Meet the Blogger: Samantha Cornelison

I grew up living in a small home built in the 1800’s with my Mom and older brother. My parents split when I was 6 and I spent the majority of the time with my Mom. She worked tirelessly to provide us a good home and did really well at making that happen. The area I grew up in is known for being of high property value with its breath-taking coastline and historical homes, so for a single mom, this was no small feat. I discovered at a very young age that food was a source of comfort and started using food as a coping mechanism for my feelings of being lesser than. I struggled with my weight throughout my entire life. I truly believe this was the beginning of what would become my addictive personality.

My father was a good man, but had an addictive personality as well. He spent a lot of his life jumping from job to job. Him and I had a different relationship. We were more friends at times than father/daughter. As I got into my teenage years, our relationship became estranged. It wasn’t until after I had graduated high school that I saw him again. He lived in Las Vegas with my Grandmother who battled her own inner demons. Looking back, I realize that Sin City would literally be the death of both of them.

I started smoking weed my senior year in High School. I was always told weed was “safer” than alcohol because no one ever died smoking weed. It wasn’t long until I had discovered harder substances. I thought I found the PERFECT drug in cocaine and meth. I had energy, a social life, I felt invincible, I could focus, and most importantly I didn’t want to eat. I lost a ton of weight and when I did eat, I ate whatever I wanted. No counting calories, weight watcher points, macros, etc. I thought that this was it.

As I continued down this road of what seemed to be the answer to all of my problems, things started to become unmanageable. I had just seen my father and grandmother in a weeklong trip to Vegas in February of 2004. On my last day there, we got a phone call that my Uncle had been killed in a trucking accident. I had returned home to my using and numbing. However, I had this nagging feeling that I should call my father. It had taken me a few weeks before I did so.

I finally had decided to give him a call in March and he answered the phone with pain in his voice. I asked him how he was doing and he responded with “Are you sitting down? I need you to sit down.” I sat down on the back step outside on my friend’s porch. I lit a cigarette and asked what was going on. He paused for a moment and then said to me “Your grandmother blew her fucking brains out.” At that moment I screamed and burst into tears. He went on to explain that she had shot herself in the head in front of him.

This would be the beginning of the darkest time in my life. I had begun spiraling out of control and began using more heavily. I was so angry at my Grandmother for doing this to my Father. How could any parent do this? I just didn’t understand. I knew my Grandmother had been battling depression and the last time I saw her she had lost so much weight I barely recognized her. I just didn’t want to feel and the only feelings I felt were anger. Usually when someone tells you that their Grandmother passed, you feel that sadness of a sweet grandmother that probably was loving and caring and kind and baked you apple pie. My grandmother was just tough. She was a strong minded, no bull shit taking, straight from Kentucky, no holds bards, kind of woman. I knew she loved me, but she always had a weird way of showing it.

A month later in April of 2004, one of my best friends was found stabbed to death and left in an abandoned military base over drugs. He was 7 days away from turning 21 years old.

I had seen on the news that they had found a body. I was walking out the door when it flashed on the television screen. I stopped dead in my tracks and turned back into the house “Do they know who it is?” I asked my Mom. She replied “No, young male in his 20’s” I knew it was him. He had been missing for a few days and we never lost contact with each other for that long. Plus that nagging voice inside of me wouldn’t stop. I called my other friend who instantly started crying. “Don’t say it! Just don’t say anything.” We were hoping if we didn’t mutter the words that our friend was murdered, it wouldn’t come true.

The next morning my brother came into my room and told me it was him. I screamed and kicked and sobbed like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Except it felt like my heart had been ripped out of chest ONCE AGAIN.

As time went on, the facts of the case would be revealed. My dear friend was tortured for 24 hours, trapped and burned with cigarettes, then taken to this deserted area and stabbed 40 times.

I had absolutely no idea how to handle all of this loss. I had one tool in my tool box of solutions, and it was drugs. For years, all I could talk about was losing him. Senseless and tragic.

