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Published September 15, 2013, 10:00 PM

The never-ending journey: Road to recovery a lifelong process for former alcoholic

FARGO - Christy Goulet had her first experience with alcohol when she was 11 years old. Her cousin dared her to take a drink, and Goulet says she hated to pass up a dare.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

FARGO - Christy Goulet had her first experience with alcohol when she was 11 years old.

Her cousin dared her to take a drink, and Goulet says she hated to pass up a dare.

While she doesn’t remember what that first drink was, she does remember drinking enough to get a headache, feel sick and develop a rash doctors said was a result of alcohol poisoning, Goulet said.

The 43-year-old West Fargo woman has been sober now for 18 years and is working with people who need help with alcohol addiction. Her journey was a difficult one, filled with heartache and missed opportunities. It’s a journey she still travels and will travel for the rest of her life.

Even though her first experience with alcohol was miserable, Goulet grew up in an alcoholic family, and she continued to binge. By the time she was 12, she’d started using marijuana, too.

Goulet had her first baby at age 13, a child she gave up for adoption. She had her second child by age 15.

Alcoholism is a progressive disease, and hers got to a point where she was drinking every day, Goulet said.

“It was never enough,” she said. “That’s the addiction.”

She’d given up school and she wasn’t emotionally there for her children. Everything in her life was about taking that next drink, she said.

She tried going through treatment at age 16, but couldn’t stay sober, she said.

Then, when she was 23 years old, Goulet was in a car accident, and the person who was driving was killed instantly. Both had been drinking. Goulet woke up in the hospital with stitches on her legs and face and the knowledge that if she didn’t quit, her drinking would kill her.

Everything in her life was falling apart. She couldn’t hold down a job, she couldn’t pay her bills, and she could soon become homeless, she said.

Then, in June of 1995, about two years after the car accident, Goulet’s brother threw her a lifeline. He told her that if she stopped drinking, she and her children could live with him.

She hasn’t consumed alcohol since.

“I didn’t want to drink again,” Goulet said. “Once I made that decision, I knew I was done.”

Having the support of her brother, and her dad who’d been sober for 25 years, made a big difference, she said.

“I realized there was a whole world of people who were sober,” she said.

She also realized she couldn’t hang out with her old friends, and she never goes into liquor establishments or casinos, she said.

She went through a 12-step program and continues to attend weekly meetings. And she’s been through a series of spiritual awakenings.

“When we’re spiritually weak, it’s easy to be pulled in different directions,” she said.

Goulet came to understand that she was drinking in a failed attempt to fill a hole in her life. She has since found fulfillment through prayer, reconnecting with her Native American heritage, and living a very spiritual life.

“As Native Americans, what we have to do is recover from historical trauma through ceremonies, language and living traditional lifestyles with no drugs, no alcohol, no gambling,” Goulet said.

Goulet is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, but she grew up in Fargo not knowing her culture, and she always felt something was missing in her life, she said.

Goulet has been able to connect with people to learn about her native culture, and has since incorporated ceremonies such as vision quests and sweat lodges into her life. Vision quests are spiritual ceremonies of prayer and meditation. Sweat lodges are similar to saunas, but with prayer and songs.

Goulet says it’s a purification process that keeps her emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally balanced.

And she now is able to use what she knows to help others.

She has found her purpose working as a certified nursing assistant, she said. She also speaks at universities and treatment centers about her recovery and helps others through theirs.

Family is an important part of her life, and she wants to be a positive role model for her children and grandchildren. She also has reconnected with the child she gave up for adoption.

She lives her life with gratitude and starts every morning with prayer and devotions, she said.

“We need to have prayer because reality is not always kind,” Goulet said.

Connie Longie, a licensed addiction counselor with ShareHouse, a chemical dependency treatment center in Fargo, says the greatest enemy Native Americans have ever faced is alcohol.

Excessive alcohol consumption is the leading cause of preventable death among Native Americans, and they are affected at about twice the rate of the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But stereotypes of alcoholic Native Americans aren’t accurate, Longie said.

“There are more people who are sober and clean or haven’t even used,” she said.

Recovery can be a difficult process if people don’t have sober support or if they feel caught between two worlds, Longie said.

For example, Native Americans weren’t able to practice their religious ceremonies until 1978 when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act passed, she said.

But connecting with their heritage can help Native Americans with their recovery, she said.

“When you reconnect with your spiritual self and you take pride in who you are as a native person, the road to recovery and life is endless with opportunities,” Longie.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526

September Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month

Gov. Jack Dalrymple has proclaimed September Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month in North Dakota to help raise awareness about the importance of recovery.

Pam Sagness, prevention administrator for North Dakota Department of Human Services, says alcohol misuse and dependence is a serious issue across the state and raising awareness about recovery is vital.

“We can create an environment that supports those in recovery by hosting alcohol-free community events, supporting recovery organizations, or helping one another by assisting with childcare or transportation so someone in recovery can attend a meeting or participate in getting services,” she said.

Alcohol statistics in North Dakota

- North Dakota has the third-highest binge drinking rate in the nation.

- Almost half of all adult arrests are alcohol related.

- North Dakota’s young adults rank second in the nation for drinking to get drunk.

- Sixty-eight percent of high school students and 28 percent of middle school students have consumed alcohol.

- Almost 70 percent of high school students don’t think it’s risky to get drunk once or twice a week.

- Long-term, heavy alcohol use can lead to problems like dementia, stroke, cancer, liver diseases, pancreatitis, cardiovascular problems and mental health issues.

Source: North Dakota Department of Human Services