Sam’s Story of Addiction Recovery (SOAR)

stories addiction recovery

Sam Neely’s parents adopted her at an early age. They gave her a good life, but her childhood was difficult due to her consistent health issues. From the time she was an infant, Sam suffered many health problems that required her to see many doctors and go to the hospital often.

Although her parents loved her very much, she also suffered the consequences of living in a household plagued by addiction and emotional abuse. Her father struggled with alcoholism and was emotionally abusive. As Sam got older, her mother also began to drink more to cope with the situation. 

“Alcohol was a daily event at home,” Sam says. “My grandparents, aunts and uncles drank too…everyone did. My granny was an alcoholic and my paternal grandmother had issues with pain medication.”

Sam grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the heyday of illegal drug use, but she never got into doing drugs at school with her peers. And while she was offered alcoholic beverages regularly at home, she remained heavily guarded against it due to her experiences with family members’ alcoholism. 

Over time, Sam learned to refuge from her father’s addiction and emotional abuse by isolating herself. She didn’t like to have friends over because he made her uncomfortable, so she would often stay in her room at home. 

“Like clockwork at 5:30, the sound of ice cubes in a cocktail glass was a signal Dad was home from work, pouring the first of many scotches he would consume as Mother drank her bourbon while cooking dinner,” Sam says. 

She felt abandoned.

“I felt there was something wrong with me and I didn’t fit in at home or at school.”

Although she was used to seeing the harmful impacts of alcohol abuse, she unknowingly became accustomed to the effects of powerful opioid drugs and sedatives too. With her many health issues, surgeries, and a near fatal car accident, doctors often put her on these medications, despite her young age. In a way, these experiences primed her for her prescription drug abuse later in life.

Sam before addiction treatment.
Sam before she went to treatment at Briarwood Detox Center and Nova Recovery Center.

The summer after she graduated high school, Sam left home and went off to college. While she was away at school, she spent a lot of time with peers that drank and smoked marijuana. Sam started drinking, too, primarily due to the anger and frustration she felt toward her father. As she dated and developed relationships with men, her anger and frustration only grew. The men she chose to be with always seemed to have certain aspects of her father’s behavior and character. So she kept drinking.

Alcohol became a staple in Sam’s life, but despite that, she was very successful, finishing school, starting her career, and getting married. She eventually developed a passion for theater and pursued it, often taking on more than one job at a time to support herself. She built a life for herself, working hard as a teacher, theater director, yoga instructor, dancer, singer, and actress, even a UPS truck driver at one point, but her alcoholism continued to follow her around like a dark shadow.

When Sam was 30, she had an accident involving a horse and broke her arm and hand. The doctor gave her Vicodin for the pain that she used to numb the pain as she kept performing. It took her back to her childhood when doctors put her on powerful painkillers that gave her that fuzzy, sleepy feeling. “I felt like I’d discovered how to feel as if I could do anything no matter what I was suffering from.” The experience opened up a whole new world for her.

“I found that if I added alcohol to it, it was even more effective,” she says. “I was on and off of that through many surgeries.”

By the age of 33, Sam had been married twice, but the previous relationships were tainted by physical and emotional abuse. Shortly after her horse accident, she met her third husband. He shared her passion for theater, and their bond seemed unbreakable. But behind closed doors, he was emotionally abusive and unfaithful.

Throughout her subsequent divorce and the painful loss of both her parents, Sam’s addiction raged on. She and her ex-husband ended up remarrying and trying to make things work, but in the midst of it all, he died in a tragic alcohol-induced accident. The news of his death sent Sam spiraling.

“By that time, I was drinking vodka and hard liquor to get through all of that,” Sam says. “I was just suicidal and was not caring for myself. I became my own abuser.”

Sam was in her mid-fifties and had spent decades abusing her body with drugs and alcohol. She knew if she didn’t get help, her addiction would ultimately kill her. So in 2010, Sam went to rehab for three months at the Hanley Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. When she returned home, she began attending AA and maintained her sobriety for about five years.

However, Sam’s health problems made things difficult. Due to more surgeries and consistent difficulty dealing with chronic pain, she became dependent on fentanyl and oxycodone. Once those drugs stopped producing the powerful pain-relieving effects she needed, she started using alcohol again to enhance them.

It wasn’t until she had a terrifying dissociative experience during the 2020 holiday season that she realized she needed medical help and professional treatment to get sober. Her niece helped her get into a detox program at Briarwood Detox Center in Austin, where things finally started to turn around.

Sam after addiction treatment.
Sam after she completed addiction treatment.

“At Briarwood, having help from people who were former addicts themselves made a world of difference to me because they understood what I was going through,” Sam says. “[The staff] all had their own experiences which led them to work in recovery. That’s how they personally can help and understand people like us. They invested in me and gave me the tough love I needed.”

After completing her detox program at Briarwood, Sam continued her addiction treatment at Nova Recovery Center in Wimberley. Although her body was still recovering from detox and a recent fall that resulted in a broken foot, Sam’s experience at Nova was life-changing. She worked closely with treatment professionals to work through the 12-Step Program and address the underlying causes of her addiction.

“Nova is unique in the way they provide care,” Sam says. “They made me want to live in a way that I had not lived for most of my life. I was still in the shadows of my husband’s death and all of the things I had been through. I was trying to heal on my own, and I couldn’t do it. At Nova, I had to let others lift me out of my self-inflicted isolation and the sabotage of addiction.”

Sam didn’t fully commit to treatment until she was 66-years-old, but when she arrived at Nova, she was finally ready. Ultimately, with a willingness to be open to change, she was able to let go of all the grief, guilt, shame, and anger that she had held onto for so many years.

“I want women who have been through abuse from men, fathers, and powerful addiction, to know they can survive it,” she says. “I’ve finally learned to let people in. I don’t want to live my life isolating anymore, and it’s all because of my experience at Nova and fighting for my life.”

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