One woman’s story of addiction and recovery gives hope and celebrates gratitude
ON JANUARY 10, 2011, Amanda Groves sat in her car outside of a church in Charleston where a 12-step recovery program was underway. Her husband had kicked her out of their Savannah home and filed for divorce. She could only visit their three-year-old son under supervision. She’d been in and out of treatment programs for her addiction to pain killers for the past five years, always relapsing.
At 31, Amanda had hit bottom. She had nothing else to lose, except herself. “That’s the first time I made the decision to be sober just for myself,” she recalls. “It was the most empowering, scary, horrible, amazing thing that has ever happened to me because something just clicked — a feeling of surrender.”
Amanda didn’t look like an addict. She came from a loving family and was beautiful, educated and lived in a five-bedroom home in one of Savannah’s historic neighborhoods. But within that house, Amanda’s marriage was deteriorating as she struggled to stay sober during her pregnancy and then relapsed after her son was born.
“I remember walking with him in the stroller and telling myself, you’re smarter than this, you were raised better than this, just don’t eat a pill today,” she says. “And I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t like I was taking 20 pills a day, drooling on myself while my child was playing in the yard, but I was never completely sober.”
Like many addicts, Amanda couldn’t reason her way out of the disease, which is sometimes hard for others to understand. “Just stop doing that” is a common response to addiction; as if it were that simple. Sure, Amanda did make a choice once. At 14, after losing her mom to colon cancer, she started to drink and smoke pot. “Our family didn’t share feelings, and when I used beer and weed, I didn’t feel sad or odd that I didn’t have a mom,” she recalls. “I could even talk about it and break down when I was drunk, but I couldn’t do that sober.”
At the College of Charleston, Amanda continued to use drugs and alcohol along with her friends, but she points out how the others eventually grew up and stopped using; they became “responsible adults,” while she found herself unable to make that same choice.
Amanda got engaged a couple of years later. The morning after her bachelorette party, her dad told her he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but he wouldn’t have surgery to remove the tumor until after he walked her down the wedding aisle, a promise he kept. But on the second day of their honeymoon in the Caribbean, Amanda and her husband Billy received a call. Her father’s tumor was inoperable, and he could expect to live about six months.
“We flew back early, and I literally drank myself into oblivion,” Amanda says. “I told Billy I wanted to get pregnant that night to give my dad a grandchild, which was not the right thing to say at 24 to my new husband.”
Until his death in 2005, Amanda took care of her father on weekends, but she felt like he resented her presence. “I thought he didn’t appreciate it, and was angry with me, but really he just didn’t like being sick,” she says.
Amanda found her dad’s pain pills and took them to cope. “It was a way to make me feel like I was there just visiting him as his daughter,” she recalls. “That’s where the pill problem came in — I wanted to feel like things were normal.”
After that day in Charleston, Amanda completed a 30-day intensive outpatient drug treatment program and continued to attend meetings as part of a 12-step program. Today, Amanda is eight-and-a-half years sober, and her life is anything but normal. She and Billy have reunited (never finalizing the divorce), added twin boys to the mix and she works full-time at Saint Andrew’s School. Like most moms, Amanda runs in a million different directions, but instead of complaining, she reminds herself that this chaos is a gift she almost never had. In fact, her motto is “love your kaos,” a phrase she uses for her T-shirt and accessory line (intentionally misspelled in homage to a spelling bee she lost when she was young). The brand’s message is to recognize, accept and find gratitude for the chaos that exists in our lives.
Gratitude has been a key component to Amanda’s treatment and recovery process. “I hate knowing who I was for that time in my life, but I’m very grateful that I’ve learned this lifestyle,” she says. “I love who I’ve become, how my brain works and how I can help myself and other people. I wouldn’t have that without hitting bottom. I just wish I hadn’t hurt people along the way.”
Amanda points out that every story of addiction is different, at least on the surface. “There are people who don’t hit bottom before getting sober. Some people go to jail and have do go through drug court and stay sober,” she says. “There are so many situations. But the one thing we all have in common is that we’re absolutely powerless over alcohol and drugs.”
She’s reminded of this every time she attends a 12-step meeting. “I don’t go because I’m going to drink or use; I go to meetings to remember where I was and to share my story,” she says. “I didn’t
realize how many people like me were out there, and if you stick around long enough, you start to hear the similarities, not the differences.”