Hello! Who are you?
Hi! I’m Rachel Miller. I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic and stroke survivor. I grew up in Leesburg, Virginia, and now live just 20 minutes up the road in Sterling, Virginia. I think it’s important to precede my story by saying I had a wonderful childhood with a loving family.
It helps break down stigmas associated with addiction and mental health issues. It emphasizes that these challenges can affect anyone, regardless of their background or family situation.
These illnesses that live deep within me elicited a lot of shame over the years. I think talking about where I started as a child helps reduce the shame, foster empathy, and promote a more comprehensive understanding of these illnesses.
We don’t all come from a troubled home. I hope to provide encouragement to others on their own paths of recovery and healing.
Today I’m grateful to have a loving family as an adult. My son (26), daughter (22), and boyfriend of 18 years have provided unconditional love throughout the mental health challenges I’ve faced.
They have been caregivers, cheerleaders, and my lifeline. I only hope that my living amends to them as a sober alcoholic provide as much joy and support as they have given me.
Through the ups and downs of my journey, their unwavering presence and understanding have been a source of strength and inspiration. As I continue to work on my sobriety, mental health, and stroke recovery, they are a part of me, like cherished snapshots I hold close, a spiritual home within my mind.
My spiritual home is a powerful tool to manage my mental health through my recovery. It’s a place where I can retreat, find strength, and reconnect with the joy that resides within me. Today, I’m not only grateful for my past but also for the incredible future that lies ahead of us as a family.
Two other cherished members of our family are Autumn, our insane 3-year-old Weimaraner, and Boris, our playful 2-year-old English Bulldog. They became part of our lives during the peak years of the COVID pandemic and have remained my steadfast shadows throughout my post-stroke recovery journey.
Their comforting presence seems to adapt to the changing seasons of my recovery, offering me an unwavering source of companionship that I can never truly quantify or repay.
In addition to living harmoniously with my two very opposite dogs, I’ve been enjoying exploring new hobbies this year. Baking and sewing, both entirely new to me, have become my creative outlets.
With the challenges of my disability, which includes daily migraines and vision impairment, I’ve been deliberately seeking hobbies that are less triggering and more accommodating to my condition.
Instead of dwelling on what I can’t do, I’ve shifted my focus to new opportunities and keeping an open mind to activities I may have once dismissed. I’m a very active person. I have found it challenging yet critical to slow down and recognize the need to make space for self-discovery.
My relationship with joy has changed over the past decade. When I was an active alcoholic, my concept of happiness was centered around instant gratification. It was a fleeting sensation, something I believed I could only achieve with the help of alcohol.
Happiness, for me then, was externally driven. It was a response to the circumstances or the substances in my life. It was like a candle that would light for a fleeting moment and then blow out until the next time.
As an active alcoholic, I thought that long-lasting joy was something that other people had, and I just was destined for the life I was in. For a long time, I even believed that I wasn’t deserving of happiness.
It was as if I constantly sought it in the world around me, hoping that the next drink or the next experience would make me happy. It was something I got to hold on to for a night I barely remembered, and it was replaced with despair and regret in the morning.
However, with sobriety came a profound shift in my understanding of joy. I started to see that joy isn’t an external force; it’s something that has lived within me all along. It was being drowned in alcohol. I began to believe that I had the power to choose whether to surface that joy.
Today, I have a choice in how I want to feel. It’s not about relying on external factors or substances to dictate my happiness. Instead, it’s about recognizing that joy is part of me.
Even amid challenges, pain, and adversity, I have the capacity to access that joy within me. Often, however, it is through connecting with others that I can free up the joy that sometimes gets trapped under stress, anger, sadness, and fear. I need other people so that I can talk about my feelings and pull them out of, what I call, my dark place and shine the light on the joy within me.
In sobriety, I’ve learned that happiness is not a costume that I dress myself in for a fleeting moment, but instead, it’s a state of being that I can wear as long as I want. It’s not dependent on my reaction to what’s happening around me but on how I choose to respond to what’s happening in my life.
