Las Vegas, NV
ERIN RIEK - MOTHER
I was born and raised in the Mormon faith. I am the middle child of six siblings and I have incredible parents who are currently serving a mission for the LDS church. As far back as I can remember I imagined my adult life would be simple. Similar to that of my parents, I would be a happily married wife and mother, staying home to raise our children while my husband was working to provide for our family. I never imagined that by the age of thirty, I would be a divorced mother of two little girls, having no real work experience or college and in the beginning stages of what would become a life or death battle with alcohol addiction.
After my divorce, I stopped going to church and I immediately jumped into the dating scene, something I had never really experienced. I really had no direction. I spent a little over a year waiting tables, trying to support my children, until I decided to enroll in classes at the Community college as a special education major. I always liked the idea of helping others and a teacher’s schedule is ideal for a single parent, but as I progressed in school, my drinking and partying was progressing just as quickly. By October of 2007, I had two DUI’s within a period of less than two months.
Still very much in denial about my disease, I took this as me having very bad luck, and the light slap I got on the wrist from the justice system certainly did not help to convince me otherwise. I decided that maybe if I just stayed home to drink, it would not be a problem but I would be lying if I said I never drove my car again after drinking. I remember thinking “if only” all the time. “If only I was married” or “if only I didn’t have to work and have all the stress.” I also know that I was starting to feel like I no longer liked the person I saw in the mirror. I felt, ashamed, alone, a lot of guilt, and I was quickly learning that by drinking, it took away all of these awful feelings but in doing this, I was just becoming a shell. I was also losing the ability to connect on a deeper level with people and with things. I know this greatly affected my daughters. I was physically present but emotionally, I was completely gone.
Well, eventually I did remarry; I had two more children, transferred to UNLV, and quit my job to be home more with my children and was drinking up to a fifth of vodka almost every day. I managed to stop drinking during both of my last two pregnancies, but it was a huge struggle for me. This was probably the first time I knew I had a serious problem with alcohol addiction. I can remember a feeling of relief when I found out I was pregnant with my son who I had first with my second husband. Even though it was difficult for me, I finally had an excuse to stop. I managed to stay sober for about 3 weeks after he was born and then one day when I went to the store to buy groceries, I suddenly found myself in the liquor isle and then to the checkout line with another bottle of vodka. Within weeks, I was right back to where I was before I became pregnant. When he was seven months old, I found out I was pregnant again and this was the first time I remember just feeling complete terror and hopelessness. This is such a selfish disease that for the first time in my life, the thought of abortion crossed my mind but I knew that if I went down that path, there would be no coming back emotionally. Deep down inside, I knew I still had some sense of what my morals and values were that I had been taught and lived most of my life. I managed to stay sober and my last baby girl was born in November of 2011. Sadly, I came home from the hospital with her on a Wednesday and on Thursday I was at the store buying alcohol. Being under the influence of alcohol all of the time, even if I was not drunk, had a huge impact on my ability to really form a deep bond with both of my younger children as babies. Even today, there are a lot of things I really don’t remember about the two of them like I do with my two older ones and this makes me very sad at times.
I wish I could say this is when I decided to share this dark secret and get help, but unfortunately I let shame, guilt, and fear keep me from doing so for another four years. On January 4th 2013, after receiving some difficult news about the loss of my husband’s job, I left him at home with my four children and I went out to a bar across town to drink with my “friends”. On the way home, I was pulled over and arrested for my third DUI, a felony under the law and carries a possible sentence of 1 to 5 years. This was my rock bottom. I have never in my life felt so much emptiness, hopelessness, and despair. The craziest part of this was that no matter how depressed I felt and how scared I was about the possibility of facing time behind bars, I still could not stop drinking. Here I was, angry at my husband for losing his job, then I turn around and get a 3rd DUI and then spent just about every dime of our families savings to hire a top DUI attorney so he could get me out of this mess and I could go on with my fabulous lifestyle of daily drinking. After sharing my story and my situation with this attorney, he asked me if I had children. I told him that I had four children. He looked at me for a moment and then finally I heard the words that nobody had ever said to me in the last 9 years “Erin I think you have a problem with alcohol and you need help”. He suggested I start attending 12 step meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous, something else nobody had ever suggested to me before.
"This was my rock bottom. I have never in my life felt so much emptiness, hoplessness, and despair."
