Melissa Conrey shares her story of living with drug and alcohol addiction and now, sobriety. A single mom of two, she worries about her children who have been exposed to so much. She went back to school to earn her degrees and is now a registered dietician. Melissa speaks openly about her challenges and her victories.
For the visually-minded who prefer to listen and read or for those who need closed captioning, watch the transcript video here: https://youtu.be/yTUuE_L-L8g
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[00:00:00] Melissa: The best thing that I can do is to show up for him today as best as I can. Just be a role model. Show him what it looks like to be a sober person and he can choose to go this path or not. He's gotta do his own journey.
[00:00:22] Carole: Welcome to Wisdom Shared, where parents are the experts and where connection inspires change. My name is Carole Blueweiss, and I am your host. And today, I have as my special guest Melissa Conrey. She is a single mother of two, an anti-diet registered dietician, nutritionist, and a certified intuitive eating coach.
She's also a proud member of a roller derby team in California. Melissa has struggled most of her life with alcohol and drug addiction, and in this episode, Melissa shares her reflections and memories while she looks back at what it was like to raise a family while managing her own addictions. It was the fear of losing her kids that really prompted her to seek help and to work her way to sobriety.
I met Noah, Melissa's son, in Alaska last summer where he was the guide at an ATV company and he said, "wow, you know, my mother has a great story. I had challenges growing up, and she would be a great person to interview." A couple of months later, I got a text from Noah saying that his mother was interested, and that's how I met Melissa, Noah's mom.
I'd like to welcome you to Wisdom Shared, Melissa, thanks for coming on.
[00:01:46] Melissa: Thank you for having me.
[00:01:48] Carole: I usually start the interview with a question, and that is what is a childhood memory that sticks with you today?
[00:01:55] Melissa: I have a really big family and a very close family, so there was a lot of cousins and aunts and family members around. Three brothers that I grew up with, and I have a half-brother that I got later in life, and also a step-brother and a lot of cousins that were always around.
Our family's very tight. We went to the beach a lot and camping and had picnics and going to the park and all kinds of fun stuff. I think just in general, I had a pretty fun childhood. A lot of people around having a good time.
[00:02:26] Carole: Do you have big Christmases?
[00:02:28] Melissa: We do, yeah. We don't have a lot of small kids anymore for Easter, but Christmas and Thanksgiving are pretty special. My mom really tries to keep us together that way.
[00:02:38] Carole: How old is your mom?
[00:02:40] Melissa: I think she's 70 now.
[00:02:41] Carole: She's a young grandma.
[00:02:43] Melissa: Yes. I was 19 when I had my daughter. Yeah. I call my mom their baby daddy because they would take them for holidays. They love their Nana.
[00:02:56] Carole: Tell me about your children.
[00:02:57] Melissa: I have the two kids and I had my daughter first. Her name is Jamie, and then I had Noah three years later. Jamie's 29, Noah's 26. And I love them very much.
[00:03:14] Carole: I asked Melissa why she said yes to speaking with a complete stranger that her son had met randomly in the mountains of Alaska.
[00:03:21] Melissa: I said yes because I hope that this experience bonds Noah and I a little bit more and brings us a little closer with a little better understanding of each other. And beyond that, I'm hoping that somebody else will relate to our story.
[00:03:34] Carole: You know, I started off thinking that my audience were people that had challenges, which is most of the population.
[00:03:41] Melissa: Yeah.
[00:03:43] Carole: And that people who have gone through challenges, especially with their children, talk more about their children than themselves. A lot of the lessons that you've experienced with yourself and then with your son, with Noah, overlap, which makes it a little bit more complex because we're talking about two people that have had very clear challenges. Tell us a little bit about your challenges.
[00:04:08] Melissa: So the challenge is addiction, alcoholism, and Noah shows signs of facing those same challenges. There's so many people in my family who are addicts. Their dad is a drug addict, and he was out of their lives when Noah was a baby. I've partied a lot and it's just so easy to get caught up and to start to spiral.
You think of an alcoholic as somebody who is in the gutters and is like a particular type of person, but we are one of those families that you wouldn't necessarily expect to, you know, be struggling so much with drugs and alcohol the way that we do. Noah, for a long time, him and my daughter bonded and they took care of each other and didn't rely on me, and they distanced themselves from me and excluded me from their lives.
Through it all, I've always thought I was prioritizing them, but thankfully with sobriety, I realized that there was a lot of times, obviously, that I wasn't. When you get sober, you hope that everyone just notices and everyone finally forgives you and they just believe you that you're gonna be better and it takes a very long time.
But luckily, we have a really great family. My sobriety date is October 1st, 2018. I am very proud to say that now. There was a while when it was very difficult and it makes me even more grateful for that date that Noah had so many nice things to say to you about me, because it wouldn't have been like that a while ago.
