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Sharing My Journey From Alcohol and Substance Abuse to Sobriety and Happiness

“I felt prettier, smarter, funnier when alcohol entered my body so I simply continued numbing through the years. The progression of this disease of alcoholism turned into a nasty drug habit and those feelings of insecurity turned into deep darkness when I was “off my meds”. Or in other words, without alcohol or drugs.”

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Hello! Who are you?

Hi, I’m Sharon! I live in Tampa Bay, Florida and have been self-employed for the last 10 years. I have been happily married for 15 years, proud parents of a 20 year-old human and to a chocolate lab named Charlie Brown. I am an avid bike rider and a lover of life so yes, I consider myself happy.

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

I entered my first rehab for drugs and alcohol when I was 18 after a family intervention, was mandated to my 2nd at 19, then blacked out in New York City and woke up in Detroit, Michigan.

I stayed in a consistent blackout until I was 21 years old and after years of being lost in the throes of addiction, I took a bus back home and began my journey of sobriety. 

As a young adult I struggled with the normal insecurities teenagers face but these feelings magically vanished when I drank. I felt prettier, smarter, funnier when alcohol entered my body so I simply continued numbing through the years. The progression of this disease of alcoholism turned into a nasty drug habit and those feelings of insecurity turned into deep darkness when I was “off my meds”. Or in other words, without alcohol or drugs. 

Deep depression would enter my life when I was without my ‘medication’ so I continued using until I knew I would die if I continued on this path.

Surrounded by love, support, and desperation, I trudged through the 12 step program at 21 years old and have remained for 30 years. The healing began when I put down the substances and started working on the root causes of my addiction but I did not deal with my trauma until I was 25 years sober.

Depression was a looming factor in the early stages of my recovery and today I have a daily reprieve contingent on my spiritual and mental health workout.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

When I finally put the substances down at 21 years old, I fell into a dark depression. I was despondent and thinking about ending my life daily for the first six months of my recovery journey. It was evident to my family that I was depressed so my father suggested I visit with the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) that helped him while I was away in Detroit. 

It was painful to leave my house and now he wanted me to commute into NYC from Long Island to seek counsel. I was desperate so I made the commitment to try one more therapist to ultimately get those that loved me off my back. 

There was no happiness or sunlight seeping through the blinds of my bedroom during this time, only darkness. It took everything for me to leave that house every Tuesday and travel into NYC with my dad to see Ben, but it ultimately ended up being the saving grace.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

This therapist was different from all the rest, as he was a wounded healer. Ben shared the journey of his own life and that rare vulnerability allowed me to feel safe, seen, and heard. 

He asked the most important question I’ve ever been asked, “are you having suicidal thoughts?” I said yes, and that moment changed the trajectory of my life forever. When my therapist said “we” were going to get you the help you need and referred me to the right psychiatrist, I began a low dose of Prozac and the darkness began to lift. 

He said we were going to get through this and after six months of consistent therapy, 12 step recovery, and a community of love, I began the journey toward the sunlight. Ben would tell me every Tuesday that one day I was going to open the blinds in my room and feel good again, and eventually, he was right. 

I attribute 25% percent to saving my life on my willingness to say yes in seeking help and 75% to landing in the right therapist’s office. The medication was never going to be the answer to my depression and addiction, I had to incorporate an entire new way of living. I was weaned off the medication after six months and dove into my recovery program. 

Although I was getting better, I still was not well for the first 5 years of my sobriety. There is a suggested program of recovery through the 12 steps that I did not take until someone who loved me asked how long I wanted to stay sick in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was then that I began the true internal house cleaning that allowed me to stay focused on the solution that the program of recovery offers.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

I took the 12 steps the program of recovery suggests and helped others through the work outlined in the textbook of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was important to find a woman I admired to share the shame that comes along with addiction and alcoholism. 

I’m proud to say decades later, I still work with the same woman and we continue to pass this message onto others. Working with a woman who comes through the doors feeling broken and full of shame is an opportunity to share what was so freely given to me. 

