September 22, 2017
From Pam Pearce, CRM, Co-Founder, Oregon Recovery High School Initiative; President, Community Living Above
The prevention of substance abuse and the national epidemic substance abuse has become are both big topics today. It seems that our country is finally coming to grips with the fact that the opioid epidemic is one of our greatest tragedies. Addiction is powerful, and it likes to manipulate its environment into creating false social norms. When our communities believe these false realities people have devastating consequences. Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a preventable disease and we need to start sharing our stories with each other (Oregon Recovers).
My story is one of redemption. The cliché, my mess is now my message, well, it’s true. I am a person in long-term recovery. I have substance use disorder. I’ve been told people are not their disease, it’s a piece of who they are, but for many of us when we are in the thick of it, it seems to encompass everything we are. So when the time comes, and it always does, that you must choose (before it chooses for you) whether you let the disease continue to hurt you or help you, I hope you choose help. How does it help you? The intensity of our psyche that got us to a life or death situation is the same one that will bring you to amazing places that are hard to imagine. I chose to let it help me and now I look at the disease as a gift or for those deep feelers out there—it’s my superpower.
My story seems to be the poster child of what it looks like to hear and believe that “all teenagers experiment,” “it’s a right of passage,” and “they’ll grow out of it.” Well, some details that weren’t shared that are important were that your chances of suffering from SUD are much greater if you are predisposed to the disease and then add using in those teenage years when your brain is still developing will almost guarantee you’ll draw the short straw. Another important detail that wasn’t mentioned was the difference between experimentation and habitual use of drugs/alcohol. Being the child of an alcoholic and thinking I’d grow out of it kept me sick for a long time. I was waiting and waiting to be “normal” and, true to the disease, the time came for me to choose the path forward—live or die.
In recovery we don’t look back and wish for things to be different. We move forward, tell the truth, do the next right thing, share our stories, and pay that information forward to others. So for me the truth is that recovery has been a gift and as I heard another recovery warrior say, “a gift for sure but wrapped in a very funny box.” The nice thing about this gift is that you get to re-gift it as many times as you want. It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving. This is the main reason I think I’ve been in recovery for 22 years. I feel strangely blessed to have this disease.
The gifts that I have received in recovery are hard to count. But I know for sure that being lead to where I am today doing the work I’m doing is a direct result of owning the disease and sharing hope with others who suffer. Ultimately, these gifts are constant reminders to keep moving forward, to tell the truth, do the next right thing, share my story, and pay it forward—so I do.
I graduated from Lake Oswego High School and my only honors were winning biggest partier and best dressed. So you can imagine how ironic and just the universe has been by bringing a prevention organization and Oregon Recovery High School to me. The recovery high school will be the first in the state of Oregon—a gift.
After graduating from high school, I attended three different universities trying to outrun the chaos alcoholism was creating. I ultimately graduated from the University of Southern California (USC). I didn’t deserve this big-name school—again another gift to add to my story. I had to hire an attorney to graduate. The disease of alcoholism had its grip on me. I knew I was different, but I didn’t have the tools to understand what to do. So what I lacked in education and tools, I made up for in perseverance. I did what I needed to graduate. I was a second-generation USC graduate, by the skin of my teeth—gift.
After college graduation, I went on to intern for an Oregon state senator in Washington, D.C., which was an honor and only given to a chosen few—gift. From there I was given the opportunity to work for Roger Staubach, a former Dallas Cowboy. This job was amazing, great income, and it was fun to work for a famous person – gift. Then I got a DUI and blew a very high number . . . this was the beginning of the end. The road less traveled . . . but I chose to travel it and again the gifts are endless.
I met the man I would eventually marry right after I got a DUI. He told me he couldn’t do what I do, and he told me we were finished. I got sober the next day. It’s known that if asking people to quit worked there wouldn’t be so many people who suffer. However, my husband wasn’t the first person to ask me to quit but he was the last. We went on to marry and have three children. I eventually moved back to Oregon where I have been raising three kids who are now 18, 16 and 11—amazing gifts.
I was asked about 10 years ago to run for political office. I had someone call me at home. I thought it was high school friends messing with me, but it wasn’t—crazy affirming gift.
About two years ago, I was asked to lead a local non-profit organization working to support in the prevention of youth drug/alcohol use and bullying (Community Living Above). The mission is to support and educate youth in my community with prevention, awareness, and resources so when faced with drugs, alcohol, or bullying as their only choices, they know they have other options. I was asked by the founder to take the lead. When she met me, she said she went to the community asking who could lead the charge and I was the person suggested unanimously—a gift.
I now lead more than 200 youth in learning about a disease that many are predisposed to. I want to give them every opportunity to hear the truth and have the choice to say yes or no. This opportunity seems to be the greatest gift so far. It seems that I have amassed an army that is ready to battle. The battle is preparing to bring the first recovery high school to the state of Oregon—serendipitous gift.
This disease seems to be in most homes in one way or another. No one is immune and because this disease tends to be in families, the normalizing of high school partiers gets passed down in generations and false social norms get created. Some of the most charismatic, smart, and generous people I know suffer from this disease. There is no shame in it, we didn’t choose it, but we now have the resources and education to let others know that they don’t have to have it. I pray if you are suffering be kind to yourself and ask for help. Chances are the gifts of recovery are waiting for you and it will be the greatest gift you’ll ever receive. It is mine.
Pam Pearce, CRM, is Co-Founder of the Oregon Recovery High School Initiative and the President of Community Living Above. Both organizations educate, engage, and empower individuals and families that there is hope when it comes to understanding Substance Abuse Disorder.