I love bringing you guys, the community on the blog to tell your stories.
Today we have Tess Annique Souray of Wellness With Tess here to walk us through her journey of trauma, alcoholism, rehab, recovery & wellness.
Tess & I connected on Instagram & I found her story really compelling. Addiction is something we talk about a lot on The Skinny Confidential HIM & HER podcast & I’ve experienced it in my own family so I think sharing & hearing other people’s stories make the subject not so taboo.
In this post Tess gets so real & raw. Let’s get right to this incredible story & welcome Tess to the blog.
A Grateful Alcoholic: Trauma, Addiction & Recovery with Tess Annique Souray
Hi, my name is Tess & I’m a grateful alcoholic.
The first time I heard the term ‘grateful alcoholic,’ I cringed. It was the corniest cliché. Something I physically shrugged my shoulders & shut my eyes tightly at whenever I heard it in the rooms. But boy, is it true.
My sobriety date is October 13, 2017. That’s 4.26 years, 51.16 months, or 1,559 days. But hey, who’s counting. I got sober when I was twenty-four years old. The craziest thing about my sobriety journey is that I didn’t even know I was an alcoholic. We’re typically the last to know. I thought alcoholics were old men wearing a tattered trench coat drinking whiskey out of a paper bag. Little did I know it would be a term I came proud to call myself. People often asked me,
“How are you an alcoholic? You’re too young to be one. Your life looks perfect, it can’t be true!”
Well, in one way or another this is how the story typically goes: first, drinking is fun. Then it’s fun with problems. And then you’re just left with a whole lot of problems. To tell you my story we must take a few steps back…so let’s rewind.
I am a first-generation American who grew up in Southern California. My parents are from a small village in Germany & very much were in pursuit of ( & achieved) the American dream. I grew up in a very European household with a younger sister whom I loved. My parents met when my mom was 17 & had come to the states together in the early 80s with two suitcases & a dream for a better life.
My mom & I learned English together reading my schoolbooks. It was clear our very European family stood out amongst the surfer kids of southern California. My first experience at not fitting in. My mother was the most gorgeous woman: bright blue eyes, ivory skin, slicked black bleach blonde hair. She made shopping at Trader Joe’s look like she was attending Paris Fashion Week. She made everything around her beautiful. Up until the teenage years life was very much ponies, rainbows, & white picket fences. I couldn’t complain.
But once I turned 18 everything changed.
Sure, I was your typical high school kid, sneaking alcohol from their parent’s liquor cabinet. I looked 21 at 15, some would say, both a blessing & a curse. But it was one night that I learned my relationship with alcohol was different than the rest: it’s what I used to numb the pain.
I was 17 when I learned the family secrets that started to spill. Without telling parts of the story that are not mine to tell, I can tell you how it affected me & led me to good ol’ rehab. In German culture, it’s the norm to act like everything is fine. You wouldn’t dare give off the impression that something was wrong, & you wouldn’t even think about airing your dirty laundry. Everything had to be picture perfect. I always hated how phony that was. It seemed fake & inauthentic from A to Z.
The night I had discovered our family trauma, my best thinking was to stop at Pete’s Liquor Store on PCH & get a room at a hotel. I was 17 & still in high school living at home. Home no longer felt like home & the people in them felt like strangers. I just needed some peace & quiet so I could process what the f*ck I had just heard. Every family goes through shit. Ours wasn’t that much different from the others. But it was the type of information that stops you from speaking to one half of the family. I haven’t spoken to them in 8 years. I don’t even know if they’re alive to be honest. Nor do I really care.
It was at this time when I really stepped my drinking up a notch.
I was finally off to college, a place where I could start fresh. Or so I thought. Everyone’s college days are wild & cliché. But mine was really a blur. I had been in the most toxic relationship for three years, which ended traumatically. The only place I could move to from our crumby apartment was the sorority house, & I never felt like I fit in. I started going off-campus every night to party without judgment. My days were filled with an addiction to Vyvanse & Adderall. I somehow manipulated the doctor to prescribe me the highest dose Vyvanse you could get in the state of Texas because of my ‘German’ health insurance. I don’t even know how I managed to do that.