It’s about finding comfort in the present moment, embracing gratitude for things that I used to not take the time to admire, and nurturing the joy that resides within.
So, to answer the question, yes, I do consider myself a happy person. But it’s a happiness that I’ve discovered within myself, a happiness that I’ve learned to nurture and share with others so that theirs can surface.
It’s a profound shift from the days of seeking external gratification, and it’s a testament to the transformative power of my recovery program and the self-discovery that it has required.
💡 By the way: Do you find it hard to be happy and in control of your life? It may not be your fault. To help you feel better, we’ve condensed the information of 100’s of articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet to help you be more in control. 👇
Don’t Miss Out On Happiness
Find happiness with this 10-step mental health cheat sheet.
What is your struggle and when did it start?
My internal battle with mental health challenges is something that has existed for as long as I can remember. As a child, I had chronic feelings of sadness, boredom, loneliness, and self-pity. I never really felt like I fit in.
I had lots of friends and could stand in a crowded room yet still feel alone. It was like I was living on my own little emotional island. The only time I didn’t feel alone was when I was with my family—with them, I always felt comforted, connected, and a part of.
As my battle with alcoholism slowly consumed me, I began to feel increasingly detached. Alcohol seemed to offer the same solace that my family did, and I could experience it without needing anyone by my side. This was my introduction to isolation.
Thus began an illness deep within me that quietly grew until, at the age of 42, my life spiraled into complete chaos because of my obsession with alcohol.
Despite being a divorced mother of two incredible kids, holding a dream job that allowed me to work from home, and sharing a loving relationship with my boyfriend of ten years, I was slowly succumbing to the grips of alcoholism. It was an agonizing descent, and there was only one way out—detoxing and embracing a life of sobriety as Rachel version 2.0.
Five years later, I suffered an ischemic stroke in June 2021. Over the past two years, I was left with a multitude of challenges. The immediate symptoms included vision impairment, chronic aching in my head, and an inability to engage in activities I had once taken for granted.
Since my stroke did not impact my speech and I was outwardly unscathed I entered a two-year period of denial, hopping back into my life as if nothing happened.
Adhering to a recovery plan suggested by my doctors, I just took breaks from my work as a marketing director whenever the pain in my head passed a threshold that was debilitating and inhibited my ability to focus, both visually on digital screens and cognitively. During those two years of denial, I refused to accept that a cloak had been dropped over me and my stroke irrevocably altered my life.
This year the migraines became unmanageable. Cognitive challenges became frustratingly and, at times, dangerously apparent. I romanced ideas of finding relief in prescription drugs and alcohol.
I recognized that my sobriety was at risk, and I could no longer live with the chronic pain and impairments that I was experiencing because of my stroke. I stopped fighting against myself and began fighting for myself. My first decision was to step back from a career that I loved and begin the grieving process.
Over the past six months, this struggle evolved from being a shocking, life-altering event into a journey of adaptation, resilience, and recovery. While I’m no longer experiencing the acute pain of the immediate aftermath, vision impairment remains a daily challenge, affecting me in various ways.
The frequency of its impact varies but is a constant presence in my life, serving as a reminder for me of the importance of perseverance. I must stay consistent in my pursuit of recovery, not exposing myself to everyday stimuli that trigger the symptoms.
Navigating this struggle has been a process of discovery, both in terms of my own resilience and the incredible support system that surrounds me. My determination to adapt and reclaim aspects of my life has been a driving force in my recovery.
It’s a journey that has seen me embrace new hobbies, find solace in my Recovery Daily Podcast, and draw strength from my loving family. While this struggle may be ongoing, it has also ignited a profound sense of purpose and advocacy within me, driving me to share my story and champion the causes of mental health, the fragility of sobriety, and the courage in stroke recovery.
How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?