And for me, it didn't get better right away. We didn't get closer right away and things didn't magically get fixed right away or even in a timely manner that I would've preferred. It has taken a whole lot more time for my kids to trust me and to start to rely on me again. And to open up.
[00:05:52] Carole: What was your relationship like before you stopped drinking? What are your memories of being with your kids?
[00:05:57] Melissa: The strain happened pretty early on, and then as my kids became teenagers, they acted out even more and more. And so there was big fights and there was a lot of disrespect. There was a lot of turmoil in our house and I was able to excuse that away before I wanted to admit that I was an alcoholic to me being a single mom and me going to school and working at the same time, and me having a lot of burden of responsibility to raise these kids and do the best that I can do.
So I was gone a lot. I just had a lot of pressure and the kids were saying, you drink too much. I want you home. I want you to be, in so many words, they were telling me, I want you to be present as a mom.
And I really felt like I was doing a good job. And so as they became teenagers and they got even more rebellious and mean, and we fought a whole lot more, I attributed that to them being teenagers. And that's just the way that it goes. But then Noah moved out when he was 19 and he moved to Hawaii.
So I didn't see him a whole lot for the next four years. I went and visited him twice and then he went to Washington and then to Alaska. So he's been doing a lot of moving around, and during that time, some of the healing has happened because of the distance between us. There's still work to do, I think, because now he's actually around me a whole lot more.
[00:07:24] Carole: What helped you get through your addiction?
[00:07:27] Melissa: It took a long time for me to even admit that I might have a problem. So looking back, what really helped is that for one thing, people didn't give up on either being honest with me or being very supportive and loving and trying their best to guide me. I always felt loved.
I always felt important, and I always felt like I could be doing better. And even though I wasn't living up to that potential, that message was in my head because that's what I was told. I guess the takeaway message that I would hope to get out there is that, for one thing, addiction, alcoholism, I think that it touches everybody.
It really does. Anybody, anywhere, anytime. And I feel like that's something that might be accepted and people are like open to really understand that. But the other side of that is that recovery also works. It also happens and it can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime as well. And so I'm not probably a person you would look at and think, oh, she is an alcoholic or an addict because I don't have that lifestyle of the people that you see in movies, where they end up in the streets and they end up losing everything in their life. They lose their children and all that stuff. I didn't have to go through those things, but I definitely did have the -ism. I definitely had the addiction. I had some really serious repercussions in my life because of it.
But my life has changed and I am in recovery and I am recovered in so many ways, and I want that message to be really heard that you don't give up. My family never gave up on me. My friends never gave up on me. The people who love me never gave up trying to support me and still help out. Once I was able to admit that I had a problem because nobody gave up on me and because people still believed I could make it through, that definitely planted all of those seeds that grow still today.
That's what helped. Once I was able to admit that I had a problem, those little seeds started to grow and they still do. And that's something that I would really want to express. As a person who is going through it, I would want people to hear that, but also as a parent, because now I have to watch my son battle the same issue.
And I have faith that the things that I say and do now matter and as much as I can sit around and regret the things that he saw or had to put up with when he was younger, when I was still actively an alcoholic and an addict, now I get to make amends with my actions, and I have over three years of sobriety and those changes in our relationship are happening because he can see me as somebody he can trust now. He sees me as somebody he can look up to. He sees me as somebody that matters in his life, not somebody he wants to keep out of his life.
[00:10:23] Carole: You used the word addict, is that the same thing as the alcohol or is that a separate addiction?
[00:10:29] Melissa: I think it's the same thing. I don't really know anybody who only drinks, so I don't think alcoholics are exclusively alcoholic or just drinking alcohol or just an alcoholic. For me, I'm both.
And I did a lot of drugs and I tapered those off as my kids got older. And to me, that was a success. That was another justification of how come I shouldn't give up drinking. I already quit doing meth. Why do I have to give that up too? Everyone else is doing it, but I was able to quit all the drugs. Mostly. Except recreationally. I go to AA now, I'm in the 12-step program.
[00:11:05] Carole: Do you have memories of what got you started the very first time?
[00:11:09] Melissa: You know what's funny is I think about that sometimes, and the first time I got drunk was when I was, the summer that I was gonna turn 13. I was with my aunt and uncle and my cousin and they were partying and we were drinking wine coolers and Coors Light.
And my cousin, who is very close in age to me, she is the closest thing I had to a sister. We got drunk and it was super fun and we ended up throwing up and getting in a fight and it was just being stupid. And what's funny to me is the year before that her dad was growing weed in their backyard and her and I were out there picking the weed and throwing it over the fence - "drugs are bad!"
