From rock bottom

Jan 02

Two recovering addicts recount their struggles to overcome drugs and alcohol.

Editor's note: The names of the people interviewed for this article have been changed in order to protect their identities and the new lives they have created for themselves.

Laurie Adams roused after a few minutes. When she woke up, she was staring at the faces of two coworkers. Adams thought she had missed a staff meeting. In fact, she had missed 2 1/2 days of work. Her coworkers had gone to Adams' house to check on her.

They found Adams passed out on her sofa. She had partied hard that weekend, drinking and smoking crack. But, really, it wasn't much different than what she did every day. Only this time, she almost died.

Adams, now in her early 30s, is a recovering alcoholic and drug user. She has been clean and sober for 4 1/2 years. She counts her blessings when she looks back on that dark time in her life.

"It was a real degrading deal," she said of the day she hit rock bottom. "I woke up dirty, nasty, a mess on my couch. I almost died. And if they hadn't come to get me that would've been the end of me."

It was the wake-up call Adams needed to seek help after more than a decade of substance abuse.

Alcoholics Anonymous estimates that one out of 10 Americans is an alcoholic. And, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 18 percent of those who abused alcohol in 2005 also abused illegal drugs.

Adams grew up in an upper middle-class home, and her downward spiral started when she was in junior high school. Her father was an alcoholic, and her parents argued all the time. She turned to alcohol and marijuana to cope.

"I started hanging out with the wrong crowd, making the wrong decisions, and one thing kinda led to another," she said.

Counseling did not help Adams.

"I have an addictive personality, and I was a rebel from day one," she said.

Francis Marshall, who overcame her alcoholism in a recovery program at Wolfe Street Center in Little Rock, said she can relate to Adams' experience. Marshall also began drinking when she was 13. She said she learned that behavior from her parents, but she also believes that alcoholism is a genetic or physical disorder.

"Just as a diabetic cannot eat pecan pie without having side effects, an alcoholic cannot drink alcohol without having side effects. An alcoholic is allergic to alcohol," she said.

That's also how Adams describes her alcoholism. And perhaps it was the alcohol that clouded Adams' judgment and led her to experiment with drugs.

By the time Adams finished college, she had moved from marijuana to cocaine.

"On graduation night, I went out full-fledged," she said. "It was downhill from there."

For about six months, Adams was able to maintain control over her life. She would go out on weekends, drink and do cocaine, and then get up on Monday morning and go to work.

"Then I couldn't get up Monday morning and go to work. Then I was doing it every night, and I started doing it by myself. I didn't want to be around anybody," she said. "I loved cocaine."

One night, someone urged her to smoke crack.

"It's the most addictive drug I've ever been on in my life," Adams said. "It took a day or two, and my body just craved it."

Adams does not fit the profile most people paint of a crackhead. She didn't end up on the streets, but she did put her life in danger, driving alone into questionable areas of town to purchase the drug.

And there was nothing anyone could do for her. Adams said her employer asked if she had an alcohol problem. She told him that she was working on it. She said her mother telephoned often, hoping that she could take her daughter's mind off the drug.

The only person who understood, Adams said, was her father, who had gotten sober.

"One thing that he knew was there was nothing that he could do," Adams said. "And so he let me go. He just said, 'I love you.'"

He told her that when she was ready for help that he would be there for her. So on the day her coworkers found her unconscious, Adams called her dad. It had taken her three years to reach out, but her dad came to her rescue. He helped her get into a residential treatment center, where she spent 30 days detoxing. Kicking her addiction was no easy feat. In fact, Adams says that she walked away from the center with a clear head but no cure. So she entered a 12-step program.

"That saved my life," she said.

Marshall completed her 12-step program at Wolfe Street Center. She said she made it through by the grace of God and with the support of her sponsor.

Officials at Wolfe Street Center estimate that only three out of 10 alcoholics seek treatment and that only one of those three successfully overcomes their addiction.

Marshall said she believes that those who cannot overcome their addictions have not "hit a bottom sufficient enough to recover."

"I have been trained to think back to that last night of pitiful, incomprehensible demoralization," she said. "The people who don't make it : they do not recall the sufficient force of that bottom."

Adams does. And, even though she has experienced bouts of distress since she got sober, she has not turned to drugs or alcohol for solace.

"If I were to go back out there, I don't think I'd make it back," she said.

"I have a family who loves and supports me, and I love myself. If I go back out there, I don't have any of that. I'll have to rebuild that trust and that love. I'm just really grateful to have what I have today, and I don't want to lose that."


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