At the pinnacle of my pain this year, it felt like the perfect storm. This decision to enter stroke recovery while maintaining sobriety, felt like I was just thrown into a rushing river with no paddle.
There were moments when it seemed like joy had been siphoned out of me, yet deep down I knew better. I was familiar with that feeling of grief and hopelessness from having experienced it in the depths of my alcoholism. I was fully aware that a fight was in front of me and that through it was growth.
Although I knew these things intellectually and emotionally, the frustration and depression hurt just as bad. The dual journey of recovering from a traumatic neurological event while also protecting my sobriety has felt daunting, perilous, and isolating. It felt like I’d been just practicing recovery from alcoholism for the past seven years just so that I’d be ready for the big test this year.
I’ve had so many people reaching out to me with encouragement, but the struggle has been my own test of strength and self-compassion. My family and friends know my emotional vulnerabilities and despite my efforts to shield them from how depressed I have felt, my kids especially, when I’m in pain I can’t hide it. I’ve tried to spare them from worrying, but my frustration and fatigue have just bubbled too close to the surface to cover it up.
My struggle was threatening to undermine the foundation of my sobriety I had worked so hard to build. The intersection of stroke recovery and sobriety sometimes created a complex web of emotional, physical, and spiritual challenges, but it was within this knot of adversity that I also discovered strength I didn’t know I had.
My recovery journey has sculpted a version of me, Rachel 3.0, that dares to be more joyful and serene than before.
👉 Share your story: Help thousands of people around the world by sharing your own story. We would love to publish your interview and have a positive impact on the world together. Learn more here.
Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?
Before I entered sobriety, I saw the reality of my disease of alcoholism when I glanced in the mirror — it was a moment of self-awareness that revealed a desperate need for change.
I was drinking nonstop, 24/7. I walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and saw the life in me slipping away; my hollow gaze and pallid skin made me whisper to myself, “You’re already dead.”
As an active alcoholic, I did not think that I had a choice to not pick up a drink. My body’s dependency on alcohol consumed me. My disease told me that I no longer had the freedom of choice. In the days and months that I approached and became engaged in my sobriety program, I was introduced to the idea that I do have a choice.
The choice started with a willingness to change. Like me, and many alcoholics, that willingness comes out of desperation. My life could not continue in the same way, so I had to have the willingness to make a decision to seek help. I picked up the phone and called INOVA’s inpatient comprehensive addiction treatment (CATS) program and put myself on the waiting list for a bed.
This year I was faced with the same sort of desperation, but this time was more from debilitating pain in my head. I recognized finally after two years of denial that once again my life was unmanageable, and I couldn’t keep living like I was, acting like there was nothing wrong with me. To begin stroke recovery full-time, I had to make a choice to be willing to do whatever it took to relieve the pain.
I once again had hit rock bottom, and I needed help. I walked out my front door, sat on the front stoop, and cried. At that time it felt like the end of everything I’d worked so hard for in my career. I walked back into the house, contacted my boss, and told him I had to step back and focus on my health. It marked the beginning of a new chapter of courage and vulnerability.
In both cases, I had to reach that point of desperation. It felt more like I was giving up and revealing my weaknesses to the world, but I know now through talking through my mental, emotional, and physical challenges on my podcast, that these tough decisions are the epitome of courage. In both my active alcoholism and my initial post-stroke years, there was a stubborn self-reliance that prevented me from seeking help. We’re taught to value independence, making it counterintuitive to extend a hand for assistance. Yet, in both scenarios, true liberation was found in allowing myself to rely on others, especially my partner, who became a pillar of support and guidance. My stroke recovery has imparted a profound lesson — that there is strength in letting go.
I heard a story by Tamara Levitt on Calm.com about two children building a sandcastle at the beach. High tide came in and washed away their sandcastle. There are two types of children—there is the child that stands up looking out into the ocean. She cries wishing she could have her castle back, while the other child picks up her shovel and begins to build a new castle. In recovery, I have learned how to pick my shovel back up. It’s not about mourning what I’ve lost but about finding the courage to build again.