I’d worked in fashion since I was 15. I was getting skinnier, & I was getting more work. Seemed like a win-win. I’d drink pretty much anything & everything, if you gave it to me- I wouldn’t say no. I would go out at night with ‘friends’ who’d I just met or people I barely knew. I’d hang out with anyone who wanted to get drunk or high. I never went to college bars, instead finding myself meeting people within the city of Dallas. I hated being alone, but the loneliness followed me everywhere.
I’d go out until 2, hit up whatever after-party was next & wake up in my bed the next day for class, not knowing how I’d gotten there. I would drink until I passed out or got sick, whichever came first. My drink of choice started as a Jack & coke, then some Jack with a splash of coke, & then it became straight whiskey.
Like they say in the program, 1 drink is too many. 10,000 is not enough.
As my life began to unravel around me, people started to see that I wasn’t ok. Living among 50 other girls it’s hard to keep that kind of secret when you’re the only one coming into the house on a Wednesday morning at 4 am. I got called to a meeting with the sorority committee. They were concerned about my behavior, & rightfully so. They sanctioned me to Drug & Alcohol Counseling & mandatory therapy with a therapist. I lost it. I couldn’t believe they were forcing me to do therapy! They had no idea what I was going through, but how dare they even suggest that?!
I reluctantly went to my first session. But to my surprise, it was the first time I felt heard in my entire life. At least here I could tell her all the horrible things I had done. At least confess my sins & clear some of my guilty conscious. Two months later, it was time to graduate & get the f*ck out of there. I left the minute after I received the diploma. I never took any photos in my cap & gown. Looking back, I was the first woman in my family to graduate from university. I wish I would have taken a photo for my dad. He was so proud, even though I was an absolute mess of human being.
I arrived in LA like most young adults do: eager, excited, & naive as can be.
I had signed with another agency out there & being from Orange County, I felt familiar with LA. It doesn’t take long to get caught up in the mix. I found a group of friends that liked to do the same thing I did: go out to party & pretend to be having a good time. Life was fast in the fast lane, & I had some experiences one could only dream about. But I was miserable.
My depression & my hangovers were so bad that I started drinking in the mornings just so I wouldn’t feel as horrible. I knew it would take the edge off & make me feel a little better. Every decision I made was centered around partying & booze. LA was all sex, drugs & rock & roll. Lots of fun, but then fun with problems. And then you’re left with a whole bunch of problems. It took less than 6 months for me to be left with only problems.
I woke up on January 23, 2017, completely hopeless. I wouldn’t say I was suicidal because I think I’m too much of a coward to do anything. But I thought to myself, “If this is what life is about, I don’t want anything to do with it.” My thoughts had never been this dark before. I was typically a happy-go-lucky gal, but when the thought of peace in heaven seemed better than the reality of my shitty meaningless existence, I was scared.
On that day, I asked for help.
I called my therapist from Dallas who connected me to the treatment center. Within three hours I had packed my bags & was on my way to Tucson, Arizona. For the first time in a long time, I had a smile ear to ear. The driver was confused with my over-enthusiastic appearance. I told him, “There’s no way in hell I’m leaving this place worse off than when I got here.” It was the first time I felt hopeful in a damn long time. I’m pretty sure he thought I was still high as a kite.
I went to treatment for depression, trauma, & anxiety. I sat down to do my first intake questionnaire with the counselor, & he looks at the two dozen pages.
It went something like this:
“We’ll put you on Addiction Track 1. Trauma Track 2.”
“I’m sorry what?!” I practically spit out my black coffee.
“Uh, Addiction Track 1, that means you’ll be learning how to get sober. You’re an alcoholic.”
I screamed, “You have no idea what you’re taking about. If I’m an alcoholic, that means you have to get every other 20-something in LA here.”
