Oprah’s Lifeclass Helped Amy Baumgardner Recover and Heal

Oprah’s Lifeclass Helped Amy Baumgardner Recover and Heal

Oprah's Lifeclass on Guilt - Kirsty TV

 My experience on Oprah’s Life Class was both exciting, because I’m meeting Oprah, and terrifying. I had no idea how the audience, Iyanla, Oprah or my town was going to react.  I was nervous to share my story but I also felt I needed to do it.  I discussed it over and over with my husband and we both came to the same conclusion.  How can I attempt to reduce the stigma of addiction and recovery if I don’t have the courage to share my OWN truth.  So, I boarded the plane to Chicago and we went… 

Her story began on a cold wintery day in January; with fresh fallen snow, delicately formed icicles on tree limbs and a hopeless drunk behind the wheel of a car is where my journey began.  The day I drove drunk and veered my car off the road critically injuring my five year old daughter. The memory of that day is with me always. I can’t take it back and I can’t wish it away.  It lingers effortlessly, reminding me and encouraging me all at once to keep looking forward and stand in my truth.

I was driving drunk while my five and seven year old children were in the back seat.  We had gone ice skating for the day.  I wanted to get out of the house and ice skating sounded perfect.  On the way, I had stopped at the liquor store and purchased some alcohol to take the edge off.  My husband and I had gotten into what felt like our millionth argument over nothing and I was determined to have a good time and put him out of my mind.  

We had never fought like this.  It felt like lately that’s all we did.  He even started sleeping on the couch at night.  We were drifting apart.  I didn’t understand what was happening with us and the longer we didn’t talk to each other, the more frustrated I became with our relationship and the less I started to care about it.  Our words were like daggers to the heart and nothing felt like it was off limits.  Things were bad, real bad.  He was always “working” and I was always left to manage the kids, the house, the daily stresses.  My life was slowly becoming pitiable to me.  I was filled with resentments and anger.

My intentions that day were to get the kids out of the house to blow off some steam.  A figure of speech we like to use when we’re feeling antsy.  I was feeling antsy and I know they were feeling it also.  A few cocktails to lighten my mood sounded like a great idea.  It always did. 

I pounded a few beers and downed a shot or two of whisky before taking the ice.  I felt better, much better.  I was having to good a time to take notice of how much I was really drinking but when I think back, I never bothered to count how much I was drinking. I was too consumed with why.  I always had an excuse; my husband wasn’t giving me enough attention, my life was stressful, the kids were misbehaving, the laundry was piling up, the gas was being shut off, I was gaining weight, you name it and I drank because of it. I was losing control over my life and my compulsion to drink was winning. 

For the better part of two years I was lying to my husband about my drinking.  I hid it from him and everyone else because the truth is, I thought I needed it.  It got to the point where nothing else mattered, not even my children.  If I were drunk, then I was satisfied and all of my problems would have to wait.

I began to methodically tear down all of the relationships that meant the most to me until one day I found my life vacant and in ruins. I had placed so much of my time and energy into my drinking that I rarely took notice to what else was going on around me. I was fired from my job, gained fifty pounds, failed miserably at most of my friendships and the one’s I still managed to keep were merely drinking partners.  I ignored the whispers of my life and listened only to the voice inside my head. I listened only to my ego.  My ego justified my actions and poor choices as a friend, a wife and a mother, telling me it was everyone else with the problem and not me.

My depression took over and I chose to disregard my husband and his feelings until eventually he did the same to me.  We co-existed in our home.  We were no longer a couple. Sadly, by the time my drinking took over there were very few people left around me to pick up the pieces and I found myself giving up.

That day in January driving home from the ice skating rink changed the course of my life forever and for better. Until then, I was only interested in deflecting my problems, not dealing with them.  If only, I thought, if only I could feel how much I was loved and needed, then maybe I wouldn’t have felt so lonely and broken.  But the truth was the love was there… I just wasn’t in a place where I could recognize it or receive it.  I didn’t love myself.  How could I believe that anyone else could love me?  No one could have saved me from what was to come.   Long gone were the days of joy and laughter in my life and I had given up. I was now capable of manipulating the truth to hide my own shame and fill my own selfish compulsion to drink.  I became disgusted with myself and tired of the life I had fashioned.  This isn’t what I want, I remember thinking.  This is not the life I had imagined living as a young girl growing up and this certainly wasn’t the plan I had for my life with my husband and the kids.  I needed to face the truth about myself and the truth is….I am an alcoholic. 

