K thought she was ready to die—to let her alcoholism kill her—but her survival instincts kicked in and led her down a path of healing
Editor’s note: “The Turning Point” is a column focused on the moment or moments when our subjects realized they needed to seek addiction treatment.
By Veronica L. Holyfield
Growing up amid chaos, K felt that her only way out was to burrow inward.
For starters, she says her father was an active alcoholic, and her mother was an active anorexic. And there were other troubling issues that further strained her relationship with her parents. K discovered food as a way to uncouple herself from her parents and numb her discontent. Ultimately, however, food became a gateway into K’s struggle with addiction.
So did church, which had been a safe haven for her. “I was well over 300 pounds, and as a young adult, church was my home,” she says. “I was in the closet while going to church, while they preached that they were against everything that I was. I was dying inside to come out, and when I finally did come out at my church, they sat me down and told me I was full of demons and all of these horrible things that you don’t want to hear.”
K says that the rejection from her church and her issues with food had catastrophic repercussions. She underwent gastric bypass surgery to help with her food addiction, but that wound up contributing to a much bigger problem.
“I could no longer turn to food, so I turned to alcohol,” K says. “The way I metabolized alcohol after the gastric bypass was that I would get drunk very fast, and I would get sober very fast, so it was hard to stay numb. I stopped eating. I lived to drink—I lived to stay numb.”
I was born with what’s called aortic stenosis. … [The doctors] just thought it would end up getting worse and I probably would have to have it replaced by the time I was 70, 80. But I ended up drinking so much that my valve deteriorated, and I got congestive heart failure.”—K
In a span of less than four years, the wheels completely came off K’s life: She went to detox seven times, she lost girlfriends and friendships, the business she owned was in jeopardy, her car was repossessed, her house went into foreclosure, she was evicted from her apartment, and she wound up living in a motel that rented by the hour. She hit rock bottom hard and fast, and while she lost every single earthly possession, the loss of herself was the most devastating blow of all.
“I lost my self-esteem—my self-worth—and I just did not care about anything,” she says. “I lost compassion; I lost gratitude; I lost love. I was just a shell. I was so dark on the inside that I had nothing to give, and I didn’t want anything either. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I disgusted myself.”
It wasn’t until an underlying health condition flared up that she finally became able to see her life for what it was.
“I was born with what’s called aortic stenosis: My aortic valve was defective at birth,” she says. “The doctors just watched it through the years, and it wasn’t like any type of a health problem at all. They just thought it would end up getting worse and I probably would have to have it replaced by the time I was 70, 80. But I ended up drinking so much that my valve deteriorated, and I got congestive heart failure.”
K’s doctors recommended open heart surgery to replace the valve, but to do that, she would need to quit drinking. Since she wasn’t ready to get sober, K opted out of the procedure. The refusal was part of her downward spiral. She says she already felt dead on the inside and was simply waiting for her body to catch up.
The Turning Point
One night, however, an act of desperation changed her life forever. K had become so sick that she truly thought she was dying, and she did the unimaginable in order to get help. She picked up the phone and called the one person she swore she would never speak to again: her father.
“I needed help. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know where to turn,” she says. “And so my dad and stepmom picked me up from [K’s home in] California, drove me to Colorado, and I lived in their home. I didn’t get sober right away—I still wasn’t ready—and a couple days went by. One night in the middle of the night, I couldn’t breathe. I already had this congestive heart failure, but this was very different. I thought I was going to die right there in my dad’s home, the worst place that I could ever imagine dying. We went to the hospital, they did all the tests, and it was just a panic attack.
“But that panic attack saved my life.”
That night in the ER, K’s blood alcohol level was .463, and she overheard the doctors telling her stepmom that it was just a matter of time before she died—that she was drinking herself to death. In her hospital room that night, she realized she wanted more. She believed she had more to give back, and that a higher power had a bigger plan for her than an alcoholic’s death.
“I really don’t like making promises to God because I feel like that’s not my place, but that night, I just said, ‘If you help me, I will help others,’” K says. “I detoxed there at the hospital, and I had to finish my detox on my parents’ couch, which was a nightmare. But I had a vision. I knew I was worth more at that point; I knew that I could do this. I had some hope in my pocket. I grasped on to that little bit of hope to turn into this amazing journey.”
A Rocky but Worthy Road to Recovery
Early sobriety was a memorable struggle for K. She would be at the 12-step Alano Club from the first meeting to the last of the day, though it was as much to be away from her parents’ house as anything else. She had open heart surgery after being sober for three months, and her first AA sponsor took her own life within K’s first half-year of sobriety. Nonetheless, through the tribulations of early recovery, K stayed true to the promise she had made to God.
I get to be present, I get to experience love and give love, and I’ve gotten back a calmness and a sense of relief. It’s so much bigger than I am, and I get to just breathe it in.”—K
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about drinking,” K says. “That’s just the way I am. But I want to live way more than I want to drink. I know that if I drink, that’s to die, and I don’t want to die. So I continue with meetings, prayer, meditation, working with others and being an open, loving person for others who want to ask for help. It’s having those types of relationships in my life that are priceless.”
Now, after 11 years of sobriety, K’s gratitude list is a mile long. Through working with others, she has rebuilt her self-esteem, her business and her relationships. In short, she has rebuilt her life. And the first step was believing that she was worth saving.
“I get to be present, I get to experience love and give love, and I’ve gotten back a calmness and a sense of relief,” she says. “It’s so much bigger than I am, and I get to just breathe it in.
“I’m so grateful for the little things. From the ocean to my wife, it’s absolutely freedom.”