12 Step Planet - Eli Russell
 - Helping Families with Addictions

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"What you don't know about me..." by Eli Russell
This is the true story of my life. My childhood abuse, depression, alcoholism and post-traumatic stress, here is a painfully in depth look at my life, both past and present. My struggles and my victories, and how I CHOSE to no longer be a victim, but instead to be an advocate to help stop the suffering of those who also suffer from my disease.
“What you don’t know about me…”
I am disabled. I suffer from a debilitating, chronic bone-deteriorating disease. You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, and you wouldn’t know it by talking to me. You wouldn’t even know it if I walked up to you on the street. But I am in constant, usually excruciating pain. I am disabled.
I am depressed. Sometimes my life seems hopeless. I also have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder. Some days I feel like giving up and some days I don’t feel like getting out of bed. When I do get out of bed, plain, ordinary things that most people don’t even notice tend to bother me, to the point I have to “correct” them or suffer from unbearable anxiety. At the worst of times, I have such debilitating panic attacks, that I feel the need to run. It doesn’t matter where I run to, it only matters that I get as far away from the place or situation I’m in as fast as I can, away from the overwhelming sense of impending doom and/or feeling that I’ll be harmed by some unknown, unseen source of evil. Most of the time, I suffer in silence. I am depressed.
I have PTSD. As a child, an adult male in my life abused me in every possible way. Everyday I was beaten, verbally annihilated, molested and raped. It ruined my life until I stopped letting it. But I still carry the scars of my abuse with me everyday. I still sleep with the lights on, as far away from the door as possible. I’m still afraid that he will emerge from the shadows to torture me, even after all these years. I startle all to easily and I feel personally attacked by people, sometimes for no reason. I have to monitor these feelings everyday, to assess what is happening, to separate my PTSD and the anxiety it brings from the reality of the situation and the reality of my life. Sometimes when the man I love touches me with all of his love, caring and sweetness, I will have flashbacks of my abuse. It’s a horrible thing to be in the arms of someone who love and without warning flash back to a memory of such pain. I’m sure that my flashbacks hurt him as much as they hurt me, even if he doesn’t let me see it. The people in my life who know what I’ve been through simply hold me until I’m calm again and reassure me that everything is okay. My PTSD not only affects my life profoundly, it also affects the lives of the people closest to me. It’s scary, embarrassing and painful to think of how it affects those around me as well. I have PTSD.
I am hypoglycemic. Hypoglycemia is a big fancy word for chronic low blood sugar. Sometimes my blood sugar drops without warning. In its mild form, it can cause sweating, shakiness, anxiety and confusion. In more extreme cases it can cause extreme confusion, weakness and if left untreated one can slip into a coma and even die. For some people medication is needed to control hypoglycemia, but I control mine through diet alone. My life is not always so focused. I’m a very artistic person and as such, I’m not always the most organized of people. Though my blood sugar can drop at any time, I’m at a high risk when I don’t eat, which happens often because I tend to forget. The times when my blood sugar crashes rapidly and without warning are the worst. I can forget my surroundings, become mean, even downright belligerent. To raise my blood sugar levels, juice, or glucose drinks or powders are best, but all too often when I have forgotten to eat, I will have a major crash of my blood sugar levels to the point where I am physically unable to get to juice or glucose to help myself. It can be intensely scary for me and for my loved ones and it is also very embarrassing. Having lost all sense of where I was, what I was doing or even the rudeness coming out of my mouth is never a fun thing to go through. Once, I even forgot who my brother was, while looking him in the face. Each day, I’m getting better at remembering to eat on schedule, so as not to put myself at an unnecessary level of risk. But no matter how well I try to control it, there is always the chance that it can strike at random. I have to carry juice, snacks, glucose liquid shots and glucose powder sticks with me wherever I go. I have juice and glucose stashed in every room of my house. I can never be without these things or I could be putting my life at risk. I am Hypoglycemic.
