We married on August 26, 2017 on a river in Pine Valley, Utah in a hallowed ground that Bryce made for us. One of our dear friends, a wilderness guide we had met and worked with the year before was our officiator. After the ceremony, we camped out with loved ones from near and far and shared stories and laughter around the campfire. Bryce and I eventually fell asleep under the stars, listening to the gentle burbling of the river. The best part about our special day is that I remember it all. I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to make it through your wedding day without champagne, and it’s wonderful too, because you’re experiencing everything as authentically as possible. The emotion is raw and the memories are pure. We had a simple wedding in nature, teeming with adventure, because nature feels like home and adventure is what fuels us from this day, and if we’re lucky, to our last.
In the following summer of 2018 Bryce worked as a wildland firefighter and was gone for the majority of the season fighting fires all over the west. When his season ended we took a trip to Lake Tahoe to celebrate our one year anniversary, and a few weeks after we returned from that trip, everything changed. On December 13, 2018, while Bryce was at work, I was attacked in our home by a stranger.
I was returning home from errands and in the process of closing my front door behind me when a strange man rushed at me from outside, pushed me into my house, and tried to shut my front door behind him. I immediately began screaming and fighting back as hard as I possibly could, as he was trying to get me away from my front door and further into my home. My front door was my only way out, and so I clung to that door with everything I had because I knew it was my only lifeline. I could feel his body weight trying to get me down, so by clinging to the door I was also able to keep myself upright. As he was attacking me he kept trying to close the door, and I shoved my wrist between the door and the frame to prevent it from closing completely so neighbors could hear my screams. As this man was much bigger than me, maintaining my grasp on the door was no easy feat. While he continuously tried to shut the door as he was attacking me, by some miracle the deadbolt was still out and prevented the door from shutting completely. Were it not for this simple fact, this story may have had a very different ending.
At one point, my attacker pulled me hard enough that I released my grasp on the door, and he then began pulling me away from my only escape and further into my home. I had a terrible feeling that I was about to be raped or killed, or both, and something inside me unleashed; I fought him both tooth and nail (literally) with everything I had while I continued to scream “Help!” repeatedly at the top of my lungs for anyone to hear. I knew he had ill intentions and I wasn’t going to go without a fight.
With a look of panic, he finally let go of me and bolted outside and down the street. I ran out after him so I could see what direction he went as I immediately dialed 911 and stayed on the phone with dispatch until a unit arrived. One of my neighbors who came running at the sound of my screams witnessed the man run off as well, and recognized him as someone who lived just across the street from us.
With the combined efforts of the St. George police, detectives, an investigative team, and swat team, law enforcement was able to flush my assailant out of his house. This was no easy feat because his family was attempting to hide him. Detectives confirmed the man as my assailant upon noticing a nasty bite mark I gave him and several scratch marks.
This man lived across the street from us, although I had never seen him before, and I no longer felt safe living at that residence. Bryce and I were told that the family had also made threats towards us. I requested a pre-trial protection order, however, I was told that was the most I could do at that time. Bryce and I made the decision to pursue protection and relocation efforts, and we decided to move to Colorado to be closer to my side of the family.
I am one of the lucky ones. My attacker did not have a weapon on him and I survived with only a sprained wrist (from blocking the front door from closing), bruises, and scratches. In addition, my assailant was caught and taken into custody within 24 hours of attacking me. Many women are not so lucky.
You may not think it can happen to you or a loved one. It can. I used to be a fan of true crime stories, however, I never thought something like this could actually happen to me. I like to avoid sketchy places and situations. I try to be prepared. I even had a switchblade in my purse when I was attacked, but it all happened so fast that the thought didn’t even cross my mind to reach for it. The detective later told me it was probably a good thing that I didn’t reach for my knife, as my attacker was much larger and stronger than me and could have easily taken the knife and used it against me.
I’ve learned that attacks don’t always happen as you may expect they would. Assaults don’t just take place in dark alleys or isolated areas. This happened in my home, my sanctuary and safe place. My attacker lived across the street from me, although I had never noticed him before. The attack occurred in broad daylight. It all happened so fast and thank goodness for adrenaline and the fight or flight response. I had nowhere to run, even if I could get away, so I fought.