I don't know what changed. The next year we were like, we may as well smoke some weed and then start doing meth. And then start experimenting with drugs. So by the time I was 15, I had already been doing all these things and I don't remember the first for a lot of other things but I do remember the first time I got drunk
[00:11:58] Carole: And the friends of yours that you did the drugs with, do you keep in touch with them? Are they okay? Did they take the same path that you did?
[00:12:07] Melissa: Let's see. I started at such a young age. No, I'm not really friends with a whole lot of people that I can remember from back then. I have actually two friends that were my best friends from that age.
One of them partied like I did. The other one really never did. Everyone thought she did, but she did not. We stayed friends for all those years and the other one just cleaned up her act and she, I don't think that she was an addict, alcoholic like I am. Not everybody is. Some people just party and eventually grow out of it and some people are, have the -ism.
[00:12:39] Carole: Just to stay in your childhood for a moment, just to try to understand, cuz it's an interesting perspective, you being older now and you having had turnaround. For parents out there that might have kids that are experimenting and that are doing some partying at a younger age, it sounds like from what you've said, that it can be harmless and it could be harmful. It really depends on the person. It's not necessarily, oh, you tried something young, you're gonna become an addict.
[00:13:04] Melissa: Right.
[00:13:05] Carole: But you could. So what do you have to say to parents whose children are experimenting and being like the kid that you were?
[00:13:15] Melissa: That is a tough one because it's hard to say what's gonna turn into a full-blown addiction and what's just the experimenting. I don't really know if I have a clear answer for that because we were doing so much. I overdosed when I was 16 and ended up in rehab for three months and as soon as I got out, I started drinking and doing drugs as soon as I could get to 'em. I guess that is eyeopening. If your kids go to rehab, like that should be a red flag right there.
The rest of it, I worried about my kids every single day, and my friends who were still friends with me from that time were like, remember what we were doing at that age? And I'm like, I know, I'm gonna put them on lock and key. They're not gonna do anything. And of course they do.
I didn't have any healthy way of really monitoring that, especially since I was still drinking during that time that my kids were teenagers and starting to experiment on their own. Yeah. I'm not sure if that answers your question, but.
[00:14:11] Carole: Yeah, it does. I'm gonna go with my curious mind here and wonder if you often see on tv or you read books or you hear stories about people who become addicted, who had really hard childhoods or difficulty with their parents. But it doesn't sound like that was for you something that was taken into consideration. It's more you, superficially anyway, you were with your friends who were doing it. If they weren't doing it, maybe you wouldn't do it. Is that fair to say? Or is it more complex than that?
[00:14:47] Melissa: Yeah, I think when I went to rehab, the counselors were like, "oh, your parents got a divorce. You must be so sad." And I was like, "no. That was actually the best thing ever." They were looking for excuses of an unhappy childhood of why I would be deep into doing drugs at that age. And I couldn't come up with any answers then, and I can't come up with any answers now. I really liked it. I really enjoyed it. I really wanted to party and I thought that I knew what I was doing.
And I think you're right. We do expect a person who becomes addicted to have all these traumas in their life and these reasons why they might be driven to that, but sometimes there isn't that trauma. And there's certainly unhappy things in my childhood, my parents fought all the time and I feel like I was an anxious child, and I think that might have been part of the reason why, because they were always fighting. It was a very tense environment between them. So I was very happy when they got a divorce because they both went their separate ways and we got a little more spoiled.
But I carried that anxiety around. And not to blame your parents, but these are just some of the things that created who I am and I don't think that there was really any significant traumatic event in my life that I needed to run away from or hide from in the way that you can see it in these documentaries.
I was just like a regular kid going through some regular problems. But I come from a family of addicts, I come from family with history of that. And if I were to guess, that would probably be the biggest factor.
[00:16:15] Carole: Tell me more about that.
[00:16:16] Melissa: On both sides, my mom and my dad's side, there's addicts, there's drug addiction, alcoholism on both sides. Neither of my parents necessarily would, I think, be considered that. My mom probably drinks a lot more than others, but she's also now 70. And I always thought that I would grow out of it like her. Now she'll have one margarita and she's, "oh, I might be a little tipsy." I'm like, who are you? That's not the mom I remember. When do I get to be like that?
And my dad just always didn't ever get outta control that I saw. He would like a whiskey after work or some beer and that was nice too. Sometimes we could have a sip of his whiskey or tequila or something. I just liked it. But my dad's twin brother died from drug addiction. And on my mom's side, some of her family members are recovered or yeah, most of them, they're recovered.
And I tell my kids that too, cuz their dad's a drug addict and that's what I worry about for them. You come from that, be careful what you do. And that's what I used to tell Noah too. When I saw that he was struggling, I guess I just wanted to let him know, it's not your fault, this is where you come from and there's a chance that you might take this too far.
