‘The raw truth was, I was going to die or get sober.’: Mom shares grueling substance abuse journey, sustained addiction recovery

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of active addiction and mentions of suicide attempts which may be triggering to some. 

“My sobriety date is March 12, 2021, free from all mind-altering substances. I identify as an alcoholic and drug addict in sustained recovery. 

My drugs of choice, truly, drugs of no choice, are heroin and alcohol. When I use the term ‘drugs of choice,’ I mean these are the substances that showed me rock bottom has a basement, made me believe hell has no exit, and are the substances I thought I couldn’t live a moment without. I also abused cocaine and meth. I have an understanding and acceptance about myself, that once I use ANY mind-altering substance, I cannot stop and know no end. With jails, treatment centers, detoxes, overdoses, ER visits, suicide attempts, and relapses, being a part of my journey.

alcoholic woman takes a selfie while drinking at the bar
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

Being in recovery, I feel it’s important to share my experiences. I believe recovering with vulnerability and transparency are key to breaking the silence, inspiring hope, and letting others know, THEY ARE NOT ALONE!

So, here is my story. 

A Path To Substance Use

As long ago as I can remember, I had always felt alone, like I belonged nowhere and wasn’t good enough. I carried these feelings throughout my entire childhood and with me into adulthood, until I found recovery.

I thought I had a decently ‘normal’ upbringing. However, I now realize there was and still is, a lot of dysfunction. My mom and dad were married for 15 years, and I don’t recall ever feeling love between the two of them. I was 13 when they divorced, and I was relieved! 

older images of woman who is struggling with addiction
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

My mom’s side of the family is consumed by the ideas of perfectionism, expectations, and societal standards. Where everything stays behind closed doors, and nothing is talked about. My dad’s side, well… partying, drinking, and drug use is the norm. Where perfectionism, expectations, and societal standards aren’t a thing. As a kid, such different dynamics caused me to feel very confused. So, at a very young age, I learned to be a chameleon based on circumstance. Today, I show up as myself.

Substance abuse and mental health issues run on both sides of my family, but neither my mother nor father are addicts (thankfully). I have a younger brother and younger sister; my sister is an alcoholic, and my brother doesn’t suffer from addiction. I do have an uncle in long-term recovery and my younger sister now has multiple years of sobriety. Today, we get to be the cycle breakers.

sober woman takes a selfie while on a boat
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

Due to my dad’s career, we moved around a lot. By the 5th grade, we had gone from Colorado, to Arizona, to Georgia, and back to Colorado. I have memories of standing on our driveway in Georgia, crying while the moving truck was being packed. I had to leave my friends and start over, and I never knew when that would happen again.

Between the 5th and 7th grade, I tried so hard to fit in and find new friends. All I found myself doing was comparing and wanting to be everyone but me. By 8th grade, I had finally found a friend group, where I felt I somewhat belonged. In hindsight, I can see it was all the other lost, broken, misunderstood souls I had connected with. 

A lot of my friends had older siblings, and through them, we were introduced to drugs and alcohol. At age 13, I tried crystal meth, cocaine, and acid, and was drinking and smoking weed consistently. When I got high and drunk for the first time, I felt great. I flat out loved it! From that moment on, I never drank without the intention of getting drunk, was often high on whatever was around, and fell in love with the feelings of escape. From the time of my first use, I just wanted more.

Woman addicted to heroin takes a close up selfie
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

Living With Addiction

Ages 14 through 16 were hard years for me. When I look back to that time, the feelings attached are loneliness, sadness, abandonment, worthlessness, and pain. I was a constant runaway, disappearing for days at a time, high and drunk, wandering the streets and sleeping wherever. I experienced my first love, my first heartbreak, and had my first suicide attempt. 

Before the attempt I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore.’ This was my first attempt, but not my last. My life has been spared many times along the way. I now see, like many other moments, this was my Higher Power working in my life. 

woman with addiction hugs a teddy bear and takes a selfie
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

I had legal trouble; was in and out of truancy court; was failing all my classes; had gotten pregnant, resulting in a miscarriage; experienced a home loss due to a fire, caused by me; and found myself a boyfriend whose dad was an addict, manufacturing meth. Where we hung out often, drugs and alcohol were at our disposal.

