Forever Grateful: Alumna Story by Haley C.

What Life Was Like Then 

I grew up in a small town in South Georgia known as Jesup. I was raised in a loving home, where my father worked hard as an attorney and my mother stayed home with my older sister and me. Growing up, my sister and I were involved in activities like dance, drama, 4-H, band, and student council. I had the perfect childhood. I made good grades in school and belonged to the popular crowd. However, I always felt different, like I never really fit in. I attributed that to being tall (I am 5’10 ½”). I just knew something was off and I constantly sought others’ approval. 

I was 15 years old when I had my first alcoholic drink. I was visiting a friend who was in the same performing arts group as me. Her parents were divorced and a lot more lenient than mine. I wasn’t allowed to go to parties growing up, and I have never seen my parents take a drink in my life. While visiting my friend, we went to a party—it was the first time I got drunk and the first time I blacked out. (I was a blackout drinker from the beginning.) My experience was exactly like the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) describes: “I had arrived.” All I knew is that when I was drunk, I finally felt like I fit in. This is what I had been missing. From that moment on, I chased the feeling of my first drink. 

I drank a handful of times throughout high school, each time drinking to get drunk. During my senior year, I entered our local Miss Georgia preliminary pageant. My intention was only to win the talent portion for scholarship money. However, I ended up winning the title and started my preparation for competing in Miss Georgia. During the final days of my senior year, I went to junior/ senior prom weekend on Jekyll Island, located off the coast of Georgia. I drank excessively and was caught/fined by the Georgia State Patrol for underage drinking—my first real consequence from drinking. It embarrassed my family and the community; they had trusted me to be a role model. This was also the first time I swore off drinking. 

I finished high school and competed in Miss Georgia, where I won preliminary talent and receiving a non-finalist talent scholarship. Afterwards, I went to school at Georgia College and State University. 

College served as the ideal platform for partying, and my drinking escalated. I had never experienced such freedom. With that freedom, I chose to drink as much as I could, as often as I could. As my alcohol consumption progressed, I developed an eating disorder as well. I withdrew from school during my second semester to get “help” for my eating disorder, but never addressed my drinking. 

I transferred to Valdosta State University the following year, hoping for a fresh start. But the problem was me, and I take ‘me’ everywhere I go. Valdosta was much of the same, but my drinking got progressively worse. I began using drugs along with drinking heavily. My drugs of choice at that time were marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, ecstasy and Adderall. Once again, after burning all of my bridges in Valdosta, I dropped out during the second semester and moved back home. 

After trying – and failing – to “maintain” my substance use at home with my parents, I knew I needed help. I entered an intensive outpatient program (IOP) in St. Simons Island, Georgia, in the fall of 2002. Although I learned a tremendous amount about recovery and was introduced to AA, I could not manage to stay sober. In May of 2003, I headed to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for residential treatment. While living in Hattiesburg, I stayed sober, established a sober network, graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications and got married. Life was good. 

What Happened 

Throughout my years in Hattiesburg, a lot had changed for me. I seemed to have it all together—everything looked great on the outside. But on the inside, I had lost myself: lost myself in college, in my job, and in my marriage. I had also forgotten why I had such a great life. It became more about what I had accomplished and less

about how I was able to enjoy a great life. I became self-reliant and not God-reliant. I had lost my genuine gratitude for my sobriety. It was about me and not about what God had done for me. So when life got a little messy, I started relying on myself and my old coping skills. 

My husband at I were having issues and the desire to drink became intense. But at this point, I had been sober for seven years. My next thought was to re-engage with my eating disorder. Life was spiraling out of control and that was one way I could “control” it. As I began to restrict, my eating disorder progressed and my mental and physical health deteriorated. Life at home continued to worsen and I participated in a lot of shameful behaviors. My husband and I separated in July of 2010 and he filed for divorce in August. Devastated, angry, hurt and in total self-destruction mode, I chose to pick up a drink after seven and a half years of continued sobriety. 