Living with an addiction is a journey.  Recognizing that I had a problem and admitting that my life had become unmanageable was difficult in the beginning.   Being honest enough with myself to know that there was something about me that had to change was a revelation.  Acceptance is a huge step.

My marriage, my health, my body image, my self esteem, and ultimately my life were all infected with denial because I was not accepting the truth about my problem.  I relied on alcohol, my best friend, my confidant until one day, it turned on me. What I had so loyally been relying on to get me through my day betrayed me. It began to complicate matters not fix them.  It left me alone, dependent and soulless. It festered inside me creating a need to consume more and more. I tried to mask my cravings with more alcohol.  So, soon what started as an isolated problem quickly turned into this mountain of guilt, shame and remorse.  Then I realized that I was the sole reason my life wasn’t working.  I could not get out of my own way.  I had this sick driving force to make bad decision after bad decision and complicate things.  

So by the time January came I was already just as tired of my antics as everyone else.  I just couldn’t see an end.  I was now drinking just to get through the day.  To feel better and not think about what my life had become.  I was desperate to control the depression and anxiety that filled my days.  The more alcohol I consumed the more numb I’d became.  I never intended to hurt anyone.  I just didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling. Instead of facing my problems, I chose to ignore them.  Until the day came when I stopped hiding and was ready to humbly admit defeat.

That day came four days after the accident while I was in a Drug & Alcohol Rehabilitation Center. There I was, lying on a cold plastic mattress sobbing, cursing my actions and feeling helpless in my addiction. I felt lost and alone.  I clutched the thinly woven blanket in my hands wishing that the blanket could somehow console me or could somehow ease my ache. I held in tight against my chest and I prayed.  My pain was raw and I was pleading for forgiveness from God.  There was nothing left of me.  I wailed at the thought of losing my daughter who was now fighting for her life in the intensive care unit and I contemplated how I would take my own life if she didn’t make it.  Images of the scene and hearing my son shouting out “Mommy” as we hit the tall oak kept replaying in my mind.  I pictured his innocent face full of fear and confusion. I dropped to my knees in desperation and that is when it happened.

A spiritual awakening is different for everyone who experiences one.  For me, I immediately stopped crying and found myself intently listening to what I was hearing. I was alone in my room yet I heard a whisper, a presence was around me, and I repeated the five words I heard out loud.  I’m not sure why I said them out loud or how I knew that what I was saying was true.  I just repeated what I heard and what I was feeling.  I kept repeating them to myself as I was slowly lifted off my knees and seated on the edge of the bed.  There I said again and out loud, “It’s going to be ok” and I knew that it would be.  I had an overwhelming sense of peace.  A calmness that gave me faith to believe I would make it through this horrible tragedy.  It was powerful. It felt as if God was whispering to me “Amy get up, get off of your knees and take control over your life.” I thought to myself, you can do this, I promise you, if you just get up.  I looked around the room and it all made sense to me.  My drinking, my marriage and the accident, it was all a part of a divine plan to bring me to this place of grace so I could start again. I had to get up and face my consequences and I had to be strong because whatever were to happen and wherever I would end up, I was alive.  I have a purpose. This was my second chance and it all started right there in that room.  “It’s going to be ok”, I said again to myself and I felt it.  As if, spiritually, I was able to make the decision to move forward and stand in my truth freely and faithfully.

If you would like to hear more of Amy’s story you can watch the 2 part interview below we did over a google hangout or read below the transcript of some questions I asked her.

Do you recall the actual accident and any of the details ?

I recall pieces of the accident. I remember hitting the road sign and hearing my son scream out “Mommy”,  the fear in his voice was jolting. It startled me enough to bring me to consciousness but I can’t recall much immediately after.   I know that I jerked the wheel, I remember clenching the steering wheel and throwing it to the left. The next thing I remember is being pulled out of the car and seeing my daughter on a stretcher. I remember screaming out to her. I felt so helpless and so at fault.

What were you thinking  or feeling the week of the accident ?

The first few days I was in the hospital. Once I was discharged I went immediately into a drug and alcohol rehab. Honestly, I was contemplating how I would take my own life if my daughter didn’t survive. My guilt was crippling and I was trying to handle it as best I could. I couldn’t focus on anything else. I was so consumed with what I had done. I was scared and confused as to how my life had gotten so out of control. 

