Margaret Strickland

“I was a resident at FOCUS on Recovery from June 9, 2009 to June 19, 2010, and I feel honored and humbled to have been asked to share a little of my story with you. Like most addicts I was raised in a dysfunctional home. Dysfunctional might be too kind a word. I grew up with a mentally ill, alcoholic mother, and a father who would not give up his long distance truck driving to take care of his family.”

There was no one there to parent my three older siblings or me. I grew up basically at the mercy of the neighborhood. Eventually I was molested, raped and otherwise physically and emotionally abused at the hands of my older brothers and other older boys in the neighborhood. Because of the neglect and abuse I suffered I developed the belief that I had no value as a person. I was “white trash.” My family was white trash. End of story.

I did manage to graduate from high school without using drugs or abusing alcohol. I went on to college and graduate school as well. In 1992 I began my career as a physical therapist.

Somewhere early in my PT career I began experiencing neck pain. Eventually I was put on a medication that had codeine in it. I had had pain medication in the past, but this time something was different. I realized that taking pain medicine also had that pleasant little side effect of easing my anxieties. I made the connection between taking a pill and changing my mood. Thus began my romance with pills.

My behavior became increasingly unpredictable and I began having trouble in my personal relationships and in my work. I found myself making foolish decisions, knowing they did not make sense, but feeling compelled to make them anyway. I became grandiose and argumentative. I spent money I did not have, and then did it all over the next day. My insanity literally landed me in a psych ward in another state far from home. I was eventually diagnosed with a severe manic phase of bipolar disorder.

On March 6, 2009, I took an entire bottle of sleeping pills and went in the garage and sat in my running car never expecting to see life again. I have no memory of how I ended up in the kitchen, or of being found and taken to the hospital. My next memory was waking in the hospital. My family, fearing I might leave the hospital and again attempt suicide, had me committed to Alabama’s mental health system as a “danger to myself and others.” That was about as low a bottom as I could imagine.

While I was in rehab, my psychiatrist decided to stop all the bipolar meds to give my brain a chance to clear. What happened next I believe is a miracle. As my brain began to reset itself, my pain started to subside. My mood, though still agitated at times, became manageable. I continued my assignments and began to open up with my therapist and small group. Slowly, I began to feel more confident in myself, and started to see a glimmer of the girl I used to be. For the first time in a long time I began to have hope that I could again work in my profession and take care of myself.

When I was admitted to FOCUS, I found myself suddenly in a whole new world. The more time I spent there, and the more women I met, the more I realized that, when you strip away all the outside stuff — when you get past age, education and all the standards our culture uses to measure success – when you get to the heart of the matter, you see the same story over and over. We are all the same. The lesson I learned was pretty simple. There are no high-class addicts, nor is there an addict so low she cannot recover. FOCUS offers a place for us all.