Find­ing re­cov­ery through faith, church

Dorchester Star - - FRONT PAGE - By TAWNEY GILES

My re­cov­ery jour­ney be­gan al­most 5 years ago — my clean date is Jan­uary 15, 2014. My last day us­ing drugs was Jan­uary 14, 2014, and my last day drink­ing al­co­hol was De­cem­ber 31, 2013. Prior to those dates, in no way was I on a path of re­cov­ery — more like a path of de­struc­tion which sim­ply be­gan as a way to fit in, have fun, cre­ate mem­o­ries and live life to its fullest — so we thought. My sis­ter Stephanie and I were born as triplets, she and I were sick and our brother Sean was not, there­fore Steph and I were put up for adop­tion and grew up as “the twins.” Luck­ily, we were adopted by the same lov­ing par­ents whose lives were for­ever changed the day we were born. Ini­tially this change seemed pos­i­tive and was ab­so­lutely God-given, but lit­tle did they know years later, my sis­ter and I would be putting them through hell through­out our ad­dic­tion.

Stephanie and I grew up in Cam­bridge; our par­ents had tried for years to have chil­dren and were un­able to do so. We were born Au­gust 17, 1982 and of­fi­cially adopted Oc­to­ber 13, 1982. Steph and I were blessed to be given the par­ents we were given, we grew up in a lov­ing house­hold, never need­ing or want­ing for any­thing, we were well taken care of, some might even say spoiled. We had noth­ing traumatic hap­pen, not one jar­ring ex­pe­ri­ence to cause us to end up on the path we even­tu­ally crawled down (I

say crawled be­cause it was most cer­tainly not a grace­ful walk). I have hon­estly never been con­vinced one way or the other that ad­dic­tion is hered­i­tary or due to your up­bring­ing, my fi­ancé has al­ways felt it is mon­key see, mon­key do, though I feel it can be dif­fer­ent de­pend­ing on the cir­cum­stances. It is my un­der­stand­ing that our bi­o­log­i­cal mother has ad­dic­tion prob­lems as well. My par­ents, on the other hand, were not drinkers or drug users, heck, we never even knew them to smoke cig­a­rettes. Steph and I got good grades in school, we were Girl Scouts, we took ten­nis lessons, pi­ano lessons, voice lessons, par­tic­i­pated in drama camps, made honor roll, sang in All-Shore and All-State cho­ruses, had great mem­o­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up and all through­out high school.

My sis­ter started drink­ing oc­ca­sion­ally with friends at some point dur­ing high school, I waited a bit longer be­cause I dated a guy from a dif­fer­ent high school who would even­tu­ally be­come a po­lice of­fi­cer, there­fore he wasn’t much into par­ty­ing and un­der­age drink­ing. I re­mem­ber when I first found out my sis­ter was smok­ing pot, I was so sur­prised, then, shortly af­ter that, dur­ing our se­nior year, I found out she was do­ing co­caine and I was so dis­gusted, I won­dered how she could ever do that. Steph started out in the spirit of par­ty­ing and hav­ing a good time. I would soon fol­low in her foot­steps. Steph and I went to Sal­is­bury Univer­sity, we did a lot of par­ty­ing — I had now jumped on the band­wagon. We lived in Ocean City for a sum­mer and did a lot of dif­fer­ent drugs — acid, mush­rooms, ec­stacy, co­caine, weed and of course al­co­hol. This con­tin­ued through­out col­lege, never be­com­ing un­man­age­able or to the point that it was af­fect­ing our lives or our re­la­tion­ships, un­til later on down the road.

That all changed in 2010. I was mar­ried and had a 1-year-old son. At this point, I was worried I was an al­co­holic; I could never go a week­end with­out drink­ing, or out to din­ner with­out a drink, soon it was a drink at din­ner ev­ery night, un­able to re­mem­ber things that had hap­pened and I found my­self want­ing some sort of al­co­hol con­stantly be­cause, for me, it was liq­uid courage. Al­co­hol took away all in­hi­bi­tions, it helped me to es­cape feel­ings of sad­ness or dis­ap­point­ment.

