paige miller: recovery is real, and i’m proof

by Paige Miller

My name is Paige Miller, and like many of you, I am a daughter, sister, aunt, employee, and friend. I am also a person in long-term recovery, and for me that means I have not had a drink of alcohol or used an illicit drug since February 24, 2014. But for me, recovery is so much more than abstinence from alcohol or other drugs – it’s truly the ability to live a healthy and meaningful life.

When I was five years old and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was a lawyer – not a person with a substance use disorder or a statistic. To this day, I can’t have a drink or use a drug without wanting more – without putting my life and others at risk.

When I began using alcohol and other drugs at the age of thirteen, I found a solution to my depression, my lack of self-esteem, and to my self-consciousness; my negative self-talk was quiet when I was drunk or high. I have a family history of substance use and mental health disorders, with 3 of my 4 grandparents dying before the age of 50 due to their own disorders. I took my first drink at the age of thirteen and I tried my first drug at the age of fifteen. I honestly thought it was harmless fun – typical teenage behavior. I was a cheerleader, a straight A student, and I graduated in the top 10% of my class in high school. I was 21 years old and I couldn’t stop drinking, even when I wanted to. So while others enjoyed drinks responsibly as a night out with friends, or for a celebration for an achievement, I coped with life – the good and bad – with an external substance that my primitive brain craved and required.

Substance Use Disorders occur when a person has a dependence on alcohol and or drugs that is accompanied by intense and sometimes uncontrollable cravings and compulsive behaviors to obtain the substance. Doctors and scientists have learned that in substance use disorders, multiple brain circuits are altered creating changes in brain function. These changes interfere with the ability to think clearly and use good judgment; they affect learning and memory as well as the ability to control behavior.

Dependence on drugs and alcohol is considered to be a long-term illness, however one that includes hope for a successful recovery. Similar to other medical conditions such as asthma, hypertension and diabetes, substance use disorders must be continually managed to maintain a healthy recovery.

I speak loudly and proudly about my own recovery because I believe that everyone, no matter their age or criminal history, deserves the same opportunities I had to get and stay well. I believe that recovery supports should exist to help people enter and maintain their recovery, and I also believe treatment should be available so our loved ones do not die from a preventable and treatable health condition. I entered into recovery at the age of 22. Recovery is age independent and I’m living proof.

As a result of my recovery, I volunteer in my community, pay my taxes, and I vote. I’m a recovery advocate, and as a CARES, a Certified Addiction Recovery Empowerment Specialist, I am able to help promote long-term recovery from substance use by providing experienced peer support and advocating for self-directed care.

Due to my recovery, I am able to give back to my community. I am the Development Director for Hope House here in Augusta, Georgia. We are a nonprofit residential and intensive outpatient treatment facility for substance use and mental health for women and their families. In addition, I serve as the Chapter Lead for Young People in Recovery (YPR) here in Augusta Georgia. I work to help organize the community and to build a recovery ready Augusta by advocating for recovery and initiatives that enable individuals with mental health and/or substance use disorders to lead healthy and productive lives. We focus on advocacy for employment, education, and housing for those in or seeking recovery, especially young people, as well as social events. I am also able to serve as a Community Co-Chair for the Georgia Prisoner Reentry Initiative (GA-PRI) here in Augusta, Georgia. I get to help connect returning citizens to local resources so that they themselves can live a life of independence.

As a young person in recovery, I have a passion for working with individuals not only seeking treatment and in recovery, but also in promoting positive youth development for at-risk youth and children with parents suffering from substance use disorder. My role as the Development Director, I am privileged to plan an annual National Recovery Month event, Rally for Recovery (2016 marked our fifth year) to celebrate those individuals in and seeking recovery, as well as their families.

Historically, intense social stigma and discrimination have kept recovery voices silent. Mass media depictions of people with addiction fill this vacuum, reinforcing stereotypes about people with a preventable and treatable health condition. There are over 25 million Americans in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs, or approximately 8 out of every 100 people, and our stories, our lived experiences, have power.

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