"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
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
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
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
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
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