What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?
Recovering out loud is therapeutic for me, especially during this time as I grieve what I lost from my stroke and learn how to embrace Rachel 3.0. My journey in sobriety has taught me how to sweep out the dark corners inside me to allow joy and serenity to surface.
Today I’m able to see happy endings before I even approach a challenge. I’m not perfect at it, but rather than fearing the worst and preparing for every possible tragedy, I am learning to trust in my intelligence, patience, kindness, and strength to be able to handle whatever comes, as it comes.
With increased awareness without numbing myself with alcohol, I feel experiences from beginning to end, even when it’s painful. I am learning to pause and look back over my shoulder to say, “I just did that, and it didn’t kill me.” The more I practice discomfort, the more confident I am in my ability to handle things.
Over the past seven years in sobriety, I have felt loss, grief, pain, anger, jealousy, sadness, depression, and fear. I have also felt joy and serenity. The latter two I never felt before I stepped away from alcohol’s deceptive comfort. In the depths of my drinking, there was so much pain inside me, that I was frozen with anxiety. I was afraid to feel. I was very sick. I was afraid that my feelings could kill me. I honestly felt like that sometimes.
Just as I can’t take that disease out of my body, I can’t change the part of my brain that has died as a result of a stroke. I have daily chronic pain in my head, just as an active alcoholic I had chronic debilitating anxiety—internal pain.
At times it feels like only the things I love are the things I can no longer do. It’s when I record one of my Recovery Daily Podcast episodes that I release the darkness that begins to grow inside me on a daily basis, and my joy can surface again.
I’ve had to shift my focus from obsessing over the things I can no longer do to being creative about what I can do. This shift was similar to when I first got sober. It can feel quite discouraging in the beginning. I was catastrophizing everything with phrases like, “I’ll never have fun again.” But, I’m getting better at practicing acceptance and at doing the next right thing, even when I don’t want to, especially when it means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. I believe I will find my way through the pain to joy and serenity, and through it find profound growth.
When I back up and look at the entirety of my recovery journey over the past 7 ½ years, it’s easy to get discouraged about the uncertainties that lie ahead. I have to face each day one at a time.
For those navigating similar paths, here are practices from my recovery toolkit that have worked for me:
- I bookend my days with positive actions, like my 7 am sobriety meeting and podcast recording session in the evening before bed.
- I talk openly about my emotions with someone I trust—friends, family, my partner, or my kids.
- I lean into discomfort by turning off my “wanter,” reminding myself of the rule I gave my kids at dinnertime when they were young, “You don’t have to like it. You just have to eat it.”
- I commit to meditation, napping, eating healthy, and exercising my body, embracing each as the next right thing, even when I don’t want to.
- I try to be of service to others, lending an ear to them, which helps me step outside of myself.
- I actively engage with my self-talk and respond with action. The phone can feel heavy some days, but it’s always lighter after I make a call and talk to someone I trust.
- I say ‘yes’ more often, particularly when my instinct is to say ‘no.’
- I’ve found a spiritual home, where I can return to in my mind whenever I want an instant dose of peace and comfort. For me, it’s a snapshot of the kids and I being cozy in the basement during an evening storm.
- I continue to cultivate a collection of hobbies that I enjoy doing when I’m by myself, nurturing self-love.
- I practice the art of the pause, which has become a powerful tool, giving me the space to think before I act or speak, even if that pause lasts a week. It allows me to observe how I process my emotions from beginning to end.
Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?
Sharing about the illnesses that live deep within me has been a gradual process and has been influenced by the empathy and understanding I’ve encountered from people like me. The community I’ve felt most at ease with is my network of alcoholics in sobriety. This camaraderie is the reason I attend a daily 7 am sobriety meeting. It allows me to talk about what’s going on in real-time rather than only going a couple of times a week and saving up my narrative about my struggles over the course of several days.