As if all of these events weren’t enough, one month later I was driving home along the highway when a woman ran out in front of my car. I hit her. She rolled up over my car and laid in the middle of the highway. I pulled my car over with the front half of the car on the side and the back end facing out along the road. I screamed and stopped the next car from hitting her again. A car on the embankment had been yelling at her not to run. She died in the hospital a few days later. My name and the half-written story had been published in our local paper. I was overcome with guilt.

Now I was feeling like I was the murderer. My car had taken someone’s life and I thought I should be in jail. The police assured me it wasn’t my fault. However, at the time it had happened, I had no idea she had committed suicide. It wasn’t until my brother returned from a fishing trip in Alaska that I discovered that the car on the side of the road was telling her not to run. The person in that car was my brother’s fishing-partner’s cousin. Small world, right?

Shame, guilt, anger, crippling fear, would take their turns flowing through me for months. There were times I would sleep on the floor because it felt safer. It felt like that’s all I deserved. I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and didn’t have a clue. I didn’t eat and pretty much my only focus was to numb my pain.

I decided (and my family had decided) that I needed to get help. I started seeing a therapist, but was not honest about my addiction. After a few months, I started talking to my therapist about other issues in my life. My therapist asked me if I thought I was “over” the tragic events. I said well, I’m coping with them. After that session they told me my insurance didn’t cover my visits and dropped me that day. I was left with the only tool I knew how to cope with, drugs and alcohol.

I would learn to hide my addiction better. I maintained a full-time job and went to school. On February 28th, 2006 I had come home from work and opened my books to start homework. My Mom came in and said “I need you to sit down.” A little voice went through my head but I didn’t want to believe it. My mom turned to me and said exactly what I feared. “Your Father died.” Again, I was in a position of a blood curdling scream that my Mom had heard too often from one person. He was killed by a drunk driver on February 26th, 2006.

At this point I got really angry with God. ‘What did I do? Why me? Why my friends and my family? What’s next? God, I don’t want to know what’s next.’ This probably re-triggered the PTSD I had before that went overlooked and untreated. All I knew is that I wouldn’t allow my father’s death to be for naught. I was determined to have something good come out of this. I didn’t know how. I sure as hell didn’t know when. I just knew enough tragedy had happened that SOMETHING good was going to happen. My anger for God subsided a little.

Unfortunately, I would continue numbing myself with drugs and alcohol. Hiding it from the world. Suffering in my own pain. Dreaming of a life that was fulfilling. People around me would tell me all the time, “You have so much potential, just keep trudging.” I knew I had potential, but I also knew I didn’t know how to function as an adult without something to take the pain away. Therapists thought I was fine. I knew I couldn’t afford rehab. Until finally in 2012, I woke up and decided enough was enough. I quit using drugs. Only, I transferred my addiction to alcohol (and food), because alcohol wasn’t frowned upon. It was legal and socially acceptable. Over the course of the next few years, I would gain over 100 pounds, bringing me to my highest recorded weight of 297 pounds.

I was still miserable and you could see the misery on every inch of my body. I was just trying to fill a hole inside of me, that was the size of the Grand Canyon, with anything! After trying countless diets, workouts, trainers, gyms, etc., my friend suggested I look into getting weight loss surgery. I went in for the consultation and the doctor asked that I write down everything I consumed. So, I did. I thought, ‘If he tells me to quit carbs, I’m never eating another carb again!’ At our next appointment, I handed over my food diary and he looked up at me and said “Have you ever thought you might be an alcoholic?” My jaw hit the floor. I gasped. ‘How dare he! An alcoholic? Doesn’t he know what I have been through? You would drink too!’ I thought to myself as I picked my jaw up off the floor. “NO!” I said, “I am definitely NOT an alcoholic!”

