This past November, I celebrated six-years in recovery. When given the opportunity to share my story in USA Today for an article on the rise of alcohol-related fatalities, I was excited to participate. I felt strongly that speaking out about my personal journey with the disease of addiction could help raise awareness, reduce stigma and encourage others to ask for help.
We live in a culture that celebrates alcohol. Some people can drink it in moderation without consequences to their health or well-being. However, it’s clear that most people don’t understand how dangerous alcohol can be. I became susceptible to alcohol as an adult – drinking to self-medicate amid painful life events.
Over the course of two years, I nearly drank myself to death. Alcoholism caused three of my organs to shut down and added 100 pounds of fluid to my body. I shuffled around in slippers because nothing else fit my swollen feet. My skin was yellow. Doctors at Temple University Hospital told my family that I needed a liver transplant while I laid in a coma, but I wasn’t stable enough. They gave me a 10 percent chance of survival.
I received treatment at Caron and was fortunate that the medical team are leaders in addiction medicine. During my time at Caron, they coordinated with doctors at Temple and tailored my treatment to address my complex medical needs. When I returned to Temple a few months later to prepare for my liver transplant, doctors were amazed to find that my liver had completely regenerated and my kidneys were functioning normally.
Today, I am thankful to be alive and credit Caron for helping to save my life. It’s also important for me to express that my alcoholism doesn’t define me. I’m not surviving – I’m thriving. In fact, my recovery has empowered me to be the best version of me I can be.
I agreed to contribute to USA Today because I want to put a face and voice to addiction, treatment and recovery. The only way we’re going to get out from under the stigma and shame of this disease is to talk about it openly. Sharing my experience, strength and hope is freeing and holds me accountable as well.
At times, the media’s focus on statistics and sensational narratives detracts from the humanity of addiction and fails to show the transformative power of recovery. I can offer a message of hope to families that – even under dire circumstances – quality treatment can work. I am living proof.
Since the USA Today article ran, I’ve been blown away by the powerful and positive responses from people all over the world. They’ve reached out to share the impact my story had on them. Some have lost a loved one from similar circumstances. Others had medical complications resulting from their alcoholism. A woman wrote me to say she had never heard a story that paralleled her own so much. “It’s nice to know that there’s one other person in the world who understands what I’m going through.”
It’s also critically important to me to clarify a misperception that is holding our community hostage. We can choose to remain anonymous, but we are not required to remain anonymous. People in 12-step programs, who are interested in sharing their stories publicly, can do so without fear of violating any traditions. In fact, Faces & Voices of Recovery encourages people to speak out about their own recovery and advocate for the rights of others. If they are concerned about anonymity, they can refer to a 12-step group without specifically naming it.
Ultimately, everyone must do what is right for them – which can change over time. I wouldn’t have been ready to participate in a USA Today story during my first year of recovery. However, I’m grateful that I’ve reached a point in my life where I feel empowered both personally and professionally to share. I am committed to vocalizing my experience in the hope of making a difference for families everywhere.
If you’re an alum or family member interested in learning more about advocacy efforts, we encourage you to reach out to our alumni department. Wishing you all a safe and healthy New Year!
By Fiona J. Purcell