Have you noticed how your self-talk changes over time? Mine is dependent on how long it marinates inside me, and I don’t share it with others. Something just slightly upsetting can become very disruptive in my life if I don’t share it openly with others.
Discussing my mental health struggles with acquaintances who haven’t experienced this kind of illness can feel shameful and frustrating. The fear of being misunderstood has held me back for so long. But keeping it inside perpetuates my isolation and the pain just grows.
I’ve also started going to stroke survivor support groups to cultivate a network where I can share the unique challenges of my post-stroke life. My family, too, has become a stronger pillar of support as I’ve become more transparent with them throughout my recovery. I always felt so unique, like I was the only one thinking the things I thought and that nobody else would understand.
That’s just not the case. The reason why I’ve decided to recover out loud is because of this realization. I want to be able to have someone hear their own story in mine, so that if they don’t quite have the courage to seek help or talk about how they feel, the ability to relate happens more effortlessly.
I also have a couple of close friends that I trust unconditionally in addition to a sponsor that is there for me whenever I call. I too am a sponsor to other women, to be of service in the same way.
If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?
If I could share one piece of advice with someone struggling, it would be to look for joy inside yourself instead of out there in the world. Life can seem like there’s no way out amid what seems like a perfect storm of circumstances. I have felt this way several times in my life. This is how I felt when I reached my bottom as an alcoholic.
I felt like there was no way I could live my life without alcohol, yet my life had completely fallen apart because of it. I thought joy was in the bottle. I felt the same when I had to accept my disability because of my stroke. I felt like losing my job was losing my identity, yet the daily chronic pain in my head was crippling. I thought joy was in my professional accomplishments.
We spend much of our lives searching for joy—getting married, adopting a dog, or buying a bigger house. What I have found is that when I’ve been able to get rid of all the trash in the dark corners inside me, it allows the joy within me to surface.
Believe in the possibility that growth and joy are within your struggles. I wish I had understood this earlier, but I had to experience what I did to get to be the woman I am today. I had to clear away the mental clutter to discover that the joy I was seeking was always within me.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?
- Presence by Amy Cuddy: This book taught me about how to physically manifest courage and take up the space that I need and deserve to be a confident woman in my career.
- Talk Like Ted by Carmine Gallo: After years of throwing myself in the fire, trying to get comfortable being uncomfortable at public speaking, this book was my “ah-ha moment.” I learned from it how to speak in front of a large crowd to each individual person. My negative self-talk began to dissipate.
- The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World is a beautiful book about maintaining joy in the face of adversity.
- My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor: This was an eye-opening story about another stroke survivor’s experience in recovery which inspires me to keep fighting for myself.
- Anything by Brené Brown is inspiring and thought-provoking. Books like “Dare to Lead” taught me that “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change,” one of her popular quotes that I repeat to myself often.
- Final Approach: Northwest Airlines Flight 650, Tragedy and Triumph by Lyle Prouse: This is an example of rebuilding your life in sobriety
- The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Spiritual Awakenings, As Bill Sees It, etc. have all helped me build the recovery program that I practice today.
- The Self-Love Workbook: A Life-Changing Guide to Boost Self-Esteem, Recognize Your Worth, and Find Genuine Happiness by Dr. Shainna Ali is an awesome workbook that guided me through helpful exercises to be more self-aware.
Where can we go to learn more about you?
To connect with me, find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram, or visit my website at recoverydailypodcast.com. Follow Recovery Daily Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or YouTube @recoverydailypodcast. Or email me directly at email@example.com.
💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇
This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Be Happier and More Productive
Thrive under stress and crush your goals with these 10 unique tips for your mental health.
Want more interviews?
Continue reading our inspiring case studies and learn how to overcome mental health struggles in a positive way!
Want to help others with your story? We would love to publish your interview and have a positive impact on the world together. Learn more here.