Pictured: Shauna (left) and a co-worker at her job in Steamboat Springs.
These days, Shauna Schreiner makes it a priority to take good care of herself. The 39-year-old works out regularly and enjoys yoga, paddle boarding and walking her three Alaskan malamutes. A chef at the Drunken Onion, she cooks creative paleo at home. She revels in spending quality time with the people she loves, including her friends and her husband, Ben.
“I’m healthier than I’ve ever been,” she said. “I quit smoking. My marriage is amazing. I have real friends. I have the job of my dreams. My life is so full.”
Shauna’s full life also includes three 12-step group meetings a week in Steamboat and one weekly meeting with her sponsor.
“I have a disease, and these meetings are my medicine,” Shauna said. “If I don’t take my medicine, I’ll be right back where I started.”
Shauna has alcohol use disorder. She’s been in recovery for six and a half years.
A Family History
Shauna’s parents liked to party. As a child growing up in Texas, she was a regular at the local VFW bar, because that’s where her mom and stepfather hung out. Her normal included attending drunken biker rallies, spending holidays at the bar and living in the midst of constant parties at home. She had her first drink when she was 6. Her parents divorced, and when Shauna was 10, her mother was murdered. Her uncle and aunt raised her after that.
After high school, Shauna went to culinary school and was hitting the bars a lot. When she was 21, her stepdad took her to Sturgis for a two-week party, then they visited Steamboat. She never left.
“I was sad and lonely in a new town,” she said. “I started drinking really heavily — about a handle of gin every other day — but I figured it was just what young people do.”
She began losing jobs because was drinking at work.
But during this period, she also met the love of her life. On her wedding day she had a broken arm because, drunk and high, she’d fallen two days before. Seven years into her marriage, she was routinely drinking to the point of blacking out.
“I used to say, ‘I’m a professional drinker,’” Shauna said. “But I couldn’t control it anymore. My husband was afraid I was going to die.”
“I was sad and lonely in a new town. I started drinking really heavily but I figured it was just what young people do.”
The Dangers of Alcohol
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by the inability to cut back on or stop drinking even though the alcohol use is having negative effects on one’s relationships, job and/or health. AUD can be mild, moderate or severe, and includes binge drinking.
Not only was Shauna immersed in an AUD culture as a child, she chose a career in an industry she loves but one that celebrates alcohol.
“It’s typical to drink and drug in the food industry,” she said. “For a long time, that’s something I liked about it.”
AUD kills nearly 40,000 Americans every year — and ruins the lives of countless others.
“Yet it’s so socially accepted!” said Shauna with dismay. “And it’s such a big moneymaker.”
It’s a Disease
Shauna was taught young that drinking is a pleasurable social activity, but now she’s well aware that alcohol overuse isn’t fun — it’s a disease. It’s considered a physical disorder that causes lasting changes in the brain. As with diabetes and other chronic illnesses, some people have it, and some people don’t. And combatting it isn’t about willpower, it’s about treatment.
“The stigma is ridiculous,” Shauna said. “It frustrates me that people have to be discriminatory. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. You can be rich, poor, black, white, young, old. Anyone can have it.”
Pictured: Shauna at work and living her best life!
Committed to Recovery
At the urging of her husband, stepdad and friends, Shauna checked herself into Valley Hope residential treatment center in Parker, Colorado, in May of 2015. It took her five hard days to detox. After that, she spent a full month there learning about her disease and how to get the ongoing care she needs to manage it.
“Treatment was the best thing I ever did for myself,” she said. “If not for treatment, I would probably be homeless — or dead.”
When she returned to Steamboat, she started attending 12-step meetings and now leads a recovery group at Sk8 Church on Wednesday nights. She credits her group meetings with making her new life possible.
“They give me sober friends and people to support me, to let me know I’m not alone and I can do it. They help me examine why I drank, which is critical. And they’re free!” she said.
“Early in recovery, I couldn’t imagine my life without alcohol,” Shauna continued. “How would I go camping or skiing or hang out with my friends or do holidays without drinking? It’s about making hard choices sometimes. It’s a daily choice. You have to show up, do the work and be honest. But it’s so, so, so worth it.”
Shauna wants other Steamboat-area community members who may be struggling with AUD to know that there are many support and treatment options available nearby.
“There’s a strong local recovery community,” she said. “We’re a vacation town, so there’s lots of partying here, but there’s also recovery here. I got my life back. You can too.”
“Treatment was the best thing I ever did for myself. If not for treatment, I would probably be homeless — or dead.”
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