My name is Taija Lehtinen and I am a recovering alcoholic. My story begins much like most “normal” people's, in a loving, supportive environment with my parents, younger sister, and a wonderful, large, extended family. I was born and raised in Madison, WI, living a happy childhood. Throughout my life I always did what my little heart desired. It just happened that up until high school, whatever I wanted to do was usually good and right. With that said, my drinking career began when I was 15. There had been a nagging compulsion to see what it was like to drink. When the opportunity arose, I jumped on it. From the very start, I remember feeling that whatever I had was not enough. My drinking escalated to a point of no return. At 22, I was in dire need of help. In the last year-and-a-half of drinking I had seen numerous trips to the hospital and detox. I was consuming over a liter of vodka a day. My tolerance became so high I stunned the nurses registering a .51 while maintaining the ability to walk and talk. I even had a seizure from alcohol withdrawal. My health was in great disrepair. After an ultrasound of my liver, the doctors told me that if I did not stop drinking, I would only have a few years of life left. Despite this prognosis, I continued to drink.
In the spring of 2010 something gave. I could deal with the physical pain but the mental agony was too much. Something out of my own power intervened and gave me the courage to ask for help. My parents seized this chance occurrence and began searching for treatment facilities. In a short time, I was at an inpatient facility feeling as vulnerable, awkward, and uncomfortable that I can remember. It was so strange, belittling, and empowering to be sober for the first time in years. My determination and stubbornness were realigned and I was NOT going to drink. I was truly engaged at this facility; I listened and followed all the counselors' advice.
Of course I needed to begin my life over after inpatient treatment. I was advised to find a halfway house and to live in a sober environment. The first month I stayed in a faith-based sober house. It was a great place, but not for me. As chance or fate would have it, I heard of a new house opening up--the Oxford House. It was the first women's house in Wisconsin and I was chosen to be one of the first residents. This was the place for me. I was able to be a part of something that instilled responsibility, pride, community, and much much more. The Oxford House became my home and a cornerstone in my recovery. My sobriety became strong and resilient during my stay of nine months.
Another integral part of my story is AA. This brilliant program taught me how to live life in a deeper, yet more simplistic way. I developed a sense of faith, which certainly helps when life gets a bit rough. The people, the stories, the fact that I know I'm not alone in this life-long struggle, are invaluable.
Though I wouldn't wish this disease upon anyone, I'm grateful it was me. I have experienced an amazing transformation inside and out. The hardest and I believe the most courageous lesson learned is that it is okay to ask for help. I would not have been able to do any of this alone. The love and support of my family, the Oxford House, and AA got me where I am today. I am sober, happy and healthy.