‘For weeks, I was in an induced coma. Only a miracle could have saved me. After 25 years of lies, I said, ‘I’m done.’: Woman shares emotional journey of loss on path to sobriety

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Disclaimer: This story mentions sexual abuse and death which may be triggering to some

“I am unsure how to begin my story. I was born in the summer of 1981 in Yuma, AZ, but was raised in Winterhaven, California, a small town along the Colorado River. Raised on the Quechan reservation, it was home, but to us natives, it was the ‘rez.’ Growing up, I was an extremely shy kid who hardly spoke a word: I mostly kept to myself. Alcohol was common in my household. Both my parents drank excessively every week. It was common in many households at that time. It would be many years before both my parents would quit drinking for good.

When I was ten years old, I had my first beer, and it was during that time I became intoxicated. I remember the feeling as if I was in a hazy dream, and as much as I thought I had control, I could not stand on my own two feet. Still, I can recall that night. I was sexually abused; this would set up a rollercoaster of chaos in my life. I carried a lot of guilt from that point on all the way to the age of 36. It never really goes away, but once I released myself from that bondage, I became free.

young woman wearing white dress
Courtesy of FayeAnne Dugan

My drinking was developing into a habit quickly. It did not matter what the drink was, I consumed it in large quantities. One day, when I was 29 years old, I woke up feeling sick and lightheaded, thinking I was hungover. I began to vomit blood every morning for two weeks. Unsure and scared, I kept quiet about my ordeal and continued to drink. I was admitted to the local emergency room; I was given 6 units of blood and a week-long stay in the hospital. There were many more visits to the emergency room in the next seven years. In 2017, I was hospitalized for bleeding again; when admitted, they put me under for surgery to stop the bleeding.

Unfortunately, the doctors weren’t able to stop the bleeding, and I was put in an induced coma fighting for my life. I was told by my mother my chances of surviving were slim. Many friends and family came to my bedside and waited for me to pass. I was experiencing another reality far from where my body lay to rest. The moment of truth was about to take place: I was unhooked from the ventilator in hopes I could breathe on my own.

Little did my family know, I was being taken into another place I never encountered before. As I opened my eyes in this unknown place, I was greeted by a person dressed in a suit. The greeter escorted me into a small theater. A movie started playing on the screen, as I began watching clips of my life played. Before the reel ended, I saw an image of my sister’s living room in her home. I must speak of the love I have for my nieces and nephews. They have taught me so much, but most importantly how to feel genuine love. Losing my innocence at such a young age, I shut the world out and kept to myself, feeling alone and scared, then a miracle happened: I became an auntie. I wear that proud.

As I watch my siblings looking at the living room window, I notice a teenage girl laughing and smiling. She looked unfamiliar to me at first, then it occurred to me I was looking at my then five-year-old niece as a teenager. Sadness overcame me because I remembered being checked into the hospital. Now I was realizing I was possibly dying somewhere in the hospital and my time was up and that was the reason I was seeing these images. As she turned her head towards me, she saw me and smiled. I could feel my throat tightening trying to hold back my tears. I realized I was not going to see my nieces and nephews grow up.

two hands holding each other in hospital
Courtesy of FayeAnne Dugan

The greeter tapped my shoulder and pointed to the exit. As I walked towards the door, I felt scared. I looked up to the ceiling and prayed out loud, asking God to hear me. ‘Lord, I know my time is now, and I can accept that, just let my parents know none of this is their fault. And wherever I go, to heaven or hell, please hold my hand until the end because I am scared.’ As I walked through the door, suddenly I was standing in a dark forest. A pale moonlight cascaded over the trees and grass. As I looked up, I saw a mountain in the distance and for some strange reason, I knew I had to walk towards the mountain.

