‘I woke up in jail, my hands and ankles handcuffed because I’d refused the breathalyzer test. My kids had been in the backseat.’: Woman beats addiction after several years of drug, alcohol abuse

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“My name is Kristin. I am in active recovery from a decade’s worth of severe alcohol abuse, and I’ve learned how to cope with my mental illnesses, not suffer from them. I am a fighter, a survivor, a miracle, and a woman I thought I’d never become.

I grew up in a nice, middle-upper class home, and if you can’t tell by my usage of ‘y’all,’ I’m a born and raised Texas girl, with two parents who loved each other (until they didn’t and divorced when I was in my early 20’s), I have two beautiful younger sisters, and I regularly attended church on Sundays with my grandparents; my sisters and I were never lacking of love, and were always comfortably taken care of. From a very young age I was involved in sports ranging from softball to volleyball to track and cross country, until I eventually decided to retire from them once I was in my mid-late teens and moved on to what would become a lifelong passion: art. In high school I was in the honor society, took AP classes, was very involved in the arts, obeyed almost all of the strict set of rules my parents had for me, and was a textbook example of a ‘good kid’ all the way around. At the age of 15, I got my first job and from day one I was instilled with a strong work ethic — something I still proudly possess to this day, despite all the various, irresponsible things I’ve done in my life. It wasn’t until the age of 18 that I even had my first sip of alcohol, and in the rare occasions I would actually partake in underage drinking, I never drank like all the other kids did. I remember thinking it was fun, but not something I really enjoyed. Oh, how quickly things change.

Somewhere between the ages of 17 and 18, I began realizing something was ‘off’ with me, something that was definitely not just teenage hormones, and not too long later I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  At the age of 19, after previously making the really smart decision to enroll at the same college as my boyfriend at the time (I was convinced he was ‘the one’), I moved into the dorms and a few months later, we had broken up. Please try and act surprised, folks. Very shortly after that, I had a literal mental breakdown. I’m sure my excessive partying, obsession with MySpace and desperately trying to ‘friend’ as many local guys my age as possible, as well as deciding to play doctor and taking myself off my prescription antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications were all the best possible things I could’ve done for myself at that time. Just a few months after the breakup with my boyfriend, which made it the winter break of my sophomore year of college, I was admitted into an outpatient program at my local mental health hospital, and it was then I had my first encounter with the fact I might have a problem with alcohol.

Woman battling alcoholism takes a selfie while doing the peace sign with severe bags under her eyes
Kristin Fowler

Fast-forward a few years, several boyfriends, a lot of questionable fashion choices (‘emo’ music, Ashlee Simpson, Mean Girls, and MySpace were all the rage, okay?) later… which brings us to my 21st birthday… a.k.a. the beginning of the end… the most pivotal point in time, where I really started getting extremely lost in a world of booze, out of hand with guys, and longing for acceptance as a person. The years 2006-2007 are nothing short of a blur for me. The only constant in my life was the fact I could still hold a job (and perform well at that), and that I was making enough money to kind of pay my bills, but definitely ensured I had enough in the bank to keep myself as drunk as possible, as much as possible. My grades started slipping in school, I began sleeping with boys I can’t recall doing so with, and I began to suffer more and more from loss of identity because I was too busy chasing imaginary ideals and faking my way through everything, and all of these were a direct result of my alcohol consumption.

At the end of my spring semester in college in 2007, my father told me he would no longer financially support me due to my grades and attendance becoming so poor. A few weeks later I attended a Bright Eyes concert where I proceeded to trade Xanax with the bartenders on duty, only to immediately chase the shots I received by taking more Xanax than any 5’ 2” 110 lb. girl should, and ultimately woke up in an emergency room having been informed I’d passed out somewhere in the concert venue. A couple months later, in the summer of 2007 – at only 22 years of age – I found myself pregnant by a guy I liked, but hadn’t been seriously dating for very long. I remember cussing the nurses out, having a full-blown anxiety attack, and being in denial about the reality of what was happening in my life. The main reason I found myself pregnant to begin with, was because I was perpetually either too drunk or lethargic and hungover, and somehow ‘forgot’ to pick up my birth control from the pharmacy, and by the way, I forgot to tell my boyfriend I didn’t remember the last time I had taken my pills, either. Are you noticing a pattern here? At this point in time, I know I hadn’t noticed it yet.