“Well, we’re not worried about them. We’re worried about you.”
I glared at him. They have no idea what they’re talking about, I muttered to myself & reluctantly grabbed my papers back & ran out the door.
Rehab is like school. You get a schedule. You get your phone taken away. And you have blocked schedules of classes like “Grief Group” or “Addiction 101.” It’s weird because everyone’s there from completely different things. Yes, you have your cokeheads & your former frat stars. Your recently divorced individual to your unbothered teens whose desperate parents sent them. We are all so different. Yet the same. Absolutely miserable & down to the wire to try to figure out how we’re going to get out of the mess we’ve created.
Rehab is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.
It taught me all the things I thought I missed growing up. How to effectively communicate: like how to make non-blaming “I” statements in times of confrontation. Little did I know that changing a phrase from “You are___” to “I feel ___” would make that big of a difference in my life, but it did. It taught me how to effectively feel my emotions. And it taught me how to work through pain. It taught me how to make amends & take accountability for myself & my actions. It was all great, except one thing. I didn’t believe I was an alcoholic.
I went to treatment January 2017. I got out late February. Then I did sober living, went to IOP ( Intensive Outpatient ) & still didn’t feel like I was an alcoholic. I hadn’t hit my bottom yet. They say if you’re an alcoholic or an addict, you pick up right where you left off when you go out. And damn, was that the truth. I got a phone call in late June from my friend Weston’s brother. He had passed away in his sleep the night before. I was the last text he got. I hadn’t heard from him for a while, so I sent him a message checking in. He said, he didn’t feel well, & he was going to go to bed. He’d text me later. He never woke up. The toxicology report came back positive for Fentanyl.
I had met Weston in treatment.
He was the guy who was always clean shaven wore a collared polo…in rehab. It just seemed like he didn’t belong there. It just goes to show that addiction does not discriminate, it’s a deadly disease. His passing struck a chord with me, I didn’t understand how God could be so cruel. He was just 24 years old & had his entire life ahead of him. I started to resent God. I didn’t understand why all these things were happening to me. It just didn’t make any sense.
The next day my phone dings. I get a text from an unknown number. “Hey Tess, it’s Sheldon S from treatment. I got your number from a mutual friend. I heard about Weston & just wanted to say I’m so sorry. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to support you.” Sheldon S was a 6’4” retired hockey player. We met in treatment & had discovered that we had a lot of mutual friends. He had played in Dallas & Anaheim, a few streets away from my childhood home.
All the girls used to always joke that he looked like a Greek God covered with tattoos. He was a big tough guy with the sweetest heart. Easy on the eyes too. I remember he texted me around 11 am. I’d just woken up & was drinking my favorite whiskey in my coffee. I felt incredibly numb & in disbelief. It still didn’t seem real. I started making plans to hang out with people & go out. If I was any good at anything it was pretending to be okay. I was really good at making people believe I was fine.
I started partying like I never left.
Out every night until 4 am. Waking up around 2 pm. Hanging out with fake friends & people who I could barely remember their name. I didn’t really care who I was with if I could drink. The days turned to weeks & weeks turned to months. It was the worst it had ever been. I started talking to Sheldon more & more. I felt like he never judged me. He understood what I was going through. He has his own demons, he got it. I didn’t have to hide it all & that was refreshing.
We started talking on the phone for hours a day. He invited me up to his summer house in Idaho & a vacation sounded nice – I felt like I needed one. We spent that weekend in September drinking the best wine, going on boat rides, & watching classic movies. It had been years since I felt that at-ease, comfortable & safe in someone’s presence. We both weren’t sober, but we were trying to figure it out. At least we spoke the same language & understood each other. I started to really care for him.
A few weeks later, he was in LA & said he wanted to meet.
