Denise and I met 5 years ago when she was a patient at Costa Rica Recovery. We saw each other in passing at the AA and NA meetings. And when she finished her treatment, she went back to the United States. She recently returned to Costa Rica to share her story on the anniversary of her 5th year in sobriety. It impacted me so much, I asked her if she would be willing to share her story on the podcast and here we are.

Denise has an intense past full of childhood trauma and abuse, self-loathing, and racism that developed into full-blown alcoholism and a long pattern of destructive relationships. She eventually found sobriety but relapsed when shoulder pain and a toxic husband lead her into painkillers and other sedatives. She tried to kill herself and overdosed frequently as her son was growing up.

By some miracle, she found her way to Costa Rica Recovery and is grateful to be alive to tell us how she broke free from her addiction and the victim mentality that kept her from getting clean.

CLEAN DATE: November 25th, 2012

Listen to Denise’s story!

Here are a few highlights from our interview. To get the full story please join us on the podcast now!

Denise didn’t have her first drink until she was 25 years old, but as soon as she tasted it, she thought it was magic.

I felt electrified.

To this day, it baffles her that she never picked up a drink or a drug before then. She honestly believes that it was God’s grace, because once she did pick up, she was an alcoholic from the get go.

Denise grew up in the early 70s in Texas. Her father is German American and her mother is Mexican American, and being biracial was tough. Her own relatives were racist and despised Mexicans. She heard awful things, and by the time she was 4 years old, she already understood that she was worth less than others and there was something dirty about her. She learned very unhealthy coping mechanisms from a young age.

I grew up so shattered and disconnected from myself.

Her dad was a violent alcoholic and her mom was the willing enabler. Multiple family members molested kids in the family. She didn’t have a safe person to teach her how special she was. She was abused mentally, physically, and sexually all through her childhood. When she got to school, she became a shapeshifter and would be who anyone wanted her to be. She never had any sense of self or any kind of goal in life because dreams were for other people, not people like her.

It really was a matter of just surviving the day.

Denise used people, places, and things to change the way she felt. Boys became her drug of choice. Despair, hopelessness, confusion reigned. She jumped from relationship to relationship, recreating the chaos of her childhood. At 52 years old, Denise has been married and divorced four times.

I was always looking outside myself.

Denise was spoon fed helplessness from her mother. She looked to boyfriends to save her and for girlfriends to mother her. She barely graduated from high school and quickly got married the son of a Baptist preacher. But the marriage only lasted a few years. She was a shell, going through the motions.

Then she started drinking. Once she became an alcoholic, she never connected her problems to alcohol. Everyone she surrounded herself with drank like she did. They were the cool kids. She felt glamorous and grown up. Physically, she was and adult, but she was emotionally immature.

When the next man proposed to her, she said yes even though she knew it wasn’t right for her. She didn’t think she had the option to say no. He treated her with dignity and respect, and it was too calm and peaceful. She brought the chaos, and ended up making his life miserable. During this time, she had her son. Despite becoming a mom, her drinking escalated. She had her precious child, but she neglected him and dropped him off with her parents after work so she could go out and party.

She kept getting with the same type of man over and over again. If they didn’t bring the chaos, she did. By 2004, Denise was in the middle of divorce number three. One morning, she woke up from a blackout and realized she drove drunk in the middle of the night to get more wine, leaving her son alone in his bed sleeping.

She felt a shame she never felt before and finally felt compelled to get help. She didn’t know anyone in recovery, so she looked up AA in the yellow pages. She went to a noon meeting that day and when she listened to the stories, she heard the similarities and thought, “I think I belong here.”

She returned that same day for the 6pm meeting where she met a man who asked her to come sit with him.

This dude with three months (and who, by the way. never worked the step) sounded like Yoda to me.

Denise was clean from alcohol, but not from men. The rules about not dating didn’t apply to her. She had a “yes, but…” excuse for everything. She never grew up because every time she ended a relationship, she’d go back to her parents.

A year into sobriety, who she believed was Mr. Wonderful came into her life. She was impressed with his double digit sobriety. She didn’t really love him, but he said he could take her of her and that was all she needed to say yes. She married him, and even though they were both in recovery and attending meetings, it was still chaotic.

Four and a half years into sobriety, she had a pain in her shoulder. Her husband took her to his doctor who not only gave her a prescription for Vicodin, but an additional one for Soma. She thought it was okay because her husband kept control of her meds and her sponsor knew the situation. But it was a very short time before she was abusing the pills.

Her husband told her to quit her job even though she made three times what he did. She did as she was told. Their whole life soon became about him. He was her higher power. As her world became smaller, she resented him more and more.

Then she found out that he was unfaithful from the beginning of their marriage. He was a sober, but he also was an untreated sex addict. He only wanted her to quit the job so she’d be around more. Then he would be less tempted to act up. All this was going on as they raised her son. They were king and queen baby trying to be parents.

Denise felt enraged and sorry for herself. She went off the rails. She was suicidal and homicidal, and she used this as a reason to start drinking again. She was so crazy, she would start bonfires on the patio and burn her husband’s belongings. The police were regular visitors to the house. Then she began to overdose and the paramedics were coming too. Her son would come home and find her passed out on the patio.

But it was her husband’s fault. She wouldn’t see her part in the story. She thought that everything would be okay if only her husband would just do everything right. She was the victim and she used that to make sure everyone knew she had a reason to be using.

Luckily, there was a man her husband knew in recovery who split his time in Costa Rica. He told them about Costa Rica Recovery. Denise went, not without one last debacle. She was so hungover, she missed her flight and her husband and son had to babysit her for a half a day to get her on the next departure.

Little did I know, it was the beginning of this magnificent life I have today.

Denise was in treatment for three months. She always had one foot in the rooms and one foot out until she attended the women’s groups in Costa Rica. She heard women speak about the same violence and insanity that she had endured in her life. Denise was 46 years old when she connected with herself and with the god of her understanding for the first time. She felt like she wasn’t learning but remembering what her soul always knew. Her shoulder pain disappeared and never came back. She believes that the guilt, shame, and trauma that had been physicalized in her body and is now free.

It’s all about finding my home back to myself.

What kept Denise from getting clean?

I was exempt.

The rules didn’t apply to her. Her life was so traumatic and she was in her beautiful, couture victim suit.

That aha moment

30 days into treatment, when the chemical fog was clearing, she was finally able to connect with the god of her understanding and thought, “I don’t want to die.”

Best suggestion

Denise remembers a man who said he could sum up recovery in these few words.

Tell the truth fast.

Suggestion for newcomers

You are precious. You are valuable. You are so worthy, and you are worthy of living a beautiful big sober life.

Even though there are a million reasons why it doesn’t seem possible. You have to reach inside yourself and learn how to reparent that small wounded part inside of you.

We SHAIR our stories every Tuesday so subscribe to us on iTunes and Stitcher Radio!

See you then!


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HP Baby!

Disclaimer – The opinions shared on this show reflect those of the individual speaker and not of any 12 step fellowship as a whole and though we discuss 12 step recovery and the impact it has had in our lives we do not promote or endorse any 12 step anonymous program.