When we meet new clients, the recovery work often includes looking at their childhoods. Though we can’t ever go back in time to heal the wounds created by early traumatic experiences, we can at least discover how those experiences affect our mental health.
Unsurprisingly, when our client Paula spoke at our recent Ladder of Hope event, she started by looking back at her childhood. Paula grew up in a family where abuse was common. At Ladder of Hope, she shared, “My father was an abusive alcoholic. He verbally, mentally, and physically abused me, my brothers, and, worst of all, my mother! Also, in the third grade, my aunt’s boyfriend started to sexually abuse me.”
Despite the hurt at home, Paula focused on school. She practiced leadership through the student council and became an undefeated debate champion. While she experienced academic success, she also began hanging around a crowd of peers who were drinking and abusing substances.
At 17 years old, Paula became pregnant and made the difficult decision to give her baby up for adoption. The pregnancy caused a further rift with her parents and left Paula alone, without a place to live. She moved from Ohio to the Twin Cities, receiving help from a shelter for runaway teens.
Eventually, she wound up living with her mother—seeking a better life. But what she found at home was not a place for healing. Paula was once again surrounded by drugs and kept using them.
Paula eventually met her “soulmate,” Jeff, who stood by her side for decades. They raised four children together, and though she was in and out of rehab, Jeff provided her the stability her family of origin lacked.
When Jeff was diagnosed with colon cancer, Paula worked diligently on her sobriety to support him through treatment. Jeff died on the operating table, and with his death and the heavy grief of losing a loved one, Paula succumbed to more substance abuse. About this, Paula shared, “I found myself living on unemployment, sitting at home every day getting drunk.”
She checked herself into the hospital because she was suicidal. It was there she met Guild staff member Corey. Corey told Paula that Guild could help. Paula shared, “When I was told they could help me, I scoffed. I had heard that before.”
It wasn’t long before Paula realized that Corey and Guild could actually help her. She told us, “From the first moment we met, Corey believed in me. He gave me hope that it would be okay and that I would figure things out. His encouragement changed my mindset, and for the first time in a long time, I had positive thoughts and knew I could keep moving forward on my sobriety and recovery journey. Six months later, Corey did what he does best and found me a home.”
When Paula struggled and doubted, Corey was right there to remind her of the potential for a more positive future. As of now, Paula has four years of sobriety under her belt. She’s a grandmother and a caretaker, and she advocates for talking openly about mental illness, about which, she wisely shared, “I reflect on all that I’ve accomplished and learned since finding Guild —like just how important it is to have conversations about our mental health. When we talk about what’s going on behind closed doors, we can support one another better.”
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