Recovery: A Lifelong Process

Teresa Sanders shares her story about sobriety and recovery

Lifelong recovery. For those just beginning the recovery process, this can be a daunting concept. For Teresa Sanders, it is her mantra. Not only does she preach this message to women she works with in recovery, she lives it each and every day.

Teresa’s recovery journey began 25 years ago when her family staged an intervention. She had begun drinking and using drugs at the age of 13. Teresa traces her early substance abuse in part to her father abandoning the family when she was only nine, taking everything in the family house with him. “Every curtain, every piece of furniture. It took me many years to realize the impact of him leaving had on me and my addiction.”

By age 17, Teresa had already descended into cocaine and heroin abuse. “Partying is what my peer group did, it was who I was around all the time. I never went to school and eventually dropped out,” Teresa remembers. Although Teresa dropped out of high school, someone encouraged her to get her G.E.D. and pursue community college. “I led a dual life. By day I was a college student, and by night I was a heroin addict,” Teresa says. She went on to graduate from a four year college and celebrated her graduation with gifts of cocaine from her friends. “I thought I was fooling my family since I had never really been in trouble or been caught.” But she was fooling no one. Her family staged an intervention the summer before she went to graduate school and she went to a treatment program in Vermont.

After her stay in treatment, Teresa believed she had finally conquered her demons. She stayed clean and sober for 10 years, got married, and eventually migrated to her husband’s native Cleveland, and began a career in the drug treatment field. But looking back, Teresa admits that once she moved here, a relapse “was inevitable and necessary.” Teresa faced many challenges in Cleveland-knowing few people, not having a support system, and the largest obstacle: her husband being sent to prison, leaving her to raise two small children alone. She admits that with her husband’s imprisonment, there was “A lot of shame, embarrassment and lying about what was going on in my life. I thought since I was working in the drug treatment field that it was enough for my own recovery, but that is a false sense of security.”

On her 10th anniversary of sobriety, Teresa led an AA meeting, then left immediately after, began drinking, and didn’t stop for the next three months. Friends and colleagues staged a second intervention, and Teresa began to rebuild her recovery through being “humbled, a relationship with God, and being active in the recovery community.” In 2009, Teresa celebrated her 15th year of sobriety. She is now happily remarried and has a son who recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq and a daughter that has two children of her own. “Life is really, really good,” Teresa says with a smile.

The message Teresa shares with other women in recovery is a message of hope. “Hope makes what we do different. It takes tremendous strength to walk with these women through their pain each day, and there is no other place I want to be. If we can plant a seed of hope, that can begin the journey of recovery. I consider myself to be a very grateful alcoholic and addict. Every experience that has come into my life is to help someone else.”