‘Heart pounding, hands sweating, I fell to the ground screaming. I truly thought I was dying.’: Woman details mental health, sobriety journey to ‘end the stigma’

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“It was a bright, warm summer day when I decided to admit myself to the hospital. The day started off as any other. I was working as a virtual assistant for a small communications firm, so I worked from home. I had just started the job and loved it. The work was meaningful and interesting. I had recently met all of my team members and genuinely liked everyone.

Things were going well in my life. I was in a loving relationship with my boyfriend, had a great job and friends. Everything seemed okay on the outside. In fact, if you knew me at the time, you’d never have guessed I would be going to the hospital for a panic attack and suicidal ideation. I’m an outgoing, happy person and often overcompensate when I’m not doing well. I try very hard to maintain a hard exterior.

Young couple smile for a photo while at a nightclub
Courtesy of Christina Kimbrough

Around noon that day, I ran into a small issue at work and started to get anxious. I decided to take a quick break and go for a walk. Unfortunately, this did not help. As I walked, I grew more anxious. My heart was pounding out of my chest, my hands were sweating and I started to see stars. I immediately headed home and called my mom. I ran into my house and fell to the ground in the living room. I remember grabbing my hair and pulling at it and letting out a loud scream. My mom stood helplessly with me.

At the time I truly thought I was dying. I could barely breathe, talk, or think coherently. After what seemed like forever, I finally calmed down a bit, but I was exhausted. I laid down to take a nap, but never fell asleep. My mind wouldn’t stop racing and I eventually started having dark thoughts that scared me. I was thinking about not wanting to live anymore. The thoughts continued to get stronger and wouldn’t leave no matter what I did.

It was at this point I decided I needed to get professional help. My mom and I left late afternoon to figure out what to do. It took a long time to find the right option. I knew I needed immediate attention, but didn’t know where to head. Eventually, I’d learn what I was experiencing was a panic attack. After a lot of phone calls and driving, we decided the best option was for me to admit myself to an emergency room. That was extremely scary.

I remember admitting myself and not knowing what to expect. I was put in a hospital room, and they ran a bunch of tests, and asked me a lot of questions. It was decided I wouldn’t be going home that night. I was taken in an ambulance to a nearby psychiatric hospital. I spent three days there talking to counselors, nurses, and psychiatrists. It was there I received my first diagnosis of anxiety and depression. I learned what a panic attack was. I learned the term for my dark thoughts. I learned what I was experiencing was suicidal ideation.

I was put on medicine and sent home. Eventually, I found a therapist and continued to try and figure out how to live with this new diagnosis. While I was in the hospital, we were asked to do deep internal work into our past to help us figure out why we were there. Leading up to my hospitalization I’d been working as a case worker to help resettle refugees from Syria. This job was extremely stressful and I didn’t handle it well. Eventually, I lost the job. During all of that, my boyfriend at the time (now husband) was on a deployment. He is a rescue swimmer in the Navy and this was his first deployment. So, my anxiety was always high wondering where he was and if he was safe.

Couple take a selfie together before man leaves for deployment in the Navy
Courtesy of Christina Kimbrough

I also took the time to reflect on my childhood and teen years. I realized I’ve lived with anxiety for as long as I could remember. I was just told I was an overly sensitive kid. There were many parts of my childhood that were beautiful, but other parts that were very traumatic. I witnessed domestic violence many times, was personally physically and emotionally abused.

At this time, I also realized I had grown up in a very toxic, fundamentalist religious household. Growing up, I was not allowed to watch TV or movies, listen to non-Christian music, or read magazines. Anything that wasn’t Christian was strictly forbidden. I attended small Christian schools that were isolated from the general public. I’m still unpacking how this impacted me. But, I know it contributed to my desire to always be perfect and please other people.

