Stories Restoring Hope
Maine Voices of Recovery is a series written by Jamie Lovley and created by Knox County Community Health Coalition in partnership with the community. The goal of the series is to teach the community about recovery, dispel misunderstanding about substance use disorder in the state of Maine, and record stories of how long-term recovery does work. All names have been used with permission.
This past September Liz Jenkins stepped back from her role as board president for Area Interfaith Outreach Food and Energy Assistance (AIO) in Rockland, Maine.
AIO provides crucial support to residents of Knox County by addressing food insecurity and energy costs. Liz pioneered fundraising and operations management that allowed AIO to flourish.
She now works for a consulting management firm with a focus on social responsibility and runs an LLC helping nonprofits manage donations. While it’s clear Liz is devoted to giving back to her community, she is insistent that this service giving back to her is the cornerstone of her 24 years of sobriety.
Before settling in Maine, Liz grew up in New Hampshire, and lived in Florida, Virginia, and Massachusetts. Liz’s rocky relationship with alcohol began when she was 13, when she started drinking and smoking with her friends. “By 14, I was drinking Wild Turkey and orange juice at the bus stop. I was a full-blown alcoholic.”
At 16 she was in a nearly fatal drunk driving accident. Her parents kept her name out of the paper and she faced minimal consequences, but the emotional and physical scars weren’t enough to stop her from drinking and driving again. “When alcoholics don’t have consequences, it’s a deathwish,” Liz says.
Liz went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in advertising from Simmons University and her master’s degree in management from Lesley University. She had success and opportunity, but all the while a growing emptiness that drinking could not fill consumed her.
“Inside you know who you are and have this sense of your authentic self, but your external behaviors are going to a bar every night or drinking in the morning. You show up half yourself, even though you know that’s not how you want to be,” Liz says, adding that before sobriety her life was filled with confusion, low self-esteem, and chaotic decision-making. “When you’re a drunk you show up as a fake person. Your disease enters the room before you do.”
In 1997 she realized her lifestyle was not sustainable. She found herself reading obituaries and wondering how she would write her own, the sense of her own alcohol-driven end impending. “It doesn’t take a big tragedy to change someone’s course, sometimes it is just a moment of realization. My soul was so worn down,” she says. It was a discussion with her therapist that finally made Liz realize that sobriety was the only path to healing.
For the first time Liz began working recovery programs. “When I was drinking my life was gray. When you get into recovery you see colors again,” she says “You notice falling snow, the little squirrels on a wire, everything you didn’t see when you were drinking. Now I want to live more than ever. There’s not enough hours when you have a zeal for life.”
Recovery wasn’t easy, however. In 1998, Liz fell in love with and married a man in her recovery group. After a car accident he began taking oxycontin, starting a spiral into addiction that tore their marriage apart. Liz was able to remain on the path of sobriety, but her partner was not. After a harrowing journey together, Liz spoke up for herself and her wellbeing, and they divorced.
“Everyone I know has been touched by alcoholism and addiction in their lives,” Liz says. “We should just be honest with each other and talk about it. It is a disease. We don’t judge cancer, diabetes, or mental health disorders. We have to stop judging people with addiction. Their behavior is not excusable, but they need treatment.”
At AIO, Liz focused on creating an environment of giving from a place of abundance and bringing issues like food insecurity out of the darkness. She feels the same about recovery. “Bring everything to light so we can talk about it and heal,” she says. “Judgment of others reflects unresolved pain within yourself. The less “us and them” in the world that we create the better.”
Society’s harmful stigma about addiction leads to people not asking for help. As Liz puts it, “Not asking for help kills more alcoholics and addicts than the drug itself. We all need each other. If you are ready, the resources you need are there.”
Creating an environment of asking for help means that our community members and professionals need to be aware of local resources. Making these resources accessible and easy to find is also a crucial part of assisting Mainers with substance use disorders.
In 2008 Liz met her husband. Today they live together in Midcoast Maine, where they both enjoy the outdoors and support each other in their sobriety and life. The effects of the pandemic have changed recovery meetings for many, including Liz, but she finds that nurturing her spiritual life through yoga and meditation, and giving back to the community through her work, keeps her grounded and connected to others. “I’m proud of the work I’ve done but if I was not sober there’s no way I could be a service to my community,” she says.
Liz says her primary goal for humanity would be that people feel able to ask for help. “To those who are still suffering, know you are not alone and there are people who will support you. And if you’re not ready for help yet, we still support you.”
No two recovery stories look the same. If you believe you have a problem with substance use, reach out for help.
Call 211 for resources in Maine. For a list of local recovery meetings, visit https://csoaamaine.org/meetings/ https://namaine.org/meetings-bytable/