Over the years, my pattern became toxic relationship after toxic relationship, always searching outside of myself for someone or something to ‘complete me.’ Drugs and alcohol were always at the center of those relationships, and I couldn’t imagine being alone. Today, I have solitude with self, which is one of the greatest gifts sobriety has given me.

sober woman smiles wide on a boat throwing up peace signs
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

Continued Denial

At 20, I entered what unknowingly was about to be the most painful and toxic relationship I would experience. Leaving a lot of traumas attached, which has taken years to work through. Only through sustained recovery has healing, taking ownership of my part, and forgiveness been possible. However, that relationship gave me my son, which, aside from my recovery, is the best thing to have ever happened in my life. 

sober woman takes a selfie in the car with her son with flowers
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I vowed to change. I changed my life, but never changed ME. There were points, sometimes years, drug use was nonexistent. I maintained ‘control’ with alcohol, and had manageability. I realize now, all that was happening was I hadn’t lost the power of choice, YET! I always found my way back to toxic situations and relationships, with of course, drugs and alcohol being at the center. 

At no point did it even cross my mind maybe I was an addict or alcoholic. In my mind, it was totally a choice and circumstantial. These times I spent in less chaos than before, drinking socially, now as I understand, as a functional alcoholic, validated my thinking of, ‘It’s a choice.’ Until it wasn’t. 

Over the years my cycle continued, my disease continued to progress, and I became more and more powerless. I could never be real enough with myself to admit I had a serious problem. 

woman battling addiction takes a selfie with pouty face
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

Reaching Rock Bottom’s Basement

By my 30’s alcohol had brought me to my knees, AGAIN engaging in high-risk situations and toxic relationships, eventually finding heroin. I went from smoking to IV use rather quickly. Like I said, rock bottom has a basement, and I experienced a hell I never thought possible. When I became an IV user, I remember coming to the realization there was no more invisible line to cross. I would bawl my eyes out and make myself look in the mirror as I shot up, yelling, ‘Accept it, accept it! You’re an IV heroin addict and you’re never making it out!’

I suffered in silence for a long time, isolated in my use, filled with guilt and shame. So, if you’re feeling this way, I understand, and you are not alone. I understand what it feels like to sit in the parking lot of a liquor store waiting for the open sign to turn on. I understand the terrorizing obsession, using even when I didn’t want to. I understand the desperation to shut out the noise for 5 seconds, because 5 seconds of reality is too long. I understand what it’s like to self-detox, feeling like my bone marrow is on fire, shaking, sweating, hearing and seeing things that aren’t there. I understand what it’s like to stare down at the track marks on my arms, thinking, ‘What happened to me?’ I understand what it’s like to have caused a lot of hurt to the people around me and be asked, ‘Why don’t you just stop?’ I understand what it’s like to look my heartbroken child in the face, with pain filled eyes, knowing I am at the root of that pain. More than anything, I understand hopelessness. The unbearable hopelessness, that no amount of drugs and alcohol can numb out. I understand waking up, wishing I didn’t…

woman who is recovering from substance abuse takes a selfie with her cat
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

My reality was so painful, I really believed taking my life was the only way out, and I tried. I felt like I couldn’t exist anymore, and everyone would be better off. I had already lost everything, and almost everyone, including the heart of my son. The few people that were still there were prepared to plan my funeral and had been completely broken by the hands of my disease. 

The Turning Point

Being afraid of myself and afraid of my addiction was a big turning point. I had fought myself for so long, trying to prove I didn’t have a problem, that I could control it or quit on my own, and I never could. The raw truth was, I was going to die or get sober, period. I knew I wasn’t going to survive this. 

