Growing up in a household characterized by alcoholism and abuse, Suzan felt different from her peers – and totally alone.
“I found it hard to be a carefree kid,” she says, “because I was always concerned with what was going on at home. I couldn’t talk to my friends about it; they had ‘normal’ families. I didn’t think they would understand.”
Suzan responded by becoming a “people pleaser,” a pattern that would persist for much of her life. “I thought something was wrong with me, so I sought validation from others,” she explains. “Outwardly, I was more confident when I drank. But when I wasn’t drinking, I was still that sad, insecure, scared seven-year-old.”
Over the ensuing years, Suzan says she “tried everything to fill the hole in my soul: money, career, men, having children.” To a casual observer, she appeared to have it all. But behind the scenes, Suzan was binge drinking five days a week.
“Then one day, my own seven-year-old said, ‘Mom, please stop drinking,’” she recalls. “That moment broke my heart. I went to my first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting and while recovery took time, the healing had begun. I finally felt accepted and understood. I found a sponsor and grieved all my losses.
“Surprisingly, AA did for me what I had always wanted alcohol to do for me.”
Recovery, Suzan says, has been a process of constant learning. For instance, “I thought alcohol was the problem,” she recalls, “but the problem was, I tried to make alcohol the solution to what was really going on – and eventually it got to the point that I couldn’t live with alcohol and I couldn’t live without it.
“I also thought trying to control everything in my life would help,” she shares. “But in fact, things only changed when I surrendered and admitted that I was 100% an alcoholic and powerless over the first drink.”
Fascinated by what she learned, Suzan returned to school. After completing a certificate in addiction studies, she went on to study trauma, concurrent disorders and cognitive behavioural therapy. She also sponsored others and volunteered in the recovery community, even as she continued to unpack how her own traumatic history.
“Recovery is not just ‘not drinking’ – that’s physical sobriety,” she shares. “Recovery is emotional sobriety; it’s a process of going back to myself as a scared child, loving her and protecting her. It’s healing from my trauma, forgiving myself and forgiving others.
“This work really is essential,” she says, “because most people just push their feelings down or ignore them altogether. They think ‘I know this happened to me, but that was a long time ago, and I don’t want to remember it anymore.’ But the pain stays with you, and it keeps showing up until you acknowledge it.”
After years of seeking external validation, today Suzan’s perspective is dramatically different. Now, “my goal is to have a rich, full, meaningful, purposeful life,” she says. “I don’t chase happiness; I don’t need to. It’s now a byproduct of my actions: of doing God’s will, doing the next right thing and being selfless, not selfish.”
At the age of 52, Suzan found her purpose as a counsellor in Renascent’s Virtual Intensive Treatment Program. “This role has brought my three favourite things together: my experience, my education and my passion for helping people,” she says. “I’ve progressed from hurting to healing to helping. And I like the person I am today.
“I’m not pretending anymore.”