What really helped me in the beginning was finding someone in recovery that I could be entirely honest with, not someone who would tell me what I wanted to hear. I made that mistake in my first few years of sobriety, it certainly took time for the dust to clear.

Since I was only 21 years old when I got sober, I sought out to find a tribe of young people who were on the same road to recovery. It was a gift to have a community of friends that never judged me and shared similar journeys. There are many promises these recovery rooms offer to us but we have to be willing to put in the work and be rigorously honest to enjoy the fruits of this labor. It is labor.

I mentioned previously that I did not deal with my trauma until I was 25 years sober. In retrospect, I believe today that I wasn’t ready to revisit that horrific time I spent homeless and addicted in Detroit. For sure a higher source was preparing me through those years to have the strength to face the demons I pushed down for so long.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

For a very long time I only felt comfortable sharing about my depression and addiction with other members of the AA program. I was taught to remain anonymous so I only shared with my bosses at previous jobs about being sober because they were physicians and I trusted them. It was frowned upon in the rooms of AA to break anonymity and tell others about the path that saved my life. 

I realized that as long as I did not break anyone else’s confidence, I was able to share about my own journey. So, after 25 years of sobriety and a career of directing medical practices in NY and FL, I decided to write a memoir about my journey on this broken road to mental health. I had a track record of success in life and in business and felt compelled to share a message of hope to others. 

I was witnessing too many people dying and suffering in silence and began to feel like an imposter in my professional life. It was clear that the only reason I was successful in business was because of my life in recovery so I wrote a book about it in 2019.

It turns out this book led me to a whole new journey of healing directly correlated to the trauma I endured in Detroit. The writing brought up a past I had stuffed down so deep and now recognize how it seeped out into other areas of my life. I never would have been able to go on another journey of healing if I didn’t write that book. 

Today, I speak about mental health in the workplace for a living but it is not always welcomed. Although there has been a lot of improvement in having conversations to normalize mental health, we have a long way to go.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

The best advice I could offer to someone today is to tell a trusted friend or professional that you are struggling.

I wish I knew at 21 years old that my depression was a result of the trauma I endured and not a chemical imbalance. A professional told me that story and yet I haven’t taken medication for depression since I was 21. I told ‘that’ chemical imbalance nonsense to anyone that would listen and gave energy to someone else’s narrative.

The truth is, I was traumatized and needed to heal, that’s why I was depressed. I wish I knew that the silence was actually killing me and I’m lucky to be alive today because Ben was brave enough to ask if I was having suicidal thoughts.

Disclaimer: I am not against medication, I just believe there is much more needed than a simple prescription to lead to a life of good mental health.

Also, if you know someone is struggling, don’t tell them to call you anytime or you are always here if you need them. Call them. Text them. Show up at their house. Ask if they are having suicidal thoughts.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

  • Lost Connections by Johann Hari: This book helped me realize that there was a lot more to my depression than the story I was told by the medical profession. It helped identify how important community is to healing wounds and expanded my understanding of how there are multiple ways to heal a human.
  • The Myth of Normal by Dr. Gabor Mate: This doctor and this book changed everything for me in terms of understanding how impactful the trauma I endured painted the story of my life. I realize now that trauma is a wound that happened inside of me and how important it is to release it. I also learned a lot about generational trauma from his teachings. 
  • Depresh Mode podcast: This podcast is hosted by John Moe. Many honest and funny conversations from people in the arts and entertainment industry that have suffered from depression, anxiety, addiction and other mental health issues. It feeds the dark humor side I have surrounding depression and addiction. 
  • Last Day podcast: This podcast discusses overdoses, suicides, and more relatable mental health struggles. It has expanded my knowledge supporting how vital it is that we all get educated about how to treat everyone as individuals on this bumpy road of life.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can read more about me on my website The Doctor Whisperer, or on Instagram and LinkedIn.

Or you can read my memoir The Broken Road to Mental Health in Life and in Business.

💡 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. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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