Substance Abuse Resources & Disability Issues

Josephine F. Wilson, D.D.S., Ph.D., Director

CAM Testimonials: Sandy's Story

It would be hard to lose more than Sandy lost to alcohol: her marriage, her son, her work, and almost her life. But now that she's sober, Sandy has found something no one can take away...

"For the first time in a very long time," she says. "I feel good about myself."

After graduating from a Dayton high school, a strong desire to help people led Sandy to the Dayton School of Practical Nursing. An attractive, friendly red-haired woman with a ready smile, she loved nursing, and was good at it. She married and, for four years, worked at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Dayton.

Then things began falling apart. When her husband moved to Denver, Sandy stayed behind. After a while, she lived with a boyfriend who did drugs: dope, acid, booze. Pretty soon Sandy traded her full-time job for a part-time one, spending more and more time getting high.

Wanting to make her marriage work, Sandy moved to Denver to be with her husband. After they had a child, she worked as a school bus driver, then returned to nursing. Before he quit, Sandy and her husband drank heavily, and he wanted her to quit, too. When she didn't, he left the marriage, then hired an investigator to follow Sandy. Because of her drinking, she lost custody of her son, and also lost her job.

Lonely and discouraged, Sandy spent a lot of time in bars--she met her friends there, or just hung out. One night in June of l997, as she drove home from a bar, her car crossed the center line into the lane of oncoming traffic, and she hit a car head-on.

The other driver had no serious injuries, but Sandy wasn't expected to live. After she came out of a six-week long coma, she had to relearn to walk and talk. Being a patient felt wrong to her; she should be the nurse, the helper, not the one who got help. So she worked very hard at physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and proved the doctors wrong. After six months, Sandy was released.

"I thought everything would be just fine now," Sandy says of getting out of the hospital. "But it wasn't. It was just the beginning." It was the beginning of a long, hard road to recovery. Sandy returned to Dayton to live with her parents, but she longed to see her son, so moved back to Denver. There, to save money, she lived with a series of friends, most of whom drank or did drugs. Sandy continued her drinking. Seeing her son every other weekend helped ease her ache for him, but Sandy still longed to go back to work. But her accident left her with difficulties that just wouldn't go away. She had trouble reading and writing, and couldn't always think clearly.

"I walk and talk and look normal, but my brain is the problem," she says. "Sometimes when I try to talk the words don't come out right. It makes me angry." Sandy felt so much anger she thought she was going crazy. She kept drinking, and became suicidal. "I realized I'd lost my marriage, my son, my job," she says. "I couldn't figure out why God put me back here."

Sandy found some relief in time she spent with her neighbors, two young men who worked for the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). They'd stop in to talk with her, and she enjoyed their discussions. Soon she began attending the local Mormon church.

"I'd never thought much of religion before," she says. "But when I went to church, I liked it." But Sandy's life still wasn't working. She kept drinking, and had no prospect of work. After a year, Sandy returned to Dayton. Here, she attended another Mormon church, and began going to HIRE, an agency that prepares the disabled to go back to work. At HIRE, she discovered that she'd have to give up her dream of returning to nursing, because her cognitive problems made some aspects of the job, like giving out medications, unsafe.

At HIRE, the staff referred Sandy to Consumer Advocacy Model (CAM), which works with disabled people who have problems with substance abuse. "Substance abuse occurs at a much higher rate among the disabled than among the general population," says Kristen Dunn, the director of CAM. For some, like Sandy, their disability occurs as a direct result of their substance abuse. For others, substance abuse begins as a response to pain management, or to depression related to the disability.

As with all CAM participants, Sandy's first step was a thorough assessment, a three to four hour process which determines the participant's specific needs. Next, Sandy took part in AWARE, an eight-week, twice-weekly educational group in which the facilitator presents information on substance abuse and leads discussions. Following AWARE, Sandy began attending a support group which focuses on therapy issues.

For the first time in her life, Sandy faced her problem with alcohol. Before, she says, she thought she could control her drinking. Now, hearing other people's stories, Sandy realized she couldn't. "It scared me," Sandy says. "Listening to other people talk about their drinking, I realized that we were all in the same boat." Hearing other people's stories also offered inspiration.

"You can get out of that boat. It's your decision," Sandy says. "I realized I'm 47 years old and it's time to wake up and see what I've lost." One step at a time Sandy changed her life. She stopped drinking, stopped going to bars, or hanging out with people who do so. She attended weekly AA meetings, one of the requirements of CAM. Instead of suppressing her anger over her disability, she talked about it with those in her support group, and during her weekly meeting with a CAM counselor. The caring she felt impressed her. "You can see their caring in their faces," she says of CAM staff members. "It's not because it's their job. It's because they really feel that way."

The personal attention that means so much to Sandy is a critical factor in why between 40 and 60 percent of CAM participants stay in recovery. "Wrapped around everything here is the individual counseling," Kristen Dunn says. "CAM offers more individual attention than most programs because disabled people have to go through so much." For CAM participants, according to Kristen Dunn, success is threefold: getting sober, developing a sense of self-acceptance, and finding a vocational goal and beginning to work toward it. According to this definition, after less than a year in the program, Sandy's well on her way.

She's been sober five months. She lives on her own. Through a local program, she's learning to read again. And she has a part-time job in a nursing home, a place she's wanted to work for a long time. This time, though, she's in the laundry room. "The laundry is okay for now," she says. But not forever. Her goal is to attend Sinclair Community College, become a mental health technician, and one day once again help others.

Most of all, Sandy feels good about herself, about the long road she's traveled and how far she's come. "I have dreams for the future," she says. "And I'm going to reach them."

More testimonials