In this episode we talk to Dorothy Colleen Rennie, a 25-year-old Canadian who has been in recovery for two years. Since beginning her journey, she has finished a Canadian university degree and a college program. Dorothy blogs about mental health issues and her recovery, and she speaks publicly about her experiences. She recently became involved with Michael Landsberg’s mental health community “SickNotWeak.” Dorothy has had the pleasure of working alongside struggling youth, allowing her to spread awareness about addiction, recovery and mental health. She believes sharing our stories can save lives.
And welcome to our first ever episode of Ready for Recovery. I’m your host Sarah, and I am an advocate for mental health and addiction treatment. I am really passionate about sharing stories of recovery and also providing information for those working to overcome addiction. Our guest for today I find to be such an inspiration, not only about her recovery, but about life in general and I’m really excited to have you here and to have you share your story with us. I want to give a warm welcome to our guest Dorothy coming on the show today! And to kick things off, I just want to talk a little bit more about your recovery and your daily routine. I’m wondering about your current hobbies or activities that you find yourself passionate about right now.
Well first of all Sarah, I wanted to thank you for having me on the show, and on your first podcast. Congratulations. And secondly, current hobbies: recovery process. I’ve always been a very active person. Growing up I was a soccer player, so I found that the field was one the few places I could kind of channel my energy, my anger or any of the emotions I felt when I was younger. That was a big cause as to why I led to drinking.
However once I started drinking, that stopped. Now I kind of continued that physical activity, I started out running and then I got a little bored as addicts do from time to time and I moved to more of an alternative healing. I tried more energy work. Volunteering for me is huge. I love to go and work with little kids at the school that I had the pleasure of working at when I was in school.
So activities that are positive and productive for me I have found have been key to my recovery. If I kind of just sit around and watch TV, I find that I just think too much and you can get in that pattern of thinking and then your brain starts going off and what ifs start happening.
Yeah that’s a good point. Honestly, I’m glad you found a couple of outlets that are working for you and you’re finding continued success in them. Like you said before, the what ifs, it’s really important to fight that boredom and find activities that can help you in your day to day recovery, such as what you’re doing, exercising or even volunteering.
Thank you. It’s definitely difficult. It’s been two years now that I’ve been in my recovery. The first year I didn’t do a lot. The second year I was like, okay, I’m feeling like I’ve got some more energy and let’s use it towards something. You’ve got to take it slow though. You can’t be like right off the bat okay I’m going to be a runner!
Very good point. Definitely, you really need to take it one day at a time. Did you find that people you were meeting in the activities that you are participating now are helping you in your early stages of recovery or have helped you when you first started out?
Absolutely. They were a lot of like-minded individuals, I found that I surrounded myself with a lot more, not even just positive, but people who were interested in my story and who were intrigued by the journey that I was on. I found that I was in rooms, very often, with individuals who were older than myself, and for no other reason than I guess I was just curious in learning about was not interested in via my peers the same age.
Would you mind telling me a little bit more about the first time you drank alcohol? And what happened to you when you did choose to have that first drink?
Absolutely. It is one of those events where you don’t remember it, but you totally remember your first time. I was in high school and for me I hung out, like I said, with a lot of older people. So I hung out with the girls and guys who were older and I dated somebody who was two years older than I was, so I had a lot of this social pressure I felt. I remember the first time just saying to somebody, oh yeah just get me a two-six of raspberry vodka. I’ll never forget that, and I just don’t even know what happened. I kid you not, I think I had one shot and from then on out, no idea what happened. I had a soccer game the next morning and I was totally off my game and my coach was so upset with me and my team was so upset with me. And for good reason. We were preparing for this championship and I felt like I let everybody down, but I guess I had had fun the night before but not the next morning.
So from that one drink you had that night, what you’re saying is that it encouraged you to participate in activities or things and be more of the environment that promoted drinking?
Yeah, well once I kind of tried it, it was so fun, you could just get loose and you can do and say whatever you want and everyone is just laughing. I found that I could be this, I’m a very enthusiastic person and I found that I couldn’t be that around people for some reason. All of the sudden I was just kind of keeping that hidden and then with alcohol it was just, okay here she is!
That’s very interesting, so you felt like because of alcohol you were this brand new version of Dorothy?
I had this new identity. It was awesome.
So while you were out having fun and experiencing this new side of yourself, did you ever have a sort of “rock bottom” moment or experience anything like that? Maybe something where you thought, wow what I’m doing right now isn’t good for me, maybe my future is not going the way I planned it or I’m hurting the people in my life?
