Recovery Stories The Triathlete

Stacy McKinney was addicted to crystal meth at age 17. She recovered and found direction in life after giving birth to her daughter, but after nearly 20 years of sobriety she relapsed into alcoholism. Through therapy, she’s finding hope and happiness in recovery.

There aren’t many people with personalities as extreme as Stacy McKinney’s. The 46-year-old from Texas ran her first marathon at age 40 and didn’t feel like she’d been challenged enough. So she switched to triathlons.

Within a few years, she’d completed four Ironman triathlons.

She’s an awarded athlete, a motivator and was the president of her daughter’s volleyball booster club. Only a few close friends and family know she’s a recovered crystal meth addict. Just a few more people know she relapsed into alcohol addiction after almost 20 years of sobriety.

Six years ago, she was awarded a round of shots after winning a beach volleyball tournament on a birthday trip to Mexico.

“Not even thinking twice about it, I took the shot,” Stacy told “I looked at my husband and he looked at me, and we both said: ‘What did you just do?’”

Less than a year later, Stacy was drinking every night. She hid her addiction for a while, but close friends eventually learned what was going on. She had to tell her coach because her drinking was affecting her athletic performance, but she was able to keep it from affecting other parts of her life.

Stacy after an Ironman triathlon in Arizona

Stacy after an Ironman triathlon in Arizona. It was the third Ironman she completed while suffering from alcohol addiction.

“I’d wake up at 4:30 a.m. to go do track workouts,” Stacy said. “I never missed anything. I did three Ironmans while drinking every single night.”

Stacy described herself as a high-functioning alcoholic. She didn’t suffer any problems at work. She didn’t get in trouble with the law after she relapsed.

“I never would get wasted. I would get numb. I’d drink to get numb.”

Stacy McKinney

For six years, Stacy tried to numb the pain caused by a strained relationship with her daughter. Stacy had suffered from addiction as a teenager, and she discovered she had a family history of addiction after recovering for the first time when she was 23 years old.

Stacy later watched her biological father pass away at 61 from liver cirrhosis — a type of chronic liver damage that is usually associated with alcoholism. After she relapsed, she knew she was following in his footsteps.

“I thought I was going to die,” Stacy said. “I thought I was going to be like him.”

From Pot, to Cocaine to Crystal Meth

Stacy’s grandmother raised her. She didn’t know she was adopted until she was a teenager when she realized her grandma was much older than her friends’ parents.

Reminiscing about her childhood, Stacy said she always had an “extreme personality.” She was athletic and started cheerleading in middle school. That’s when she tried alcohol for the first time. She stole a beer from the fridge with a group of friends who were all nervous about trying it.

“Everyone else was scared,” Stacy said. “I was the only one who went back for a second one.”

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Stacy and her grandma moved to a new city in Texas when she started high school. She met neighborhood friends who smoked marijuana and drank on the weekends. By her sophomore year, she was using harder drugs.

“I smoked pot. Then I snorted cocaine, and the next month I was shooting crystal meth. I snorted (crystal meth) for a few months, just on the weekends here and there. Then, of course I have to be the extreme, and I started shooting up at 16.”

Stacy McKinney

Stacy quit cheerleading, her grades dropped and she started skipping school. It was around that time that she found out she was adopted and met her parents for the first time, but she didn’t know she had a family history of addiction until years later.

Spiraling Out of Control

Stacy didn’t have any direction in life. At 17, she was arrested for possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. She was tried as an adult, sentenced to probation and told she had to attend court-mandated rehab.

Stacy was supposed to spend three months at an inpatient facility in Dallas.

Stacy McKinney

Stacy around age 22, one year before achieving sobriety for the first time.

Stacy was kicked out of rehab for misbehavior and breaking facility rules. The court extended her probation to 10 years.

Stacy moved out of her grandma’s house and eventually moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where she got into a car accident while driving high on crystal meth. She was in the hospital when the police discovered she was on probation and extradited her back to Texas.

Back home she tried another shot at substance abuse treatment, but she wasn’t committed to it.

“I was just really lost,” Stacy said. “I wasn’t working. I wasn’t doing anything. I was just living from friends to friends. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Getting Her Life Together

Stacy continued to make trips to Jacksonville to visit friends. That’s when she met her future husband. He rarely used drugs, only smoking marijuana and drinking at occasional parties.

“Before you know it, he was moving to Dallas,” Stacy said. “So I cleaned up a little bit. I wasn’t shooting up anymore, I was just drinking. I switched it. I always switched it. If I wasn’t doing drugs, then I was drinking.”

They got an apartment together, but she continued to drink heavily every night. Stacy says she doesn’t know why he didn’t run from the relationship.

“We got married, and I calmed it down,” she said. “I started working, and we started trying to have a baby.”

She was able to sober up when she became pregnant, and she says she never used drugs during pregnancy.

“It was hard because I was still hanging out with everyone who would drink and smoke pot and things like that,” she said. “It was very, very hard for me.”

Recovering for Her Daughter

Stacy never talked about addiction with her husband. She didn’t want to think about it herself.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” Stacy said. “I just thought I liked to party. I knew that when I would drink, everyone else would be OK and could stop. I couldn’t.”

