My name is Kathleen and I’m a person living in long-term recovery. My story is not a particularly unusual one, though I always imagined myself a particularly dramatic and tragic character who was more beyond help than most. Now that I’m in recovery I’ve learned that the emotional agony I was living in was not unique to me; many people have survived it to find recovery.
I’m an only child and grew up in an affluent suburban neighborhood outside Vancouver, British Columbia. From an extremely young age, I exhibited alarming signs of struggle – panic attacks, night terrors, and even talking about suicide. I had all the love and parental attentiveness in the world and every opportunity a child could hope for, yet there was a fundamental discomfort in simply existing for me.
I always felt an otherness; I can remember lying about my favourite radio station or TV show in order to fit in more in elementary school and trying to copy the printing of the girls I longed to be like. Throughout my school years, I lived with the fear that if people truly knew me they could never love me. I attained good grades and outwardly appeared to thrive in high school, but I began engaging in self-harm at 12 to help manage my overwhelming emotions. In my mind, this marks the beginning of the addiction for me: I started depending on outside actions to treat inside issues.
The first time I drank alcohol I was 15 years old and I did so alone in an attempt to “take the edge off” after an embarrassing incident. Within weeks I was drinking regularly to black out and causing problems in my friendships and extracurricular activities. At the beginning of my final year of high school, I sprained my ankle so badly in a black out that I was on crutches for two weeks. I have no idea how it happened and no memory of how I got home that night.
In that same time frame, I began abusing my prescriptions and drinking during the week. I couldn’t maintain steady employment and my school work suffered. I was in an abusive relationship and I couldn’t see a way out. My friendships were strained and I was miserable, so when I was accepted to the University of Victoria I decided to make the move.
Naturally, geography changed very little about my problem and my first year was a disaster, complete with humiliation, failed classes, and even deeper self-loathing. By June my relationships with almost everyone in Victoria were tense at best, so I moved back home. I made my first attempt to quit drinking. It was physically brutal and unsuccessful.
For the next few years, I vacillated between extreme highs and lows and myriad career and education changes. The beginning of the end came when my then-boyfriend left me and I was entirely incapable of coping. I began drinking daily, popping pills, and getting into harder drugs. Within months I was in a psychiatric ward in restraints and sent to my first treatment center. I was kicked out promptly after stealing knives from their kitchen.
I was angry and terrified and mean and in so much pain. I managed to last a few more months of daily using and constant dramatics and sprinting through every “I’ll never” I had set for myself. Finally, I was physically sick enough to ask for help. My parents arranged for me to go to The Orchard Recovery Center in Bowen Island where I stayed for six months. I relapsed twice, but have now been clean and sober since November 8, 2011.
The first year or so of my recovery was intense – both good and bad. I felt every feeling I had with no more buffers and it was HARD. I had to learn to live life as an independent adult. I often felt as though I could not possibly stay sober any longer, but through the connections, I made in my recovery community I was able to seek support. Five and a half years later I’m 29 and a stay at home mum to two boys, two and a half and ten months old. My husband, also in recovery, and I have been married close to three years and have a relationship of which I am incredibly proud.
The girl who couldn’t do anything for herself now takes care of two precious little people every day. I live authentically and feel confident in the woman I am and the choices I make. I am a positive contributor to my community and am able to make a real impact in the lives of others through my actions. I feel lucky every day to have found a way out of addiction. At 23 I genuinely believed that I was too far gone to ever amount to anything at all, let alone to achieve the kind of happiness I have today. There is no low too low for recovery. If you have a heartbeat you have a chance.