[00:17:24] Carole: Do you remember when you said to yourself, oh, Noah's not okay, or he might need some help or?
[00:17:33] Melissa: Yeah, both my kids started smoking weed when they were teenagers, and that was problematic for me just cuz I was worried, but it didn't seem like a major deal. I didn't see any major problems. Like I said, Noah didn't live here, he lived outta state for all the last several years. And so I didn't see him on a daily basis, and I don't know if he was struggling before, but he came home in 2020 because he broke his back in Washington snowboarding and he had to come home.
He was living in Hawaii, his home was Hawaii. He was working a seasonal job in Washington and I live in California. So for him to come to a safe place to recover, he came back to my house and still had a place in Hawaii. But then Covid happened like the next two weeks. And so he was basically on lockdown and it was really hard to get him into a doctor's appointment.
It was really hard to get him any kind of care, and they prescribed him some painkillers cuz he had a broken back and he wasn't able to fill his prescription because there was no, I think we were able to get him Medi-Cal. But anyways, it was a real hassle. And so he says that he had to buy the pills from people that he knows.
And that is really when I saw a lot of problems. That is when I saw behavior changes, and that was when I was really scared for him and I didn't know if this was already going on for him or if this really did start with him breaking his back. I asked him the other day, though, after we talked and he said that it really did escalate at that point because he didn't have an option to get pills where he did. He got them off the streets and he didn't really have care and he went too far.
[00:19:17] Carole: Well it certainly didn't help.
[00:19:20] Melissa: Yeah.
[00:19:20] Carole: If you're in pain and, huh.
[00:19:25] Melissa: Yeah. And that's what he has been struggling with for the last couple of years, since that happened. And so he says now that he's done with that, but we're not out of the woods. We're not, it's, and I know that, but going back to my recovery, I also know that he can be okay and that recovery is possible and that the best thing that I can do is to show up for him today as best as I can and just be a role model. Model what I show him what it looks like to be a sober person and he can choose to go this path or not. He's gotta do his own journey.
[00:20:09] Carole: And he has your example, he has his father's example, so he knows what can happen if you don't take the other road.
[00:20:19] Melissa: Yes. Yes, he definitely does.
[00:20:23] Carole: And I felt his wisdom, you know, when I was sitting next to him and he was talking. What is the relationship between Noah and his sister?
[00:20:35] Melissa: Oh, it's incredible. I am so proud of them. So him and his sister are like best friends. They are, they're best friends, and they're bonded, and they really do watch out for each other and take care of each other. And it makes me proud because that's the kind of upbringing I had.
And I feel like my mom, my parents, passed that on to us and we've passed that on to them. And I love seeing that. I already know that it's an unbreakable bond because I have that with my brothers too. And I know they're never alone. They have each other forever. It's comforting.
[00:21:09] Carole: I assume after you became sober, you followed more your dream. I don't wanna put words into your mouth, but why don't you tell us what you were doing before and what you're doing now.
[00:21:21] Melissa: Well, I'm very proud of my career trajectory.
[00:21:25] Carole: Tell us about it.
[00:21:26] Melissa: I was already going back to school and trying to change careers, but I am now a dietician. I passed my dietetics exam in March of this year. I was able to do my internship last year and I'm working as a clinical dietician at a hospital locally. I was a bartender for many years, which is a fantastic and fun job, and I absolutely love it. I actually still do it because the hotel I work for has asked me to still pick up shifts for banquets since they're still short staffed and I'm like, okay.
So I work a couple times a month and, but yeah, it's very different and I went back to school in 2016. I was able to get into Cal Poly. I was really proud of that. And then after I graduated, I struggled to get into an internship and I don't know if I still would've made it through if I hadn't gotten sober.
But I can tell you that I made it through at a much higher level and in a way that I'm so much more proud of myself because I am sober doing it. I'm able to show up every day. I don't go to work worried about smelling like alcohol. I don't worry about if it's money that I've spent or the people that I've offended.
I was able to show up to all of the early shifts during the internship and go to all these different rotations and everybody had good things to say about me. I didn't have to turn in work late. I didn't have to make excuses for why I didn't show up. Any of those things that came along with my behavior before, which probably held me back from getting into my internship before that.
[00:22:56] Carole: So when you were going through your undergraduate years, were you drinking a lot?
[00:23:00] Melissa: I thought I would go to college after high school. I graduated from high school when I was 17 cause I'm born in the summer and I met a guy and immediately - their dad - took off, wanted to party for a year and got pregnant.
