Alumni Stories: Gifts of Recovery for Chelsea C and Emily C
Gifts of Recovery: The Stories of Chelsea C and Emily C
Today, Chelsea is a boss. She is the head chef at two restaurants. She has a car, bank account, passport and a home. She is in a stable and healthy relationship. She has come a long way from the bullied teenager who turned to tattoos and toughness, and later alcohol and drugs at 18.
“I was chubby and I was openly gay,” Chelsea recalls. “After high school, I decided I was going to be a bad ass. I was going to look really tough nobody would mess with me.”
It wasn’t long after that Chelsea began experimenting with alcohol, and later drugs. She dropped out of college and by 21 she was using methamphetamine intravenously. At one point, she tried to quit cold turkey and had a seizure at work and ended up in the hospital. Once she couldn’t hide her using from her parents, she knew she had to leave home.
“I was in a shame spiral,” Chelsea explained. “I tried rehab a few times for my mom. I was so immersed in that lifestyle, I left home, stopped talking to my parents.”
Over the next few years Chelsea began using heroin. She was arrested. A lot. She’d detox in jail and vow never to go through the experience again, but she couldn’t break the cycle. On her 25th arrest, desperate and facing real jail time – Chelsea made the decision to try drug court.
“I knew I needed to do something serious. I went to the court and I said ‘I need help.’ “
Chelsea ended up at Serenity Lane in the early spring of 2016. She was drawn to the people she saw in the Extended Serenity Lane (ExSL) program. She stayed for four months. Afterwards, she moved into an Oxford house, restarted drug court and threw herself into cooking.
“Cooking has been my outlet,” she explained. “Nobody knew me as an alcoholic or addict, it was a new identity. It helped me come into my own as this sober human being.”
Early on, Chelsea made sure to be up front and honest about her sobriety. She let her boss know she didn’t drink and when drinks appeared at the end of the shift, she’d decline with the explanation that she was sober.
“Now that I’m the boss, nobody drinks when we’re closing,” she says, adding, “I just don’t think it’s safe.”
Emily was born and raised in Eugene. Her earliest memories of drinking are with her dad. “My dad was an alcoholic,” she explained. “He lost all of his friends, so he made drinking buddies out of my brother and me.”
Emily’s drinking soon escalated. Her drugs of choice were alcohol and cocaine. At 22 she got sober for about a year and a half. At 23 she experienced a significant traumatic experience. “I went off the deep end,” she says. “I thought, if this is my sobriety then I don’t want it. But it only took a few months for my entire life to come crumbling into pieces.”
Emily’s mother supported her, comparing her drinking and using to a diabetic eating sugar uncontrollably. “I’m going to take you to get some medicine,” she said, and brought Emily to Serenity Lane. Emily spent three months in the Extended Serenity Lane program.
A big part of Emily’s recovery was around discovering who she was and finding her truth. She hadn’t come out to her parents or to anyone. But in treatment, there was a shift. “I felt good about where I was, secure enough about who I am. I wanted to live my most authentic life. I wasn’t able to stay sober the first time because I was lying about who I was.”
Her advice to anyone looking to get sober: Be really kind with yourself. Be patient and put in the work. For her this means getting up early, working on being the best version of herself she can be, being a good partner and daughter and saving up for the future.
Chelsea’s advice: Find your tribe, get a homegroup and work with a sponsor. “I know I can call my sponsor anytime. It’s good to have someone in your corner.”
Chelsea also finds that gratitude, prayer and meditation have been helpful. “For a long time, I thought I was a soulless human being. But I pray every day, I am grateful for things. I sit and think, especially if I am having a hard day.”
Lastly, when asked about her experience as a gay woman in recovery Chelsea shared this: The LGBTQ culture is based on alcohol. It can feel like that party scene is your tribe. There is a homosexual community in recovery, and they are so welcoming and supportive. If you are looking for help, you will find a new tribe.”
Emily also had this to say: Remind yourself that you are worthy, even if who you love isn’t traditional. Acceptance is the only way that you’re going to be able to live your most honest and authentic life.”
Chelsea and Emily will exchange vows and be married this month, on a picturesque farmstead complete with large, white Victorian home and filbert orchard. Emily’s stepfather will officiate and afterward they’ll be heading to Cabo for their honeymoon.