As I walked, I saw shadows cascading onto the grass. Winged entities flew above me. I began to run, and one landed in front of me. I didn’t dare to look up because I was scared of what I might see, but the feet that stood before me were big talons. Two more landed around me. I close my eyes and begin to pray. As quickly as I spoke, they were gone. I then came across a lake that had a Black Rock formation covering it. Someone was sitting in the middle of the dark lake and told me to walk across.

My instinct told me no. As I looked down, I noticed running lava under the black formation. Hardened lava was covering the lake. I backed away and walked around the lake towards the mountain. As I turned around, the dark forest suddenly started to light up with such brightness. I can see the forest and all its vibrant colors. Then the most calming wind picked up, and as I was standing on the mountain overlooking the forest, I raised my head up and heard in the wind familiar voices all at once. I could make out the words. So many calling my name, telling me to get up and that they loved me. It was like a comfortable, warm blanket wrapped around me. The feeling was phenomenal, prayers in the wind, I call it. And then in a split second, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room, names were being called, and two nurses were walking these people through doors into a hallway.

As they sat there, my name was called. I started to walk towards the hall. Now realizing this was the final moment, I asked God once more to hold my hand until the end. I took a deep breath and surrendered. Once I opened my eyes, I was asked to sit back down. A guy sat across from me. Suddenly, I noticed everything in the waiting room slowly fading away. Slowly, the waiting room was disappearing in front of me. The guy across from me faded into nothing but air. The chair to my right started to fade. I raised my hand, and it started to fade. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. And for a split second, it was pitch black, and I opened my eyes to the images of waterfalls, beautiful skies, the sun, and the stars. I took a deep breath and exhaled.

At that moment, I remember opening my eyes, looking directly at a monitor. Looking around the room, someone walked up to my bedside. ‘Good morning, beautiful.’ I saw my close friend Sammy smiling down at me. At this point, I thought, ‘Why is the color so dingy?’ I just came back from a place where everything was super clear and colorful, and now it seemed dull in contrast. Waking up Easter weekend, I felt confused and lost because the experience was real, and even with my voice being out because of the breathing tube, I spoke to my family about what I experienced. And they informed me what had taken place since being admitted. I was under for several weeks and with little hope. Only a miracle could have saved me.

woman going through sobriety takes selfie
Courtesy of FayeAnne Dugan

My boyfriend Enrique joined me every night by my bedside, it was reassuring to me. He was with me every day during my stay in the hospital until I was discharged. Our relationship did have a negative side: we both were alcoholics. I was disappointed with myself. With little hope, I reached out to local resources, and I was informed that a person from Lake Elsinore, CA, would pick me up and transport me to a residential treatment center called ‘amethysts house’ in San Jacinto, California. This would be the first time I met my mentor Ron. We spoke briefly, but during my stay at amethysts house, he would take me under his wing and introduce me to the White Bison Wellbriety Movement, which provides culturally based healing and support.

During my phone conversation, Enrique was explaining how ill he was feeling and how he had no energy to do anything. I advised him to get checked out, and he did. He was admitted to the hospital due to cirrhosis. Two days before leaving rehab, they flew him to Tucson, Arizona. Once I returned home, I believed he would be released, and he informed me he was losing blood and doctors did not see him going home soon. So, I decided to travel to Tucson via Amtrak. On my third day after leaving treatment, I was in Tucson by his bedside. Our discussions were about our future even talking about getting married to each other one day.

The doctors entered his room and spoke to both of us about his condition. The doctor told him there is nothing they could do, his expectancy of life was less than a month. In disbelief, he asked if I could speak to his brother and tell him the news. And as he wished, I made the call. Enrique assured me everything was going to be fine, and, in my heart, I knew he needed one person more than anyone: his mother. Once his family arrived, I excused myself while decisions were made. The following day, his health rapidly declined. He was unresponsive.

former coma patient with boyfriend
Courtesy of FayeAnne Dugan

I remember my phone ringing. I hadn’t heard from anyone in a while. When I answered, I was not surprised to hear from my baby brother Austin; he called to check on me. I told him the news. He said once I got home to call him, and he would be there for me. Traveling back to Yuma, AZ, Enrique was taken to his home where he would pass away two days later on July 14th, 2017. I was numb. The last two years together were now just a memory. A few weeks later my family informed me my brother Austin was not doing good and they were trying to get him to go to the hospital. I was going off the rails with my grief. I had not reached out to my brother which was strange because we talked every day with a call, visit, or message. I knew him well enough to know he was trying to protect me from being concerned, but as soon as I knew, I called. At this point, he was already admitted to the emergency room.

