Story Submitted By Pam P
My mess is now my message. I struggle with the disease of 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 sickness, it’s everything we are.
My story is a typical life of addiction/alcoholism — but with amazing gifts that have strings attached. These “strings” are to be shared with others. This is the main reason I think I’ve been sober for 21 years. I feel strangely blessed to have this disease.
One of my sober friends describes it perfectly: Sobriety/recovery is the gift wrapped in a funny box. I’ve had crazy gifts handed to me throughout my life, which I feel ultimately led to the platform I was recently handed. For me the gifts are reminders to keep moving forward, so I do.
I was asked to lead a local non-profit organization, working to support in the prevention/awareness of youth drug and alcohol use and all that comes with the chaos of the disease (westlinncommunitytaskforce.org). The mission is to support and educate youth in our community with facts, resources and more when faced with drugs/alcohol choices. I was asked by the founder to take the lead. When she met me, she said she went to the community and I was the person unanimously chosen … another gift.
I have been sober for 21 years. I graduated from Lake Oswego High School in Oregon and my only notable honors were winning “biggest partier” and “best dressed.” So you can imagine how ironic and just the universe has been by ultimately bringing a prevention youth task force to me … another gift.
After high school graduation, I went on to three different universities trying to outrun the chaos alcoholism was creating. I ultimately graduated from the University of Southern California. 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 already had its grip on me. I knew I was different, but I didn’t have the education or resources to understand. So what I lacked in scholastic ability, I made up for in perseverance. I achieved what I needed to in order to graduate. I was a second-generation USC graduate, by the skin of my teeth … another gift.
After college graduation, I went on to intern for an Oregon state senator in Washington, DC, which was an honor and only given to a chosen few … another gift. From there I was given the opportunity to work for Roger Staubach, a former Dallas Cowboy … another gift. This job was amazing, with lots of money, and it was fun to work for a famous person.
This was the end of my drinking story. I met the man I would eventually marry. He told me he couldn’t do what I do, and he told me we were finished. I got sober the next day. We went on to marry and have children. I eventually moved back to Oregon where I have been raising three kids who are now 17, 15 and 11 … another gift.
I was asked about 10 years ago to run for political office. I had someone cold-call me at home. I thought it was high school friend messing with me, but it wasn’t … another gift.
I now lead 200+ youth in learning about a disease that many are predisposed to. I want to give them every opportunity to learn and have the CHOICE to say “yes” or “no.” This opportunity seems to be the greatest gift so far. I took over last October, and I swear opportunities like this one are coming out of the woodwork. It seems that I have amassed an army that is ready to battle … another gift.
The prevention of substance abuse is a big topic today. It seems that our country is finally coming to grips with the fact that this epidemic is one of our greatest tragedies. Addiction is powerful, and it likes to manipulate its environment to create a social norm where we start to believe that everyone does it and it’s not a big deal. This is NOT the truth, and as I’ve learned, the vast majority of students do not abuse drugs and alcohol.
Because this disease tends to run in families, the normalizing of high school partiers gets passed down and social norms gets created. Some of the most charismatic, smart, generous people I know suffer from this disease. There is no shame in it, as we do not choose it. It chooses us. If someone who suffers can find sobriety and recovery, it will be their greatest gift. It is mine.