How did your husband respond ?

Matt and Amy Baumgardner Matt & Matt and Amy Baumgardner

My husband refused to see me, speak to me, acknowledge me. His parent gave him money for a divorce lawyer and he was done with our marriage.  My third week in rehab he did finally come to visit me and he wasn’t wearing his wedding ring. I knew that he was done. I was so overwhelmed with all different emotions I had a breakdown. I sobbed uncontrollably and I was finally acknowledging that what was happening was real. It wasn’t a nightmare, it was my life. When I left rehab, he was still insistent on a divorce. A few weeks had gone by. 

Did you stop drinking immediately or was there a process? And any details on how you started to get help?

I linked up with a family therapist. One of the conditions set forth by child protective services to ensure I had support and the family could receive counseling. It was meant as a way to bridge us back together and in a way it did. Over time and through counseling Matt and I were able to communicate in a way we never took the time to do before.

I resolved to the fact that the “Matt and Amy” I knew were gone. The people we were in our marriage were gone. I was a different person and so was he. The most obvious change was my drinking. We needed to learn who each other we’re again. All new, all over again and be willing to accept each other for who we are. 

It was definitely a process and one that I needed help with. I was 100 percent willing to give up alcohol but didn’t have the first clue as to how to live a life without booze. All I remember thinking was how boring my life was going to be and all the fun I’d be missing. I know now that this couldn’t be further from the truth. I sought help through a twelve step program and encourage anyone who feels like they may have a problem to talk to someone.  I got a sponsor, went to AA meetings and said nothing for the first 8 months of my recovery. I simply showed up and shut up! Over time I began to feel more comfortable and gained the confidence to stand up and say, ” My name is Amy and I am an alcoholic”. Liberating!!!

Any advice or tips for someone in this situation ?

Again, my advise is to talk to someone, anyone. Get the dialogue started so yourself or someone else doesn’t feel like the only screwup in the room. I wish I would have had someone to talk to, who I could feel like I related to. I was to embarrassed to talk to anyone about how I was feeling and that was my Achilles. I refused to talk about my feeling, my childhood or my marriage. I chose to drink instead. And we all know how that turned out.

Last question would be, how was the Oprah show experience and where were you at before/after? How did it help you if at all?

Oprah Winfrey, Iyanla Vanzant & Amy Baumgardner

I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be.  I sharing my story and so I felt like I didn’t have anything to hide.  My husband and I weren’t expecting Iyanla to address him as much as she did but were also grateful she did.  We both feel as though his part and his perception of me and my drinking is a very important piece. Along with his actions and how he handled the situation.

The most useful piece of advice I walked away with was when Iyanla told me to “Give yourself permission to be ok”. I hadn’t heard that…from anyone. I was stuck in the web of self hatred and self loathing.  When Iyanla looked at me and said that, it was refreshing and eye opening.  Up until that point I thought I needed to be guilty, ashamed, afraid, alone, hurt, remorseful and all of the above.  I had no idea the power I needed was already in me to shift my perception of myself.  I learned to stop telling “My Story” in a way that breeds self loathing and began telling it in a way to promote hope and healing for anyone but especially for me.

After the taping I spent some time in the green room with Oprah and Iyanla and both women were very supportive of my decision to stand up and be accountable.  We all agreed that by sharing my truth I may encourage others to share theirs.

Where are you all at today ?

Today, our lives are focused on being a family.  Matt and I have a loving and committed relationship and promote Hope, Faith and Forgiveness as the three main tools to be successful in any recovery program and marriage.  We have written a book out later this year called “From This Day Forward, A Story of Forgiveness”.  The book is written from both mine and Matt’s point of views and how we have managed to get past the drinking, the accident and infidelity stronger and more committed to each other.  I have graduated with my Masters degree in Educational Counseling and spend most of my energy trying to reduce the stigma associated with addiction.  Madison is doing great.  Today she is a healthy, vibrant nine year old who enjoys acting, modeling and cheer leading.  God is forgiving and patient and I have learned the value in both as well.

Baum Family - Kirsty TV  

Go to Amy Baumgardner’s website for more about her journey of healing and forgiveness. Also follow her on Twitter @AbaumAmy or on Facebook.

Stay tuned to www.KirstyTV.com for more exclusive and uplifting interviews. We will be sharing inspirational stories from everyday people, celebrities and experts every week.

 

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