Finding recovery through faith, church
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