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Although I grew up in an alcoholic household, my childhood was very rich and rewarding. My father drank a lot, but he was very attentive and giving of his time, energy and love. I was raised with an older sister, who acted as a role model, especially since she partied a lot growing up. I learned about another sister whom I didn’t know existed until my mother introduced her to me about 10 years ago.
My mother was very loving and nurturing, especially in my early childhood years, but she was also an ex-heroin addict, an active drinker and cocaine user, and an ardent pill taker. When I couldn’t sleep, she’d put a Valium on my nightstand, and when I was nervous about going to an acting audition, she would fill a thermos for me with alcohol. Although I resented her for using and drinking around me, when my father asked me if I wanted to live with him after the divorce, I told him that my mother needed me and I wanted to devote myself to her care.
I was a straight-A student, and dated boys that my parents approved of. I won track meets, was a cheerleader and was president of my ninth grade class. Despite these achievements, I felt isolated and depressed most of the time. I never felt like I fit into normal society, and I had a core feeling that there was something terribly wrong with me.
And then I found alcohol I liked it immediately, from the first sip to the first effects. It calmed the anxiety, it made me forget the depression, and it made me popular. I drank every day and every night, and got in trouble at school, although I was never actually caught with alcohol in my possession. I also discovered marijuana and I loved it. I would smoke it until I passed out. I especially liked the feeling of alcohol and pot together.
When I was 17, I decided that I wanted to pursue an acting career. I signed up with an agency and sent out pictures and resumes to every casting agent in Los Angeles. The response was tremendous. I got leading roles in many prime time shows, commercials, and movies. I was on top of the world.
Around this time, I started having the beginnings of what would later be seen as psychiatric symptoms. I was having crying jags all the time and would scream and kick things and slam my head against the wall.
Then I discovered mushrooms and cocaine. I spent all my acting money on drugs and miscellaneous frivolities. I started having trouble waking up in the morning. I felt like I was underwater, and was dying inside. I didn’t want to be an actress anymore because it took away from my partying time and I didn’t like having to be sober on the set. I went to one audition stoned out of my mind, and I actually got the part, but on the set I was antisocial and rude.
I tried going away to college to explore my inner reality. It turned out to be very depressing for me, and I moved back home to my mother’s house. When I got there I realized that I was completely broke, even after earning over $100,000 acting in only 2-1/2 years. This discovery was a trigger for a flare-up of the illness that had been building up inside. I went psychotic and started banging my head against the wall. I thought I was in big trouble, that the authorities were going to find out that I had done all these drugs and arrest me. My mother took me to a psychiatrist who recommended anti-psychotic medication and bed rest. I didn’t listen. I spent the next few years going from psychiatrist to psychiatrist. I was diagnosed as manic-depressive, but was put on a medication that made me so tired I couldn’t work; all I could do was sleep. After an argument with my mother, I got into a car, started driving around and got lost in downtown L.A. with only a little gas left and hardly any money. I passed out in my car and woke up to the sound of cars honking at me, pulled over and called my father. He picked me up and I screamed at him that it was all his fault.
I was admitted to a hospital on a 72-hour hold, completely psychotic and weighing only 98 pounds. I thought I could read everybody’s thoughts and that I was going to lead a revolution. I met a lot of people there; it was my first exposure to schizophrenics and other manic-depressives. Over the years they would become an integral part of my recovery and social life. I spent many years in and out of hospitals and institutions. I have lived on welfare, in a homeless shelter, in a treatment center, in a group home and have spent many hours in therapy.
I have a rich life today. I go to college and am working towards degrees in psychology and English. I work part-time at a bookstore and both of my bosses know about my mental illness.
Some days it is really hard just to show up, because I feel like using or like pulling the covers over my head and shutting out the world, but I know that life is good today. I attend and secretary DRA meetings weekly and share my story with others. I sponsor several women, and I recently shared my experience, strength and hope with a group of dually diagnosed patients at a hospital in Berkeley.
Recovery is about sharing and giving back what I have learned in these programs and my life. I have so many people in my life today who believe in me, and it is truly miraculous. I work the 12 Steps of DRA to the best of my ability. I take my medications regularly. I see a therapist and a psychiatrist on a weekly basis. I attend several meetings a week, and I attend school and work. I have dreams of becoming a writer like my father and someday resuming my acting career. I would also like to become a drug and alcohol counselor.
I have turned my will and my life over to a higher power of my understanding. Today, I understand the insanity of my life without sobriety and medication. I have made amends to the people in my life I have hurt. I never got a chance to make amends to my mother because she died while I was still out there using. I did have the opportunity to make amends to my father.
My father has never abandoned me. He has been truly present for me in my life and recovery and he has supported me every step of the way. He is the light of my recovery and a companion on this journey toward sobriety and mental health. He now has nine years clean and sober, and I have three years.
The meeting I secretary is at the same day program that I attended when I was actively delusional. I feel as though I am inseparable from the other people who attend there. All of my closest friends today are dually diagnosed and we are more than just functional. We are fighting for a place in society as mentally ill, chemically addicted individuals, and we are succeeding.
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