Conversation with Veronica Valli, Recovery Rocks
This week, Liv has a Kitchen Table Conversation with Veronica Valli, Recovery Rocks. Veronica has worked as a therapist and life coach specialising in addiction for over ten years; her experience includes working with young people in the criminal justice system, primary care adult treatment, outreach services and private practice. She has also worked in local government, delivering local drug and alcohol strategies. Veronica is committed to educating and informing the public on problem drinking and addiction and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, she has appeared on the Lorraine Kelly show on ITV, and an ITV programme entitled The Truth About Binge Drinking; and she has also appeared in national magazines and publications, discussing recovery from alcoholism.
As a recovered alcoholic and drug addict, she has personal experience of what it takes to recover from an addiction. Veronica struggled with alcoholism through most of her twenties and got sober in 2000. Veronica is married with two young sons and is currently working in private practice.
Kitchen Table Conversation with Veronica Valli
“I always knew something was wrong with me, I’d known that since I was about 5 years old, I thought I had a rare mental health condition that no one else had. So I had been looking for help for a long time, I went to doctors, therapists, psychiatrists they treated my anxiety, depression and panic attacks but my drinking wasn’t really mentioned…”
Veronica: Oatmeal and banana!
Liv: Second, let’s move on to your journey. You said that you have personal experience of addiction and, as a binge drinker, you were aware that something was wrong, but were unable to define what it was; it was only a chance meeting that led to you finally getting help and turning your life around. Can you elaborate on that chance encounter and how it came about?
Veronica: I always knew something was wrong with me, I’d known that since I was about 5 years old, I thought I had a rare mental health condition that no one else had. So I had been looking for help for a long time, I went to doctors, therapists, psychiatrists they treated my anxiety, depression and panic attacks but my drinking wasn’t really mentioned. I was in my twenties and a binge drinker so I thought my ‘drinking was ‘normal’ – I drank like everyone around me did. Then one day I met someone who was sober and in recovery. I had honestly not thought my drinking was a problem, I kinda though I shouldn’t do so much cocaine, but I thought an alcoholic was a ‘smelly old man on a bench,’ not someone like me. When she told me a little bit of her story I began to get an uneasy feeling because I identified so strongly. That was the beginning of realising that alcohol was my problem.
Liv: What did turning your life around look like? What was missing, or, conversely, what was dysfunctional?
Veronica: Firstly, stopping all alcohol and drug use. What was really dysfunctional was my thinking. I had developed a view of the world, and how it operated that was completely erroneous and didn’t serve me in any way. It was quiet a shock for me to realise it wasn’t the world that was wrong, that it was my thinking that was the problem. By beginning to see the world and then, therefore myself differently, I automatically got different results. My thinking was very entrenched in ‘what’s wrong with me, why am I so alone, why does nothing work out for me…..’ etc., etc. When I began to see that I could choose my response to events that happened to me it was an incredibly liberating feeling. When my thinking became more positive so did my life.
“…in the past I did believe people needed to reach a ‘bottom’ in order to recover but I now believe that is erroneous and dangerous, especially to young people and especially in the midst of this opiate epidemic we are now in (the USA). If you can medicate someone to reduce harm for several years until they are ready to address the issues driving their addiction then I believe this is perfectly legitimate. I think early intervention is key.”
Helping Other Alcoholics
Veronica: I always advise people to never quit getting help, if something didn’t work then something else might, or maybe the timing was wrong, just keep going. I think there are many different approached to recovery and you should keep doing whatever it is that works for you. I do believe effective ‘help’ should have some central themes: I think connection with other people is essential to all human beings, but especially addicts. Help should consist of a method that enables you to form meaningful connections with others be it through yoga, meditation or a twelve-step meetings. The help you get should also support you to be honest with yourself; I call it ‘revealing yourself to yourself.’ We need to discover who we really are, what motivated are behaviour and decisions.
Liv: Do you believe that people don’t need to reach a bottom before the provision of that help?