While I tend to avoid conversations that may promote fear, the reality is that awareness, knowledge, and action is power, and thus empowering. Sexual violence affects millions of Americans and people all over the world. Approximately 1 in 6 American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetime. Men are also victim to sexual assault as well. It’s important for everyone to learn how to properly defend themselves. Take self-defense classes and really practice to increase your confidence in physical ability to defend yourself if need arises. It’s also a good idea to carry pepper spray in a way that it’s easily accessible. Have your cell phone on you and charged. Trust your instincts and avoid talking to strangers. Walk confidently in a steady pace and always be aware of your surroundings. If you find yourself in a scary situation, fight with all you’ve got and never give up; yell, scream, do all you can to attract attention to your situation. These are all precautionary suggestions I never truly deemed necessary, and I learned the hard way that they are. It’s simply best to be prepared for the worst. Through empowerment resilience grows.
What I’ve learned is that things don’t happen to me, they happen for me. Everything I’ve overcome, my alcohol addiction, eating disorder, high levels of anxiety, and even this attack, have helped me grow into a stronger person. Rather than become a victim of my attacker’s violence, I embodied the characteristics of a survivor. I recognized that I had the ability to use that hardship as a means to build resilience and strengthen my character. Challenges can be opportunities to better ourselves. It all begins with a shift in perspective and believing in ourselves and our abilities. I believe that while not everything happens for a reason, if we look hard enough we can find a reason within everything. I realized that with the right perception, I can take on almost anything life hands me. As author Viktor Frankl wrote, “The last of the great human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s own attitude in any circumstance.”
Moving to Colorado proved to be a blessing. I landed my dream job of working for an amazing organization called Being True To You that helps individuals achieve natural maturation out of addiction, integrate transformational experiences, and awaken to their true selves. In addition, I’m currently enrolled in a 30-level coach certification training with Being True To You to become a transformational coach and work in the field of addiction recovery coaching and psychedelic integration coaching- I’ll receive my certification in January of 2020. As of today, I’ve been sober and in recovery for over three years. Bryce and I have been married for over two. My older brother and I are in the beginning stages of creating some magic to help others in recovery. I honor our sister’s memory every day. My inspiration, motivation, and creativity are abundantly flowing. My dreams are coming true. Life is better than I could have ever imagined and I owe it all to my recovery, support, and hard work. My recovery has delivered everything my addiction promised on false premises.
Relapse is a part of my story. And that’s all it is- a part of my story. I had three relapses before I finally had a strong grasp on my recovery. I did not allow my relapses to define my recovery, or me as a person. I was not a failure. I wasn’t a failure because I kept trying. Because I believed that I was capable of more and deserved a better life. After my last relapse over three years ago, I sought out support and did absolutely everything in my power to prevent another relapse from happening. I did not view my relapses as failures, but as learning opportunities. “If you fall off the horse, you get right back on,” as my mother once told me. I got up, dusted myself off, and kept going. Most importantly, I took a look at what led me to relapse. There are always contributing factors: lack of support, self-pity, avoidance of uncomfortable emotions, denial of the addiction, etc. For me, it was all of these things. When I finally accepted that I had a problem, reached out and sought support, and put in the work, I was able to develop a strong grasp on my recovery. I had reached a point of desperation, and to be honest, I wouldn’t change a thing because it made my willingness in recovery that much stronger. I knew what was on the line. I surrendered and allowed my higher self to guide me. I transmuted my feelings of fear, guilt, and shame into empowerment and action. I used these feelings to motivate me towards a stronger recovery. I knew that in the end everything is a choice, and I never had to feel that way again.
Every day we are faced with opportunities to learn and grow. The biggest difference between success and failure is our ability and willingness to learn from our mistakes. It’s easy to look back on my past with judgment because I know better now. But back then, I didn’t. Back then I was merely trying to survive and keep my head above water every day. And I know now that’s okay. Addiction has a way of stripping us of everything but the addiction itself. I’m not the same person I was back then. I’ve changed, grown, expanded, and evolved. My experiences have shaped me. Just as the relentless pressure of waters and winds shape the desert canyons, my hardships and trials shape me. My hardships erode my weaker characteristics and strengthen my strong ones. I become more resilient in the face of adversity, and more seasoned and wise with every trial I weather. The good and the bad have allowed me to become who I am today. So today, I choose to do the best I can and I rest assured that I AM doing my best. I refuse to judge myself when I make mistakes or take two steps forward and one step back. I’m learning. And that’s the most vital aspect of growth. As Maya Angelou has said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I’m doing the best I can with what I know. My experiences, the good and the bad, allow me the opportunities to know better, so that I can do better. And every new day is an opportunity to do better.
