Finding the real Melissa M. after depression and addiction
The afternoon sun is shining on San Clemente’s scenic beaches as 23-year-old Melissa M. diligently works to oversee one of Sovereign Health’s top rehabilitation houses. It’s a surprising career path for her, one that is paved with the tears and turmoil of her own testimony.
When asked where she’ll be and what she’ll be thinking about this Independence Day, Mucci said, “Probably working! That’s what I was doing on my first, second and third year in recovery. My sober anniversary is July 16, and yes, I will have four years clean. I’ll be thinking about how much my life has changed and how I have exceeded my own expectations.” Achieving goals, exceeding expectations, being productive – these terms stand in stark contrast to words describing her up until the summer of 2012.
The only thing that carried over was her productivity.
A functional addict
Melissa says she was a productive and functioning addict in junior high and high school, and neither her parents nor her older brother knew she was addicted to painkillers. Initially crushing and snorting her prescriptions of Vicodin when she was 12 to alleviate migraines and scoliosis back pain, by 15 Melissa was on to snorting morphine before she even had her first drink.
“I was blacking out every night after school, but I graduated early at 17; I kept it very well hidden.”
Its true many people hit rock bottom, or maybe get put in the hot seat during a family intervention and are forced to the doorstep of rehab, but not every person on the threshold of recovery walks through the door. When asked what made Melissa actually sign admissions paperwork and follow through, she paints a vivid picture covering every mode of referral an organization could list on a drop-down menu.
“My parents actually thought I was smoking pot and depressed, so I was sent to our family practitioner, who recommended I meet a local girl who went through Sovereign’s program and watch a video testimonial on Sovereign’s website featuring the girl, Lacy. I met with her and she was honest with me about how my depression will heal.”
Although intrigued, Melissa was not entirely ready. After a $15,000 binge wrung her resources, mind, body and soul dry – and left her homeless – she describes her revelation as a singular thought that slowly bloomed.
“I just thought I was so tired, so tired and I was only 19; I wanted to commit suicide over and over because I felt the burden of life. I realized I had been throwing myself a pity party for 19 years. I didn’t want to live, but I didn’t really want to die; I just couldn’t see a future for me.”
And then it happened: the conversation that made her sign admission paperwork.
The catalyst for treatment
Her father – who had anger issues and a turbulent relationship with her mother, who battled severe depression – confided in her about his past.
“He said he went to rehab when he was young for an addiction to cocaine and worked out some post-traumatic stress disorder issues while he was there. My dad said it really helped him.” Melissa explained that if it weren’t for her dad opening up, she probably would have never believed a program treating both her addictions and her depressive state would work.
She entered a 60-day dual diagnosis rehabilitation for depression and addiction with Sovereign Health. Melissa said a track that specific made her feel like she had a group of friends when she had previously resigned herself to being alone with her secret.
One of the greatest insights Melissa took to heart was that she was not her addiction. “They said. ‘You’re Melissa, with an addiction.’ It actually sparked a family term we now use: ‘the real Melissa.’ When I came home after staying at Sovereign, I first felt like nobody knew who I was; I barely knew, from what I discovered at Sovereign. We were all getting to know ‘the real Melissa.’”
For someone concerned about how friends or family will respond to them after treatment, she refutes it can only go two ways: that first car ride home will be OK or awkward. Either way, you can deal with it, she says. “Like a light bulb, it clicked. It actually became a game to me; I would begin to tell everyone about my sobriety, what led to it and see how they would react. People understood or they were quiet.”
Maintaining her recovery
Her first trigger and test of sobriety came roughly a month after treatment. “It was after I got back on Facebook. I saw friends having a good time but I know what they were doing; you could see it on their faces. I became afraid I’d never get to that level of happiness and that triggered depression. I started getting mad at the world I couldn’t do that stuff again. So my brother helped me and started going through my friends list and deleting people; I wasn’t mad at them, but I knew they weren’t good for my life.”
Melissa still has cravings and still has nightmares sometimes. “In 12 steps, you make amends with everyone you can, but there are four people who passed away who I will never get to make amends with.” When asked what helps her get back to sleep after harsh memories, you can hear the slow smile in her voice. “Knowing I’m doing everything I can to help others, I’m a good person and made amends with everyone I could.”
Melissa’s passion for the work that Sovereign Health does for mental health and addiction rehabilitation is evident. In the internet age where sentiments are summed up with hashtags, when asked what hers would be for her life story thus far, Melissa pauses, giggles and affirms, “Finally, I can start my life!”
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