September is National Recovery Month, a time to celebrate the journey of recovery by those who have overcome addiction and the professionals who help make that possible. I am proud to share with you this month an interview with someone special to me, who has battled the beast we know—addiction!
In addition to being a licensed marriage and family therapist, I am also a certified addiction specialist at both state (New York and Florida) and national levels. I decided after I completed graduate school as an LMFT that I needed to learn more about the addiction field as it impacted many of the families and couples I was working with; and so, my journey as an addiction professional began. It just so happened that I was one, of what felt like few, who did not get into working with this population due to any personal experience. At least that was the case at first. It wasn’t until several years later that things took a turn, and I too became a person who had a loved one with a substance use problem.
According to the most recent data by SAMHSA, in 2013 (the most recent data from a nationwide survey) it was estimated that 24.6 million people ages 12 and older had used an illicit drug in the past month. Further, although there was a decrease in the use of cocaine, there has been an increase in the use of Marijuana, prescription drugs, including sedatives, pain relievers, stimulants, tranquilizers, and methamphetamines. With the growing epidemic of substance use, more efforts have been needed with intervention to help those impacted directly by addiction, as well as their loved ones.
Like many families, I had a family member who was affected by this terrible disease, and watched it spiral out of control despite anyone’s effort to try and prevent it. I tried to consider my professional knowledge, but found myself and my family hitting a brick wall with emotions running high and clouding judgements. When it hit that close to home, it was hard to take emotion out and insert logic. I knew if I loved her I had to let her go. It became apparent that I too was powerless over the addiction that was taking over my sister’s life.
To celebrate recovery month this September, Danielle (my sister) allowed me to interview her as we both reflect on our journey, hers from the experience of addiction and mine from the perspective of a loved one. She is currently in recovery, taking it one day at a time. Here is what she had to say about her experience and a few tips for recovery:
Me: When did you know you had a problem?
Danielle: Not until I realized it was something I had to have. I went through high school and college age thinking it was experimentation, but then realized that it was bad when it became a physical addiction.
Me: What was it like through your treatment and recovery journey having a sister who was also an addiction specialist?
Danielle: A pain in the butt. Having my sister not having gone through it, but still having the knowledge was a good thing at times because I could ask you questions and you could give me guidance. But, it was bad because I took it as you were trying to counsel me, even during times when you weren’t, and you were my sister, so I could only think of you like that. It felt like you were trying to tell me what to do.
Me: What happened that made you decide you had enough and wanted to change?
Danielle: I lost everything that I had including someone I thought I was meant to be with, and that was heartbreaking. I ended up in another state with no place to go and found myself getting into a car accident with another person who was driving under the influence. He was arrested and sent to a nine-month program. The officer told me I was not being arrested, but I will take you anywhere within 18 blocks, which included a rehab he suggested, and I said, “Okay.” I had no money, nowhere to go, and I was not sure where I was, so that seemed like the best option.
Me: How long have you been sober and what do you do to maintain your sobriety?
Danielle: I am 18 months sober, and I read my Bible, daily devotions, pray, watch motivational videos, and attend church. I stay busy with work, hang out with sober friends, and am getting ready to go back and finish my education. I try to goal set and am slowly getting my life back together one day at a time. When I do think about going back, as it does cross my mind from time to time, I remember the shame and guilt, along with everything I have accomplished, and it keeps me from going back. God is first in my life, and I believe that saves me.
Me: Who is in your support system and what role do they play in your recovery?
Danielle: The people I went to rehab with and the counselors, family, and sober friends. I speak to these people daily, and they inspire me and encourage me to maintain my sobriety by saying I am worth it, and other positive support messages.
Me: What would you say to someone who is struggling with an addiction and are apprehensive about seeking help?
Danielle: There is a cliché saying, “If I can do it, anybody can!”, but it is true. Tell yourself that and pray. If you seek God, he will help you find your peace. I used to not believe that, but now I know it is true as it led me to meet a police officer who didn’t take me to jail, but rather, took me to a facility to get help, which welcomed me when no one else would.
Today, this month, and each day after you wake up sober, it is a wonderful day. I am proud of my sister and enjoy our Sunday catch ups on the phone. I think Danielle said it best, if she can do it, you can do it, and to the families who aren’t sure if they can get through this, I encourage you to use your community support resources to help you and your family through the journey to recovery. This disease does not discriminate and some times we all need to say “I need a little help!” Let’s enjoy celebrating life with all who have persevered through substance use!