Woman with blonde pixie cut takes a candid photo while out partying
Kristin Fowler

After being informed of my ‘surprise’ pregnancy, I quit drinking, responsibly weaned off the antidepressant and anti-anxiety meds I was taking at the time, gave birth to my daughter in the spring of 2008, returned to work after my maternity leave, worked as hard as humanly possible to get a promotion, and returned to college in the spring of 2010 where I ultimately graduated with my BA in advertising in 2011. During this time, I drank nightly but not always excessively, I enjoyed getting buzzed but not completely hammered, I thought I was in control. After a while there were times where simply getting drunk wasn’t enough, so I’d drink well past the point of feeling good and quickly enter into blackout territory, but since I was still able to function and fully manage my life, I didn’t think I had a real problem. I got that ‘foot in the door’ job less than a month after I graduated from college, but due to the stress of having a legitimate corporate career, raising a child, making sure I was bringing home enough money for childcare, bills (and booze!) along with a handful of other first world stressors, my drinking became increasingly out of control. I began getting completely hammered almost every night but would justify that since I wasn’t getting drunk until after I put my daughter to bed, and since I always got to work on time and performed well each day… I still refused to believe I had a problem.

Over the course of 2012-2015, I progressively drank more and more, still justifying and rationalizing my consumption, slowly losing more friends along the way because whenever I had a ‘night out’ I ALWAYS took it to the extreme, often winding up with my friends having to drive me home because I simply couldn’t, and I started gravitating back towards the allure of social media, and eventually started flirting with people I shouldn’t have. I began getting not just drunk, but totally blackout drunk, and even passed out in the middle of the day while my family and I were at Mardi Gras in Louisiana. In the spring of 2015 my husband and I (the same man I was with when I became pregnant with my daughter in 2008) successfully became pregnant with our second child, and I gave birth to our son in December 2015. A couple of weeks later, I got incoherently drunk at my grandparents’ annual Christmas party, where a family member walked in on me trying to breastfeed my son, despite the fact I was on the verge of passing out.

Woman enjoys an alcoholic beverage while celebrating Mardi Gras
Kristin Fowler

February 2016, I remember the telltale signs of post-partum anxiety, so I went to my OBGYN and was prescribed Zoloft which ultimately worked like a charm, minus the fact I completely ignored the whole ‘do not take with alcohol’ warning that’s prominently placed on the prescription bottle. I mean, who reads those and actually adheres to those instructions anyways, right? I was a mom of two, working full time, and I needed to drink, warnings be damned! This is the where the sh*tstorm really began, a perfect storm of chemicals and events, and only a few short months later it would come to a violently screeching halt, and I found myself living a literal nightmare.

I don’t remember a whole lot between the months of March and September. I began drinking and hiding bottles of champagne (something that was never my thing, but one day in June or July I drank the fancy bottle we never drank that was left over from New Year’s, then I spiraled out of control from there), making quick stops by the grocery store to buy the tiny, individual glass sized plastic bottles of wine because they were easy to drink and hide almost anywhere, and also began throwing out my receipts from my purchases. For the most part, my recollections from those 9 months come to me in the form of stabbing, unpredictable and horrific flashbacks, kaleidoscopic severed memories that cut like a knife and leave me sitting in unbearable shame. Over the course of December 2015 – September 2016, not only was I making careless and selfish decisions hand over foot, I also entered an online relationship/affair, and began driving intoxicated with my children in the car, and it was all of these things that collided and combusted in the form of getting arrested for DWI, with a BAC of .22, on a Tuesday afternoon shortly after picking my daughter up from school with my son in his car seat in the backseat of my car. I have never been so frightened in my entire life as I was when I woke up staring at a cement room with a dull piece of aluminum for a mirror, wearing a baggy orange jumpsuit, after having been transported between the jail and the hospital – with my hands and ankles handcuffed – to have my blood drawn, since I had refused the breathalyzer test. I placed my one phone call to my husband who immediately asked me why (insert the person I’d been having an online relationship with) couldn’t just bail me out of jail, because I’d left everything open on the computer at home. All I could say in return was, ‘Are you going to kick me out or leave me?’ He loved me enough to tell me ‘No’ and we didn’t speak again until he bailed me out the next day.

