This week I had the pleasure of attending the Moments of Change conference that comes to Palm Beach, Florida each year via the Foundations Recovery Network. I arrived at the beautiful Breakers Resort on Sunday and stayed until Tuesday. I've attended in past years and always look forward to listening, learning, and networking with people in in the treatment and recovery industry.
This year my reason for being there was a little different. Just a few weeks ago I was notified that I would be one of the recipients for the 2016 Heroes in Recovery award and my presence was requested at the conference. I was shocked when I received the email! I was not expecting anything like that and I immediately googled the Heroes in Recovery awards to see who had won in the past and what they had done to earn it.
In April of this year at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego, Richard Noble was presented with a Heroes in Recovery award. Richard is a substance abuse counselor and LGBT rights activist and has been fighting for recovery across the country and on Capitol Hill. Last year at Moments of Change, the Heroes in Recovery awards went to Noah Levine, founder and CEO of the Buddhist Recovery Network and Refuge Recovery, and to Dean Dauphinais, a fellow sober blogger who writes about his experiences with his son's addiction and is a recovery advocate for Heroes in Recovery.
I thought to myself, wow, these are amazing people who are doing remarkable things, I don't think I'm in this category! I even emailed Heidi back and asked her, are you sure I won? She sent me the criteria for the award and assured me I had won. The criteria is as follows:
- Empowering others to be successful in their recovery.
- Removing barriers that hinder people from seeking treatment.
- Changing the public perception of addiction and/or mental health treatment.
I learned Fer and my brother-in-law Fernando both nominated me for the award earlier in the year when they signed up for the Heroes 6k, and in that moment my eyes welled up with tears. I was overcome with emotion at the fact that my family members thought I deserved this award and that I should be nominated, and that the panel actually chose me.
On Monday morning at the opening keynote speech of the conference, the CEO of Foundations Recovery Network, Robb Waggener, presented me with my Heroes in Recovery award. He read off my bio and my contributions to the recovery community and I walked across the stage my heart beating a mile a minute. My mom and Fer were there watching and taking photos. I felt nervous that all eyes were on me, but another moment and the time passed, and the room cleared out.
I was finally able to process what had just happened. Being open about my sobriety got me an award. On that emotional day in the Punta Cana airport 3 years ago, I barely had the will to live one more day, let alone tell my story. Now I was just on stage accepting an award for breaking the stigma of addiction and encouraging others to do the same. This is a testament to how drastically recovery can change lives.
Three years ago I wasn't actively trying to commit suicide, but I didn't care if I died and I wasn't trying to live. I was going through the motions of life and I didn't think there was anything great in store for me. I never really thought about the future, or if I did, it seemed like some childish dream that would never actually happen. I felt like an alien on Earth. The truth is my mind was incapable of thinking I had any important role in this life. I had just been letting life happen to me.
Three years ago I didn't know that in time I would be a living, breathing example of breaking the stigma of addiction. All I knew was the pain I felt in my soul was so incredibly deep, change was my only option. Sharing my story started out as a selfish, therapeutic act. I did it because I had to get things off my chest. I was also looking for someone to say to me, "me too!" And that's what I got.
Thousands of people from all over the world, in many different languages, said just that, "me too, Kelly." And the feelings of belonging, of solidarity, and of growth I felt from this was a sigh of a relief and the beginning of my journey of self-discovery.
When I was drinking and partying I never knew sobriety was an option. I did not think it was for me and that was due in large part to the stereotypes and stigma surrounding alcohol use disorder and addiction. That's why it has become my mission to let other people who drank and used like I did and thought they were just 'party girls and guys,' that you don't have to live that way if it doesn't serve you any longer.
I am absolutely ecstatic, humbled, and profoundly grateful to be the recipient of this award. It's my confirmation from the universe that I am on the right path and there is still much work to be done. I am excited to be a part of the recovery community and spread the light that has been given to me through sobriety.
I am a believer that living your most authentic life will take you where you need to go. So far, it has worked for me.
Thank you to Heroes in Recovery for this prestigious honor and for all the work they do in breaking the stigma and telling the stories of recovery. It's so very needed!