After her daughter was born, she started drinking again.

“I had a job, and I was very responsible,” Stacy said. “I never missed a day from work. I took care of my daughter. I thought everything was great.”

But she had an epiphany when her daughter was two or three years old. She was sitting in a rocking chair watching her daughter play when she realized she had a beer in her hand.

“I just said to myself, I don’t want to be that kind of mom,” Stacy said. “I drank that night, and I didn’t drink again for almost 20 years.”

A Family History of Addiction

Stacy hasn’t used drugs other than alcohol since she became pregnant. She didn’t drink a single beer or glass of wine from age 23 to age 40.

She has no regrets about the way she raised her daughter, and she remains proud that she never drank in front of her daughter after achieving sobriety the first time.

Stacy reconnected with her biological father in her 20s, and that’s when she realized addiction might run in her genes.

“He was a major alcoholic. I remember one time we went trick-or-treating with my daughter and he had a large cup of coke. I went to take a sip of it, and it tasted like pure Jack Daniels.”

Stacy McKinney

Stacy’s father died of liver cirrhosis at age 61, but she said he never had any problems holding a job or with law enforcement.

“He was just very high functioning,” she said.

A Strained Relationship

Stacy started running around age 40.

“My daughter was starting to get older, and she didn’t really need me as much,” Stacy said. “I’m like, what am I going to do? So I started running, and I ran my first marathon at 40.”

She was excelling at her new hobby and thought everything was OK in life. Her daughter made good grades and had a college scholarship to play volleyball.

“She worked, was a straight A student,” Stacy said. “She was just a really good kid.”

But the day after her 17th birthday, Stacy’s daughter ran away.

Stacy McKinney running

Stacy continued to train for marathons and triathlons despite worsening feelings of depression.

For two months, Stacy and her husband searched for her. When Stacy found her daughter at school, she repossessed her car. Stacy found applications for apartments and learned that her daughter was trying to become emancipated.

Stacy’s relationship with her daughter worsened, and she sank into a severe depression. Stacy reached her breaking point when she was training for a marathon and a car splashed a puddle of water on her. She said in that moment, she wanted to die. But she didn’t turn to alcohol or other drugs.

Stacy enrolled in Tough Love classes — classes that help empower parents and teens to take responsibility for their actions. She also started attending therapy weekly.

After being away from home for six months, her daughter finally came home.

“We never once discussed why she ran away,” Stacy said. “If she would have went off and did drugs, I’d totally get it. I’d totally understand and relate. I can’t relate to anything she did.”

Shortly after returning home, Stacy’s daughter said she wanted to join the Navy.

“I said let’s go right now,” Stacy said. “We went down to the Navy office, signed her papers and three weeks later she went into the Navy at age 17.”

She still had no idea why her daughter ran away in the first place, though.

Fighting for Sobriety

Stacy relapsed on her trip to Mexico after her daughter joined the Navy. She would go on to drink almost every day for six years.

Her daughter was doing well in the Navy and after four years left to start nursing school. Meanwhile, Stacy was fighting for sobriety.

“I couldn’t get four days (of sobriety). I went to Alcoholics Anonymous. I got sponsors. I did everything I could. I couldn’t make it more than three or four days.”

Stacy McKinney

She went to four different outpatient rehabilitation facilities in the Dallas area. Sometimes they’d work for a week, but she always relapsed.

“I’d go to the outpatient and drink on the way home,” she said. “I did the best I could. I was just so scared. I was getting desperate.”

Stacy McKinny relapsing

Stacy during a trip to Mexico where she relapsed after almost 20 years of sobriety.

Stacy finally made a breakthrough when a therapist helped her understand she couldn’t control her daughter’s behavior or attitude.

“I went to a family therapist for addiction, and we never once talked about my addiction,” she said. “It was always about my relationship with my daughter and what happened six years ago.”

Stacy achieved sobriety May 17, 2015. She hasn’t had a drink since.

Finding Happiness in Recovery

Stacy is the first to admit she has an extreme personality.

“I did a few running races,” she said. “I did a sprint (short-distance) triathlon. Then I did an Olympic distance. Then a 70.3 mile triathlon, and then I go crazy and do like a million 70.3s. Then I do four back-to-back Ironmans.”

Her personality likely led to her escalation of drug use as a teenager. It might have also made it difficult for her to work on her emotional difficulties with her daughter during recovery. But with hard work and perseverance, Stacy has been able to fight addiction.

“I know I’m a better person today,” Stacy said. “I want something more out of my life than dying as a drug addict or an alcoholic.”

She also wants other people to know they can recover, too.

“There’s always hope. It’s hard to really believe there’s hope when you’re in that hole. Keep plugging away, and don’t ever give up.”

Stacy McKinney

Recovery doesn’t happen overnight. It can take weeks, months and even years. Some people never lose the urge to drink or use drugs, and some people relapse after decades of sobriety.

But relapse doesn’t mean all is lost. Relapse is just another obstacle toward recovery. An obstacle that can be overcome.

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