I ended up getting the weight loss surgery, but right before I was about to be put under the doctor turned to me and asked, “What is the one thing you’re concerned about?” Smugly I replied, “Me gaining the weight back?” He rolled his eyes and said “NO! Alcohol!”. The reason he was so concerned was because after weight loss surgery, your ability to metabolize alcohol changes. Your cravings can become more intense because it goes straight into your blood stream and turns into sugar making you very drunk, very fast… And, well, it did. I stayed sober for a few months. I started eating better and working out. My life was transforming and I was feeling amazing. I lost 10 pounds, then 20, and before you knew it, I was down 140 pounds total.

But with all things that I over use, alcohol too had become unmanageable. I found myself drinking right when I would wake up until I would go to sleep. I would go to class drunk; I would skip class because I was drunk. I would leave class immediately and go get drunk. I knew where this road was going and I wasn’t going to go down it any more. I decided I would get help and work a program of recovery.

June 14th, 2017 is the day I got sober. I have dedicated myself to keeping my body, mind, and soul in balance. This is an everyday work in progress for me. Sometimes I fill one cup more than the others. I have to work on myself every day. I found things that I love and a community of sober people who are my family. I have learned that it is not motivation that keeps me on track but my dedication to myself. I’ve built an amazing relationship with God. I have traveled the world sober. I have run up mountain tops and found a new lease on life.

Before & After Sobriety

In early sobriety I started working out every day. I would go to the gym and take the 6:00 am class and cry throughout the workout. I’m sure the instructor thought I was crazy. However, I was there and I was putting in work. Friends of mine were doing this crazy thing called Spartan Races and there just happened to be one in my town. I decided I would give it a try. I was terrified, but it was a great goal. I started working out harder and longer. The Spartan Race was 8 miles plus obstacles that included things that I never thought I could do. Climbing walls, carrying sand bags and buckets full of rocks, dunk walls, crawling under barbed wire, rope climbs, and running 8 miles. I couldn’t finish a 5k at one point in my life, let alone this.

June 7th of 2018 came around. Race day. I was nervous and anxious. I started the race and watched everyone in my start time run past me. I was already doubting if I was going to finish. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and did one obstacle at a time. I eventually came across another Spartan who decided he would run with me and help me finish, and we did. I finally had proven to myself that I wasn’t the person I used to be.

All those obstacles in my life I had overcome. Either with help or solo. They were in the past now. I was starting a new chapter in my life. I didn’t have to identify as the person I used to be. She was gone. It was a pivotal moment in sobriety and in my life. I did something the old me could never have done. What else can I do?

I decided I was going to start living. What else did Samantha want? I thought, ‘I want to travel to Italy and Greece’. So, I did. No one wanted to go with me and I decided I’d go by myself. I planned the trip and traveled all over Italy and Greece. Hopping on trains, planes, subways and ferries. All sober. Spartan had really resonated with me so I decided I was going to travel and race. I went to Seattle, Tahoe, and San Francisco to race. I’ve seen more and done more in sobriety than I could ever imagine. These are things I had dreamed of doing but always thought, ‘Not me. I’m not that lucky.’ Little did I know that luck had absolutely nothing to do with it. I could have everything I wanted and I deserved all of these experiences. Finding myself was the key to it all. Taking down the masks and being comfortable in my own skin. Not being afraid of putting in hard work. I started living the cliché of saying ‘What if I fail? But what if I succeed?’ and actually trying. I started setting up small goals for myself and tackling them one at a time. That’s how I found happiness in a life that had been so amerced with pain and tragedy.

Now I’m not as afraid to try new things. Actually, when I feel that fear, I’ve learned to turn it over to God and do it anyways. I competed in a CrossFit competition after doing CrossFit for three months. I didn’t make the podium, or even the top 10, but I hit a personal record on a lift and had the time of my life with my gym friends. I’ve created relationships with people I adore that I would never have met if I didn’t get sober.

I hope my blog inspires people to know that their circumstance does not have to define them. That pain is only temporary. That you are capable of living a life beyond your wildest dreams. That with an action plan, dedication, and perseverance, you can achieve anything. Life doesn’t have to be all pain. Once you learn to embrace the pain rather than fight it, you can be happy, joyous, and free too.

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