Gabrielle Rodriguez

#PowerTo Create Change

28 Years Old

I have been in recovery since 2012; recovery from co-occurring disorders. After I got sober, it was amazing what I could accomplish. I went back to school, bought and sold a house, got a job, moved to Colorado for graduate school, and could finally deal with my mental health. Caring 4 Denver will give others an opportunity to find a safe and healthy life.

But recovery, I found, has unique challenges for young people.

At 21 years old, I came out to my stepmom and felt free. My only secret, I thought, was out so I could didn’t feel the need to live my life consumed by alcohol. I quickly realized that I felt hollow inside. In the eight months after coming out to my stepmom, I tried to make changes on my own – only drink on the weekends, only one drink when I went out, telling my friends I was quitting so they could hold me accountable. For each promise I made myself, there was a broken promise in its wake.

A couple things happened in my life that resulted in my turning point.

First, I told my stepmom I needed help. While she initially suggested I just stop drinking, I gave her permission to pass my number along to her friend who was active in a 12-step program. I only really knew about in-patient treatment and didn’t want to financially burden my parents with that so the idea of peer support in a 12-step program was more appealing.

Second, a friend came to visit me to spend time and, as she put it she wanted to “live my life” for a week. What I saw in her was devastating. She was hungover every day and I realized that was, in fact, my life. It was like holding a mirror up and I could see what my life had become. Just moments after dropping her off at the airport, I called my stepmom’s friend and went to my first 12-step meeting on March 19, 2012.

For a 22-year-old in a 12-step program in a midwest suburb, it was difficult to find peer sponsors. I was the youngest person there by at least 10 years. Adding to the challenge is that most socializing for people in their early 20s involves bars, parties and drinking. When I went back to school in 2015, I started a collegiate recovery program because that is where I needed help the most.

In the past six years, there has been a lot of learning about myself, recognizing triggers, feelings, reactions to certain situations.

I have learned that my mental illness likely preceded my substance misuse.

I have learned that substance misuse and mental illness affects people in every demographic.

I have more compassion for people in general because we never really know their underlying stories.

And I have learned that we can and we should help our community. It is important to show the positive stories of people in recovery more than the negative side of addiction. Caring 4 Denver will make a difference for so many people and their families right here in Denver.

Photo credit; Betty Alemseghed