Staff Stories: Stephanie Ramos – “The Gift of Recovery, and Who Came up with This Stigma Thing Anyway?”
Sometimes I forget. My life is so vastly different from 15 years ago when I moved to South Florida for recovery. I have been afforded a life that I never imagined. I have a seven-year-old son who is healthy, happy and bright. He has never seen his mom high and he never has to. I am planning a wedding to an incredible man, and have the relationship I’ve always wanted. I have a community of friends that are like family. I went back to school and completed my Bachelor’s degree. I have a meaningful career that I love. I work with amazing people who are passionate about helping others. I live 100 steps from the beach. I studied and became a registered yoga instructor, something I had been wanting to do for years. I’m a runner and have completed several half marathons. I’ve had the luxury to travel. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Life is good and it’s just getting started.
I’ve come a long way from stealing and running around NYC with a needle in my arm (sorry mom).
One of the most fulfilling parts of recovery is the opportunity to help others who are struggling.
I was speaking with a friend the other day. She was very depressed and on her way to a treatment center for alcoholism. She kept saying that it was the worst thing she could have ever imagined. She was acting as if her life was over. And I kept thinking, ‘Wow, this could be the beginning of a whole new life. This could be the best thing that ever happens to you.’ But I remember feeling like her. The hopelessness, the despair, the sense of impending doom. And I remember not being able to see my way out. I had to lean on others who had been there and could show me the way.
I was 20 years old when I went to a treatment center for the first time. They told me I was an addict and alcoholic, which meant I could never safely drink alcohol or do drugs again. Like ever… I was not ready to hear that. I equated being sober with not having any fun. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But I was going to figure this out. The next few years involved multiple visits to treatment and detox. I chose to not take suggestions, and learn the hard way what not to do to stay sober long term. Experience is a valuable teacher. The last time I went to treatment was for 5 and a half months. That may sound like a long time, but after multiple stints in 28-day programs, it was exactly what I needed.
Recovery has not been easy, there has been pain and disappointment along the way. I’ve been married and divorced in recovery. I went through a painful miscarriage. When I was 8 months pregnant with my son I broke my leg and needed immediate surgery. Last year, my son and I were rear-ended by a drunk driver. I’ve battled with depression. I’ve struggled with relationships. I had never really grown up and learned how to be a friend or a partner, so in many ways, my recovery has been a process of growing up. I’ve gone back to therapy, attended different workshops and used holistic methods for healing. The quality of my relationships has consistently gotten better as I’ve done my own inner work.
The same tools I was taught in early sobriety are what work for me today. I attend meetings regularly, help others, and maintain a solid support group of sober friends, especially women. I take care of my body, eat well and exercise. I’ve learned how to love and nurture myself. I get adequate rest and spend time outdoors. I take time for my spirituality, which includes reading, meditation, and yoga. I go to the doctor or dentist when I need to. I pay my bills and my taxes on time. I do volunteer work with multiple organizations. I’m responsible. I show up when I say I’m going to.
For years I struggled with the shame I felt from the stigma of being an ‘addict.’ I bought into the misperception that addicts are just bad, broken people. But this is a lie that we were fed a long time ago. In the past, I never would have dreamed of telling my story publicly. Today, I feel very passionate about being part of the change in how our society views addiction. As someone who has come so far from where I once was, I have a sense of responsibility to share my story and show others what is possible.
It’s time to question the way we see the addict. Addicts and alcoholics are sick people who have lost their way and need love and support to make a change.
The circumstances may be different for everyone, but there is a common solution that includes all of us. None of us do this alone. I owe my life to the many people who reached out their hands to me many years ago and the ones that still do today. Recovery has had its ups and downs, but it has been worth it. I remember people saying that someday I would be grateful for situations that seemed so painful at the time. Well, I guess that’s what happens when we allow grace to enter in. It touches our hearts and changes our outlook. Today I can say I am grateful for everything, I am grateful for who I’ve become.
Written By: Stephanie Ramos