We all want to feel connected. To people, to the Earth, to the things around us. It can be difficult-getting over the fears that tell us we aren’t good enough, that people are judging us or laughing at us because we somehow don’t measure up. The self-doubts and negative thoughts can consume us to the point we don’t even recognize or love ourselves enough to try and make a connection, to ground us to a purpose.
Often people find it through mental health, and still others find it through prayer and finding their higher power. This is what happened for Erin-a long, winding road to find her connections and her recovery.
“My date of sobriety is 6-17-15,” begins Erin Kraus as she tells her story of recovery. “I grew up in Arizona, my mom was an alcoholic until I was 4. I grew up in recovery rooms. I had a really good life — my mom, my dad, my grandma. I had a small family I was around. I was a happy kid. From first to third grade, I was friends with every single person there was to be friends with.”
Things seemed to be going fine for her.
Then, after her mother got remarried, her family moved to a new neighborhood with a higher income level, where Erin began to struggle to fit in.
“I was not the rich kid. I was the poor kid in a rich school,” she says. “I got all my clothes secondhand, so I only got new clothes for my birthday and Christmas. I didn’t notice anything different until I moved to a school where all the kids wore name brand and I was the dirt under their nails, that’s how I felt.”
That was the start of her middle school years. Erin recalls having fake friends, the kids she could be around so she wouldn’t be alone, but not having real friends.
“I had one really good friend who I later found out her mother was an active addict, and I think that’s why we connected so well,” she recalls.
In middle school, Erin joined the cheer squad as a way to make friends, but found it only made her a bigger target.
“Some of the girls who were the ‘popular ones’ didn’t make it but I did, and they bullying just got worse,” she said.
Food was thrown at her in the cafeteria, and though she struggled academically in school, at one point Erin was caught letting someone cheat off of her as a way to make friends.
“I remember thinking ‘I want to fit in, I want to make a connection. I want to feel wanted, I want to feel safe, and I want to feel loved,” she said.
Those were the thoughts that constantly revolved in her head.
After her mother and stepfather separated, Erin and her mother moved back with her grandmother, which for Erin meant returning to an area where she had felt safe and comfortable.
Erin was still trying to find her place, and wanted to change things up. So, she had cut hair off.
“I don’t know why I did it, but I know I didn’t look like a girl. The cut made me look masculine, so the girls all assumed that I was possibly hitting on them. I wasn’t,” she said.
Soon the feeling of disconnection returned, but Erin kept fighting to find her place, joining a new cheer squad, something she had grown fond of.
“I don’t know if I was actually the outsider or if because I felt like one, I just disconnected from the people I was around. I just felt like I didn’t fit in.”
Eventually, Erin did meet a few friends and did what teenagers often do, they party.
“I went with them one night, and I wanted to feel welcomed and a part of it, feel like wasn’t being judged. And that’s what alcohol did for me, for a really long time,” Erin said.
Alcohol helped her escape, let go of the fears and doubts that followed her like a lead balloon.
“I still went to school, did enough to stay on the cheer squad because that was really the only reason I stayed in school for as long as I did.”
But she found that alcohol provided her something she thought she needed.
“Once I discovered alcohol, people that I’d seen in classes, in the hallways, the boys, it was like they saw me. I was seen and accepted, and liked,” Erin said.
She felt that it was alcohol that helped her out of her shell.
Then she connected with Ecstasy.
“That was a whole different level for me. That’s when high school became obsolete, unnecessary to me,” she said.
Not long after, Erin says her mom kicked her out of their home and she dropped out of high school, but got a job while she couch-surfed for a while.
“I just kept working and did a lot of Ecstasy and drank a whole lot of alcohol and that was the rest of my teens,” Erin said. “Wanting to feel cherished and loved, all the BS things movies tell us we need, that we chase, that we are willing to do all things that we would not normally do because of desperation.”
Eventually, chasing the elusive things Erin thought she needed led to full-blown addiction, all the while maintaining the appearance of a normal life-having a good job, paying her bills, having a house and a car, doing all the right things, even keeping a solid relationship for many years.
“I didn’t see any issues in the way I was living my life because it wasn’t affecting things that I assumed would’ve been affected if I was truly an alcoholic or addict.”
She recalls how she grew up, in spaces with people in recovery, talking about how their lives had been destroyed, that played a part in believing she was fine. The people in her orbit lived the same way, with a few nights of hard partying, drinks during the day, to her it all seemed normal.
“I didn’t recognize any of the signs. As long as I didn’t look worse than everyone else, I was fine,” Erin said. “Looking back, I realized at that point, I had a problem. It took me a really long time to see it. The bad things really happened when drugs entered my system.”
But it would take Erin a long time to connect any issues with how she was living her life. Meanwhile, Erin accidentally tried meth and as she tells it, that was it. She didn’t need alcohol after that.
“I loved the feeling I had with it. I was awake, I was so active.”
She really liked how the drug made her brain slow down, helped her focus and process, and believes that was the reason she latched onto the drug. It turns out Erin had undiagnosed ADHD, which created its own havoc as it went untreated.
“I did a lot of drugs. I had a job, it didn’t last very long. Getting and staying high was way more important. I started running around with the wrong crowd and doing a lot of things that, as a child I never dreamed I would be doing, Erin said.