Having a routine has helped me to do better every day. I wake up before the sun and I begin each day with proper hydration, followed by a guided morning meditation. Meditation helps to cultivate stillness and is an amazing practice to promote awareness and become more present. In addition, meditation is extremely helpful in reducing anxiety and stress.
After meditation, I then go for 14-mile mountain bike ride around the lake we live on in Colorado. Doing so keeps my energy levels up and helps me to clear my head. Exercise releases natural endorphins that trigger a positive feeling in the body and helps to combat stress and anxiety. Exercising outside further enhances the health benefits of exercise because you’re increasing your oxygen intake, absorbing vitamin D, boosting your mood, and connecting with nature. Spending time in nature alone helps to reduce stress and improve overall feelings of happiness and well-being. Following my bike ride, I take the dogs out so they can get some exercise in as well. After all this, I am in a more positive mindset to begin my work day.
Part of my routine is also eating healthy and balanced meals. Eating healthy is crucial, especially in recovery. For example, studies have shown that proper nutrition has a greater positive impact on mental health than prescription medications. Bryce and I use organic, whole-food ingredients and prepare our meals at home. We also greatly reduced our sugar intake because sugar has a tendency to cause mood swings and fatigue.
Just as exercise and diet improves mental health, so does cultivating a healthy lifestyle. Bryce and I sold our TV’s, his PlayStation and Xbox, sound equipment, and all of our DVDs in order to rid of digital distractions. We kept our computers and phones for our work and personal projects. Our moods have improved, as well as our productivity, motivation, creativity, and inspiration. It’s amazing what magic happens when we rid ourselves of distractions and create the space needed to cultivate our dreams and goals. In my free time I enjoy reading, working on personal projects, and spending time with Bryce and our animals. We seek adventure every opportunity we have.
I’ve found that creating and maintaining a healthy routine helps me to be better prepared for hardships that come my way, be more productive with my time, uphold a positive state of mind, and remain strong in my recovery. Often times when I’m having a difficult day or week, it’s usually because I’m slacking somewhere in my routine.
This isn’t to say I don’t have days that I struggle. Because I do. I have many. I have days when I’m on top of my game and I tackle my routine and responsibilities with vigor, enthusiasm, and motivation. And then I have days when I don’t even put on a bra or make it to the shower. I still have days when I want to curl up into a fetal position and sink beneath the floor. I have days when I want to stay in bed and scream into my pillow. I have days when my anxiety surfaces and overcomes me, and I become paralyzed until it passes. I still have these days. The beauty is that I get to feel it all without the need to numb and I no longer make these days worse by drinking. The gift is that by feeling these raw emotions, I am truly alive. I am truly living. I now have the courage to face these days. I get to work through my emotions. I don’t suppress them nearly as often as I used to in my addiction. In my recovery, I have the amazing opportunity and gift of living a raw and authentic life. My emotions and my responses to life are pure and true. I know that the negative emotions I experience will pass. Emotions are energy-in-motion, meaning that they are always shifting and changing. With this in mind, I know better than to become attached to or act on a certain emotion, and I know better than to think that emotion will last forever. I know that the negative feelings and emotions will eventually pass, and I’ll get right back into my routine. I always do. This knowing helps me to go easy on myself during the difficult days.
The difficult days usually involve memories that resurface. I still have memories that make me cringe. I’ll be going about my day and all of a sudden one will creep into the forefront of my consciousness and rear its ugly head. The emotions associated with that memory will then flood in as if no time had passed. These memories would bring me down if I allowed them to. But I try not to. I allow myself to feel the emotional charge of the memory, and then I transition my focus to the lesson it taught me. I’ve learned valuable lessons through my negative experiences, even though I’ve learned most of them the hard way. The pain is what strengthened the lessons. My past and all it taught me allowed me to become who I am today. I wouldn’t be where I am were it not for where I’ve been. I’ve found the challenging experiences to be the most valuable, for they have the greatest wealth of wisdom and teachings to offer. These experiences propel us into becoming who we’re meant to be. For us to appreciate where we’re going, we must appreciate where we’ve been. And in the words of Andrea Dykstra, “In order for you to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shaped you.”
