Crossing the Line: Finding Recovery in The Twelve Steps
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September is National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month. Throughout the month, the HRC will feature profiles of recovery. Before she got sober, Melody* was homeless, addicted to alcohol and heroin, and had been a victim of violence. She struggled with addiction for fifteen years before she became sober with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. Today, Melody is a business owner and graduate student. This is her recovery story.
September is National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month. Visit SAMHSA’s Recovery Month website to learn more about activities to highlight the societal benefits of substance abuse treatment, the contributions of treatment providers, and to promote the message that recovery from substance abuse in all its forms is possible.
Stories of recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) build upon each other as one person shares her experiences, strength, and hope with another. Melody* moved next door to me six months before I got sober. Her story helped lead me from hopelessness to sobriety.
This is her story of recovery.
“The great purpose in my life today is to have a meaningful relationship with a higher power and to have meaningful, useful spiritual relationships with other human beings. Not every moment of my life is perfect or filled with ecstasy or even happiness. Difficult things happen in life, but I haven’t wanted to take a drink or do drugs for more than eight years,” explains Melody. She will soon complete a law degree and a MA in Latin American Studies.
Melody started drinking and doing drugs at the age of twelve. Her struggles with addiction span a period of fifteen years. “The first time that I did drugs, smoked, had sex, and drank was the year I was twelve.” She discovered she enjoyed an altered state of mind. It made her feel fearless, but serious consequences followed. “I was thirteen years old the first time I got pregnant. I had an abortion and I remember feeling like it was an irritation. I didn’t feel badly about it. My primary focus was to party and everything else, like school, family, or getting pregnant simply stood in the way.
From age thirteen to fifteen, Melody describes her life as a “free for all.” She started using cocaine and smoking crack. She was kicked out of high school. While she managed to graduate from an alternative high school, she had few friends and never had been able to hold a job. She describes herself as thoughtless and irresponsible, with no concern for others.
At age seventeen, Melody was pregnant again, but was too out of control to tell anyone, to get an abortion, or to take care of the child. “I just kept hoping that if I did enough crack, I would have a miscarriage. It is a miracle that the child does not have fetal alcohol syndrome or other problems because of the amount of drugs and alcohol I ingested during the first trimester.”
After she gave her child up for adoption, Melody believes she reached a point of being ready to change. “I crossed the line that the Big Book describes as when we could have stopped drinking, but many of us don’t have enough pain to make us want to stop.” The Big Book is the primary text of AA. Melody began a long series of moves across the country and made her first attempts to control her drinking. “The first time I went to an AA meeting, I was 18. I didn’t get sober for another ten years. I went to that first meeting because I was feeling desperation and humiliation as a result of my behavior.”
During the ten-year period between ages eighteen and twenty-eight, Melody cycled through loss, desperation, and the darkness of addiction. She married a man she hardly knew who would later try to kill her when she tried to leave him. She experienced sexual violence, homelessness, and ultimately prostitution. “One of the reasons that the consequences got so bad is because I started doing heroin at age twenty. It was the quickest and most effective way to reach oblivion. It was the only thing that satisfied me.”
Melody ended up homeless in Denver, addicted to heroin. One day, she went to an AA meeting. “I walked away from the meeting knowing I would have to sleep outside. I was cold and sick. I walked up to the doors of a cathedral, certain that the doors would be locked.” One of the doors was open. Alone in the cathedral, Melody felt a wave of emotion wash over her. She got down on her knees and begged God to forgive her. “I knew instantaneously that I had been forgiven. I knew that no matter what happened, somehow, all was well.” While she did not stop using right away, she did a few months later. “It wasn’t a big bang. It just stopped working one day.”
Because of her previous experiences in AA, she knew where to go and what to do. “I knew that I had to immediately find a sponsor and start working the steps. I was told that I had to learn to be of service to others and to stop being so selfish. My sponsor helped me get involved in service work - the kind that is available to people who can barely tie their own shoes, like cleaning ashtrays.” Her sponsor also asked Melody to help welcome other women to AA.
A year and a half into recovery, Melody was working on her 9th step amends, part of a 12-step process in which the person in recovery admits she has harmed other people. “I was being dishonest about some of the amends that I needed to make. My behavior had become self-centered again and I relapsed on heroin one night. Miraculously, I came back to AA. I have been sober ever since.” That was June 9, 2001.
“Drugs and alcohol served to ease some of the discomfort caused by my spiritual and emotional problems. Now, the twelve steps of AA do that for me.”
Since she became sober, Melody has earned a college degree, gone on to graduate school, and supported herself by running her own housekeeping business. She has had the opportunity to meet her son since she became sober. “He’s healthy and happy,” says Melody, with deep gratitude.
*Her name has been changed to protect her privacy.
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