Navigating Recovery at An Early Age

The challenges of being in your early 20's and going to treatment for addiction and mental health.


Cheryl Martin (Host): It takes courage to change, to break the chains of addiction and embrace a journey of healing and wholeness. Grace took that bold step of navigating recovery at age 20. Today, she shares her inspiring story.

This is My Miracle Radio, a podcast by Sierra Tucson Alumni Relations. I'm Cheryl Martin. Grace, so glad you're on today.

Grace: Thank you so much for having me.

Cheryl Martin (Host): Grace, what brought you to the point that you decided to seek treatment?

Grace: When I went into treatment, it wasn't necessarily my choice. My parents played a big role in getting me into treatment, even though I was old enough to decide whether or not I wanted to stay, and I did choose to stay. I'm very grateful that my parents saw a lot of the warning signs that I was going through with my drinking and decided to find help for me.

Cheryl Martin (Host): You talk about the drinking. Were there any other addictions, Grace?

Grace: It was primarily the drinking. And while in treatment, I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, which made the drinking kind of go off the rails. When I was in manic states, I would drink a lot more and make decisions that were really unhealthy.

Cheryl Martin (Host): Did you see yourself being addicted to alcohol?

Grace: At first, I didn't. Especially being so young, I thought I was just a normal teenager and young adult that was drinking and partying with their friends. But as time went on, I started to see that I would black out a lot more than most people my age. And I had a lot more difficulties when it came to alcohol than all of my friends.

Cheryl Martin (Host): At what age did you become introduced to alcohol?

Grace: I was 16 when I started drinking.

Cheryl Martin (Host): And was it as a result of peer pressure or it something you wanted to try?

Grace: The first time I drank was actually New Year's Eve when I was 16. So, it was kind of just a result of my friends and I wanted to go out and have a good time and try it out.

Cheryl Martin (Host): So Grace, was your addiction to alcohol gradual or immediate?

Grace: I would say, in a sense, immediate. Because the first time I ever drank, I blacked out and that pattern continued every time I drank. But I wasn't like craving alcohol every day or anything. So to me, it didn't seem like an immediate addiction since I wasn't doing it that often at first. But the response my body had to it was definitely immediate.

Cheryl Martin (Host): How did going into treatment at a young age affect your recovery?

Grace: Going into treatment so young, I felt like I didn't really belong at first, because I didn't have this really like long story or a lot of things that had happened over years and years. But I quickly realized that I had my own story to share. And just because I was young, it didn't mean I didn't need to be there. And when I got more comfortable in treatment, it allowed me to start really participating in treatment and in groups and building sort of like a toolbox of strategies that I could use when I was having trouble outside of treatment. And in treatment, they asked me if I wanted to extend my stay, so I ended up extending my stay by two weeks. And I think this helped me a lot. Because when I first had gotten there, I was acting like I didn't need to be there. So, the extra two weeks in treatment really gave me the time that I needed to heal myself and really get better.

Cheryl Martin (Host): When did the light bulb go off for you when you realized, "I do need to be here"?

Grace: I think it was a few weeks in. I had talked to a lot of other people who were there, and I just sort of realized that we're all going through something, and that I didn't need to be afraid of it. And I also realized, by talking to therapists and psychiatrists, that there was something wrong with me that I needed to change, and that needed to start now. I couldn't keep putting it off.

Cheryl Martin (Host): What has the journey been like for you, fast forward like three years now?

Grace: It's been so rewarding for me. After I got out of treatment, I actually ended up relapsing a couple months after I'd gotten out. And there were a slew of relapses after that. But then, I actually got a text from one of my friends that I went to treatment with, suggesting I go to the Alumni Support Group meetings for Sierra Tucson after I had a really bad relapse. And I went on those and I've been going ever since. I found a sponsor on there and I found so many people that I could connect with and get support from. And so, I've been consistently going to meetings ever since. And I started going to in-person meetings as well. And now, I do a lot of things, like following a schedule, making sure I get enough sleep, journaling about my day, doing things to help me manage my emotions. I've been going to therapy ever since I got out, and just things like that so that I'm always working on my recovery and doing the things that I need to do to stay strong in recovery and not go back to those points where I was when I relapse.

Cheryl Martin (Host): And this has made a big difference then?

