Overcoming addiction

Recovery heroes share their sobriety stories

Written by Sara Garrison 

September is National Recovery Month — a month that is dedicated to honoring the individuals who are currently battling addiction or who are celebrating their sobriety. According to the documentary “The Anonymous People,” approximately 22.5 million people are in active recovery, and at least that number are still struggling with addiction in the United States.

Anyone can struggle with addiction regardless of race or socioeconomic status. In addition to drugs and alcohol, addictions can include pornography, sex addiction, gambling, internet abuse, overeating, exercise addiction, shopping and even overworking.

“There is often a biological component or a genetic predisposition for people who are struggling with addiction,” says Cody Beaton, director of the Addictions Treatment Center at Prairie View. “If you have had a family member with addiction issues, you are nearly twice as likely to struggle with addiction yourself. Other factors in the development of an addiction include your environment and early exposure to drugs and alcohol. Additionally, mental health issues often play a significant role in addiction, as many people will self-medicate their depression, anxiety, or trauma. Beyond that, an addiction can come about as strictly physiological, due to the excessive use of a substance, even without any of the aforementioned precursors.”

“Addiction is different for everyone. Not everyone has the same symptoms,” explains Vickie Pennick, licensed marriage and family therapist with Pennick Family Therapy.

Symptoms of addiction include being secretive, lying, stealing, financial struggles, sleep disturbances and weight changes. Additional warning signs include erratic behavior, mood swings, inability to enjoy activities, lack of interest in hobbies and continuing to abuse drugs, alcohol or other addictions despite negative results or consequences.

Being aware of such changes is essential to helping someone who is struggling with addiction. However, many addicts do not see the need for change until a crisis strikes.

“If the addict is not going through a crisis as a result of the addiction, they can’t see the addiction and its affect on their life,” says Pennick. “The biggest problem with families is that they enable their loved one. They don’t want to see the struggle and they want to rescue the family member, themselves. It becomes a cycle that does not help the addict or the family.“

“Addiction is a disease. If we celebrate recovery from addiction like we do recovery from cancer, more people will be empowered to get into recovery and, as a result, less will struggle with addiction,” says Beaton. "This epidemic is not going to dissipate on its own, so we as a society need to share the success stories and inform others about addiction. Together, we can be a part of the solution rather than the problem.”

Recovery success stories

Todd Schroeder

Todd Schroeder grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota. The oldest of eight children, Schroeder was raised in a family that struggled. At 17 years old, Schroeder won a major wrestling match and for the first time of his life, he was part of the in crowd. He was invited to attend his first party. At this party on December 23, 1994, Schroeder had his first drink.

“At the party I was introduced to beer,” says Schroeder. “I was a binge drinker from the start.”

After high school, Schroeder joined the U.S. Marine Corps, and served two combat tours in Iraq. “In 2011, I was undergoing PTSD and cognitive processing therapy treatments, when a buddy of mine said I needed to do something about my fear, anxiety and drinking,” explains Schroeder. “What would normally be a 12-week counseling session, turned into 9 months. I woke up one morning and didn’t care if I lived, and I had forgotten what was important. At that point I was so far down, I could not stop drinking.”

As part of the treatments Schroeder was undergoing, he was encouraged to share his story and relive the moments that he was using alcohol to suppress.

“One day was bad enough, that I didn’t show up to work,” says Schroeder. “I had a therapy session that day, and I actually went. The counselor asked me direct questions and I was rigorously honest. I said I was a danger to myself and to others and I needed help with my drinking.”

On March 29, 2011, Schroeder was sent to inpatient recovery at Prairie View for four days. He attended his first recovery meeting on day five. “At Prairie View, I realized that I have two amazing kids who want me to be in their lives,” explains Schroeder. “I had completely lost sight that my kids are counting on me and I love them.”

To recover from his addiction Schroeder explains, “I had to have a willingness to heal. I had to be 100 percent honest with myself. It took about four months before I bought into the recovery program, and probably a total of two years before I felt comfortable with who I was becoming. Here I am, five years later, and the biggest thing that I have learned is that I have a responsibility to help others.”

Schroeder retired from the military in 2015 after 20 years. He is currently attending Friends University and is studying to get his degree in computer science and information systems. Additionally, Schroeder assists other veterans at the Robert J. Dole VA in Wichita through his continued treatment for PTSD and anxiety.