I am in constant pain. In addition to my bone disease (it is called Avascular Necrosis), I have severe osteoarthritis throughout my entire body (at only 28 years old) and chronic debilitating migraines. Despite 2 corrective surgeries, one on each hip, one that was a full replacement of the joint and took part of my femur as well, and the therapies I endure, my body is always in pain. Avascular Necrosis cuts off the blood supply to the bones, essentially causing the bones to rot inside my body, from the inside out. I am in constant pain.
And above all of this, I AM A RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC. I started drinking very young because most all of my extended family did. Two family members gave me my first drink. They thought it would be funny to give a 7-year-old girl a wine cooler. To this day, the smell of a fuzzy navel wine cooler brings me back to that night in the trailer park. My first sip of beer was warm, flat and downright awful, but I just had to know why it made everyone so happy. I was just a child, but from the abuse (still ongoing at this point) I was a tortured soul. I felt I needed more than anything to find happiness, no matter how bad it tasted.
Into my teens, I started sneaking drinks of liquor my mother kept on a high cabinet. She rarely ever drank, but had a few bottles of special liquors she kept for the holidays. When I got home after school, I had the house to myself for an hour or so before she got home from work. The man who abused me for all those years was finally gone, but I was left battered and broken, physically, but more so mentally. I used this time after school to alleviate the pain I felt, self-medicating with alcohol. My teen years were a non-stop party, running with “my boys”, being the only girl in the group most of the time. Plus, I could drink most of them under the table. I loved that and friends respected me for that. I was young, beautiful, funny, and I had wonderful friends. But I had no idea the damage I was causing with all of the drinking I was doing day and night.
I knew only two things. First I had a deep-seated rage and a non-stop will to rebel against the hell my childhood had been. And second, alcohol was a great way for me to do just that. Or so I thought. I graduated from high school early, moved to Florida and got a job working at a bar that my family ran. From there, the party never stopped. I had just turned 17, but I had plenty of “friends”, “boyfriends” and other people I could manipulate into buying me alcohol. Florida was where I picked up the nickname “whiskey girl”. One great love, 4 years and 5 hurricanes later, I came home to Texas. By then I had become a full-blown alcoholic and I didn’t really care. I had a bigger demon to face.
One reason I came back to Texas was to give a deposition. Not just any deposition, a deposition that would ultimately save a family member from a potential and likely threat, and in the process, send me into a downward spiral as well. The man who abused me in childhood had fathered a child while he was abusing me. That child is my baby brother. Since the day he was born, I’ve always had a special love for my brother. I am 12 years older the he is, so there was never much sibling rivalry. As a child, he adored me as much as I adored him, following me around like a tiny version of myself. He wanted to do everything I did, to be just like his big sister. I swore I’d never let anything happen to him and that I would relive my childhood over again if it meant he would not have to go through what I did. Now my brother’s father was seeking visitation and shared custody. Through my deposition, I lived up to that promise. In my deposition, I had to write, and relive, every moment of my childhood abuse. Not only were those old wounds opened, I felt as if I had received new wounds in the process. In the end, we prevailed. This man, of pure evil and hate was never given the opportunity to harm a hair on my brother’s head. He is no longer a part of any of our lives. However, I was once again left broken, a shell of who I was. I ended up searching for my happiness in the bottom of hundreds of whiskey bottles.
The next few years were a bit of a blur. Men passing through my life, waiting tables at a strip club, almost getting raped there, beaten by men who “loved” me, going to jail, and getting robbed. It’s the same old familiar story. I ended up homeless a few times, too embarrassed or proud to go home. Or maybe I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to drink freely around my family. For my own drunken reasons, I ended up on the street. Once, I ended up couch surfing and squatting in apartments at a very eclectic complex on the east side of town. I was the party girl. Still beautiful, outrageous in everything I did and I surrounded myself who could and would get me whatever I needed. Everyone wanted to party with me, hang out with me, even to be me. I had cultivated my beauty, calculating behavior and manipulative strength into a power that drew people to me like moths to a flame. I had “friends” and “boyfriends” on end, until I hurt them, like I hurt everyone in my life, everyone around me. I always did. Unfortunately for them, there was always someone else waiting in line to be used.