I know that I am not my past and I am not the things I did. I was a different person when I drank. I’m not proud of who I was. But I am proud of who I am today. I know my past does not define me. I know I cannot change my past, but I can change my relationship with it. I made the decision to forgive myself and shift my perspective. As long as I see challenges as opportunities and mistakes as lessons, I will continue to grow into a stronger and more resilient individual. My past provided me with an abundance of lessons to learn and grow from. It’s how I choose to handle those lessons that matters. My past is simply a few chapters in my story and I have the power to shift my narrative at any time. If I am too focused on my past, I am not living in the present. And the present is what matters most because it’s all we truly have.
For the longest time I thought my addiction made me weak. I only saw it as a detrimental flaw, something I would have to “live with” forever. I felt powerless and as if my abilities were limited. I felt unworthy of my goals and dreams. I felt trapped and depressed, cornered by my own addiction and self-pity. I didn’t see a way out and I was ashamed of who I had amounted to be. I was allowing my thoughts to fabricate a false sense of victimhood to justify my mental state and cope with my emotions. It was easier to feel victim to my alcohol addiction than to take responsibility for my life. What I had yet to realize was that my alcohol addiction was the symptom of more deep-rooted problems. My addiction and anxiety were the red flags to my core issues. They were there to get my attention so that I could begin to heal myself on core levels. My decision and willingness to become sober became an opportunity to heal myself from within and discover my true self.
I came to realize that with sobriety, I was capable of all the things I had dared to dream of before. My sobriety allowed me to go from limited to limitless. In the words of Brene Brown, “Sobriety is not a limitation- it’s a superpower.” Rather than my addiction making me weak, in the end it actually made me stronger than ever before. I came to realize that just because I had been powerless in addiction does not mean I am powerless in my life. I have power over my thoughts, attitude, reactions, words, and most importantly, my choices. I have the power to rise above my addiction, heal myself from within, face my problems, become a better person, repair my relationships, and create the life I want. I have the power to start over. I transformed my feelings of powerlessness in addiction to empowerment in recovery. My recovery has been my opportunity to take back my power.
My sister used to tell me, “Always be true to yourself.” Her words continue to echo in my heart today. As long as I remain rooted in who I am, I’ve found that I can handle life with much more grace and ease. My recovery has provided me with the opportunity to explore who I am and embrace my authenticity. Without the attachment to substances, I’m free to be me. I took off my masks and took on the world. If people don’t approve of my true, authentic self then they are not my tribe. These days I choose to surround myself with people who have my best interests in mind, want me to succeed, and who cheer me on. I choose to surround myself with people who I can be myself with. I choose to honor and accept myself as I am and stand firm in my truth. By remaining true to myself, I am practicing love for myself. The more love I have for myself, the more I’m reminded that I am worthy of all the great things life has to offer. And I am worthy of my recovery.
Today, I continue to integrate adventure and nature into my recovery practice, as I find both to be incredibly healing and influential. Nature is medicine to me and the wilderness always has a way of guiding my soul back home. I still love to keep my life and recovery fresh and exciting by going on trips and adventures. I find it helpful to break out of my comfort zone and disrupt any stagnancy in my life by exploring new things and places. Nothing moves me more than falling asleep in the pale moonlight, under a blanket of stars, to the distant howls of coyotes on the hunt, the winds whistling through the trees and canyons. My primal energies are awakened and my senses are heightened, taking in the sheer majesty of nature. I feel the most alive out there amongst the wild things. Out there, I am acutely aware of my being. I am reminded that I am enough. I am on the right path because any path that brings me closer to nature also brings me closer to my true self. I’ve realized that while there are many great adventures to be had in recovery, the greatest adventure is the one within.
