In honor of Recovery Month, we have chosen to share several stories of recovery in hopes that it will inspire several others to seek help and get clean.
Here is Chris Campbell’s amazing story of spirituality, recovery, treatment and family.
SPIRITUAL FAMILY-NOT BIOLOGICAL
By Chris Campbell
I am a woman in long term recovery, truly grateful for all I have been given. It was a long, hard road as many of us have experienced, but I know today I am truly blessed and have beat the odds that many said could not be done. I celebrated 22 years of sobriety this past January, and for that I am amazed. Around the 16 or 17 year sobriety mark, I was accepted to Hazeldens Graduate School of Addiction Studies. There were 360 applications that year, and 32 of us were accepted. I was amazed and somehow knew this was a beginning of carrying the message to those of us that hide, that are not blessed with family support, that are throw aways and ignored by many to this day. Most of us can enter a room, a party, a function and spot the alcoholics, right?! I can spot the motherless children, the ones who have an extra uneasiness about them, the ones who still have difficulty with eye contact not to mention have no idea how to have a relationship-with anybody, even with years of sobriety. We tend to hang with each other however, and that brings relief and belonging.
The professor at Hazelden one evening was discussing the ‘numbers’ how many stay sober, how many women, men, professionals, blacks, whites ect. This is how the institution gets their funding and donor money, and bragging rights (sadly). He went onto say that the numbers for one getting sober and staying sober with no family support or involvement are zero. I was stopped in my tracks, knew it was a rarity, but zero? No. All things are possible with a loving God. Hear me! Look at me! I need to be heard and I’m not alone. The most troubled teen clients I have worked with know better. ‘If I just had someone in my corner, I know I could do it if someone believed in me….. They were way ahead of me and know the solution when many haven’t a clue. I was preserved to carry a message, and I needed that coach, support, sponsor, spiritual family. And I have one.
The laundry list that ACOA provides is our map for living until we find our way. Isolated and afraid, seek approval but lose our identity in the process. We become alcoholics or marry them or both. We live life from the victim viewpoint and are attracted by that weakness in love relationships. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and we become so concerned with others rather than ourselves. I raised my little brother for 40 years, anybody else?? We confuse love and pity and tend to love those we can pity. Have you ever noticed how many nurses, doctors and human service workers survived insane households, lacked love and understanding, and became addicts and alcoholics and marry them and then nurse them? We are addicted to excitement. We stuff our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much. I recently sat in a huge speaker meeting in Minneapolis right next to an obvious newcomer, bouncing his leg, fidgeting and about to jump out of his skin. He relaxed for a second when I smiled and acknowledged him. When the speaker got up to begin, she said ‘I came from a perfectly normal loving family’… The newcomer looked at me very puzzled with his eyebrows knitted together as to ask-what? I looked at him and said, she’s lying, she can’t face it yet. He was relieved and one could sense his relief. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self -esteem.
We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold onto a relationship in order to not experience those painful abandonment feelings which we received from living with sick people who were never there for us emotionally. We are reactors rather than actors.
As I reflect back on the strong assertive counselors while I was on the revolving door plan of treatment centers, I understand today why 2 empty folding chairs were put on either side of me during family group. I understand why I went through other family groups alone and was extended a few more weeks before staff reluctantly let me go back to that insanity. I felt total shame and a sort of spotlight on me at the time, but trusted the process somewhat. ‘You are never going to get what you want from those people Chris’ was said to me over and over. And they were exactly right. Those people are dead or the walking dead-all of them. There is illness, isolation, violence and dis-ease with life. Nothing changes if nothing changes.
I reflect back to another wonderful female counselor that I sat in front of, sick, lost and completely defeated. I had my precious 4 year old daughter with me, this being one of the only treatment centers in the country that took women and their children so affected by our illness. She said ‘be the mother to her you always wanted Chris….’ A light went on and everything changed.
We went to Disney (this was close to Anaheim) and rode every ride there was! We went to Universal, Sea World and Broadway shows. We played Pretty Pretty Princess and Candyland until I wanted to scream. I never missed any function she was in, volley ball, parent teacher conference, science fair, prom and homecoming. She had slumber parties and birthday parties. Most importantly, we talked, loved, I sang to her, rocked her and dried her tears, assuring her that it will be OK. And never, ever would I strike her.
When I turned 40, someone in the rooms suggested I throw myself a birthday party and get off of what I didn’t have. I announced it at the Westside club in Traverse City a few weeks ahead. These people knew me and my daughter for a long time-pain and all. Every single person in that club showed up along with their kids, their dogs and tons of food and gifts. It was magic.
I have since had many ‘gypsy Thanksgivings’-a full meal for those who have nowhere to go or those who chose to go to the family drunk fest and came over for pie and fellowship, trying to process what happened. I have had Christmas trees fully decorated and quietly set in my home while we were out. I have had secret Santa’s making sure my daughter never went without. Chords of wood were delivered, stacked and left anonymously. Scholarships were awarded when I thought I was out of options to finish college. Cars were sold to me with a handshake and trust that I would pay monthly, and I did just that. There are many to talk with, many that encourage, and applaud when I celebrate another year sober, have that diploma in my hand, or just need an ear to listen. I have been touched by many and hope that I have returned the love. You are not alone, you are not bad, and you are not broken. You are a part of the Divine.
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