“Anyone who has an addiction needs to go through a self-help process,” Schroeder explains. “Recovery is a lifelong ailment that can flair up if not attended. The intent to give back keeps me sober and mindful of my struggles. The biggest thing that changed my life and direction is to believe in something bigger than myself. The more I learn, the more I’m aware of how little I know. I have to keep learning and moving forward and giving others what is given to me.”

Allison Meador

Allison Meador was just 19 years old when her parents divorced. At first, Meador was a social drinker, who would party with her friends on weekends. Then, she started drinking all of the time.

“From Friday through Sunday, I was a total mess,” explains Meador. “I was a student at WSU, dating an abusive guy, binge drinking, and doing drugs.”

In addition to drinking, Meador was smoking marijuana and using prescription Vicodin after a knee surgery. For three years Meador struggled with addiction. She dropped out of WSU because she struggled to go to class each day.

Meador then got a job working for a local hotel, but during the process a manager blackmailed her in exchange for sexual relations.

“I quit my job and started working as a sex worker for two years. My drug of choice at that time was cocaine,” Meador explains. “There was nothing good left in my life. I wanted to quit, but I didn’t think there was a way out and I was suicidal. I would wake up in the morning, do drugs and drink. I needed money to drink and do drugs. I didn’t think I could break the cycle. I didn’t think there was a way and I was suicidal.”

Meador then met a special person who helped her break that cycle.

“I believe a higher power sent me this human being into my life to help me,” Meador explains. “He paid attention to me and within eight days of knowing me, he was wondering where I got the money, so I told him the truth. He was so kind. He told me I was going to get a real job and get sober. I could not get through the plan on my own. I went to my first recovery meeting at 6 a.m. the next morning. “

August 18, 2011, marked the first day of Meador’s sobriety. “It makes me feel grateful and relieved. I was living in such fear all of the time,” Meador explains.

Today, Meador has used her experience to help others. She is the founder of the Butterfly Group, which is a 12-step support group with the primary purpose to empower women to stop exchanging their bodies for money, drugs, alcohol, goods or services.

Meador has also met with the WSU Center for Combating Human Trafficking to assist their program. She volunteers, giving speeches to schools through The Grid program. Meador will also perform at Recovery Idol, an event sponsored by the Substance Abuse Center of Kansas and CrossOver Recovery Center in September. Over the years, Meador has been using the pseudonym Penelope to keep her identity secret. At this event, Meador is excited to ceremonially take off the mask and unveil her true identity.

“You have to help others to continue to stay sober,” Meador explains. “Helping others maintains my sobriety. When I help others I help myself clear away the wreckage of the past. I like who I am today.”

For more information about the Butterfly Group visit thebutterflygroup.net.

Bill Vineyard

When Bill Vineyard was 10 years old, he started drinking. Vineyard lived with his grandparents in Garden City until he was 12 years old, when he was transferred to a boy’s school in Topeka. Vineyard attended that boy’s school until he was 16 years old.

At 16, Vineyard started smoking marijuana in addition to drinking alcohol. At age 16, Vineyard was sent to prison. He then began shooting up on speed at age 20. Years of repeated drug and alcohol abuse took a toll on Vineyard’s body. He was hospitalized for internal hemorrhaging at age 24. Then, at 28 years old his life changed.

“I was hemorrhaging internally for three days,” says Vineyard. “Even though I knew I needed to stop, I couldn’t stop drinking.”

Vineyard sat on the floor that night and made the decision that he couldn’t go on. He wanted to commit suicide, but he didn’t want to live like that, eternally.

“I felt powerless. I asked God to help me and I prayed,” Vineyard explains. “I asked God to give me one minute of sobriety. I made it to one minute, and then I asked God for two minutes. Then I asked God for four minutes of sobriety. I did that all day and then I slept that night.”

Vineyard has been sober ever since that day 38 years ago. After getting sober, he attended Colby Community College where he got his degree in addiction counseling. In Colby he met and married his wife, Jane. The couple has been married for 36 years and he has also worked as an addiction counselor since that time.

In addition to addiction counseling, Vineyard has developed a website, therecoveryeffect.com. This website features Vineyard’s podcasts and worksheets for individuals overcoming addiction.

“I never dreamed I would have stability like this,” Vineyard explains. “I have four kids and eight grandchildren. Helping others who are battling addiction means everything to me and is my purpose and meaning in my life. I have done a total 180 from where my life was. I feel like my life actually matters.”

Questions about addiction and recovery? Visit prairieview.org or call 800.992.6292.

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