Veronica: Yes, in the past I did believe people needed to reach a ‘bottom’ in order to recover but I now believe that is erroneous and dangerous, especially to young people and especially in the midst of this opiate epidemic we are now in (the USA). If you can medicate someone to reduce harm for several years until they are ready to address the issues driving their addiction then I believe this is perfectly legitimate. I think early intervention is key.
“Veronica Valli has written one of the clearest, most fascinating & truly helpful books on addiction I’ve ever read…from the viewpoint of someone who’s in long term recovery. Whether you’re struggling now & need help, have struggled in the past, or you’ve ever loved an addict, this book pierces through the confusing and terrifying misinformation that surrounds this disease…I was completely enthralled by this brilliantly researched, refreshingly straightforward & delightfully compelling book.”
Veronica: Well the reason I wrote my first book was I really wanted to help people understand the internal world of an alcoholic and addict. I didn’t relate to any of the outward behaviour of alcoholism, drink driving, being arrested, going bankrupt, none of things had happened to me and my life wasn’t unmanageable in that way. However, I was unmanageable on the inside. I had no control over my feelings or emotions, I was driven by fear, I felt like I had a black hole inside of me and no way of articulating how I felt to anyone else. In recovery I began to understand that all human behaviour is a manifestation of how we feel, so if you look at addicts behaviour, you have to understand that how they feel inside is pretty dark. When we promise we will never drink again we mean it 100% at the time, but when the fear and insecurity takes over it is more powerful then any other feeling. This can only be tolerated for so long until we need an anaesthetic. I wanted ‘affected others’ and addicts themselves to really understand this was primarily an internal problem. Because once you understand what the problem really is then you can do something about it.
Liv: Leading from the last question, you said the book seeks to address not only why alcoholics drink that way, but that certain steps need to be taken for a successful recovery journey. Can you elaborate on those steps?
Veronica: As I said before, the steps to recovery must include meaningful connections, honesty, a revealing of yourself to yourself, being honest with others, strategies to deal with triggers whilst your brain recovers from the conditioned behaviour, alternative activities to drinking behaviour and of course I think diet, exercise and getting enough rest are hugely important.
Liv: How does getting sober enable freedom?
Veronica: It enables freedom in our minds, which is the most important and only meaningful freedom there is. When my thinking is free from fear, resentment, insecurity and negativity then I am free to become the best version of myself.
Liv: Why does your recovery rock?
Veronica: Great question! Because authentic living was what I had been looking for all along.
Liv: I love that you talk so openly about recovery, with such passion. You say that you are committed to educating the public on problem drinking and addiction. How do you think your speaking out increases awareness of the disease and how might others in recovery help give a positive message about addiction/alcoholism?
Veronica: There has been a misguided belief in some recovery circles that anonymity meant we had to be secret about our addiction. Because of this, we are way behind other diseases in terms of advocacy and funding for treatment, it also helped foster the faulty belief that we have something to be ashamed off. We don’t. This disease affects so many people, but no one speaks out because they are scared and ashamed. My goal is that people can be as open and honest talking about addiction as they do cancer. Plus, we only really see the ‘rock bottom’ stories in the media and I think it’s vital that we portray sobriety as something we can aspire to. Before I got sober I thought it would be the most boring thing in the world, when it’s the complete opposite. There’s plenty of representations of drinking and we need to balance that out.
Veronica on Food
Liv: What has been your relationship with food? Has it changed in recovery?
Veronica: I had a very low level eating disorder, in that it was never a primary issue for me but once I got sober it emerged with a bit of a vengeance. I knew I couldn’t drink or use drugs so I became very fixated on food. At one point I became frantic because I wanted to get to the store before it closed so I could get my ‘binge food.’ I realised then I had a problem. I found as I began to recover and do the steps I mentioned above, my issues with food began to get better as well. I was able to stop binging and develop a healthy relationship with food.
Liv: Penultimate question: what is your favourite meal/dish?
Veronica: Cobb salad, I could live off it. I just love blue cheese and bacon and I need to have greens everyday. I also love peanut butter.
Veronica’s Recovery Tools
Liv: Last, what are your top five recovery tools?
Veronica: Inventory, telling someone else what is going on with me, reading something inspiring, exercise and sleep.