And so college was definitely put on the back burner. Went back to college later and got my associate's degree. And struggled through that and then waited several more years and then went back to school for my bachelor's degree. I retook a lot of classes and I made a lot of excuses and I had conversations with teachers and had a sob story about why this and why that.
And I turned in work that was subpar. And when I got into Cal Poly, it really showed. For my bachelor's degree, thinking that I was going to just jump right in cuz I'm older and so much wiser than everybody else. But no, not at all. I had to learn the hard way that I have to learn how to use a computer, having to retain all of this information. It's really difficult when you're also like drinking all night long and you're learning something new in a totally new environment.
[00:24:03] Carole: Yeah. And also you had your daughter. You had young children. I don't know if your husband was an active addict at that time.
[00:24:13] Melissa: Oh, we were never married and he was always an addict. He was not around to help.
[00:24:17] Carole: You were going back to school. That's pretty amazing.
[00:24:22] Melissa: Yeah, single mom. Doing it, working restaurant work, which is why I loved it so much. You can work, it's flexible, you make good money in the short amount of time, so going to school part-time, working basically full-time, raising the kids full-time, and it was definitely a big challenge.
But I did that and that's where the big family comes in handy. They were always very supportive. My mom had moved up here, up to San Luis Obispo when my kids were very young, and if I needed money for sports or for any kind of activity they wanted, she would pay for it. And she didn't have a lot of money either. She was struggling. My mom will do anything for her kids or just about anybody. There's a lot of generosity there.
[00:25:01] Carole: Did you have any connection with her when you were getting off of all the drugs and alcohol?
[00:25:05] Melissa: We have an interesting relationship. We have this mother daughter dynamic that should be really sweet at this age, but it's just not yet. And we butt heads a lot. So we don't do well being in the same place for a long time, but I know that she loves me and I love her very much. And there's a little bit of distance between us, but as far as like being there, she was there with the kids.
She was one of the ones who was very truthful with me all the time, sometimes very critical, and I felt like she was just being very judgmental and she would tell me that I was doing the wrong thing, and she would tell me that I wasn't taking care of my kids and I wasn't being a good mom.
And she would tell me that I'm partying too much and all this stuff. And I would just tell her, she she doesn't know what she's talking about cuz she doesn't live near me. She doesn't know my life and all this stuff and, but I look back on those things and I think she was right. She was right. She saw how I was living. She saw how the kids were so sad. She saw how much I was missing out on. She was right.
[00:26:01] Carole: Do you remember when the time was, like you said, I'm not doing this anymore. I'm gonna stop, I'm gonna change.
[00:26:07] Melissa: How I finally got sober? Yeah, I had turned in my first application to my internship that I wanted to get into, and I had been trying so hard for so long to live a healthier lifestyle. I picked up a sport. I hike. I do all these different activities. I went back to school, learned about nutrition. A lot of times my nutrition questions had to do with how drugs and alcohol affect your body and what metabolism has to do with that. If you take the supplement, do you get less drunk? Just wondering if that's a thing.
[00:26:41] Carole: Can you explain that to someone who's quite ignorant?
[00:26:44] Melissa: There's just all these myths about if you take, I think the one was you can take like a baker's yeast and it will break down the alcohol in your stomach before it gets absorbed into your bloodstream and then you won't get as drunk. That's, it's not, I don't think it's true. It never worked for me. Probably just drink less. But college kids probably ask a lot of questions like that. I was an adult in college asking questions like that, so that's problematic. Another red flag that I refused to look at.
There were a lot of things like that, and there were just so many moments when my kids had asked me to stop drinking. Noah had asked me, he had made me sign a contract before. And so I would quit for a month or two months and then they wouldn't notice. And so I'd be like, what's the point? There's all these different things that would sit in my mind. And so I wanted to change my life and be healthier, eat well, take care of myself, do the right thing.
And then I had this dual life though, cuz then on the flip side, I'm like smoking cigarettes and drinking. I binge drink. I didn't drink every day. That was the other tricky thing is that I was never like an everyday drinker. I'm a binge drinker. And so to me that was success. I would go a three or four or five days with doing all the hard work that I do. And then so what if I party for two or three days? And not every week, but at least every other week. It was really hard to keep that up.
And it wasn't cute and it wasn't fun, and nobody really wanted to hang out with me anymore. And it stopped being fun a long time ago. And so the defining moment was when I turned in my application for my internship that I had worked so hard towards and I was already drunk when I was sending it.
And I had forgotten to send my, I think, one of my transcripts. And so that was like a panic moment and I thought that I didn't have one of my letters of recommendation in, and there was like so much panic behind this super important moment, why wasn't I prepared? So that was really eye-opening.
And then I spent the next seven days getting super wasted, calling into work and not showing up. And after the seventh day, I was like, I just can't do this anymore. And I had a therapist at that time who had already told me I was an alcoholic on the first day that I met him. And I was like, you're wrong. I'll show you. You're wrong.