I was told he checked himself in after his birthday on August 11. I arrived at the hospital with overnight clothes and under the influence which was not my proudest moment. I talked to him, telling stories when he was receptive, and we laughed a few times, and I would help him by assisting him to get around. The early morning of August 14, 2017, he was having a hard time sleeping I decided to take him in a wheelchair around the hospital. As we made it around the hospital, he was lethargic and talking aloud to himself. He did not want to go back to his room. He looked up at me and said, ‘Sister, let’s go. Take me home.’ Tears rolled down my face because, as his big sister, I was always able to help him out no matter the circumstances. This time and the only time, I could not help him.

He would not enter the room, so he sat in the doorway in the wheelchair. I lay on the chair, and I started to drift off. The last words I heard him say were to the nurse, ‘You see her? That’s my sister.’ I must have drifted off because I felt myself jump up to my feet almost falling. I ran into the hallway and my brother was face-down on the ground. I ran to him and told the nurse to check his heart. On August 14, 2017, my baby brother and best friend, Austin, passed away at the age of 33. As I held his hand, I spoke to him I could not wrap my head around him being gone. I begged God to take me instead. Who was I? My brother was young, a father, a son, and an uncle, and he needed to see the world. We were both huge fans of Metallica. When the doctors asked if we would like to follow him to the morgue, we agreed.

former alcoholic and her brother
Courtesy of FayeAnne Dugan

I put in my earbuds and played Metallica’s ‘Orion.’ My friend Phillip was someone I grew up with, he had a heart of gold. I stayed with him after my brother’s death. He understood my pain. He too lost his sister under the same circumstances: cirrhosis of the liver. On my last night in his home, I was intoxicated and passed out. I woke up in the early morning: I had a 40-ounce malt liquor, so I opened it and took a drink. I got into the car and left, unsure where I was going. I drove on a long stretch of the road. Soon after I pulled over, I felt nauseous, and I vomited, and once again blood was evident. I was tired and unsure of what to do. I had two options: the first one was to wait until after my brother’s service to get checked in at the hospital, and the second option was to get to the hospital as soon as possible.

I looked ahead and drove back to Phillips’s house. When I walked in, he woke up, and, without hesitation, he drove me to the hospital. Several days later, I opened my eyes, and I could hear monitors and female voices. I knew I was in the hospital. Unable to turn my head and really swallow, I realized I had a tube in my throat. The nurses talked to me, having me respond by squeezing their hands. I was told they were going to take out the tube an hour later. Once the tube was out, I was also told I was flown out by helicopter to Phoenix, AZ. In that moment, I remember talking to myself, saying, ‘I am done.’ 25 years of lies. The pain and hurt I inflicted on myself blaming others throughout my life, for what? It ruined the lives of the most important people in my life, and now I was defeated and tired. All the pain it caused me and my family. I was finished with all the lies, but only time would tell if I would be able to make the change. I had missed my brother’s funeral, and as I called others to ask how my parents held up, they assured me everything went well and the song they played before his cremation was Metallica’s Orion.

