Of the many people who struggle with addiction, more find long-term recovery than you might think. Their stories are nothing short of miraculous.

MJ Watman

My name is Mary Jane Watman. I go by MJ. I will be coming up on 10 years of sobriety, April 3rd, and I am the business development community outreach for Cornerstone Healing Center. My addiction took a lot of different forms. At 12, I was drinking almost every day. By 16, 17, I ended up in the juvenile prison systems because of the consequences of my drinking. I knew at a young age, I grew up in recovery. My father has lots and lots of years sober, and I grew up in recovery like people around me, and so I knew what the problem looked like. I wasn’t under some delusion like I don’t have a problem. For me, the most difficult thing was I’m young and I couldn’t quit drinking. I couldn’t quit drinking. I remember being 15, 16, swearing that I was going to go out this weekend with friends and I wasn’t going to drink. Next thing you know, the cops are bringing me home in handcuffs back to my dad.

So at 17, I got to go to juvenile prison because I don’t like to follow anybody’s rules when I drink. I like to do whatever I want to do and that doesn’t fly in society. I remember getting out of juvenile prison, and I remember just on the brink of 18 and swearing that this time it was going to be different. I wasn’t going to live like this anymore. I knew at a young age that this was not what was working out for me. Then fast forward, I ended up going to the penitentiary at 21. I don’t have respect for people. I don’t have respect for authorities. I don’t have respect for myself or anything else. With me, that looks like really bad consequences. So I ended up going to the penitentiary at 21 when I was pregnant. I believed that they would never send pregnant women to prison and they do. I got to have my daughter who will be 20 this year, I had her in the penitentiary.

I remember, I got to hold her for about, wow, I got to hold it for 20 minutes was all I got to hold her for. I remember being like, “I’m never going to do this again. This is it. I got it now. I understand.” This was all due to drinking. It’s literally due to drinking. It wasn’t due to being a thug. It wasn’t due to any of that. It was consequences of my drinking. I remember getting out of prison and I remember swearing it was impossible for me to ever do this again. I had learned my lesson. This was never going to happen. I understood. Well, so I thought. The disease aspect of this, I get it. I can’t drink anymore and I can’t do this.

I stayed sober for a while out of prison. I started doing some recovery stuff. What happened is I just thought I was better. I was young. I got my life back. I had people back in my life. Everyone came around me to support me. They gave me the love that I always claimed I never got, that whole thing. I quit work in recovery. I quit doing the things that got me to the point of where I was at, freedom. You know what I mean? I drank again. I drank again. Two and a half years sober, on parole. Every consequence that was creeping behind me and I picked up a drink and I caught another charge while I was drinking.

That, I guess, is where we look at where my addiction comes from is that, unfortunately for me, the consequences that I really believed, I mean, there were horrible consequences, I believed that they were enough and they weren’t. They weren’t. That’s when a whole different path for me ended up happening is I got sober again and I did the same thing. I’m good. All these people in recovery, they gave their time, they gave their energy for free, for fun for me to help me live. I got better. Then I had more kids and I got married and I had a minivan. Here I’m young, living my best life. A life that I never thought I could have and I forgot about the other suffering people again. We have a thing in a lot of different recovery programs and a lot of different things of community and giving back, it threads. It threads throughout spiritual things, it’s a sense of that.

Instead of me doing what is always suggested to do, I got busy with my life. I got consumed back in MJ and what MJ wanted and where MJ was. At three and a half years sober, I dry, whatever you want to call it, is they’re like, “You have to have a surgery.” I’m like, “Awesome. I’m not a junkie. We’re good. Never liked your guys’ drugs. I’m an alcoholic.” When you go in with that thought of, “I have power over one substance, but not over another,” and I wasn’t involved in my recovery. I was just dry. I just wasn’t drinking for three and a half, at the end of that, the three and a half years. They said, “You have to have surgery?” I go, “Awesome. I’m not a junkie. I’m an alcoholic. I’m not one of them.” thentook a seven year spiral of narcotics.

For me, it was all the drugs that I took, that I overdosed on. They were all prescribed to me. I don’t blame any doctors for absolutely anything I’ve been through. Once I became addicted and hooked, I manipulated. I lied and I abused the system to get whatever I wanted. Then that’s a whole different part of my addiction. I had 28 surgeries in six years. Half of them were unnecessary, only cause I wanted the IV drugs for weeks at a time in the hospital. That brought me to my knees in a way that alcohol didn’t, because what drugs allowed me to do was stay at home to not get arrested. I wasn’t in that type of trouble, but it destroyed the life that I had around me. My kids, even to this day, I mean, we’re some years into this, is to have a life where you don’t know if mommy is alive or not. You don’t know if the saying, and my kids, I’m sure they’ll see those videos, “Mommy has crazy in her eyes,” and that’s because I just shoved handfuls of pills and who knows what came of that?