For me, it was the second time I tried taking my life. And it wasn’t even directly after that point, it was within a couple weeks after that. I had gone out one more time. I went to go see JayZ and Beyoncé so in my eyes I was like, what a great concert. I have to drink. But now I just say they signed me off. I found myself on the phone with my ex-boyfriend just yelling at him for no good reason and I was alone. I had no idea where I was. I had to call my brother to pick me up and the next morning I just sat on the couch and said to myself: I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep just blacking out not know where I am thinking it’s okay, and getting all these people involved and hurting their feelings. My mom is actually an alcoholic in recovery, so I was not unfamiliar with the pattern. And I said to myself, it is either now or I don’t know if it is going to be ever.
Wow, I had no idea your mom struggled with addiction as well. So did you mother’s addiction impact your relationship with her as a child? Or did you see similar habits between you and your mother when you started drinking?
Oh yes, absolutely. I definitely noticed that I was trying to escape something. More than that I tried to use it to hide my emotions. I battle with depression and anxiety so for me it was again, trying to escape. And being socially acceptable. When my mom was drinking, she wasn’t very present in my life. It was that combination of pain as well. Getting sober, we both realized it was no way to have a relationship.
So tell me a little bit more about your mom then, is she in recovery as well?
She is. She has been in recovery for four years. That was a bit of the piece where I knew, okay if I stop this right now, I know I don’t have to go about this completely alone. She has been inspiring and she had her time where she wasn’t so much. We all grow from it.
Because your mom struggled with alcohol, were there times she helped you in recovery? Or maybe things that you felt you could ask her because you were both going through the same things?
There were definitely questions. I think one of the main ones being, why am I so angry? Because I was feeling everything for the first time. So my mom was a big help in the sense that she was able to guide me down the first couple weeks if not months of my recovery. A lot of the unknowns. I found I was calling her a lot because I was feeling a lot, a lot of that raw emotion, for the first time since I started drinking really. That’s kind of one of the beauties I find about being sober, sure you get to experience your feelings and they can be really tough, but once you go through them you feel like a champion. I can’t say the same with alcohol.
So did your mom give you any advice when you were first starting out?
One of the pieces of advice my mother gave me at the beginning of my journey that really just kind of provided a bit of relief, even though I have yet to experience it, was that relapse is a part of the process. I think that because I’m the type of individual where I can put a ridiculous amount of guilt on myself for no reason, I’m working on that by the way, it’s getting a lot better. I can see myself almost if were to ever do that, to take that drink, just self-sabotage with my own thoughts, feeling and all of that, and when she said that to me, it’s not that I was like great see you later I’m going to go relapse, but it was like alright wow there is some serious understanding and compassion in this world if you will.
I want to go back to your first drink and that soccer game that you mentioned earlier for a second, so after your first drink and talking about how that impacted your soccer performance, did you find that by allowing yourself to feel and find yourself in your sobriety that you were not only able to rediscover your feelings but like also revisit some of those old passions from before?
I feel like I went right back to this inner child that was missing for a little while. And again I had to grow up a little bit quicker than I wanted to, given life and family circumstances. I didn’t realize how many people that happened to around me. And I was able to kind of open up a community just in myself and once I started going to meetings and it was really something.
So right now you have this strong support system from your family and from those that you’re attending meetings with, and you are finding so much joy in the new life you are living, so what was keeping you from saying no to drinks in the beginning when you knew that this could potentially be a bigger problem than it seemed?
The fear of not drinking and not being a part of the parties and the social life that I was used to. I was used to drinking at least once a week, if not twice every week and that was lower, that was calm for me. Before it was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and sometimes even Sunday. And then I was cutting it down and I noticed I was scheduling everything around my partying and I still wouldn’t give it up. And I think it was just the fear of well what am I going to do? And I don’t want to feel this stuff. I don’t want to have to seek a counselor and talk to them about it and go through that process. But that morning when I woke up on my brother’s couch, I was like, you know what I think that right now this would be the most respectful thing that I can do. I got to get my dignity back.
And you were still in college when all of this was happening, so when you first decided you weren’t going to drink anymore, how did your close friends or mutual friends take it? Did they hesitate on bringing up your choice to remain sober at parties?
