Profiles in Recovery

Julie Orlando

Losing her three-year-old daughter to a rare genetic disorder was agonizing for Orlando. She drowned her grief in alcohol and stopped eating — weighing just 92 pounds at one point.

“My drinking escalated to the later stages of alcoholism quickly after her death,” says Orlando, who had always been able to care for her family of six. “I needed help but was too ashamed to ask for it.”

After searching online, Orlando found life-changing recovery through the sisterhood of “Women for Sobriety,” an international nonprofit. Her journey also included rehab treatment, 12-step meetings, and reliance on her faith, psychiatrist and sponsor. Today, Orlando is grateful for 16 years of sobriety. “I value my story, which includes a man that stayed, kids that loved unconditionally and a woman in the mirror who finally saw courage, confidence, compassion, love and humility staring back,” she says.

My rock bottom moment:
I had ruined a party. My 14-year-old retrieved me and helped me inside. I remember saying, “I’m a terrible mother. Y’all deserve better than me.”

The next morning I was horrified with myself. I found my son and apologized, I told him he was not responsible for taking care of me. He said, “It’s okay, mom. You are just sick and need someone to help you.” My son loved me unconditionally and he and my girls did deserve a better, healthier mom. I went to treatment the next day.

Stigma I faced:
Rejection, judgment and ridicule by family, friends, co-workers, etc. Others used my pain to make themselves look good through vicious gossip. So I did make a pact with myself when I went to treatment: When I get out of treatment I will NEVER hold my head down in shame.

Best advice for newbies:
Just practice not drinking no matter what is going on in life . . . There is something magical around 30 days and suddenly you see the new life that lies ahead of you more clearly. And you will WANT that new life more.

Advice to my younger self:
Others may ignore you, judge you, and hurt you according to their perception of you or their own bitter lives, but that does not make it true.

My “Living Out Loud” list:
Complete my novels, travel to places that are beautiful and serene. Engage my love of painting, needlework, sewing and piano playing . . . And I need to quit smoking! (should be at the top of my list, but hey!)

When cravings come:
Women for Sobriety taught me the importance of self-discovery and self-awareness — and helped build a foundation of confidence that I can overcome the worst of self-pity and negativity. . .

I never ever forget what Day One felt like and how much I hated myself. Nor will I forget all of the work I put into my recovery. The cravings pass and I am not in the mood to chase a 15 minute buzz.

What I learned about myself:
I am more than an “alcoholic.” I simply started believing that I was a “capable and competent, caring and compassionate” woman and I could do whatever I set my mind to doing. I don’t shoot for perfect. I shoot for living out loud even when life is messy and if I fail at something new, I always remember my philosophy: “Plan B.”

I get inspired by:
Women for Sobriety Founder Jean Kirkpatrick. Her philosophy and program revolutionized self-help recovery for women and taught us how to remove the stigma of alcoholism and recovery for ourselves. The woman in the mirror becomes responsible for herself and her actions, honesty and acceptance are her crown, she blames no one else, she openly learns from her past and then lets go.

Proud moments:
My abbreviated story “Whispers of an Angel” was accepted for publication in the book “Chicken Soup for Recovering Souls.” A year later, they quoted me in a new book, “Daily Meditations for Recovering Souls.”

What saves me from myself:
I remember something a very good priest once said. He asked me if I had meant to cause harm when I was drinking. I knew I had not. He asked me if I was sick and needed help and did I have intent to cause harm to others. “Of course not!” Then why was I beating myself up so badly?

Did I not get the help I sorely needed? Yes, I did. He said I must practice gratitude and pray and meditate on all of the good in my life and not to stop until I feel grateful. And let go of what happened, embrace what is now happening because it is good.

Shed the Stigma:
If you’re a person in long-term recovery who wants to share your insights, please contact us at [email protected].