A RECOVER Leader’s Journey: Losing My Emotional Baggage

Vicky, A RECOVER 12-Step Program Leader | August 26, 2022

*Please note that this story contains references to child sexual abuse.

My name is Vicky, and I am a grateful follower of Jesus Christ. I struggle with my pride, ego, vanity, anger, impatience, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and unreasonable expectations.

I have been in recovery and sober from drugs and alcohol, but I currently struggle with other addictions and unhealthy behaviors. I handle everything in my life addictively, and I have a constant mentality of all or nothing and more is never enough! I can easily find myself addicted to food, dieting, exercise, tv, people, and social media. I have been blessed and honored to be a leader in RECOVER for the last several years. By the sheer Grace of God, I am here today to share some of my experiences with you. 

I brought bags of junk from the past into all relationships, my marriage, family life, employment, and finally, recovery. For so long, I wondered why on earth I couldn’t have a healthy relationship and why there was so much chaos and pain in my life. Little did I know one of my biggest problems was all the baggage I was carrying from my past behavior– trauma and issues around broken trust. 

Many people walk around lugging their baggage with them, thinking someone or something else will fix or complete them; that’s where I was. And that is where RECOVER came in. I started unpacking those bags, one by one and digging deep into my issues of who, what, and why.

When I entered recovery twelve years ago, I was in horrible physical, mental and spiritual shape. I was remorseful and filled with nothing but shame. I had a failing marriage that ended in divorce and a very damaged soul. But, through God’s grace and love for me, my life has been restored as I unpacked these bags. It has been scary to go back and open up wounds and past hurts, but so necessary for my health, spiritual growth, and relationships.

To say my family was dysfunctional would be an understatement. My father was addicted to anything involving gambling and betting, and we know very little of his life before us. When he was away from these vices, he was full of rage and anger until he got his next fix. Growing up, my siblings and I constantly found ways to avoid his volatile behavior and outbursts. Our house was only peaceful when he was at work or out gambling. My Mom was codependent and had us walking around on eggshells most of our childhoods. 

Sadly my earliest memory as a child is that of sexual abuse. I believe I was a toddler when it started. I was sexually abused by someone close to my family with whom I had to spend much time. The abuse left me terrified and ashamed. It ended when I confessed to my Mom when I was around eight years old. It saddens me deeply that my parents didn’t press charges against him, nor did they seek counseling for me or offer any parental support. I was a victim, which left me confused, scared, and self-conscious. I believe this is where my addictive behavior was born.     

I was continually looking for something to fill a huge hole in my soul. I became a very greedy child…more was never enough, and I rarely could be satisfied with anything. The comfort of one addiction quickly lost its thrill, and I sought out something new. I was a nail biter, a hair chewer, and I used to pick my scalp until it had little scabs on it. I also had a pretty severe speech problem. I did not grow up with any knowledge of God or any religion. Somehow I always believed in God but never understood how it would be possible for me to have a relationship with him.   

I had a sense of entitlement that stemmed from the sexual abuse. I felt that my actions were warranted after all I had been through. I was selfish and overindulgent, and the world had to revolve around me. These traits carried me through the next 20-something years, convincing me I was a victim in every aspect of my life.

My teens through my twenties passed in a blur. During these years, my life was unmanageable and out of control. Drinking addictively at the young age of 14, indulging in sex addictively at 15, and using cocaine and other drugs addictively. I was extremely promiscuous in my late teens–I became pregnant twice. I never considered my decision to end the pregnancies. I barely graduated high school. Looking back, I cringe to think of the dangerous situations I was putting myself in. My life was filled with pure drama. I crashed cars, found myself in handcuffs, lost jobs and friends and ruined every social event I was part of due to my selfish, drunken behavior. 

I married my husband when I was 30. He also struggled with alcohol and drugs. We tried on our own to start a family and, after unsuccessful attempts, sought fertility treatments. We underwent multiple procedures, and after a considerable strain on our relationship and thousands of dollars, we were left childless. I withdrew from life in general. We were in a very dark place, wholly controlled by cocaine and alcohol. We kept searching for something to fill that childless hole.