For the next year I would continue to drink almost daily while the wheels of justice slowly turned, however, something miraculous slowly started to happen to me as I began to attend an A.A meeting I had found close to my house regularly. This miracle was the gift of hope. I cannot even began to explain the feeling of peace and calmness that would come over me as I sat in the back of this meeting room, listening to other alcoholics share their stories. At the end of that year, I finally got myself a sponsor in the program. I also found out that I would be offered a diversion program from the felony courts in replace of any jail time. The program is an intensive 3 year Serious Offender Program (SOP). It requires the first 6 months of being on house arrest, random drug testing two to three times a week, group and individual counseling three times a week, required AA meetings at least twice a week, a breathalyzer installed in every vehicle registered to the offenders address, and monthly check-ins with a probation officer. The offender cannot leave the country and they cannot travel throughout the states without permission and only then if they are in good standing with the program and current on all fees. If the offender tests positive for any drugs or alcohol they are sentenced to 48 hours in jail every time. If the offender misses a group or individual counseling session, they are given 16 hours of community service. If they are caught driving a car or any motorized mode of transportation including a boat, golf cart, go-carts, scooter, etc. without a breathalyzer installed or if they are caught driving under the influence of any kind of drug or alcohol, it is automatic termination and they will have to serve out their jail time and have a felony on their record forever. The overall cost of the program is close to $22,000 to be paid over the course of three years. If these fees are not paid by the end of the three years, the program will be extended until they are all paid off. If the program is successfully completed, the felony charge is reduced to a misdemeanor DUI. This is not an easy program and I was extremely worried that I was not going to be able to stop drinking but on January 7th 2014, I started my road to recovery. I made a commitment to myself that if I had to do this, I was going to get the absolute very most out of it that I could, I needed to try to find something meaningful, a purpose for all of the heartache I had caused myself and my family.
I was put on house arrest on February 14th. I remember quite clearly the day I had to go to the Clark County Detention Center and get that giant bracelet strapped onto my ankle. I felt so much shame, fear and humiliation. On my walk back to my car, I remember the uncontrollable tears flowing down my face and for the first time in many years, I just prayed to my Heavenly Father that if he helped me get through this, I would try my very hardest to spend the second half of my life doing something good and positive. I was still able to go to school as long as I was doing everything else required. It was very overwhelming to say the least but I was determined to continue with school as a Special Education major. My ankle bracelet would be coming off in August and I would be starting my student teaching that fall and then finally graduate in December with my Bachelor in Special Education. I had to be fingerprinted and pass a background in order to do my student teaching hours in the school district, this was a concern, and in May, I was notified that I would not be allowed to continue on in the program because although I was in a diversion program, I still had a “pending felony” on my record. This was pretty devastating for me and another consequence of my poor choices to start drinking which eventually lead to my DUI’s. I decided to talk to my college advisor about it all. At this point I was about 4 months into my SOP program and counseling and I had been involved with A.A for 16 months. My advisor suggested I look into the Human Services program. It was still in the education department but was more in the helping field of counseling. This sounded very attractive to me because I was going through it myself. After some research I knew I needed to switch majors and work in a field that would allow me to give others the same kind of hope and faith that I was receiving. I again met with my UNLV advisor and changed my major to Human Services. I was just four months into my addiction program but I had a new major and a new course schedule, and I couldn’t wait to get started. But once again, life had other plans for me. Just as my summer classes were about to start, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. This news was so devastating and scary, but this was when I first started to realize God had a plan and was already working big miracles in my life and they began with me getting into the SOP program. Had I not gotten into this program, my drinking would have continued and I have no doubt that cancer would have taken my life. Because I was sober and my mind was beginning to be clearer and my thinking more rational, I had the sense and the courage to finally go and get checked out. I had actually noticed the lump months before I had stopped drinking but I just didn’t want to deal with it. Another blessing I received from the SOP program was my own personal counselor that I got to see every week. He would allow me to cry, vent, and scream while he sat very attentively and quietly listening to me and then he would always follow up with his thoughts and suggestions. I would have never sought counseling on my own but I already had it in place because of this program. By this point, I also had the fellowship of the people in my A.A home group. I had to have a bilateral mastectomy on July 21st, 2015. The friends I met in this amazing program brought meals to my family, helped me with my kids, send cards in the mail filled with messages of love and support. A sweet lady who makes quilts made me a chemo quilt, another lady who cuts hair for a living came to my home to give me a haircut when I was too weak to go anywhere. So many acts of kindness and unconditional love from people I had barley know a few months but not even one phone call from these old “drinking friends” I had known for the last 9 years. This was such a humbling experience for me, learning to ask for and accept help and I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father for allowing me to be a part of this group and in these people’s lives before this diagnosis happened to me. These people carried me through this trial!