And so for, I'd been seeing him for months and so finally I was like, maybe I'll give this program a shot. I'll go to a meeting. I'd been to meetings before cuz I've had DUIs and I've had to go. But, I've been arrested, so I've had to go. I've gotten the nudge from the judge before. But this time I was like, I'm just gonna go because what else can I do?
And for whatever reason, I sat down and I read this thing that they handed to me and I listened to what they had to say and I cried and I just heard my story in what these women were saying. I went to a women's meeting and I heard my story, and I heard this wasn't a bunch of old drunk men is what I thought AA was all about.
I actually saw myself reflected in what was going on there, and I really felt like I was right where I belonged and so I wasn't ready to admit I was an alcoholic, but it felt right being there. And so I came back and that's what I mean by recovery happens and not ever to give up because you just never know when it's just gonna hit just right at some point. Something that is said really resonates, and for me it was just that moment.
[00:30:00] Carole: I wonder what is your take on labels? Like the idea that you couldn't identify with the word alcoholic, and maybe that's a lot of times gets in the way that it's a label as opposed to that inner revelation yourself. That's, the way you describe it is more poetic. That it's not a word that you were, it was something much more complex, not a word.
[00:30:26] Melissa: Yeah, I think the label itself, the alcoholic label, has so much shame attached to it, and so you feel worthless and you get this, at least I got this image of somebody living in a gutter, just some homeless person who just doesn't care about themselves.
And also it meant giving up anything fun. Like alcoholics are miserable and just sad for their lives, and that's just not the way that it is. How do you get around labels? We do this all the time, all day long. We label things and we put them in boxes and that's how we know how to react to them, I think.
But that was a struggle. Once I was able to get past the label of being an alcoholic, I am proud to say it. I am so relieved. I'm so much happier now than I have been in years. I have that childhood enjoyment of my every day, of the sun rises and I have gratitude first thing in the morning, and that's something that I hadn't felt in forever and it feels so good to be able to do that again. And I wish the label didn't deter people, but I get it. It does. Can I tell you about the first time I proudly said I was an alcoholic?
[00:31:30] Carole: Tell me.
[00:31:31] Melissa: Besides in the meetings, I started to accept it, but one day I was with a group of friends. I play roller derby. I don't think I mentioned that. That's my sport that I took up. And it's super fun. I went out with the team afterwards and everybody, usually, most people who drink usually drink and I used to as well after the games. And I went out and they were like, hey, Muerte is my name. Do you want a glass of wine? You want a beer? And I was like, no, thank you. I don't drink. I'm an alcoholic. And they were like, oh, okay, cool. And just moved on. And I was like, yeah. And I just wanted to say it again. I was like, yeah, I'm an alcoholic. I don't drink anymore. And they were like, yeah, okay. And moved on. But it felt so good to me. It felt so empowering and I felt like now it's a label that I can wear proudly.
I'm a derby girl, I'm a mom, I'm an alcoholic. I'm all these things that have made me who I am. And being an alcoholic has given me a lot of freedom. Now I get to be in those situations and just be like, oh no, thanks. I'm an alcoholic.
[00:32:32] Carole: My knowledge of roller derby is what I saw on tv. Maybe it was a movie. Maybe it used to be on as a sport when I was young.
[00:32:39] Male Announcer Voice: [crowd sounds at derby bout] Good teamwork by those devil girls.
[00:32:41] Carole: It's very vague to me. So I remember women going around and around on these skates, like pushing and punching.
[00:32:50] Melissa: Your memory is accurate. Yes. Roller derby started out as not necessarily a sport, I can't remember why, but it evolved into being like wrestling, very fake, very put on, and then it died out for a while and it has made a resurgence and it actually is a sport.
It has rules. It's like football on skates, full body contact. And that is how you get around the track. And I'm not on a banked track. What you remember is a banked track. We have a flat track and we skate at a hockey rink, but you're not allowed to punch anybody. You can hip check 'em and you can hip check 'em hard.
[00:33:28] Carole: What's the object? What are you trying to do?
[00:33:31] Melissa: So there's one skater and that's called a jammer. And then there are four other skaters and they're called blockers. And that's your team. Your jammer is trying to skate around the track. And get through the wall of blockers on the other team, and you get a point for every person that you pass, and you all have to stay within a certain distance from each other.
You can't just skate all over the place. You have to be within a certain distance. And then that jammer will skate around and get through, skate around, hopefully get through again, just get more points.
[00:34:00] Carole: The same person.
[00:34:00] Melissa: The same jammer, and there's jammers on both teams. And so those blockers are blocking the other jammer at the same time as you're trying to get your jammer through. There's quite a few things going on. There's no ball.
