It’s easy to feel completely alone when addiction has taken hold — just ask Leonard “Lenny” Hill or Christina Love. Alcohol and drug use was a way to be part of the crowd or to numb the pain, but in recovery, and with support, they have been able to find reasons to stay sober.
Hill and Love have two distinct but similar stories. Drug and alcohol abuse led them each to further isolation by causing friends and family harm.
“I honestly feel I was born an addict,” she said while bouncing her infant daughter on her knee. “There’s this misconception that if we just stop using drugs — but I want people to understand that drugs and alcohol are only part of the problem.”
Her welcome to the world wasn’t a warm one. She said her father was a pedophile and her mother, of Aleut heritage, was autistic. Love said many of her mother’s relatives had died because of alcoholism, suicide and other alcohol-related issues.
“I heard facts, knew that it was hereditary, that it was a disease,” she said. “But I don’t feel like I knew enough about it that I could recognize that it could happen to me.”
Love said her substance abuse started young, but it was in college and her subsequent years working in a bar when things got really out of hand — “the line kept getting crossed further and further and further,” she said.
She said she always wished she had “enough money and enough drugs.”
She stole from her employer, from her family and friends. She started stripping to pay for her addiction.
“I could never hit that bottom,” she said. “It came to the point that I had enough money and enough drugs and I was still extremely depressed.”
She reached out to her family and ended up going to detox, she said. For almost two months before receiving treatment in Juneau, she was on a drug that made her physically incapable of consuming alcohol. More important than that drug, though, was what she learned in treatment.
“From the time I was a child, drugs and alcohol were always around,” Hill said. “I don’t believe I was born an addict, so much as a predisposition to become one. My heritage and the conditions I was raised in were the perfect breeding ground for an addict.”
His mom went to jail when he was about 13, he said, for possession. He was 8 the first time he had a drink — a bottle of tequila that he pounded in about two gulps, he said.
“From the get-go, there was no governor, so to speak. There was nothing to hold me back,” Hill said.
He didn’t drink regularly at that age, but as he grew older, drinking was how he related with his friends and peers.
“There’s one way to be good enough: to drink enough, use enough and get enough,” he said.
Desperation was what got him into recovery, he said. He served four months in jail and eight in a halfway house, but there were always opportunities to keep using in those settings.
“Being around like-minded people, I wasn’t able to find a solution to my problem,” Hill said.
While on probation, he said, desperation kicked in. He was still using and he got to the point where he felt he couldn’t tell another lie.
He came clean to his probation officer that he was struggling and was given the opportunity to go into treatment.
“Days before treatment, I found myself lying on the floor, not wanting to do it anymore, not wanting the pain and agony,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily want to kill myself, I just wanted the pain to go away.”
Reaching out to his probation officer was a difficult step to take, but it was the first step toward recovery for him.
Christina and Lenny
Love and Hill met in treatment. They didn’t immediately get along.
He considered treatment his last chance at life, so he took it very seriously. When Love showed up a week after he started, he found her to be a distraction to his recovery.
“He told me I didn’t have any humility,” she said. “And I always thought I knew what that meant, but it turns out I didn’t — I had an idea, but it hadn’t gone from my head to my heart.”
Hill felt she had too much ego and wasn’t serious about getting clean. When he confronted her, he said he thinks it triggered something in her.
Love described that moment as “the first glimpse I had that this was going to be the one thing I couldn’t manipulate or bull**** my way through.”
They focused on three principles in treatment: honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. Once she also got serious about recovery, they began to develop a relationship.
They discovered shared experiences and were able to talk about things that one doesn’t often discuss in polite society.
“We were put in a situation where our deep, dark, ugly secrets were exposed,” she said.
The vulnerability and transparency allowed them to bond despite their first impressions.
“I didn’t know then how significant we would be to each other,” Love said. But when it came time for her to return to Fairbanks, to her apartment attached to a bar and all the old triggers, she impulsively decided to leave everything behind, staying in Juneau with just her suitcase.
Hill and Love wouldn’t like to see their relationship over-romanticized. Love said they can’t believe in the idea of “forever” because even their sobriety isn’t guaranteed.
“We look at today,” she said. “We promise we can be sober today.”
Hill talks about his “whys.” Every day they have a reason why they should remain sober, it’s possible.
Having someone with the same beliefs and heading in the same direction, Hill said, is invaluable. They can hold each other accountable.
“You need somebody to believe in you, someone to accept you, to remind you of the things that you forget when you feel alone,” Love said.
“It’s hard to love or know someone when you don’t really love or know yourself,” Hill added.
While neither say they would particularly recommend beginning a relationship with someone in early recovery, they have found a lot of strength in each other.
They’ve also found purpose in their young daughter.
“Our child is one of the few truths I know today,” Hill said.
“All of our intentions, love and light are encompassed in this tiny human,” Love said. Hope is one reason why recovery works. Our brains are hard-wired with behaviors, and hope is one thing that sparks that new route.”
Hill has other hopes now that he’s a parent. He wants her to have better options than he had if she finds herself battling addiction as well. He wants her to know exactly where she can go for help and he hopes addiction can be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal issue.
“Not to say I wasn’t a criminal,” Hill said, admitting to stealing from and hurting people he cared about. “But to actually get the help I needed, jail was probably the worst thing that could have happened. If it weren’t for treatment and (a 12-step program)...”
Love also hopes people will recognize that addiction isn’t a moral disorder, that people in recovery aren’t “dirty, stupid and disgusting,” as she had once herself thought.
“They are some of the smartest people I’ve ever met — the most genuine, caring, authentic people you can imagine,” she said. “I couldn’t be more proud to call myself one.”
Though addiction brought them many difficulties and obstacles to overcome, Love maintains that, in recovery, it has left her a better person than it found her.
• Contact reporter Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or email@example.com.