Every September is National Recovery Month. It is a time to not only increase understanding of addiction and mental illness but to celebrate recovery. It gives each of us who have recovered from a hopeless state of mind and body the opportunity to speak out and share our stories to demonstrate to the world that recovery is possible. This year’s theme is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Together we are Stronger.”

In my experience, the idea of connection and togetherness is the foundation of recovery. Growing up I was a pretty lonely child. I had friends, but I didn’t develop deep connections with anybody. I was scared to show my emotions and I was constantly worried about what other people would think of me. Instead of being vulnerable with other people, I shut my mouth, stuffed my emotions deep inside, and went through the motions of life. However, this lack of connection to the people around me stopped me from developing emotional bonds with other people.

As I got older, my emotional avoidance and stuffing led me down a path of drug and alcohol use. When I was intoxicated it was easier to avoid my emotions and be numb than it was to be sober and deal with life. Ultimately, my drug and alcohol use turned into a viscious heroin addiction, and I began to isolate more and more.

By the time I was 23, I was all alone. I could stay in my apartment for days without receiving a single phone call. I lived to use and the way I used was going to kill me. I was engulfed in a miserable depression and a brutal obsession to keep using. I didn’t know anyone in recovery so I didn’t know that life after addiction was possible.

Fortunately, something within me one day pushed me to call my family and ask for help. Three days later, I was on a plane headed to a dual diagnosis treatment center in South Florida.

My first day in rehab was terrifying. I remember all of the clients asking me if it was my first time in treatment. Many of them had been to anywhere from 5-10 different facilities and relapsed after each one. Hearing these stories made me feel completely hopeless. I didn’t want to spend decades in and out of mental health and addiction facilities fighting this obsession in my mind. A fierce determination took over me, and instead of making the same mistakes my peers had made, I began to learn from them.

When I got out of treatment, the best thing I did was build a support group of women who had more time sober than I did. For the first time in my life, I got honest with myself and with other people. I opened up to these women completely, sharing both the good and the bad. My willingness to get vulnerable enabled me to develop the first real relationships I had ever made.

I listened to their suggestions, I showed up when I was invited, and I reached out when I needed help. Eventually, my sobriety became so solid that I was able to start helping other women recover, too.

Today I show the women I help the same love, compassion, support, and understanding that the women in my recovery showed me. In doing this, I found my purpose. I also found out what it is like to live after addiction – to become a woman of integrity and grace.

In my experience with my support group and being available to support others, I have learned that together we really are stronger. The very thing I was missing as a young girl was connection. I was missing those deep emotional bonds with people who loved me due to my inability to be transparent with others. However, today I have a voice that I can utilize to help other women recover from this disease.