Karen Peterson and her twin sister started drinking when they were about 11 years old. Sometimes she wonders if she was born alcoholic or if her body just became alcoholic, adding that sometimes as a kid things happen that you can’t make sense of.
“It was just drink to numb out, to escape from reality, to just not be present in life.”
They picked up drugs when they were about 15, she says, including cocaine and prescription drugs.
“Once you’re in that darkness, it’s like, you don’t even want to be doing what you’re doing. You wish more than anything in the world that you could stop but you just can’t. It’s totally this disease of no choice,” she says. “I didn’t really know there was help. I really just believed I was going to live that way. That was just the way my life was and that it was just going to continue on like that.”
Being twins, they were very co-dependent, meaning they kept each other sick for a very long time, says Peterson.
“I lost everything materially, I lost everything, even my kid. But what’s the worst part about whatever, homelessness all that stuff, who cares? The things that I lost that were so damaging was like my morals, my values, my self-respect, my self-esteem, the ability to be a normal human in society, just living like an animal in such turmoil. It’s like utter lonely suffering.”
The entire day would consist of getting it, using it, coming off it and getting more and then repeat that infinitely, she says.
“I was convinced that the drugs and alcohol were keeping me alive even though I was praying to die. I wanted to die so bad and then just kept on living. You’re basically, literally dying with your eyes open. Just void of emotion.”
That went on for about 24 years.
“I was just totally beaten. I had totally smashed my life to smithereens. I ground my life into dust more than once.”
She ended up in the Kelowna hospital and the gig was up, she says adding that she was 98 pounds and grey.
They had contacted her parents and the doctor said that if they released her she had maybe a couple of weeks to live because her organs were shutting down.
They weaned her off of alcohol in the hospital and then sent her to a detox centre, according to Peterson.
“I’d never been offered help before but I also never thought that help was available. I never knew there was a program of recovery. I didn’t have people in my life that were sober.”
Sobering up is the most painful thing and not just due to coming off the drugs and alcohol, she says.
“To feel emotions for the first time since you were a kid and to actually feel feelings and to not be able to get rid of them. You have to just move through them,” she says.
She turned to a power greater than herself and needed to let someone else run her life.
“Obviously me running the show, not good. I had a spiritual awakening in my treatment centre. I came face to face with God. He was in my room. It doesn’t mean it’s God like from the Bible, that’s not it at all. It could have been the universe it could have been the creator, it could have been the doorknob.”
Originally from East Vancouver, she moved to Bridge Lake after coming out of recovery. She started going to meetings in the community from Alcoholics Anonymous to Psalm 23 and slowly but surely she started to get some time in recovery. That was several years ago. Her twin sister has since also gone into recovery.
“It was a long road. I only literally just started to love myself a year ago. I hated who I was. I had a hard time looking in the mirror. I was disgusted with who I used to be. I couldn’t get past the fact that I was this addict.”
Peterson started doing yoga, which she says gives her a reprieve and makes her feel like a real human being. She tells her story freely to anyone that comes into the studio she now runs (Blissed Out Yoga and Fitness).
Karen Peterson (right) accepting a business excellence award at the 24th Annual South Cariboo Chamber of Commerce & Citizen of the Year Awards from chair Christine Gallagher. Max Winkelman photo.
“Every time I teach a class that guarantees me an hour of sobriety.”
Although, she says she now, having been sober for several years, has the toolbox not to have to drink or do drugs. She now tries to help other people acquire those tools, and sponsors some women who are in recovery. Although a person doesn’t have to have addiction problems, she says.
“Now my life is dedicated to showing others, to suiting up and showing up here and showing all my scars, so that other people know they can heal. We all have pain. We all have suffering. We’re not all drug addicts and alcoholics but we all know some kind of pain and we’ve all had feelings of not being enough. If I can make one person feel seen and heard on a daily basis then this is how I’m making amends to society for who I used to be.”
There are a lot of addiction problems anywhere, including the local area and that if you want to find it you will, she says, adding that more could be done to let people know about the help that’s out there.
“What’s terrifying today, as opposed to back in the day, now there’s things like fentanyl. People that are just looking to experiment or go and try cocaine and they pick up a bag that’s laced with fentanyl, it’s lights out: they’re dead,” says Peterson. “It’s just like Russian roulette. You don’t know what you’re getting. Meth is not meth anymore, coke is not coke anymore.”
After a whole life of not fitting in and being kicked out of places, she finally feels like she fits in and is very grateful to the community. Peterson also got her daughter back, who’s now 11, after she came out of treatment.
“The first six years of her life I was just not present. Today we have a really good relationship and I speak openly and honestly to her. She understands addiction and she understands alcoholism,” she says. “I wanna pray that she’ll never go down the other road but if she ever does at least she knows there’s help.”
Karen Peterson. Submitted photo.