Big sister was going to make a change. My brother was always proud of me. He would remind me how strong I was when I was weak. In my heart, I felt him, and I heard him say, ‘You got this, sis.’ I was discharged from Banner University Hospital and was headed back home to Winterhaven, California. I was over a week sober, and I knew I needed help so again. I reached out to my tribe, and they agreed to put me in a place where I could once again start my road to recovery. My mentor Ron came through and picked me up to stay in a home with others trying to stay sober. Lake Elsinore, CA was my home for the next three months. I never felt so alone. To be sober and with my thoughts was a very scary thing for someone like me, but I knew in my heart there was no turning back. My plan was to work and stay sober. I wanted to see Philip and thank him for saving my life by surprising him with the visit, but before the visit, I received a call. I was told Phillip was found in his home and didn’t wake up. He passed away in his sleep. As hard as the news was, I knew one thing: I was not going to drink. He saved me, and I was not going to disrespect him by going down that path because I already knew the outcome.

alcoholism recovery coin
Courtesy of FayeAnne Dugan

I stayed on track by staying busy and attending meetings. Celebrating my first year was unbelievable. How did I do it? It was not easy because I had to deal with everything. Small things began to happen: I got another job offer the first year. I really started to focus on myself. I was always a person who took care of others before myself, but now here I was, finally realizing there’s so much more to be grateful for in my life. Waking up one morning, I asked myself, ‘What you want to do FayeAnne?’ Earning money to save for a future trip to Alaska, I started to get a sense of freedom and started thinking outside the box.

In my brother’s memory, I continue to stay sober every year. My sobriety chips are taken to my brother’s gravesite to remind him I am doing the deed. We both were addicts and struggled to make something of ourselves, I would have loved the idea we could both make it out together, but God had other plans. I always go back to early 2017 when I was in a coma, I remember telling God I was ready to go. And God did let me go. He let me go back knowing I was going to fight an uphill battle and at the end of that battle I would come out victorious. Do not get me wrong, I have struggled with temptation and had to face many dark challenges, still, if I cannot remind myself how far I have come, God makes sure he puts someone in my path to remind me.

The Alaska trip was an eye-opener and taught me that anything was possible and that the only thing holding me back from getting where I need to be was myself. I continue to work and enjoy my sobriety. I made some changes in my life in 2019. I have been a security guard since 2004, and I was looking for a change. I applied for school to become a drug and alcohol counselor. The school was located in Riverside, CA.  I applied and got accepted. In January 2020, I packed up my suitcases and made the move January 22nd, 2020, I started the next chapter in my life.

woman takes a trip to Alaska
Courtesy of FayeAnne Dugan

During that time, I went from meeting new people in the city to having the entire world shut down, but I did not let that slow me down. Even in the midst of the pandemic, I drove across the United States for the first time. I graduated from school, and I have continued my education. In November 2021, I will receive my associate’s degree in drug and alcohol counseling studies. I was offered a job during my internship and have been with Everlast Recovery since November 2020.

I love my work. I never would have imagined myself being where I am today. I have plans for my future, and I know hard work does pay off. Even falling in love again was a miracle. As part of a couple, I learned a lot about myself, and I improve myself to this day. Looking back at all the chaos and pain, there is purpose in my life. The reason I am here is because I want to help others like myself. Addiction is a real thing. We addicts come to believe what we do to ourselves is not hurting anyone and we have control. It took time for me to admit I hurt a lot of people, especially my parents.

They never gave up on me. I can see where I get my strength from. God has blessed me time and time again. Now, I am here staying true to the belief that we do recover. My struggle may be the same as other addicts, but our stories may differ. I was very fortunate to come out the other end of addiction. I often turn to my brother for guidance because even though he is not here physically, he is here with me always. Being sober has given me a chance to be a better daughter, sister, and aunt. In the early stages of recovery, it’s strange because you start to have feelings and begin the process of figuring who you really are. Self-discovery is a process worth going through. The world is listening, all you need is an introduction. Hello, my name is FayeAnne, and I’m an alcoholic, and this is my story.”

woman on a helicopter
Courtesy of FayeAnne Dugan

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by FayeAnne Dugan of Riverside California. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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