Steph was still sin­gle and liv­ing it up. She and one of our col­lege friends al­ways seemed to be try­ing some­thing new, telling me how awe­some it was, and then in­tro­duc­ing it to me. It started with pain pills, then soon es­ca­lated to shoot­ing up co­caine and heroin. When I started ex­per­i­ment­ing with pain pills I re­al­ized they were an amaz­ing re­place­ment for liq­uid courage. These pills re­lieved me of my hor­ri­ble so­cial anx­i­ety and gave me lots of en­ergy to be who I wanted to be. What started out as fun soon be­came a habit and an is­sue of de­pen­dency. I was re­ly­ing on these pills to get me through my day. I was us­ing our mar­i­tal funds and try­ing to come up with lies as to where the money was go­ing. I found my­self pawn­ing jew­elry and writ­ing my­self checks out of my mom’s check­book. A month into me us­ing the nee­dle, Steph over­dosed and al­most died; I re­mem­ber be­ing so scared I was go­ing to lose her and feel­ing so guilty rid­ing to the hos­pi­tal with my par­ents won­der­ing if Steph was go­ing to sur­vive and be­ing so scared they were go­ing to ask me to roll my sleeves up to look for track marks, which they ab­so­lutely would have found. Luck­ily, that made me never use a nee­dle again; un­for­tu­nately, I could not say the same for Steph. She sur­vived that over­dose (luck­ily be­cause her boyfriend at the time who was with her, ac­tu­ally called the po­lice rather than let­ting her just sit there dy­ing), but that would not be her rock bot­tom.

My pill ad­dic­tion pro­gressed. I found my­self mak­ing hor­ri­ble de­ci­sions while be­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of nar­cotics. I was shoplift­ing, cheat­ing on my hus­band, leav­ing work mid-shift to drive an hour each way to buy drugs just to come back and nod out at my desk, I to­taled my car be­cause of nod­ding out, I pawned my mom’s jew­elry, I wrote checks to my­self out of my now ex-hus­band’s check­ing ac­count, as well as my mother’s, I made hor­ri­ble de­ci­sions and didn’t care be­cause I had to do what I had to do to get high. What started out as fun and in the spirit of par­ty­ing, had now be­come a full-fledged ad­dic­tion. My body was de­pen­dent upon these drugs to sur­vive the day. I woke up each day plot­ting how to get money or drugs, I left the house and had to come up with lie af­ter lie as to where I was go­ing or why money or checks were miss­ing.

One day I had fi­nally had enough. I left work on my lunch break, with the in­ten­tion of buy­ing drugs and re­turn­ing to my shift as a sec­re­tary at a high school (a po­si­tion I was de­moted to, with a pay cut of $16,000 af­ter seven years of em­ploy­ment, con­se­quences all due to poor at­ten­dance and the dis­ap­pear­ing acts I would pull at work). I was a us­ing ad­dict, liv­ing a lie, on dis­play for teenagers to see. My plan was to go to my ex-hus­bands’s house, use his hide-a-key and write my­self a check out of his check­book. I called him on my way there to see where he was and he said he was home but about to head to the bank be­cause his ac­count was off. I knew in that mo­ment that I had to ei­ther come clean or suf­fer the con­se­quences. Up to this point, my sis­ter and I had tried the out­pa­tient pro­gram where they pre­scribe subox­one only to, a week later, start sell­ing the subox­one to get pills. Steph and I al­ways talked about want­ing to get clean but never knew how to ac­tu­ally do it. We cried to­gether about want­ing to get clean, then would turn around and im­me­di­ately lie to each other and fight with each other — all be­cause drugs got in the way, all be­cause we were hurt­ing, we were strug­gling to find our way, but the drugs al­ways came first, the drugs al­ways won.

That day — Jan­uary 14, 2014 — I went to my ex-hus­band’s house. We had di­vorced in June, were work­ing on get­ting back to­gether in Septem­ber and by now, mid Jan­uary, I had stolen $1,100 out of his ac­count and fi­nally de­cided to get hon­est. He drove me to re­hab in Crownsville the next day, where I stayed for 28 days. I strug­gled stay­ing fo­cused at first be­cause of is­sues at home but my coun­selor said to me “He who angers you con­trols you” and that stuck in my mind and still does to this day. Let­ting oth­ers be­hav­ior con­trol your own does you no good, the only thing we can con­trol is our re­ac­tion to these be­hav­iors. Im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing re­hab I moved into a re­cov­ery house in the Bay area (Glen Burnie/An­napo­lis), where I stayed un­til I had just about one year clean when I moved to Eas­ton. Through­out my first year, I worked 5 of the 12 steps of the new 12 step pro­gram I was a part of, I went to meet­ings, I shared about my strug­gles and I stayed clean. My car was re­pos­sessed due to fi­nan­cial strug­gles re­sult­ing from my us­ing days, my ex-hus­band charged me with theft for the $1,100 which I had just paid resti­tu­tion for, I was in and out of court for 2.5 years over cus­tody for my now 8-year-old son. I strug­gled to find a job be­cause of those theft charges and my shoplift­ing charges (from when I was in ac­tive ad­dic­tion). I was in emo­tional tur­moil be­cause Steph was still us­ing, she had lost her job as a teacher, she was liv­ing in her car with her boyfriend in Bal­ti­more City dur­ing the Freddie Gray ri­ots, pick­ing up “hack­ers” (driv­ing ran­dom peo­ple around for money), boost­ing (shoplift­ing to sell what they were steal­ing), had guns held to her head. Af­ter her car was re­pos­sessed, she and her boyfriend were then liv­ing in the woods for about 3 months, this was es­sen­tially her rock bot­tom, though it took her about an­other year to fully sur­ren­der.