[00:34:13] Carole: There's no ball, just your body.
[00:34:16] Melissa: There's some people on my team who get really all dressed up and you can wear whatever you want. We all wear the same jersey. And then beyond that, we wear, a lot of times we wear booty shorts and fish nets if you want to. Otherwise, some skaters aren't comfortable in that, so they wear like their capris or full leggings. But definitely some fun stuff.
[00:34:35] Carole: Now, you didn't do this while you were under the influence, did you?
[00:34:37] Melissa: Skated under the influence? No way, no way. That would be death. I've skated super hungover though, and I've gone to practice too drunk to skate. I wasn't allowed. Actually, I got the nickname, I think it was Drunk Thursday. Oh my gosh. Now I can't remember it. My friend, it was a Beastie Boys song and it was a Thursday night practice and I was so drunk and so she was saying drunk on a Thursday.
[00:35:02] Carole: You get nicknames?
[00:35:04] Melissa: Yes. Yeah, your derby name.
[00:35:06] Carole: What's your derby name?
[00:35:07] Melissa: Mine is Miel Muerte.
[00:35:11] Carole: Dead Honey?
[00:35:12] Melissa: Honey Death.
[00:35:14] Carole: Honey Death. Is there a reason you got that name?
[00:35:19] Melissa: Yeah. Well, I chose it, but my name's Melissa and that means honeybee. And I wanted something honey, and people call me Mel, which was close to Miel, and the full name should have been like Miel de la Muerte or something like that, but it was too long, so I just shortened it. I liked the alliteration. It's sweet and scary.
[00:35:39] Carole: Love it. First of all, for sure, you don't speak for all addicts and for all alcoholics, so clearly this is just your story. For you being a bartender, you are, as you said, an alcoholic. I don't hear many bartenders announcing that they're alcoholics. I could see you doing that, but usually, maybe this is a stereotype or it's wrong logic on my part that you just don't wanna be around alcohol because you don't wanna get tempted. Can you just try to interpret what I'm trying to ask you?
[00:36:09] Melissa: Yes, I can definitely say that it was highly recommended that I quit my job. [laughs] See, and I thought it was funny too, cuz I make good money and I was like, I'm not quitting my job. I will make this work and I did.
[00:36:28] Carole: Good for you. There you go. There's the rules are just out the window. That's refreshing to hear. I don't think you hear these stories very often, like the messiness of it.
[00:36:36] Melissa: Yeah. I'm a sober bartender. I have a really great sponsor and I went to a lot of meetings in the beginning, and I always tell people too, I think that it's a little easier for me because being at work isn't necessarily a trigger. Cuz I didn't actively drink at work. I would drink before work sometimes, or be at work and be so hungover, but I never actively drank at work.
[00:36:58] Carole: What do you do to take care of yourself?
[00:36:59] Melissa: I actually have gotten pretty good about some self-care. I am pretty active. I've taken up surfing and I play derby and I love to hike and I journal. I stay in contact with my sponsor. My best friend is also in the program, and so we go out to dinner together and I have a good social life, some really good girlfriends in my life and I stay busy. I love staying busy. It makes me happy.
[00:37:23] Carole: If you could tell Noah anything right now with where you are in life, what would you want him to hear?
[00:37:34] Melissa: Oh, my baby. Oh man. I just, I want him, oh man. I want him to hear that he is so special. You're so special. You're so amazing. Such a great person. I would like to make sure that he knows how loved he is and I think that he's got these amazing qualities.
He is so adventurous and curious and fearless these days. He's always out exploring. It's my obligation, I think, to tell him to also be careful because all of these things and all the partying that he's doing can be fun, but it also lends yourself to being in these certain situations and he's already dealing with the bad repercussions of addiction and alcoholism, drug use and abuse and even though in life we can't avoid all of these things, but these things can definitely be tempered just by being careful and I just want Noah to think about that. To be a little bit more careful and to nurture those things that are so amazing with himself. But to nurture the kindness.
[00:38:40] Carole: You want him to hear your motherly loving advice?
[00:38:45] Melissa: Yeah, I do because he is me and I can see that a lot. I see his behaviors are identical to me. If I hadn't had kids at such a young age, I would've been out gallivanting around. Before I got pregnant, I was up in Sequoia working a seasonal job with their dad, and that was the first time I'd heard about jobs like that.
I was like, I wanna do that. And now that Noah is doing those things, I'm like, oh, he's reliving the life that I didn't live. But then he's also very much the same personality as me, and I see him struggling with drugs and all that stuff in the same ways that I did. And looking back, as his mom, I know that I can't tell him anything and he's just gonna listen.
