My name is Ericka Weynand, I’ve been sober for 8 years. Today, I’m a loving daughter, sister and Auntie, proud Mom of 3, a college graduate and a woman in love with life… but that wasn’t always the case.
My early recovery was rough; I was what they call “a chronic relapser.” I can’t remember the age I had my first drink; I think I must have been around 6 years old or so, as one of my earliest memories is LOVING the taste of beer and wine at family events where I was allowed to have sips occasionally. For me, after I had my first taste, that was all she wrote. When it was around, I made sure I got some, and it was around a lot.
Like a lot of folks in addiction, I knew I had a lot of early adversity that had contributed to who I was and what I was doing with my life, and I didn’t understand any of it. I was ashamed of a lot of things and wanted to blame everyone else for the way I was living my life. I come from a long line of functioning alcoholics, and learned the blame game early. In our family system, it was completely acceptable and even encouraged to binge drink every weekend, holiday or vacation but to get into trouble with the law or OCS was unacceptable- so it wasn’t until those kind of negative consequences started happening that I realized I had a lot of things I needed to figure out or I wasn’t going to be able to stay sober for more than 90 days or so. I knew I wanted it, I just didn’t know how to get there. I did a lot of treatment, but treatment didn’t really seem to help, which scared the crap out of me and made me less likely to seek out other options on my own. Shame is a powerful thing. I thought I was a lost cause.
Eventually I made a choice that changed everything for me and my kids- something bad enough happened because of something I did when drinking that I hit a new rock bottom, lower than ever before. I knew in my heart I had to wake up and start taking the recovery thing seriously. I was at Hiland Mountain for a just a few days when an older woman approached me with a possible solution. I accepted and spent several months in the RSAT program. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by other women, 24/7, who were in right living. These women, these criminals who became my second family, could admit their wrongdoings and be accountable without shame or excuses, and had sweet plans for their lives after incarceration. For the first time, I felt hope…and I saw what integrity looked like in action.
The ladies in that therapeutic community showed me what acceptance was. They taught me how to love and be loved with boundaries and self-respect. They pointed out and helped me become aware of my thinking errors, negative behaviors and unhealthy beliefs with genuine care and concern- no judgment. I had found my tribe.
One of the assignments I had to complete before leaving was to create goals for myself, which I did. Because of the support of the women I had met in jail and the healing that had begun to occur, I finally felt strong and capable enough to actually start moving those goals forward. When I got out, each next right thing I did took me to the next right thing- through the 12 steps of AA ( one step at a time) , through treatment again (turns out it can actually help if you can bring yourself to a place where you can trust the professionals enough to be honest), through college (cum laude) and right into a career as a substance abuse counselor, which I love so, so much.
The reason I love it so much? I get to give back some of what I’ve been given. It’s never dull. I get to meet folks right where they’re at. I get to listen. I get to offer options- because I’ve lived it, I know treatment isn’t for everyone and I’m willing to explore that with folks who are on the fence. I’m trusted. I get to teach people how to love themselves again, and how to navigate through the challenges in life without wanting or needing to escape, how to cope with life on life’s terms. At work, most of my new clients ask me within their first week or two if I’m in recovery…and I always smile because I don’t actually know how they always know, but I guess it takes one to know one, and I tell them that. They teach me so much about myself and help me grow every day. I feel capable, safe, and respected in my relationships with myself and with others and get free counseling from my awesome peers when I need it. I feel valued enough to be my authentic self, and by role modeling that, they get to see that they can do it too…and that’s a beautiful thing.
My coworker sent the following to me after I graduated my first client, who was fixing to take on her first sponsee in her 12 step group. I was so very proud of her, and I was a bit emotional by the end of the day and having a hard time describing what I was feeling. She really summed up how a lot of us in the treatment field feel about the work we do, and I think it boils down to immense gratitude.
“Watching people transform their lives is an amazing experience. Then, watching them share their experience, strength and hope to make a difference and leave healing imprints in the lives of others is a miraculous and precious gift.”
To me, that says that we’re all in this together. And that we do recover.