Eventually, people noticed changes in her appearance.
“I was freaking out. I weighed 97 pounds, I’m 5-foot-6 so that was sickly. There wasn’t a way for me to get out.”
She says a friend told her at the time she looked like Gollum, from “Lord of the Rings,” Erin says, adding, “I thought I was pretty and hot and sexy, all the things I wanted to be my whole life.”
The next thing she knew, Erin was back at her grandmother’s house, angry that she was there and was confronted by her family and her drug use. While her parents tried to get into treatment, Erin refused, and instead, took up an offer from a friend to come to Alaska. Her parents scrounged up the money for a direct flight.
“By the time I got to Alaska, after detoxing at my grandmother’s, I was good. I spent 60 days up here, going to meetings and finding new people.”
She thought she had everything under control, believing she understood that while she couldn’t use drugs, she could still have alcohol, since she believed alcohol hadn’t been the source of losing jobs or getting into trouble.
Then she returned to Arizona, and within a month, Erin fell back into old habits.
“Alcohol wasn’t doing what I needed it to do. I used for the next year solid. There was never any downtime, I was constantly on the move, living the criminal life to its fullest,” Erin said.
Erin believes that she had a guardian angel with her because for all the bad behaviors she was exhibiting, she never got into any legal troubles.
“To this day, I thank God, because I know if wasn’t for God, I’d have been in jail, abducted or dead,” she said.
Erin says it was around this time that she had an epiphany. She didn’t want to continue living the life she was, she didn’t want to be the person she was.
“It was exhausting,” she said.
So, she returned to Alaska. Doing what she needed to do, she met up with a friend that she’d met the first time, only to find that person was using. After finding somewhere safe to stay, Erin went to “a ton of recovery meetings” and made connections with people, doing all the things she was told to do.
Yet she still didn’t feel like she belonged.
“I didn’t feel any pull to be around people. I felt like I was back in ninth grade again with fake friends I had someone to sit with.”
Erin doesn’t blame anyone, saying the people she met were good people, helping her while she struggled.
“I realize I hadn’t found my higher power, I wasn’t letting my higher power into my life. It felt like a part of my soul was missing, and everything I did confused self-will with free will,” Erin said.
Again, Erin left Alaska, returning to Arizona, but still felt like an outsider and disconnected. She says she did well for a while
“I constantly in my life see these opportunities where I feel like an outsider and I choose whether or not I’m going to allow myself to feel like that, or if I’m going to open up and allow people into my life.”
Erin says the pivotal moments of her life were the moments where she had to choose to let people see her for who she was rather than keeping herself closed off, believing nobody would like her for who she really was.
After 18 months of being sober, with a good job, and her own apartment, Erin decided she was okay to drink again.
“I laugh at myself because I was never okay to drink, but I couldn’t recognize that alcohol led me to the things that led me down a miserable path.”
Her drinking skyrocketed, and she was a functioning alcoholic. And for her 31st birthday, she took advantage of a long weekend, and decided she go party it up. And her addictions came back.
Erin thought this time around, she could control the addictions, instilling rules like no using after 6 p.m., only allowed to stay up late a few nights partying, and trying to contain the insanity and craziness that she missed.
Then she got pregnant.
“I’d been told numerous times that I couldn’t get pregnant, so I’d made a deal with God a long time ago that if, miracle of miracles, I got pregnant, that was it, I’d quit using. I knew I’d never have to keep that promise,” Erin said.
After taking numerous tests that confirmed her pregnancy, and some freaking out, Erin’s doctor guided her through tapering down her drug use. She also knew that she would be incapable of staying sober on her own once the baby came.
“I called my old sponsor and said I need to come home.”
Her sponsor called her on her relapse and pregnancy, and while Erin struggled with her mental health and stress, she also dealt with suicidal ideations.
“I felt like Arizona was the stressor and I couldn’t wait to get back to Alaska. All of these stressors triggering my problems, not recognizing I was my stressor,” Erin said.
Her sponsor and a friend picked her up, took her to a recovery meeting, and Erin met the man that would become her husband. She says the fear and panic that had weighed her down for so long seemed to not disappear so much as ease when she came back to Alaska and she could breathe.
While attending many, many recovery meetings, she gave birth to a son.
“Life changed. I had to take care of this tiny human. But the fear was back.”
Connecting with a few new people, especially one who was a mother herself, Erin says she finally felt free of the fear of being judged. It allowed her the space to stay clean, which this year marks 7 years.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s been 7 years, it flew by. I don’t have this obsession that battered my brain to use like I did,” she says, remarking that now her first thought isn’t to use, but to make a call a friend, to make a connection. And to pray.
“I don’t have to drink or use to deal with hard times. I can pray and work through and ask for help. I have people who are there, can celebrate and cry with me.”
And those connections that Erin was always looking for, well she has them now. Even with some old friends in high school
“We’re not as connected as we were then, but I know I can still pick up the phone whenever I want, and vice versa.”
Today, Erin is married and raising her son and working for True North Recovery, sharing her message, and offering a connection for those in need.
“Recovery is possible, and people don’t have to go it alone! Everyone is worthy of life they can be proud of, and I’m so proud of my life in recovery.”