When I was in the hospital I told no one except my mom and grandma I was there. I was ashamed. Once I got out, I found it was hard to talk about my experience in the psych hospital. People often got weird when I brought it up or refused to talk about it. This left me feeling so alone. I have my bachelor’s degree in communications, so I decided to start writing and speaking about my experience. I openly shared about my mental health struggles on social media and at local speaking engagements. All the while, I was drinking very heavily.

Woman advocating for mental health drinks a giant beer while out at a sports bar
Courtesy of Christina Kimbrough

I was in denial that I was an alcoholic. I was in my late 20’s and all my friends were drinking like me. I didn’t think I had a problem. It wasn’t until January 2020 that I hit a personal low. I had recently gotten a brand new job and the night before my first day, I split a bottle of wine with my husband. He fell asleep and I continued to drink. I went to my neighbors house and drank more. After they went to sleep, I started to wander my neighborhood in my PJs with a half full glass of wine. It was about 4 a.m. when I knocked on a few doors and finally found someone that was up.

I hopped a fence and found a neighbor a few streets over up and drinking himself. We stayed up until 8 a.m. In a panic, I realized I had to be at work in an hour. So, I popped a few Adderall and went to my job. After work, I left and continued to drink the whole day. When I finally came home that night, my husband said he was at his breaking point and didn’t know what to do. So, I decided the next morning that I was going to pack up and go back to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. My husband and I were living in Norfolk, VA at the time.

Woman struggling with alcoholism takes a photo with her husband while out at a bar with barrels behind them
Courtesy of Christina Kimbrough

I moved in with my Grandma to get sober. Unfortunately, I kept drinking at first while in Cleveland. My last drink was on February 3, 2020. I was at a restaurant/bar drinking alone. My addiction had gotten so bad, my grandma had taken my debit card and keys from me. I was drinking and driving at the time. I lied to my grandma and had her take me to a Panera. From Panera, I walked to the bar. I had only a few dollars on me at the time. I had been hoarding the few dollars she gave me a week. I was attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and was asking for money to give, but keeping it for alcohol.

When I ran out of money, I flirted with the guy at the end of the bar for more drinks. Eventually, my grandma tracked me using my iPhone and came to the bar. She picked me up, and the next day I entered an intensive outpatient therapy group. I spent the next 8 weeks learning how to get sober. Unfortunately, COVID hit the week I was discharged from the program. Getting sober during COVID has been an extremely hard, but rewarding experience. At first I wasn’t able to attend in person 12-step support meetings. But, I found communities online and eventually started sharing my sobriety story.

Woman celebrates her sobriety journey with photos at a beach
Courtesy of Christina Kimbrough

At one month sober, I shared with my online community that I was an alcoholic. People were shocked as it was something I hid very well. Coming from an extremely religious household, I was always trying to portray a certain image, and being an alcoholic was certainly not the right one. Over the past year and a half that I’ve been sober, I’ve been trying to understand what led me to addiction. I believe it’s a combination of childhood trauma, genetics, my personality, and the societal norms of heavy drinking. I’ve come to realize I am an empath and I easily take on the feelings of others and the world around me. Now that I am in recovery, I know how to take care of myself.

Woman advocating for mental health and sobriety takes a photo with her husband after completing a mental health 10K fundraiser event
Courtesy of Christina Kimbrough

I am in the process of applying to grad school to become a therapist and addictions counselor. Social media has been a huge part of my recovery. I’ve been able to find a community of others experiencing things just like me. I’ve also had many people reach out to me and ask for help. I want to go to school to be better equipped to help others. I love being able to share my story online because it is my hope that by me sharing my story, I am helping to end the stigma surrounding addiction and mental illness while providing hope to others who may be struggling.”

Woman recovering from alcoholism takes a photo in a beautiful tan sundress and matching hat
Courtesy of Christina Kimbrough
Young couple in love take engagement photos, the woman in a white dress and the man in a Navy uniform
Courtesy of Christina Kimbrough

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christina Kimbrough. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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