The complicated road to taking those last 12 steps

Natasha Gamache shares her story of recovery. (Photo courtesy of Natasha Gamache.)

This is one woman’s personal solution for problems it took her years to identify — alcohol and substance misuse disorders. After a long journey and 12 steps, she began to heal — and thrive.

Natasha Gamache never got to be a kid. As soon as she was able, she was caring for younger siblings and for her parents when they were drinking. Then, she started joining them – it helped her deal with her anxiety and her trauma from abuse. The first time she blacked out from drinking, she was 11.

“But I remember thinking afterward, ‘Man, I want to feel that way all the time.’ All those stresses that I had. The pressure, the anxiety, the living in this incredible fear,” all of them were gone, she recalled.

To get rid of those stresses, she drank and used drugs on and off for most of her teens. She tried therapy and medication, “but you can’t treat trauma when you’re living in trauma. It just doesn’t work,” she said.

Natasha stopped using alcohol and drugs when she got pregnant, and she said it was awful. She started drinking again as soon as her son was born because she thought that’s what parents did. It made her life bearable.

The cycle continued for years: she’d use substances, she’d stop, she’d start again. She was in abusive relationships, had four more kids. She felt anxious and depressed and full of rage. At one point, she had ten different psychiatric diagnoses.

“I kept getting worse,” Natasha said. “I couldn’t stand to be around people. I live in an incredible amount of fear. So much fear.”

Throughout this, she went to therapists and little bits of information would stick with her – learn to set boundaries. Breathe through panic attacks. She tried groups, medication, yoga, self-help books – anything she thought might help her get control of her life. But it never occurred to her to stop drinking or using drugs.

“Cause I really didn’t think I had a drinking problem, I really didn’t think I had a using problem,” she said. “I thought I had a life problem. If you had my life, you’d drink the way I drank. You’d need an escape from your reality, and that’s really what I thought I was doing.”

Natasha grew more and more isolated. She gave her kids away to be raised by others. Her abusive husband left her. Eventually, she started going to 12-step meetings – not because she thought she was an alcoholic but because the people around her were. Then one day, a woman spoke at a meeting, sharing intimate life details.

“Her story was my story,” Natasha said. “And I heard it for the first time, that message of, there’s hope.”

So Natasha called her dad, who had stopped drinking years before by attending 12-step meetings, and told him what she heard. She told him she thought she might be an alcoholic.

“Then you can hear my stepmom in the background. She’s like, ‘Jay, who’s on the phone?’ ‘It’s Natasha! She thinks she’s alcoholic!’ Then you can hear my stepmom ‘Oh thank god!’” Natasha said, laughing at the memory.

Natasha started going to dozens of meetings a week. She was still angry and hard to be around. It took her a while to find a sponsor to walk her through the steps to recovery; dozens of female sponsors turned her down. But eventually, she found a man who agreed. He helped her accept that she was powerless to alcohol, the first step, and to believe in the possibility of a higher power, step two. Then she told him her whole story of growing up with an abusive mother.

“And he was the first person to ever say to me, ‘Happy, healthy people don’t try to kill their kids. Your mom was a sick person. And as bad as it was, she was doing the best she could, and it had nothing to do with you.’”

Together they went through 16 pages of people Natasha felt she had hurt or who had hurt her, and her sponsor helped her re-frame her experiences. It made her look more closely at the ways she had acted and reacted. A weight was lifted from her, Natasha said, and she looked physically different. So much so that when she had a meeting with the Office of Children’s Services a few months later to try to get her kid back, the OCS worker didn’t recognize her.

“They asked me what happened and I said, ‘I got sober.’ And they said, ‘We didn’t know you had a drinking problem.’ And I said, ‘I didn’t either! That makes two of us!’”

Now, seven and a half years later, she’s still not using any substances. She said she found support in a church group that accepts her for who she is and from that, she has a real relationship with a higher power. She also goes to a trauma therapist because she knows the people in AA can’t help her through that. Her life is totally different – she’s excelling in college, she’s caring for all of her kids, she has housing and can hold a job.

“I get to have an incredible life today,” she said. “It’s not perfect. By any stretch, it is not perfect. But it’s good.”

Natasha found a solution that worked for her. She says she hopes that by sharing her story, she can help others find one as well.

You can listen to or download a 45-minute interview with Natasha and hear some of the details of her story below.

After being told innumerable times that maybe she asked too many questions, Anne Hillman decided to pursue a career in journalism. She's reported from around Alaska since 2007 and briefly worked as a community radio journalism trainer in rural South Sudan.
ahillman (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8447  |  About Anne

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