Story of Recovery – Surviving Loss

Judy didn’t try alcohol for the first time until the summer before her freshman year of college.

“I ended up getting so sick that I said I’d never do that again,” she said.

But when four family members died within about a year’s time, Judy turned to drinking to ease her pain. That proved to be an extra burden that would take years to overcome.

It started when Judy’s ex-husband committed suicide in 1979. An officer in the Army, he had served tours in the Korean and Vietnam wars. The way it changed him frightened Judy, especially since they had two young children.

“The strain of the war affected our whole lives. It was unsettling,” said Judy, noting that her husband had begun sleeping with a gun under his pillow.

By the time they had divorced, her ex-husband was working as a recruiting officer for the Army. All military branches were reducing their ranks then. He was one who lost his job.

“He loved the Army more than anything,” Judy said. “That basically killed him.”

Just four months after being losing his job, Judy’s ex-husband committed suicide. Six months after that, her dad died. He had raised Judy and her three siblings – with help from his mother and stepfather – after Judy’s mom abandoned the family.

Shortly after losing her father, Judy’s great aunt and ex-father-in-law also passed. Judy tried therapy and attended support meetings, but nothing assuaged her grief.

“That’s when I thought maybe if I drank a little, it would keep me from crying so much,” she said.

Her drinking gradually increased. Her children were teenagers by then, but Judy’s addiction had become so acute that she couldn’t help herself, much less them.

“It was a bad time for all of us,” she said. “I just kept thinking no one could understand what I was feeling. I wasn’t learning anything on how to deal with the whole situation.”

Judy drank heavily for five years. After her children had grown up and moved away from home, they staged an intervention for her. She agreed to start attending support meetings, but ran into the same roadblocks as before with her grief.

Hoping for a better life, she made arrangements to stay at Fairbanks for a month. Judy says as soon as she arrived, she felt relief.

“I don’t know if it was spiritual, but I felt safe,” Judy said. “I made it my goal to learn as much as I could while I was here. That was it. Once I walked in these doors, I never had the desire to drink again.”

Judy befriended Fairbanks’ first alumni coordinator after her treatment. She helped organize some of those first events here. Now retired, she still volunteers in Fairbanks’ gift shop and speaks to support groups.

“I’ve spent as much time here as I could,” Judy said. “It has become my way of life. I’ve learned so much from wise people in this program.”

Her goal now is to help continue breaking the stigma of addiction.

“To be silent when something should be said is a tragedy.”