When I could finally get fully honest with myself about that, I was relieved and scared at the same time. Relieved, I at least wasn’t fighting myself anymore, and scared because I didn’t know how to get or stay sober. All I knew was I couldn’t do it alone. It was time to ask for help and break my own silence, so I did. 

woman in recovery takes a selfie with two of her friends
Courtesy of Brianna Griego
sober woman does a foam run with her son
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

I had been to detox before, I had been to treatment before, but this time was different. I had finally reached a place of willingness and desperation I had never had before. I was willing to do anything to be FREE. Today, I am free. I am no longer held hostage in my addiction. 

I went to detox, then to a sober living that encompassed treatment, and from there found my way into the rooms of a 12-step fellowship. Along the way, I tried my best to stay open-minded and say ‘okay’ to whatever was suggested. Whether it was from the professionals at treatment, my sober living community, or people within the 12-step rooms, I kept saying ‘okay.’ As I continued to do that and show up, my life started to change. With time, I was given a new and full life, my relationships were rebuilt, I found self-love, I found healing, and I found my tribe. However, relapse is a part of my story.

woman in recovery stands at a concert with her friend
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

Reasons For Relapse

After 2 years and 9 months of continued sobriety, I relapsed. One may ask, after everything I just told you, ‘How could this have happened?’ I had to ask myself the same question. Through a lot of soul searching and reflection, I found clarity. 

The answers to my question were simple – I stopped showing up, I got complacent, and I started doing this thing alone. The 12-steps and fellowship were and still are my solution, I stopped doing the work and staying connected. 

collage of woman who is in active recovery from substance abuse
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

I believed I was safe, safe from the disease of addiction now that I was in recovery. Even when I started struggling, before I picked up the first one, I still thought I was safe from relapse. I believed I could get through the struggle and complacency without using. Not the case. Very rapidly my using resulted in another rock bottom, suicidal thoughts, self-destruction, and me causing a lot of harm to those around me.

I am incredibly fortunate for the community I have acquired throughout the years. I am incredibly fortunate for the experiences and gifts I have received through recovery. Because of that, when it came time to stand back up and fight, I knew I wasn’t alone and there was HOPE. The answer is still the same, ‘I need help and I cannot do this alone.’

sober woman takes a selfie with a loved one
Courtesy of Brianna Griego
sober woman takes a selfie with a loved one
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

The Importance Of Connection

Words cannot express how crucial it is to stay connected. Staying connected keeps me in the middle, helps me stay accountable, helps me stay honest, humble, centered, and looking inward. If I’m not a part of, I’m doing this thing alone. Doing this thing alone means, it’s just me and my disease, which is a very dangerous place to be.

With all that said, regardless of life circumstances, I have the responsibility to take ownership of my sobriety and play an active part in my recovery, consistently and honestly. I have learned I am never safe, and I don’t ‘got this,’ no matter how many days in a row I have been sober. 

woman in recovery takes a selfie with a bird on her shoulder
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

Today, my life is quite simple, it’s simply a life. A full, healthy, active life I get to live, in which I have BOUNDLESS GRATITUDE for. I pray I never lose sight of the importance of unity, forget where I came from, or take my recovery for granted again. Experiences have continued to show me long-term recovery is possible and my sobriety date can stay March 12, 2021, if I keep showing up, keep my recovery first, and do the next thing in front of me.

woman holds up sign saying she has been sober for one year
Courtesy of Brianna Griego
sober woman lays in the sand with 2021 written above her
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

Yes, life still happens. Life can be painful, and I have lost many people to this disease. But, today, I don’t go through hard times alone. Today, I’m okay with feeling every layer of emotion. Today, my son can look me in the eyes with trust. Today, I show up when I say I’m going to and even when I don’t feel like it. Today, I have stability and can give stability. Today, I can sit in silence and experience serenity. Today, I have awareness of God working in my life, and can embrace surrender. Today, I get to be present. Today, I can be in today. Today, I can share all of me without guilt and shame. Today, it’s not all about me. And today, I get to be an example that recovery is possible.

Whether you’re trying to make it back or achieve sobriety for the first time, I promise you, you are not alone. Please, please reach out! TOGETHER, by breaking the silence, unity, and community, recovery is possible, and YOU DO MATTER!”

woman in addiction recovery rides in a kayak with her son
Courtesy of Brianna Griego

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Brianne Griego. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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