They were. To this day they are and they still kind of don’t know what to say. Really they didn’t know how to react. I went from being the one who was always saying hey guys you want to go out tonight, I was the life of the party. To not even one drink!?! I think that was one of the best questions, not even one drink!?! I’m like no, because if I have one, we don’t know what’s going to happen. So from now on I just kind of say I’m allergic to alcohol.
I’m so proud of you for being able to say that to your friends, it just shows how strong you are, especially in those social settings. I know many people struggle to find other ways to say no to people they are very close with when offered a drink and sometimes just no isn’t enough.
Yeah, so true. And you know a lot of my friends have messaged me over the past couple of years saying that they are interested in trying this journey, not many of them have actually ventured down it yet, but still to have them come to me and to be that person that is their resource, what an awesome feeling. I never thought I would be on that side. You know, you become sober and you’re clear-headed and all of the sudden you’re like “woah” I have control of my life. I can do things that I want and live life on life’s terms and I don’t know things don’t have to be so complicated! We try to make things so complicated sometimes, when recovery is one day at a time.
Go to your meetings and just take care of yourself. You are a priority. That was one thing I had to learn, especially being my age was just to learn to say no. Don’t be afraid to walk away; don’t be afraid to say no. Temptation will get you.
Although you’ve had friends message you about your sobriety and ask about how they can start their own journey, what happened with your group of friends that you partied with? Are you still keeping in contact with them or do you find yourself distancing yourself in order to help your recovery goals?
I’m really happy you asked that question because it was kind of a learning process for me. I was trying to be involved and trying to still be the same Dorothy around my friends, but I couldn’t even get to the parties, I was like nope I can’t go I’m still not comfortable enough and I felt really guilty about it. I felt like oh my god, my friends won’t like me anymore, I’m not showing up. My friends started calling me Flakey and I sat there one day and said to myself I’m trying to take care of myself over here. I’m trying to make myself a better person. I’m trying to create a future for myself. And that’s when it hit me that, maybe not everyone will understand my journey, and that’s okay. It took me a while to accept that. It is okay.
I have to just keep going. Slowly I was not invited to things and it didn’t bother me as much because I had just accepted that this is my journey and I met new people and it was really just kind of incredible how once I dropped that, you know that’s okay if they don’t want to be a part of my life, all of these wonderful like-minded individuals just came flooding into my life. Like a miracle, I’m not even kidding you; it has been miraculous ever since.
I’m just so happy to hear that, and I’m so happy for you. I can just hear the excitement in your voice and the passion that you have in the way you speak about your sobriety and all that positivity you are bringing to your own journey. And speaking to you it is super refreshing to hear you speak about it, it really is.
I honestly am so passionate about. It’s amazing that individuals like yourself and myself are willing to put ourselves out there and talk about it because it is such an awesome experience. And I wish more people; especially my age would try it, even for just two or three weeks. I feel like there is no turning back.
I want to kind of touch on resources for a second. So going back to your recovery while at school, at the university, where did you seek help? Did you go to a school counselor or maybe a recovery community? Did your school provide anything like that while you were there?
So I sought counseling originally at school, however it was quite the lengthy time until I was going to be able to see somebody and thanks to my mom, who I like to say paved the way, she had sought out a counseling group that was outside of my program and I was actually driving about half an hour to an hour each week to see this counselor. It was amazing because not only were we talking about my alcoholism, but it was the depression and the anxiety that went hand in hand with it, and noticing that I wasn’t being serious about any of the above, even my learning. Clearly since I was partying a lot. I was really proud to graduate saying I did it without alcohol.
And that is something to really be proud about. That is something so incredible that you were able to accomplish. I know you just said you originally sought counseling at school, but were there any sober groups on campus or collegiate recovery programs you were aware of while you were still at school?
Again, I’m really glad you asked that question. I tried seeking out groups, and no I didn’t find anything. Even to this day it is still difficult to find groups for individuals my age, and don’t get me wrong I absolutely love being in groups with people who are older than myself, they provide unbelievable perspective and wisdom. Sometimes you do need to level with somebody and just say man wouldn’t it have been nice to do this tonight. And then you have that laugh and it is over with, when sometimes if I say that to somebody else who is in their 40s or 50s they look at me and go right. So you know it’s all about that dynamic. But again, yeah no groups, I didn’t find anything. I was grateful that I sought out support groups on my own.