Woman with short hair looks serious as someone snaps her photo
Kristin Fowler

September 6, 2016, marked both my death and rebirth, and I now refer to it as my ‘wake-the-f*ck-up’ call/rebirthday. As of this moment, it’s been 687 painstaking, breathtaking, gut-wrenching, euphoric days of doing the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life: face myself and everything I’d done or run from, learn to love myself for all the things I once was, and heal in the form of recovery. I get to live a life I once thought I didn’t deserve and would never have. What’s more is, I have been given the opportunity to share my story with the world, and I personally choose to recover out loud. In fact, the day after I was released from jail, I placed a phone call to a local addiction recovery and treatment center and once I had regained my composure from sobbing tears of defeat and joy, I uttered into the receiver, ‘If I can use my story as a way to help prevent anyone from making the same mistakes I did, then everything I’ve done won’t be in vain.’

I began what would be the real life-changer: a six month intensive outpatient program, where I completely ripped myself open and intricately studied every fiber of my being that led me to get to where I was the day of September 6, 2016. My counselor (hi, Ron!) became a savior for me, and really equipped me with the tools and helped me build up the strength to courageously keep fighting the good fight I do today. For the first several weeks, my husband checked every single receipt from every single purchase I made, as well as made me delete all social media accounts until further notice. I complied without arguing and patiently waited for him to forgive and trust me again. I voluntarily had an Interlock (breathalyzer) installed in my car, and was later legally ordered to have one in place until I successfully completed my probation. From mid-September 2016 until the time my probation was over in March 2018, I went to hell and back SEVERAL TIMES and never once thought about picking up a drink. Even if I wasn’t ordered to abstain from alcohol, I would’ve gotten and stayed sober. I’d finally drawn the line in the sand and was ready to start meeting my demons head on, and working on the healing process that is recovery.

Woman on sobriety journey takes selfie in Grateful Dead tank top with pink pixiecut
Kristin Fowler

I found ways to get places (with kids in tow) when I wasn’t allowed to drive a vehicle, and I used my counseling sessions as my motivators, which fueled my determination to maintaining my sobriety and working on my recovery. I would park in far away spaces in the parking lot at work, out of fear somebody would see me having to use the breathalyzer to start my car. I had to check in monthly with a probation officer and complete community service, attend a required amount of AA meetings (despite working upwards of 60-80 hours a week for work AND traveling out of state, working in an industry known for the amount of alcohol that’s consumed once people are off the clock). Probation showed me how strong I can be, and always was. It taught me to value my time, my family, and myself.

Woman recovering alcoholism takes a selfie in her front yard with pink pixie cut and floral tank top
Kristin Fowler

Shortly before I hit the six-month mark, I decided (with my husband’s permission) to rejoin Instagram and dedicate my account to successfully documenting my recovery. It is within this recovery commUNITY on IG that I felt I had truly found ‘my people’ and I began taking on confidence by recovering out loud. I wanted to be that voice I needed when I was in my darkest times, I wanted to connect with others who knew how it felt to live the ways I once did but somehow, for some reason, survived, and wanted to share the way their lives had been turned around once they realized how precious and amazing life really is. These folks, from all walks of life, from all over the world, are the friends and family I never knew I needed until I began seeing the world through sober eyes, and choosing to live each day, not merely exist. The last 687 days have been the most excruciatingly beautiful days of my entire life, and I’m FINALLY becoming the soul, person, woman, mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and colleague I was always meant to be. It’s an indescribable feeling, and I’m beside myself with gratitude that I get to truly appreciate and love the life I’m fortunate enough to live.”

Woman looks serious for a photo while sitting on the floor in a yellow dress
Kristin Fowler

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristin Fowler, 33, of Dallas, Texas. Do you have an incredible story of overcoming addiction? We’d love to hear from you. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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