A year later, at the age of 24, I had finally had enough. I had hurt and/or alienated everyone ion my life. My drinking was out of control and I had no one. The party was over. Slowly, everything had just slipped away and I was left with a gallon and ½ of whiskey a day, my only friend. My mother was my only ally, even after everything I had put her through; she never gave up on me. It killed her to watch me slowly killing myself, but she never gave up hope. My bottom came when I nearly died of acute alcohol poisoning 5 times, within just one week. As soon as I woke up in the hospital that 5 and final time, I demanded to see the doctor and hospital social worker (who had come to know me on a first name basis). Still completely intoxicated, but awake and aware, I shouted after the nurse as she went to find the doctor, “Help me! Take me to rehab! I’m done! Help! Take me to rehab!” I can still hear my drunken cries for help. It was the best decision I ever made. I AM AN ALCOHOLIC. I am grateful for every day, in recovery, but still an alcoholic. I always will be.      
So now you know me. Probably more than you wanted to know and definitely more than I ever wanted to admit or say out loud, much less share with the world.
I am a disabled recovering alcoholic. I’m in chronic excruciating pain every day of my life; I have PTSD, nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks. No wonder I’m depressed. It can’t get much worse right?
Each step I take is painful, but I am grateful I still have my legs to take those steps.
A migraine makes even the faintest light, sound or movement unbearable, but I can still see the sunrise and hear my mother’s boisterous laugh.
My childhood is one of the worst imaginable situations to grow up in, but I have a long line of people who love me, to help me get through the dark days.
Most of my other (what I consider to be ‘minor’ like my high blood pressure) health problems are well managed by medications and my doctors. Through my disability, I also qualify for Medicare. With the cost of healthcare these days I am so grateful to even have health insurance.
I am an alcoholic. Some days are a big struggle. But my support system of family and friends (which I no longer have to manipulate or deceive into being such a vital part of my life) help me through it all. My higher power guides me. I work the steps, I pray, but giving back is the most crucial part of my recovery.
I got sober at a very young age. I was only 24 with a 10-year career as a bonafide alcoholic. I am living proof that sobriety doesn’t have to wait. I’ve had more fun in my sober 20’s than I did in my drunken 20’s.
I also suffer from chronic pain, depression, OCD, PTSD, and panic disorder. I could use any of these as an excuse for self-pity, or to pick up a bottle again. But by the grace of my higher power, I haven’t yet and I never plan to again. Now, I have people in my life who love me without the need for an extra incentive and I love them right back. We depend on each other and I refuse to let myself down my by drinking, or to let down those who believe in me.
I IDENTIFY as all of these things, but I am so much more. I am a writer, a cook a baker, a daughter and a sister. But my favorite identity is as an advocate, for those suffering globally, from alcoholism, addictions and self-harming behaviors. So here I am, taking life on day at a time, doing my best to help others through programs and volunteer work.
Everyone has a story, mine is particularly painful. I could have chosen a very different path in life. But I didn’t. I chose to get sober, I chose to get my life back and I chose to help others with their struggles. I could have chosen to let my past define me or let my pain take over my life. Instead, I chose to work with others, to help improve their lives, both locally and globally. But most of all, I chose to leave my past where it belongs, and I CHOSE TO BE HAPPY.

 - Eli Russell
October 3, 2013

"Choose your own happiness"

You can email me with questions, comments or send your own story at Eli@IdentifyProject.org

The Identify Project website www.IdentifyProject.org
Facebook Page - The Identify Project www.facebook.com/TheIdentifyProject
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