sober, “Who are you?”

When I drank I “thought” I knew who I was. But that was my ego doing the thinking. Today I have a much different understanding, a much more whole and complete understanding, of who I am. And I am most certainly not the guy my ego thought I was. There is a line in a Wallflowers song which speaks to that issue: Man, I ain’t changed, but I know I ain’t the same.
And I think the real beauty of living a spiritual life in recovery is the continuous learning and the relationship I have with myself. Its beautiful.

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

Today happened. (May 12, 2014)

Today I was walking down on Venice Beach. Had I never gotten sober I would have never written my book about Peace and I would have never been in the situation to take this picture. As I passed this bench and read the sign I stopped to take the picture. I assumed it was Douglas Hall, obviously homeless, who was asleep behind the bench.
As I took the picture a younger man, roughly 30-years-old, called to me. I approached him and, pointing to the sleeping man, he said, “That’s my dad. He lost his leg in Kuwait”

I handed him my Peace Anonymous business card and told him I had worked in Kuwait. And that I had also worked in Yemen, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. I told him I had written a book and was trying to create a program for peace utilizing the 12 Steps, which have changed the lives of millions of people all over the world.

As he listened tears started to flow down his cheeks and then I started to cry with him.

Look at the picture. This is what Douglas Hall has to show for his efforts in making sure the right corporations maintain control of Middle East oil. This is how Douglas Hall lives as a result of his service to his nation, or the board of directors that profits from the actions of the military.

Douglas Hall deserves better. His son, who loves him dearly, deserves better.

What makes me happy today? The ability and desire to see and appreciate the truth.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

One Day At A Time. Or one minute at a time. Or this moment RFN. ☺

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

When you let go of everything that doesn’t work – hate, fear, anger, resentment – the things that fueled my addiction, all that’s left is all there is – Love. Life has gotten much simpler. I know who I am. I don’t have grandiose expectations. I know what’s important today. I do not need more of everything to be happy. Peace and peace of mind are more important than anything in my life. I do not need to run the show or be in control. I can simply be and appreciate life for what it is in the present moment.

Sober by Gareth Bowler

This beautiful video has been making the rounds on social media. I wanted to share it because I think it eloquently captures what it’s like to be an alcoholic. Alcoholics are running away from themselves, we run and we run but we can never outrun ourselves. If there is someone in your life who doesn’t understand what an alcoholic is, show them this video, I think by the end they will see it differently. Let me know what you think.