My fi­ancé and I went to Bal­ti­more, picked her and her boyfriend up and brought them back to Eas­ton with us. It took about a year of in and out from that point for­ward, for both of them to fi­nally get it. He was her re­hab ro­mance; they used to­gether and tried to get and stay clean for 2 or 3 years. It wasn’t un­til they fi­nally broke it off and Stephanie found God that she was able to stay clean. Steph and I fol­lowed in my fi­ancé, Bruce Strazza’s foot­steps. We started at­tend­ing the “Alive at Five” ser­vice at Christ Church on Satur­days. Steph and I wanted what Bruce had — we wanted the love of God that sur­passes all un­der­stand­ing. We signed up for a pro­gram called Al­pha at Christ Church, which is ba­si­cally an in­tro­duc­tion to Chris­tian­ity and of­fers those of us with ques­tions and un­cer­tain­ties, the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore our faith and ask those ques­tions that hold us back. Al­pha changed our lives. Un­for­tu­nately, Steph died in a tragic boating ac­ci­dent on July 13 this year. Though, through the love of Christ and her re­cov­ery jour­ney, the last 18 months of her life were truly amaz­ing. Once she sur­ren­dered and forged a re­la­tion­ship with God her life was trans­formed. Our par­ents fi­nally had their girls back and we were fi­nally able to show them the truly kind, com­pas­sion­ate women they raised us to be. Steph was in love with life, she had an amaz­ing re­la­tion­ship with God, our church fam­ily, our per­sonal friends and fam­ily, she was fi­nally able to work with kids again at a pe­di­atric of­fice here in Eas­ton, she had a won­der­ful boyfriend by her side who in­tro­duced her to the love of wa­ter and ad­ven­ture, she reached 18 months clean on June 28. Sim­ply put, she was now truly liv­ing life to the fullest. Tragedy struck, but she is in Heaven singing with the an­gels and soar­ing above en­velop­ing the amaz­ing spirit that she was and shin­ing down on us.

God will­ing, I will have 5 years clean on Jan­uary 15, 2019. I am get­ting mar­ried on Sept. 28 to my amaz­ing fi­ancé Bruce, who just re­cently cel­e­brated five years clean on July 11, I have a job I ab­so­lutely love, and an amaz­ing re­la­tion­ship with my ex-hus­band and his new wife, whom I adore. Bruce and I at­tend 12-step meet­ings, we sing at the “Alive at Five” ser vice at 5 p.m. on Satur­days and we are ab­so­lutely flour­ish­ing. I have an amaz­ing 8-year-old son, an amaz­ing group of friends, an amaz­ing sup­port sys­tem and am so eter­nally grate­ful to ev­ery­one whom has im­pacted my re­cov­ery jour­ney. We are for­ever grate­ful for Christ Church for our spir­i­tu­al­ity and al­low­ing us to ful­fill our pas­sion to help oth­ers find their way out of the dark­ness of ad­dic­tion and to Tal­bot Goes Purple for bring­ing light to such a pow­er­ful and un­for­tu­nate epi­demic and for ed­u­cat­ing the next gen­er­a­tion so maybe one day this epi­demic can come to an end. Al­ways keep­ing up front the fact that any­one has the ca­pa­bil­ity to strug­gle with an ad­dic­tion, whether it be to al­co­hol, drugs, food, gam­bling, etc. It’s not about weak­ness or strength, it’s about fi­nally tak­ing con­trol and stand­ing up to your dis­ease, trust­ing in your higher power and putting in the nec­es­sary foot­work to move for­ward and rise above.

Tawney Giles and her twin sis­ter Stephanie Mered­ith strug­gled with ad­dic­tion for years be­fore get­ting clean. Stephanie died this sum­mer in a boating ac­ci­dent.

BRUCE STRAZZA AND TAWNEY GILES

TAWNEY GILES

TAWNEY GILES

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