I didn’t pick up where I left off—it was progressively worse. I drank harder, faster and longer. I was a one-man wrecking ball destroying everyone who came in contact with me. In just four short months, I lost two jobs, wrecked my car, got my car repossessed, alienated myself from friends and family, and ultimately, wanted to kill myself. I woke up one morning and thought, “I have two options: I can kill myself or I can call my mom.” I looked at a picture of my sister, baby niece and me, and started to cry. I had a moment of clarity: if I killed myself, how much pain would it inflict on my family? How would they explain it to my niece? 

I chose to walk downstairs and ask my roommate if I could use his phone, since mine had been disconnected due to lack of payment. I called my mom and told her all that had been going on. Fortunately, my parents have been active members of Al-Anon from the day I set foot in IOP in 2003. My mom was supportive, but she also encouraged me to figure it out. I was in desperate need of help. I called my long-time sponsor and she suggested MARR–she was an alumna and told me it was exactly what I needed. I called the admissions department and spoke with Bill Anderson, who was Director of Admissions (and now CEO). To this day, I strongly believe that Bill served as the catalyst for my recovery. He was the light at the end of the tunnel; I needed his reassurance that MARR would be a great fit for me. I packed up what little belongings I had, and my father drove me to MARR on January 24, 2011. 

My experience at MARR was nothing short of amazing. It was tough, but it provided a safe space to recover. I knew they had my best interest at heart. I connected with my primary therapist immediately. I was certainly not the model client. I resisted the system, broke the rules, and thought I knew it all. I mean, I had been sober for many years before. They saw me at my lowest point and still loved me. I got the help I so desperately needed for my eating disorder recovery as well. After struggling with body image and control issues for many years, I was finally ready to get vulnerable and recover from everything. 

After completing Phase I and II at MARR, I stayed for their extended recovery residences (Phase III). I continued to lean on self-will versus God’s will. At six months of sobriety, I was politely asked to leave for breaking rules. After a 30-day separation and assignments from my primary therapist, they allowed me to participate in aftercare groups, as well as the disordered eating group. I continued to participate during the first four years of sobriety. 

What Life Is Like Today Life is absolutely amazing in recovery. Having been sober two separate times is a neat experience, although I do not recommend relapse. My sobriety is nothing like it was the first time. I have not forgotten what it was like then, and I hope I never do. Today, I know without a doubt why I have this new life. I keep showing up and doing what others suggest (sometimes reluctantly). 

The job I started shortly after leaving MARR—and maintained for six years—taught me so much. I experienced incredible growth. I learned how to be a dependable employee, co-worker, and eventually, supervisor. The tools I acquired at MARR reach far beyond staying sober. Today, my life is about helping others. How can I be a good human being? How can I be a good friend, daughter, sister, and girlfriend? How can I serve as a role model to the younger generation? The spiritual principles of kindness, honesty, love, compassion, and selflessness–that’s what I learned at MARR. 

Once you join MARR’s supportive alumni community, you are always a part of the family. At around three years sober, I got a call that my ex-husband had died from an overdose. We had maintained a friendship and still talked regularly. I was crushed. I had never had that kind of pain in my life. I did not think about picking up a drink, but I did consider “controlling” my eating. I was scared. I did not want to fall back into my old familiar patterns. Instead, I called my primary therapist at MARR and immediately scheduled a session. She encouraged me to reach out to the disordered eating therapist and ask if I could come back to group on Monday nights. I started attending the disordered eating group again and attended for another year and a half. MARR saved my life—once again. 

Today, I get to help people find a treatment program that meets their individual needs. I am the National Clinical Outreach Representative for Summit Behavioral Healthcare, which owns 18 residential treatment facilities throughout the U.S. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for MARR. Every time I see Bill Anderson in the field, I thank him. He is an integral part of who and where I am today. I have a close group of girlfriends, most of whom are MARR alumni. I live a normal and good life– I go to work, enjoy CrossFit, attend AA meetings, spend time with my boyfriend and his children, and see my family as much as possible. I have two nieces who are the light of my life and who, God willing, will never see me drink. 

If you or someone you know needs help, or if you are questioning whether or not treatment is the next step, please make that important and courageous call. MARR saved my life, and it can save yours, too. I am forever grateful.