Grace: Oh, definitely. The alumni meetings have really helped me to connect to other people in recovery, and to see people who have so many years keep coming back to meetings especially being so young. At first, I felt like I couldn't stop drinking forever. But now that I see people who have 30 plus years sober, and I was still here to talk about it, I know that I could do it too, and it just makes me have so much more hope for myself.

Cheryl Martin (Host): That's great. So, how do you cope in social situations now when that temptation comes?

Grace: Now, I always start by letting my sober supports know before I go to social situations. So, this could be like my family or friends in recovery or a sponsor, and I let them know, "Hey, I'm going into a situation that there might be people drinking at or it might not be the best situation for me." So, I'll tell them beforehand. And then, if anything does go wrong or I do feel like I want to drink, I can call them immediately and talk it through with them. And I've also gotten a lot better at if I want to just leave because that's the best thing for my recovery, I'll just take a step away from the situation and I'll leave, and that's been really helpful for me.

Cheryl Martin (Host): That's great. Now, how has this impacted your social life?

Grace: My social life has changed in so many ways during recovery. My social life used to consist of going to parties, drinking with my friends. And the majority of what I used to do for fun involved drinking because I felt like that's what fun was. And now, my definition of fun has changed so much. And I do things like go to a meeting, go shopping, go on a hike, anything like that. But in some ways too, my social life has stayed the same because I've managed to keep a lot of my friends from before recovery. And now, I just don't partake in the drinking activities with them. I'll do something like go get coffee in the morning with them and I'll stay away from nightly activities or times when I know they're going to be drinking.

Cheryl Martin (Host): So, you haven't necessarily changed your friends, but have they respected your journey and they don't try to influence you in this regard?

Grace: In the beginning, it was really difficult with my friends, because they didn't fully understand what I was going through, and they still wanted me to be their party friend and to drink with them. And I did take a lot of time off from my friends in the beginning of my recovery because that was what was the safest for me and I didn't want to compromise my sobriety.

But as time goes on, they've had a lot of conversations with me, and now they're much more understanding and they understand now that it's serious and I'm serious about not drinking, and that I really don't want to partake in those things.

Cheryl Martin (Host): Now that you are committed to your sobriety, is there this temptation at all? Now, let's say when you see a 16-year-old or a young person who is binging, or the liquor controls them, to want to stop and pull them aside and say, "You don't want to go down this"?

Grace: I think it's always really hard to watch if I see someone else going through something similar. And I would definitely try and talk to them or say something to them. But a lot of times, as I know with myself, it does have to come from within. And a lot of times people aren't ready to stop or they don't think that they have a problem. So, I think it's kind of a fine line of I can talk to them, I can do my part, but I know now that I can't save everyone. And it does have to come from within, from that person, if they do really want to make a change. But if they're willing to, then I'm always here to help and support them in any way that I can.

Cheryl Martin (Host): And Grace, when you were in treatment, did you find that it was holistic in terms of also helping you with your mental health challenges?

Grace: Yes, definitely. I think my alcohol addiction goes hand in hand with the bipolar II disorder, especially because in a manic state, I'm a lot more prone to making decisions that are unhealthy and really risky bad decisions. And when I drink on top of that, it just makes things a lot worse. And Sierra Tucson helped me find the right medication for the bipolar II to stabilize me. And luckily, it's a really treatable disorder. So hopefully, I shouldn't have another episode again in my life. I haven't had one since I went to Sierra Tucson, so I'm so grateful for that.

Cheryl Martin (Host): That's wonderful. What advice, Grace, would you have for someone in his or her 20s or younger in need of treatment but reluctant or afraid to make that move?

Grace: I would advise them to look at all the options and just have an open mind, even if they're not ready at the exact moment when they're going into treatment. I would say just have an open mind about the process. And one of the things that helped me a lot was talking to people who had a lot of years of recovery behind them. And this made it easier for me to understand that this can be a lifelong change, and it doesn't have to be so hard.

Cheryl Martin (Host): Grace, I am certain that your transparency encourages someone thinking about treatment to take that bold step to recovery. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I love your determination.

Grace: Thank you so much for having me. I'm really grateful. Sierra Tucson definitely saved my life. And I'm actually celebrating two years sober today, so I just couldn't be more grateful.

Cheryl Martin (Host): Congratulations.

Grace: Thank you.

Cheryl Martin (Host): For more information, visit That's This has been My Miracle Radio, brought to you by Sierra Tucson Alumni Relations. Thanks so much for listening,