I am the type of drug addict. I am the type of alcoholic that I love my kids so much, but I put them in the car when I was in Xanax blackouts. I put them in the car when I was loaded. I had a brand new minivan. Oh, my little minivan, right? I put those little babies in car seats and I took a handful of pills. I totaled that minivan with those little girls in the car. I totaled the minivan. Thank God for, or maybe not thank God, I don’t know, but because it wasn’t alcohol on my breath and everybody was hysterical, it was, “Oh, she’s just a hysterical mom.” Because the truth of the matter is if life was fair, I wouldn’t be sitting here doing this interview with you guys. I would never been able to leave from behind bars.

So I have two different stories. I heard the criminal story and then I have the criminal not caught, but destroying, destroying the people that I loved and just breaking them all down to where when I finally got clean almost 10 years ago, people were done. I couldn’t imagine what my parents went through watching their child put their grandkids through that. I hear a lot of things in recovery. People say, “I’m grateful for the people, they didn’t turn their back on me. They didn’t give up on me.” I’ve never looked at that like my family turned their back on me or didn’t give up on me. What I looked is as my family had to protect themselves from this monster of addiction, because I’m in my addiction, no one means anything to me. If that’s not apparent with my children, anything. There’s no love that is found there. There’s nothing.

So I respect the people in my life that said, “We love ourselves enough to not go through this with you anymore.” I fully believe I’m here today because people said, “We’re not going to do this anymore with you.” I fully believe that. My life today with 9.9 years, nine years and some change of sobriety is, it’s life. Here’s a super cool thing, okay? So today I have a home. I have my children. I have a home, I have my children, I have a job. I have friends. I have this, that on paper, everyone’s like, “Oh my God, MJ your life.” I know, it is. It really is. Here’s the thing, though, again, might not be a popular thing. Doing work, doing this there’s work and recovery, right? This longterm internal work, working on my fears, working on this gratitude constantly. My life has always been this way.

I don’t mean easy. I don’t mean like I didn’t go through a lot. I’ve gone through a lot of bad things from a childhood up. But in reality, this life that I have today, this overwhelming beauty, it’s a beauty, right? I’ve always had it. I’ve just never been able to see it. That’s what the difference. This is what 9.9 years of sobriety has brought, is it didn’t bring the home. It didn’t bring the family. It didn’t bring the career. It didn’t bring the job. It brought a sense of gratitude and appreciation for it, because I’ve had things, and it doesn’t matter anything that I’ve had. It was just never enough. That’s what working a program of recovery, whatever that is that you do, that’s what it’s brought, is that it doesn’t matter what happens today. It’s enough.

Life has happened. I lived in some delusion that if I put down drugs and alcohol, life’s going to go my way. It’s going to go my way and it is going to be amazing. So what happens when you’re in that awesome delusion that everything’s going to just go that way. The first thing that starts happening, the divorce and sobriety, it’s like, “Oh, wait, this isn’t fair. This isn’t what it’s supposed to look like.” Right? I’m so grateful for the sense of community, the people around me that are like, “MJ, this is life. This is what life is.” So life today is life. I’ve been at at five years sober. My sponsor died. Oh, I loved my sponsor so much. At five and a half years sober, my 17 year old daughter committed suicide. Then a year later, me and my kids are out in the front yard, and this sounds petty, but this is a stumbling thing, we watched my dog get ran over by a car in front of the kids and we did this.

So I have this year and a half gap of life, like life, life has happened. Then everything else in between of life happening, people dying, things happening, things have happened. The only thing I was able to find through that is nothing but gratitude. How is that humanly possible to watch life happen around you and you just be grateful for the time that you did have? That you’re grateful that you were able to still get out of bed and go do things? That you’re able to help another human being? Who thinks like that? This horrible experience, I can now turn and help somebody else and not get high and drunk over it. That’s not even a thought in my mind. It happens when somebody cuts me off on the side of the road. Ah, you know what I mean?

But who would’ve thought? That’s what it is, is it’s life. I’ve just learned to live it. I’m happy today. Like what? Who would have thought it? That’s what recovery is. It’s a freedom. The longer I keep doing this, it’s the more freedom I have that life has allowed to happen. It no longer needs MJ’s permission. The arrogance. It no longer needs MJ’s permission. To be able to find some sense of peace and serenity in life happening, let go or be dragged. Yeah. That’s what the 9.9 years of sobriety has taught me.