I’m really glad you did find support groups despite trying to find one in all of the places that you looked on campus. And it is really important to have a support system that is within your age range that you feel comfortable with and feel like you found a group you can relate to. I’m sure it would have helped after a stressful exam or after finals to have someone your age to relate to.
Oh yeah, that was a lot of just tucker in bed, tucker in your room and let’s just occupy your brain. I would put on music and I would just dance by myself. Honestly anything to just keep my mind in a good spot. Sometimes you do have to cry, you got to let yourself feel the emotions, release that energy and you keep going.
So do you have any resources that have helped you the most, either now or when you started your journey?
There was one book in particular that I was given by my counselor called “Each Day is a New Beginning.” It was literally every day I had something to read about my recovery and that day. That was like the serenity prayer for me. I would say that in the morning and then I would read something and start my day on a really good pace. Other than that, I would say quotes were really big with me. Just in general, go online and find quotes when I found myself in a state of uncertainty if you will. I always gravitated a lot towards words, so that was really big for me.
What would be the best piece of advice you were given, maybe even a quote that has changed you or helped you the most so far?
Three things stuck out to me. Number one when I first started my journey, rather than looking at it as don’t drink no alcohol, like many people or many children, when you are told no you want to go and do it. So picture a caution sign when you see it. Put a caution sign there, knowing that if you were to go, what would happen? That was very effective.
Second one was the drink you think nobody knows about. Oh my goodness, I’m a sneaky individual and my counselor must have known. She told me this within the first couple of weeks and I had been preparing to go to an event where I was working, so I had to go. And she said, you know, one thing I want to remind you about is the drink you think no one knows about. So you might go into the back and you sneak and you think okay now I can go on with my night. No. They are going to know and you’re going to know. And I just sat there like, you’re right. Okay, got it. I will take that forward.
My third is that it’s possible. It is so possible, it’s easy for us to become so hard on ourselves and to judge ourselves and to beat ourselves up especially in a world like today when there is a lot of polarity and opinions and views, but if you can kind of dissociate yourself from that and notice that the world you’re living in that’s just the one that you have to control. That’s all you have to do and if you can do that expect the unexpected. It’s really a wild ride and it’s a beautiful one at that.
Is there anything else you can say to someone who is thinking that maybe sobriety can work for them and they might be cautious about starting their own journey and maybe confused on where to start?
I guess really when it comes down to it, when I look at hindsight, why is it that I stopped? And there are a million reasons, but the number one reason was for myself, because if I wasn’t doing it for myself, I wasn’t doing it.
If I said well I’m going to do this now because I want to make it right for my boyfriend or if I want to make it right to my family, that’s really well and all wonderful but at the end of the day this journey is about you and you’re the warrior and you can become your own hero. You just got to warrior on. You got to find the resources, you got to reach out for help, you got to take the risks and I don’t mean drinking, I mean even if that’s staying in. For me that was a risk, now it’s not, but before it was. And that’s okay. Acceptance is a huge part of the process.
You know, in this journey again it’s individual. It’s one day at a time but it’s about you and what is it that you want out of this life? You’re the only one who’s going to be able to go after it. And that was something again; I had to learn on my own. When I was drinking it was a lot of me trying to depend on other people and relationships or school and life unfortunately doesn’t work like that. You have to be able to take care of yourself to a certain degree. To be able to do that at my age, I’m 25 by the way I just turned 25. To be able to be 25 and have all of this knowledge, perspective, wisdom and experience it’s really been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I definitely never pictured myself here, I mean you never really do, but I still look back and think like my goodness I never imagined a new year sober or a Christmas sober and now I love them. Again, I get to be myself, my authentic self at that and there’s nothing better than that!
And I want to thank you so much again Dorothy for sharing your story, your advice. I know you have inspired me today as I’m sure you have inspired those that are listening with us right now. It was a pleasure having you on and I wish you the best in your recovery.
Thank you so much Sarah again, I appreciate you guys having me on. We do have a great exchange on Twitter, I guess my Twitter name would be @lifeofdorothy. If anyone wants to follow, as I do have a lot of advocacy that I put out there for both mental health and addiction. And then I have a blog as well called it is a beautiful fight, it still is, blogspot dot ca. I’m from Canada, so that’s what happens over here. I would be so grateful if anyone wants to check it out. It’s really just a lot of my personal stories and what I come by and using my raw logic. It can be funny and sad and amazing. So I hope you guys enjoy. And again, thank you so much for having me on the show. There is nothing like sharing.
We appreciate you being here once again, thank you so much.
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