A Story of Hope, Acceptance, & Sobriety

By Erika KellerApril 22, 2024

I struggled with anxiety and panic as far back as I can remember. It took me years to untangle that my anxiety was fueled by severely low self-esteem and the inability to tolerate vulnerability. Somewhere deep inside, I believed that once people saw the real me, they’d run for the hills. It wasn’t until I started learning to love myself and believing that I deserved to get better that I was able to begin healing. 

Throughout high school and college, I “managed” my anxiety, mostly by avoiding things or trying to control different aspects of certain situations. I would avoid social interaction and gatherings, or only tolerate them in small doses. If I couldn’t avoid something I would power through—spending the entire time working through it rather than experiencing it. Public transportation or being a passenger in a car was difficult and eventually, unbearable. As I got older I isolated even more, until being alone was the only time I wasn’t uncomfortable.

Eventually, my anxiety went from a small discomfort to full-blown pain: a panic attack would feel like my heart was going to explode, I couldn’t breathe, my entire body was on fire, stabbing pains in my stomach, and what could only be described as a “screaming brain.”

In early adulthood, I would experience a few panic attacks a week, but by the age of 25, I lived in 24/7 panic.

At some point, I figured out that alcohol softened the panic, and sometimes even got rid of it. At first, I would only drink when I wanted to socialize, and in my mid-20s working in the service industry, drinking every night was standard. For several years I was able to get away with controlling every aspect of my life to work around my anxiety and only drink in the evenings. And then I fell in love with someone and everything changed. Once we moved in together I couldn’t control everything anymore, and my mental health went from bad to worse very quickly—along with my drinking. What started as discomfort around other people had transformed into severe anguish with myself. By the end of 2013, I was blacking out every night because awareness wasn’t an option anymore, it was just too painful.

Throughout early adulthood, I saw a myriad of medical professionals, most of whom either told me to “just breathe through it” or prescribed me sleep medications. I tried to explain my anxiety to family members, friends, and eventually my partner, but felt like no one understood just how painful it was. How do you tell someone you love deeply that you’re in constant pain when they’re around, that you’re in constant pain when anyone is around? I started to feel like I was defective and weak, and that I would have to live like that for the rest of my life. Once my drinking became a serious problem and my partner ended our relationship, I began to believe that I didn’t deserve to get better.

I believed I was the problem and only caused pain to those around me.

I had several periods of brief sobriety after finally being prescribed anxiety medications, but it usually only lasted a few months at a time, and eventually, I abused my medications and mixed them with alcohol. That’s when I started self-injuring. I self-injured to feel something other than the extreme agony of living in my head.

In 2017, I achieved eight months of sobriety—the longest in three years. During that time I fell in love again, which I didn’t think would ever happen again. But the relationship ended when he left me a voicemail in the middle of the night while trying to end his own life. Within weeks, I was drinking again, now with the belief that “I was the problem” etched in stone. On January 16th, 2018, as I attempted suicide,  I called my parents in despair with the plan of saying goodbye. Instead, they canceled their plans (a non-refundable cruise) and drove six hours to my apartment. Over the next several weeks, my mother stayed with me while I went through withdrawal. I have been sober ever since (six years). The day my parents canceled their vacation to come to my aid was the first time in many years that I didn’t feel invisible or hopeless.

Over the last half of a decade, I have been on a journey of healing devoted to accepting and loving myself, from therapy to finding the right medication. My healing also led me to finish my Bachelor’s degree and go on to earn my Master’s degree in social work, to help others like me. And if you are like me, I want to share this truth with you: You deserve to get better. You deserve to heal. You deserve to have a life worth living.

In partnership with Move Into Light, an initiative of Brevard Prevention Coalition, and sponsored in part by Central Florida Cares Health System, Inc. and the State of Florida, Department of Children and Families.

You deserve love and a safe place to begin, continue, or restart your journey toward healing. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected]

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Comments (6)

  1. connie

    You are a precious and courageous soul. Thank you for sharing. Sending you a big hug. Connie

    Reply  |  
  2. Amanda Powell

    Heart moving story. You are so brave and I am lucky to know you.

    Reply  |  
  3. Kathy

    As your mom I have so many emotions: Guilt- How did I not know how severe your anxiety & pain was? Pain-A mother’s pain is equal to the pain her children feel. Proud- I am so proud of how you have fought so hard for your sobriety! Admiration- I admire your desire to help others who are battling addiction & mental illness by getting your Masters in Social Work in Trauma, Addiction & Mental Illness. Love- My love for my children is unconditional!

    Reply  |  
  4. Beth

    You are a courageous young woman, who has turned the darkness into light. And you are use your light to guide others now. See I told you a number of years ago that all you have been through will help you to understand and guide others. BTW, I get you, and have found my way through my dark times. It is a joy to learn that it’s fun to really be your own good friend – and no longer have to run. Keep shining gal!

    Reply  |  
  5. Fred Penna

    That was beautiful Erika. Thanks for speaking the truth and sharing your journey.

    Reply  |  
  6. Michele K

    Just wanted to share my appreciation to the author of this article. I have a similar journey with anxiety, substance use disorder, finally finding self-love and getting sober. Similarly, I’m in the process of getting my bachelors in social work (I plan on getting my MSW as well.) I’ve found purpose in sobriety and a new passion for helping others in the social work field. I find that the principles of helping others that sobriety teaches is hugely beneficial in my profession as well. Keep striving for making the world a better place!

    Reply  |  
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