The morning comes & *crickets*. I couldn’t get ahold of him. He wasn’t active on Instagram. His texts turned green. I knew he was using again, & my mind went straight to the worst-case scenario. It felt like Weston’s case all over again. Sheldon’s last text to me was that he’ll call me tomorrow. I started freaking out at 48 hours because it was so unlike him. And I was worried that something horrible had happened. I spent the next 72 hours talking to his friends I had met & everyone was worried. I finally discovered he had gone to treatment again. My heart stopped racing & I knew he was okay. That’s all that mattered.
After the longest day ever of playing Nancy Drew, I went home to my apartment in LA. I opened the door & saw my roommate on the ground overdosed with her empty bottle of Xanax close by. She had overdosed. I called 911 and all I could keep thinking to myself was: is this real life? Everyone close to me is dead, dying or nearly dead. I was dancing with the devil & I knew my time was next.
I was riding in the back of the ambulance to Cedars Sinai & messaged her family members & told them what was going on.
She had a brother who lived close who was going to come up. As soon as he got there, I left. It was around 11:50 pm & I thought perfect, I still have time to go out. I could barely see straight by 5 am because I was a drunken zombie. I remember not knowing where I was or who I was with. So I sent God a Hail Mary prayer, I said, “I hear you. I see you. I know I’m next. Get me home, & I’ll live the rest of my life sober.”
I woke up in my clothes from the night before in my disheveled room. The clock read 10:11 on October 13th. That was the day I admitted that I was powerless over alcohol, & that I was an alcoholic. It’s the day my life truly began. I owe my life to 12 step programs & I owe my life to other sober women. And I was one of the lucky ones who got a second chance.
I know I’m living on borrowed time.
I got a sponsor, worked the steps, took chips at milestone birthdays, went to women’s meetings, & found a real home in recovery. Sheldon had moved to LA after rehab & he was the first sober friend I had. Then we started doing 90 AA meetings in 90 days together. And by the end of the 90 days, I had moved in with him. We recently got married in Idaho on the same weekend I first visited him in September, five years later.
Everything happens for a reason & looking back on it all, he was my reason. We live a sober life and we’re both on the same page regarding our recovery. We put our program first. God ( or your higher power ) next & then everything else comes after. What you put before your program, you will lose.
It is the greatest gift to love someone so authentically.
I thank God for him every day. My old roommate from LA just got her two-year sobriety chip, too. Sometimes I see her face on zoom meetings & I smile to myself. I’m so grateful she found her way to these rooms. Not everyone is that lucky.
Getting sober is the hardest thing to do. But living sober is the easier, softer way. I wish everyone could experience the gift of recovery. When I first got sober, everything changed. I moved out of my apartment. I went to AA meetings instead of going to bars. And I cut off old friends because my new friends were all sober. I started working out & going to therapy. Slowly but surely 30 days turned into 60 days, & then 90. A change started happening. I also started to like who I was becoming.
For years I was ashamed of who I looked at when I looked in the mirror. Sobriety made me proud of who I saw. I have the deepest respect for those in recovery & choosing to live a sober life. If it was easy, everyone would do it. There’s a saying in the rooms of AA: “Stick around until the miracles happen.”
I remember being a newcomer walking into the rooms & seeing these women full of grace tell their stories with such authenticity. They lived the past 40-50 years sober. I want what they have, so I do what they do. I had smart feet & kept them moving & slowly, but surely, the miracles started to happen. My life got bigger & better. But most importantly I was at peace with who I am as a human being.
My whole life I always asked God ‘Why do you keep doing this to me?”
It was only in recovery that I learned “he wasn’t doing it to me, he was doing it for me.” He was doing for me what I could not do for myself. I’m proud of the struggle I’ve been through. I’m proud of the woman I’ve become. And I’m proud to be a sober twenty something. I’m a very grateful alcoholic.
Hope you loved hearing about Tess’s road to recovery as much as I did. Be sure to check out her gorgeous photos on Instagram & check out her website. Tess offers one-on-one health coaching & has a blog where she shares wellness tips & recipes.
+ for more on addiction, check out this post.
++ scope these 5 things I learned from interviewing Glennon Doyle.