In summary, I knew I needed to quit drinking long before I actually did. My big red flag was when I continued to drink despite the consequences. Unfortunately, this began very early in my drinking because I was always a black-out drinker. Over time, my addiction overcame me entirely and I was either under the influence or constantly thinking about how to get alcohol. I began to rationalize and justify any reasons to continue drinking. I put my addiction before everything else in my life, including my loved ones and my responsibilities. My addiction perpetuated negative emotions, thoughts, actions, and decisions, and lured me away from a lifestyle of integrity. I lost my self-respect and I lost my dignity. I dug myself a deep, dark, lonely hole and I was well on my way to digging my own grave.
It took a considerable amount of pain and suffering for me to finally put down the shovel. My rock bottom then became fertile ground in which to plant seeds. My recovery has allowed me to water, grow and nurture those seeds, and it is this growth that sustains me. The growth I have experienced and continue to experience in my recovery makes all the trials and hardships from my addiction worthwhile because my addiction has taught me a great deal. Someone once said, “Rock bottom will teach you lessons that mountain tops never will.” However, not everyone needs to reach rock bottom before they stop digging.
Recovery is a second chance. Through my recovery, I’ve gained self-respect, dignity, and joy. My recovery has allowed me to step into my power and live with integrity to myself, my purpose, and the world around me. I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the world, and when I entered recovery this actually seemed possible because I now had a clear head and integral intentions. However, what I’ve come to realize is that change begins with me. Change begins with me doing my work so that I can become who I’m meant to be and show up my best self. In order to help our fellows, we must first help ourselves. In order to grow, we must nurture our conditions. In order to navigate the darkness, we must first cultivate the light. True change begins within. Because in order to change the world, we must first change ourselves. “Para el bien de todos.” For the greater good of all.
1 in 7 people struggle with substance addiction, or 21 million people (in America alone). Only 10% of these individuals receive treatment. Addiction kills thousands of people every year and impacts millions of lives. Drug overdose deaths have more than tripled since 1990, and the number gets larger every year. Likely, you have lost someone to addiction, or you know someone who has. This is why recovery is crucial. If you are choosing recovery, you are choosing life. Remember this on the hard days. Remember this when you want to give up and give in. Remember this when it doesn’t seem worth it. Because I’m here to tell you it is. Stay strong for the ones you’ve lost. Stay strong for your brothers and sisters, family and friends. Stay strong for your children. But most importantly, stay strong for yourself.
Everyone has a story to tell, and I would encourage you to tell your story. Your story has the power to impact and empower the lives of many. Through adversity we develop strength and resilience. Resilience is strengthened by recognizing that we all have wisdom to share with others through our experiences. All of us encounter adversity throughout our lives and it helps to know we’re not alone in our struggles. In a world of filters, fakeness, falsehoods, and followers, it can be difficult to take off the masks, bare your soul, and tell your story. But do. Please do. Because the world needs more raw beauty, emotion, and experience. The world needs more authenticity and truth. Your story can help someone find peace and courage within their own. Don’t be afraid to share your experience, strength, and hope. Be open. Be vulnerable. Because you never know who needs to hear it. In addition, telling your story may also provide you with the insight you need to integrate your own experiences.
Telling my story certainly helped me to integrate mine. In my early recovery and shortly after I moved to Utah, I was telling my sponsor about how I had been camping in a beautiful, secluded spot in the mountains right on a creek in order to save money. I was referring to the time in my life I call my dark night of the soul. After hearing the details of my life during that time, she helped me to realize that I had chosen to be homeless and isolated, rather than camping and secluded, and that rather than camping to save money, I was camping to afford my addiction. I looked at her in disbelief because that thought had never occurred to me. That was the moment I came to realize that all my justifications were total bullshit. During my entire drinking career I lied to myself and candy-coated everything. I wore masks of ignorance and indifference and belittled some pretty big shit, like calling homelessness for the sake of affording my addiction ‘camping.’ I was trying to romanticize my alcoholism and turn it into an adventure when there is nothing remotely romantic about going months without drawing a sober breath.
There comes a time when we need to be completely honest with ourselves in regards to our quality of life. When the masks come off and the coat of candy chips away, what remains? If we’re too scared to look at our life in its raw form, then maybe it’s time we should.