During my surgery, cancer was discovered in several lymph nodes that had been removed so I was told I would need both Chemotherapy followed by radiation. My college advisor had already rearranged my schedule so I would not have to do summer courses but could still have the same graduation date of May 2016. Now I was told I would need to do treatments from August through December. I thought I was going to have to completely give up on the idea of ever finishing college but she once again rearranged my schedule and found a full load of classes I could take that fall that were all offered online. If I had still been a special education major I would have never been able to student teach, as it requires 8 hour days of teaching in a classroom for the whole semester. This was another reminder that God was watching over me and he had a plan for me as long as I just continued to suit up and show up and have a little faith. That fall, as I would sit in a chemo chair for 4 hours each week, I would read, write, study, and I would finish the semester with all A’s making the Dean’s list. By the time I started my radiation treatments in late January of 2015, I knew I was capable of doing hard things, and I could get through this.
During my last year in the Human Services program, I was required to work 180 hours each semester at a field placement site. I had the privilege and unique opportunity to do my hours at a facility that offered an Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program (CDIOP). This experience allowed me to gain so much more knowledge about the disease concept of addiction, information that I would not have gained through just my court program alone. I also discover what it is to have true empathy and compassion for others and to be of service to those who are suffering and at their very lowest. I realized at this time where I really felt like I could make the most difference and have the biggest impact in the lives of others. I decided that I wanted to get into social work, I wanted to work in direct practice with clients who were court ordered into treatment, the kind of clients who are most resistant and still usually in denial. I made the decision last month to apply for graduate school in the MSW program. I am now 2 ½ years into my own court-ordered program and it has been a life changing journey. I went through cancer and survived and I graduated from college on May 15th 2016 with my Bachelors of Science in Human Services focusing on addiction counseling. The court coordinator of my SOP program, who is also a Social Worker, wrote for me one of my required letters of recommendation for the Masters program. Her faith in me and my ability to do this kind of work has been so meaningful for me.
My alcohol addiction has caused a lot of negative consequences for me and my family. It has led to three DUI’s, it has left a huge financial burden on my family that I am still paying for. It has caused me to lose relationships, jobs, trust from others, it has caused a great deal of disappointment to my children, and missed experiences, memories, and opportunities for me. It is only by the grace of God that I did not hurt or kill anyone else through all of my recklessness and selfish decisions. I know there is guilt and shame that I will always carry with me but through being of service to others, it has given me back the ability to get out of myself and my own self-pity and focus on others who are suffering just as much if not worse than I had to.
Recovery has taught me that some of my biggest strengths I received from going through my hardest trials. I discovered a determination and self-will that I never knew I had. An example of this was my commitment to school, despite going through chemotherapy and radiation. These experiences also taught me humility. I learned to be responsible and accountable for my own actions. I also developed a deep sense of empathy and understanding for others. I have a real understanding of what total hopelessness feels like, and I know what it takes to turn that around. I have discovered a meaning and purpose to my life. I truly believe we were put on this earth to help others and to be of service. I want to help others who are suffering from addiction find hope and meaning in their lives. But the greatest gift I have received from recovery is my connection I have with my God. Before my drinking ever began, when I was going to church every Sunday, I did not have the kind of spiritual connection that I have now. When I was first diagnosed with cancer and trying to understand how all of this could be happening to me at the same time, my court counselor he told me that maybe this is God’s way of trying to connect with me. Maybe he has been waiting for me to have a relationship with him and this is what has to happen in order for me to build faith and trust in him. I have to believe that this very well could be a reason why and in having faith and trust in him and his plan, and continuing to stay close to him, I will be able to continue to live the kind of life that I can be proud of in recovery. I do not believe it is possible for me to stay sober without his help. I made a promise to God on February 14th 2014 when I was on that lonely walk from back to my car from the department of House Arrest and he has not let me down.