PINEYWOODS – Growing up, Sharreda Anderson of Pineywoods never felt good enough. “I had a very intelligent and handsome brother – an intelligent and beautiful sister, and I never lived up to that,” she said. Not being athletic, smart, or as attractive as her siblings made her feel inferior. “No one made me feel that way except me.”
Anderson said she was overweight, so in social situations, she became the center of attention by being funny. Her thinking was that if she could be perfect, life would be perfect. “I think I got sick of failing,” Anderson said.
High school was a struggle for Anderson. It didn’t help that she became pregnant during her senior year. After graduation, she started college and married her child’s father. Anderson finished college on the dean’s list in four years even though she gave birth to two children and was pregnant with a third when she graduated.
Gastric bypass surgery helped Anderson deal with her weight issues when she was in her mid-20s. “I thought if I could just be skinny that everything would be OK,” she said.
She lost the weight but was having marital problems, and she still was not happy.
Anderson occasionally drank for most of her adult life, but even though she didn’t drink often, she drank hard. “I drank until there was no alcohol left or I couldn’t function,” she remembered.
During this period of her life, she became interested in cooking shows and started watching Rachel Ray. “She never cooked a meal without having a glass of wine with it,” Anderson said. Within six months, she was drinking from one to two bottles of wine a day. Anderson knew she had a problem. “I wasn’t one of those who denied that I was an alcoholic,” she said.
One day she was watching Dr. Phil, and there was a woman on there with her family. “Her family was saying she was an alcoholic, and the woman didn’t believe it.” Her family told Dr. Phil that they found more than 15 bottles of alcohol in her bedroom.
“I got off my bed and pulled 27 bottles of wine from under my bed,” Anderson said. “I realized then I was hiding it and lying about it.”
Her family had no problem with her having a drink in front of them, but she realized she was drinking too much, and it ended up becoming an issue in her marriage. “It was not a great marriage, to begin with, because we married so young and we both came from such different backgrounds, but the alcohol pushed it over,” she said.
Admitting that she was an alcoholic was not hard for Anderson because it gave her an excuse to drink. “I’m drinking because I’m an alcoholic,” she remembered thinking.
After she got drunk during Christmas 2009, her husband confronted her and told her to get help or get out.
That was the first time she entered treatment. “I really didn’t want to get sober. I just didn’t want the consequences anymore,” she said.
Anderson dried out in a 14-day program and did well until she went to pick up her 60-day-chip (an award for remaining sober.) She stopped on the way home and bought a six-pack to celebrate. She drank solidly for two weeks, and when she tried to quit, she had seizures.
After several more weeks, she went back to rehab for 10 days to dry out. She could go for a few weeks without drinking, but she could not stop. “I was either sick from drinking or sick because I needed a drink,” she said.
The cycle repeated. “I could never imagine life without alcohol, and I didn’t want to,” she said. “Everything I hated about myself went away when I drank.” In October 2012, she attempted suicide.
She took all the medication she had and wound up on a ventilator in the hospital. “Something happened during those five days I was in a coma that made me realize that God was there with me,” she said.
When she woke up from a coma, it was like she awoke from asleep. She realized that she was in the Intensive Care Unit.
She remembered someone visiting her when she was in a state between a coma and being awake.
“I remember it was a male and he was standing on my right side, and he kissed me on my forehead,” she said. The instant he kissed her forehead, she relaxed. Later, when she asked her mom and the nursing staff, they told her that no man had been in her room. “I knew then that God had been with me.
After this, she started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly. She also got involved with the church during that time. But it was still a struggle.
“One of the biggest hiccups for me at the time was differentiating religion with the spirituality of the program,” she said.
When Anderson got involved with the church, she thought she could stop going to AA meetings.
“I thought – God is everywhere, so if I’m going to church I’m fine,” she said. It turns out that she wasn’t.
Anderson and her husband were separated, and their children were with him, but after six months without a drink, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
Her husband approached her about the idea of an agreement that would let them end their marriage, and they would both walk away with what they wanted.
She left the meeting with her husband, met a friend at a Mexican restaurant and ordered a margarita. She got drunk.
The next day her husband learned that she’d gotten drunk again. The deal was off. “I remember thinking I can’t even stay sober when life is good, so I’m not going to try anymore,” Anderson said.
The divorce got nasty. Anderson had joint custody, but the children had to live with her husband because she couldn’t keep a job and care for them. She showed up at ballgames drunk. She was an embarrassment to her kids.
She sank lower and lower. “I started surviving by any means necessary,” she said. “I would lie, I would steal, and manipulate people.” She did everything she could to get alcohol that day. During the next few years, she wound up in jail 10 times.
The thing that haunts Anderson most about that period of her life is the fact that she didn’t care about anyone but herself. She had no idea that her behavior affected anyone but her.
The event that changed her was when her youngest son, who was 14 at the time, told her that his biggest fear was that he was going to find her dead in her house one day. “That was the first moment I realized that my behavior affected someone.”
Later that day, she texted a friend who was in recovery. Anderson’s friend convinced her to enter a long-term treatment facility in Florence.
While waiting for a bed to open in the facility, she was arrested for shoplifting alcohol, but the judge saw fit to release her into her mother’s custody so that she could transfer into long-term rehab.
The next six months were a brutal blessing. Anderson had to face the fact that she’d done things to hurt people in her life that she loved the most, but taking responsibility for her actions started her onto the path to recovery.
“While I was there (in rehab) I learned that God made me OK, and God made me complete when he put me here,” she said. For 38 years, Anderson kept looking outside for what made her complete, but she found out that God made her complete. “I learned that God loved me and wanted me to be OK,” she said.
Anderson explained that there were a lot of things in her life for which she was not responsible, but she was responsible for her reaction to those things. This was a harsh lesson to learn. “I liked being the victim,” she said. “I like for it to be your fault that I behaved badly.” What Anderson learned in rehab was that she was the solution to her problems. “There is power and freedom in understanding that,” she said.
Anderson became reflective as she talked about how her life changed after she got sober. The things that changed were the people, places, and things. “I’m now around people who support me in my recovery, going to places that are conducive to staying sober, and having things in my life that are the most important,” she said. Life is no longer about material things, but things that matter.
Anderson picked up her four-year coin (AA) on May 10, 2019. Her life has been dramatically different since her last drink. “Life is more peaceful, and I’ve learned to live in the moment,” she said.
Each morning she reads her AA meditation – I can’t do this, but God can, and I’m going to let him. Each evening she reflects on the day and ensuring that she’s on the path that God had made for her. “It’s these reflections that keep me sober,” she said.
Her kids are back in her life. “They’ve learned and grown during this process,” she said.
For the past two years, Anderson has worked as an assistant counselor for a rehab center. She mentors young women coming into the program, sharing her experience, strength, and hope.
The hardest thing for those struggling with addiction is to ask for help and take it, according to Anderson. She said that it was vital to surrender to the program.