But like I was saying before, I know that at least I'm saying these things and if nobody else says it, at least I do. I want him to be somewhat careful. As careful as you can be. I don't know if he, you've talked to him since he got home or since you saw him last, but he actually overdosed on Fentanyl while he was in Alaska, so it's been really scary and it's like my worst nightmare.
Thankfully, he seems to have really taken it seriously. While he was in Alaska, I knew he was struggling with pills and drugs and stuff, but I didn't know to what extent. He, of course, would tell me everything is fine. There's always signs and I know that I couldn't confront him or force him to tell me anything until he finally overdosed.
And so with that has come a whole lot of openness and honesty and he seemed to have been really shook by that whole situation. When he went to Alaska, though, he seemed to be staying sober while he was out there and getting away from the pills and all that stuff that was around here. And then his friend came to visit and brought Percocets and I guess they were laced with Fentanyl, so his tolerance was down.
And so when he took the pill that he normally takes, this time, he overdosed. And that at the hospital they told me that it was pretty common for Percocets and Xanax to be laced with Fentanyl. They said those are the two that they see a lot and they said they had I think something like four other overdoses recently and they didn't all live.
[00:41:04] Carole: Any advice to parents?
[00:41:07] Melissa: No matter how old your kids are, how you show up for them and what you say to them really, they're still listening and I feel like I would want any parent to know that as well. Whether you've gotten sober or not, what you say matters and how you show up matters and you might know that already, but you might not really, really feel it. I feel it these days.
[00:41:26] Carole: What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
[00:41:30] Melissa: When I was doing all the things that I was doing, I was so arrogant and I felt like I went into decisions knowing everything about it and not caring. Doing as many drugs as I did, and taking the kids into places they shouldn't have been.
I felt like I did that with intention and ugh, if I could just go back and slap the girl , oh my gosh. Yeah. Ugh. That arrogance. I regret that. I regret just feeling so, so sure of myself and being so selfish. I would do that over again.
[00:42:01] Carole: What would you like to be doing in the future?
[00:42:04] Melissa: I am working right now as a clinical dietician. But my longer term goal is to do my own private practice and practicing health at every size, practicing trauma-informed nutrition, and being like an anti-diet dietician where, you know, not just in the private sector, but in the schools, and in just in our community altogether, I feel like we are very weight centric and I wanna move away from that.
That's what I've been exploring and a lot of that gentleness and kindness and personal growth and having more empathy and compassion towards others I feel like really developed through doing my step work and a lot of personal work with myself. And so I decided that my private practice name will be Simply Me RD, because I am just me.
I'm here sober. I'm here as an anti-diet dietician. I'm here just as me, every little imperfection or whatever that I have, it's, that's me. I wanna meet everybody where they're at, and I want them to feel like they could be them too.
[00:43:12] Carole: Thank you, Melissa. You're talking to a complete stranger through a screen. From one end of the country to the other, for other people to hear that you've never met before. I can't thank you enough for sharing your story.
[00:43:25] Melissa: You're welcome. And I wanna thank you for having me on and I enjoyed listening to your other episodes. I think the podcast that you have out here is a really special one too, and I'm sure your listeners are very grateful for what you're putting out there.
[00:43:39] Carole: Thank you so much.
I learned so much from Melissa about addiction, sobriety, and then what can happen when you reach out for help. It's never too late. Melissa makes it clear how addiction is way more complex and multifaceted than we are led to believe. We all have addictions in one way or another. I know I'm addicted to my cell phone.
It's a huge topic. And in the media, we hear a lot about the drugs and the alcohol addiction that affect millions of people around the world. And of course, there's the horrible Fentanyl epidemic that is out of control and killing all kinds of people of all ages every day. I think people addicted to whatever substance tend to be stigmatized and misunderstood, and these negative stereotypes and biases associated with addiction make it much more difficult to look for help and get access to the resources that they might need to recover.
Of course, Melissa does not represent all people with addictions, but she does show us by example how not to give up and how there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Labels are tricky and a common theme on this podcast. We love to talk about labels, and though Melissa had her way of embracing the label alcoholic, for example, not everyone can do that.
Words like junkie and addict, they can perpetuate the misconception that addiction is a choice or a moral failing, when in fact it's a chronic illness that requires special attention and ongoing treatment and support. I hope this episode will bring more empathy. And also open up people's hearts to the fact that everyone deserves to be understood. And if that's not possible, at least accepted.
Thank you so much for listening to Wisdom Shared. If you enjoyed this episode, please be sure to check out all the other episodes. Go to caroleblueweiss.com. Or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you like what you're hearing on Wisdom Shared, please spread the word and share this podcast with your friends. Leave a review and subscribe so you can receive wisdom every month. Thanks for listening.