1.) How long have you been in recovery from drugs and alcohol?
I got sober when I was 19 years old, which as of January 2020 has been 23 years! It almost doesn’t seem possible at times that 23 years have passed. I have now been sober more than half of my life and I couldn’t be more grateful for that!
2.) What helps you stay clean and sober? (i.e. coping strategies, positive people, places and activities, counseling (EMDR- might be cool to explain what that is and how it works – if you feel comfortable), psychiatric medications, etc.)
Over the past 23 years I have used several tools to aid in my recovery. In the first few years, I utilized talk therapy and various types of twelve step meetings as well as depression/anxiety medication. I began to feel stagnate after about 5 years or so and moved more towards a faith-based form of recovery. I found a church to call home and got very involved with teaching Sunday school, bible studies and ended up weaning off my medication.
After about another 15 years or so I found myself once again desiring more. Although my faith is still a big part of who I am and my recovery I was feeling it was time for some change.
I started working in the field of addiction about 5 years ago. When I started learning more about addiction as a disease and learned about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) it catapulted my recovery to yet another level.
I have done a lot of soul searching and honest, thorough self-examination over the past few years and have realized there is still some issues in my personal life stemming from some unresolved childhood trauma so I have begun seeing a therapist for EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Most of us experienced trauma at such an early age that our prefrontal cortex had yet to be formed. Being able to process those memories now, as an adult with a fully formed prefrontal cortex, has brought clarity to my shortcomings and character defects. It has also given me the tools I need to make more positive and healthy choices in my life.
Change isn’t always easy, it has been a lot of hard but very rewarding work, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to be free from those past hurts and hang-ups.
3.) What have you learned about yourself over the past 20+ years?
Over the past 20 plus years I have learned that I have no control over people, places or things. I only have control over my own actions and reactions. I can choose to be happy regardless of how I feel. I have also embraced that I am an imperfect human and I accept and love myself today. If I try my best to be honest in all my affairs and focus on helping others, that is when I am happiest. Most importantly is that I can continue to maintain a daily reprieve based upon my spiritual condition, which means that practicing self-care and doing something for my recovery on a daily basis is not optional.
4.) What advice or message do you have for people who are currently struggling with alcohol or substance abuse issues?
You are not alone. You are loved even if you don’t feel it or feel as though you are worthy. Addiction is a disease and it is not a choice. You were created and destined for so much more, this is just a detour it is not forever. Don’t get overwhelmed thinking about living the rest of your life substance free. Think about one step at a time and focus solely on refraining from using drugs and/or alcohol for just one day and let those days simply add up. Be in the moment and enjoy the simple things like a cup of coffee, the warm sun on your face or a hug from someone you love. Life gets better, never in our timing, so please be patient with the process and with yourself.
5.) How do you feel about the person you are today compared to the person you were in active addiction?
I feel like a completely different person today. I look back at the person I was in active addiction and instead of feeling guilt or shame I feel compassion and love. I was a hurt individual who was feeling abandoned and unloved and was trying to self-medicate to ease my pain. I am proud of who I am today. I am proud of the mother, sister, daughter, aunt and friend I have become. I am excited about my future and what’s to come. It just keeps getting better and better and I feel stronger and stronger. I couldn’t be more grateful for my journey, the good, the bad and the ugly. Every experience has brought me to where I am today and today, I am comfortable and confident in my own skin. Living my best life and full of gratitude.
Geri Lynn Utter, PsyD Perspective Piece: Relapse, Mental Health, and the State of the World As I sat down to write this article, I