The year or so before I got sober was possibly my darkest–drugs and alcohol were a medicinal necessity. I woke up feeling scared, hopeless and filled with regret and immediately started drinking and using drugs. I remember trying to recall what wreckage I had caused the day before and what lies I would tell to cover my tracks. Constantly asking God, “Why me?” I began questioning whether or not my addictions could be the source of my problems. My very last high was on heroin, and I was terrified. I agreed to go into a 12-step inpatient treatment program.  

I left treatment after a few weeks and began my journey by attending Alcoholics Anonymous. After a lifetime of chaos, I craved structure and discipline. After a year of being sober, the only thing I was not doing was drinking and drugging. An extramarital affair, divorce, and unhealthy eating habits to control my weight were all prevalent. Even though I was working on the 12 steps to the best of my ability, I was still battling feelings of fear, hopelessness, and inadequacy. I had not done an open and honest inventory, so I still carried around all my pain and trauma. And now, I had a bunch of new unhealthy behaviors. 

A couple of years later, God spoke to me again, and I finally listened. I went through a complete spiritual awakening. After seeking God’s help and guidance and allowing Him to be in control of my life, I surrendered. I guess I had reached my ultimate bottom. That was the start of a beautiful relationship with Him that continues to grow daily. 

I reconciled with my then ex-husband. We gave our lives to Christ, were baptized, and remarried. We can weather any storm life throws at us with God’s guidance. Additionally, I am building beautiful relationships with friends and family. God ultimately wants me to draw closer to Him and help others.

And that is the life-changing shift that came to me when I walked into RECOVER. I found a home here where my addictions and defects no longer identified who I am. Learning and growing in RECOVER has led me through some difficult parts of my story. Still, I have learned true forgiveness, first for myself and second for others who harmed me.

I came into recovery with a lot of shame and pain from my past. I learned first that we must make the time to complete this work. Next, we need to open our hearts and minds to allow the feelings that the past pain has blocked or caused us to deny. Finally, we must rely on Jesus to give us the courage and strength to analyze our past openly and honestly. Until I sat down and reflected on all the good, I couldn’t see that a life without shame could be a reality for me.

I also had to face my sexual abuse. I found true freedom in concluding that it was not my fault but my responsibility to work through it. I also had to figure out how it caused negative consequences in my control– addictive behaviors developed as a result, which is my responsibility to control. My Father’s verbal abuse was not my fault. Still, my defense mechanism of blaming others for the chaos in my life is my responsibility to control. I have come a long way from believing that I was the victim in every aspect of my life.

This brings me to one of my favorite parts of my recovery: having the privilege of sponsoring other women in their journey. I humbly and gratefully do so, and it is one of the greatest joys of my life. I walk alongside, cry, and laugh with these women. Their pain becomes my constant prayers, and I learn and grow with every story. 

Today, my bags and bags of junk have been reduced to a neatly packaged, airline-approved, transparent bag! I can travel anywhere with this and enter healthy new relationships because I have identified, processed, and worked through the painful parts of my story.

My life’s journey to get here today was not easy, but God was trying to guide me through it. He showed me that I was no longer a victim but a volunteer and that I had to give myself to Him. Although I would love to omit some of the painful periods of my life, I now realize God was always by my side–keeping me safe and waiting patiently for me to seek Him. I am redeemed and restored and will forever be grateful for God’s grace and mercy.  

Thank you for letting me share my story with you.

Read next: What Is RECOVER, And Who is it For? Check out the RECOVER 12-step program meetings page.

Worried about a loved one who may be suffering from addiction issues? See this helpful article: Loving An Addict: Identifying Substance Abuse and How To Help.

For more practical ways to deal with mental health issues, and stories of others who have been there too, go here for our full list of resources.