NORWAY — She once made a living writing for and about others. Now Gail Geraghty writes for and about herself, and helps others in recovery do the same.

Geraghty’s struggles with substance abuse began as a young woman, eager to drink in independence and choosing alcohol as her companion. Away from her family and attending the University of Maryland, it was not long before she found herself experimenting with hard drugs: LSD, angel dust, Quaaludes, cocaine.

Gail Geraghty of Norway, left, struggled to find the recovery path for years. Her older sister Laurie has been part of her support system throughout. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

“I was getting good grades in college but I was staying up all night,” Geraghty said of her introduction to addiction. “I just wanted to experience as much of life as I could, and I thought that drugs and alcohol would help me in that regard.”

Geraghty’s quest to fit in at college resulted in years of attempting recovery, with at least three rehabs and many periods of sustained sobriety and relapse.

“Every single time I thought, ‘this is it, I’m done,’ Geraghty said. “But I wasn’t. I started with Alcoholics Anonymous and I took it very seriously. I picked up my chips, went to my meetings, did the step work and the whole nine yards.”

Eventually though, she dropped out of meetings, thinking she could be okay. Her first relapse came after she married.

“I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to be like everyone else, and have a beer?’ she said. “So I did, and I was off and running again.”

Geraghty’s husband drank, an unavoidable temptation for her. Being young and feeling invincible, she believed that if she joined him it would not bother her. But it did. She began lying about her drinking and hid it while acting as if everything was normal. It was a cycle she would repeat in the future with other partners, loved ones and employers.

One treatment program included taking suboxone, a drug she was told she would need for the rest of her life. She also participated in both AA and Narcotics Anonymous. Over time she became disillusioned with AA and NA, feeling that she could not progress as part of a group when her preference was to be independent. She didn’t want to be reliant on a group any more than she wished to rely on substances.

She turned to books. One, Learning to Soar!: A Guide for People Who Want to Create Their Own Recovery Programs, written by local author Jennifer Wixson, resonated with her.

“She had written this book about her own recovery plan she created for herself,” Geraghty said. “When it was published in 1993, the book was considered revolutionary in that it actually asserted in no uncertain terms that alcoholics and addicts have not just the right, but the responsibility to create a recovery program that is free of labels and uniquely their own. That was the first time I had the idea that the answer was [to do that], and decide for myself what works for me rather than what I’m to do.

In the beginning I needed those [programs], those slogans and I needed the structure, a sponsor and to take direction. I will be the first to say that that was essential for me in my own recovery in the early days. But later I felt the need to design something totally unique to me.”

During times that she refers to as very good stretches she maintained her sobriety, replaced lost jobs with new ones and even published a holistic newspaper for a number of years. But determined to get away from her reliance on suboxone to counter her drug addition, after eight years she turned back to alcohol. Life began to slip again.

“I felt hopeless and helpless. I was depressed. I started buying little Fireballs and drink them all the time,” Geraghty said. “I rationalized that I was weaning myself off [the suboxone], but I wasn’t doing it properly.

“All that changed the day I was walking my dog in the woods. Drinking a Fireball and I fell face first in the path and cracked a rib. I said to myself, ‘I can’t go on like this, I just can’t go on.'”

She drove herself to Bridgton Hospital’s emergency room. There she was referred to the late Dr. Peter Leighton, an internist who had shifted his specialty to addiction treatment. He in turn referred her to the Lakes Region Recovery Center.

“Those two things saved my life,” Geraghty declared. “I can say that I am not broken anymore. Dr. Leighton treated me like a real person, he was extremely compassionate. He saw the real me.”

Following Leighton’s rules for recovery, which was largely to seek counseling and to be honest, she returned to the principles she had read about in Wixson’s book.

“The first or second session with him, I just couldn’t do my usual lying,” she said. “I wanted to be honest with him.”

She joined Lakes Region Recovery Center as a volunteer, taking part in peer-to-peer recovery. There she was able to design her own pathway for her recovery and she trained as a recovery coach. She helped design programs for others, notably creative writing for recovery and a social event called Reconnect Café, an open mic night where professional and emerging artists were encouraged to share their creativity in a non-judgmental atmosphere.

“You give a gift of yourself and you get a gift at the same time of empowerment of speaking your truth in whatever creative form it may be,” Geraghty said of Reconnect Café. “Early in recovery a lot of people lose their connection to spontaneity and joy. I wanted to help people explore that.”

COVID-19 interrupted Reconnect Café, although Geraghty is working to relaunch it. Writing for recovery is something she was able to continue during the pandemic, using ZOOM conferencing as the gathering point. Just this summer with a partner also in recovery, she expanded creative writing sessions for residents of Grace House, a recovery halfway house in Portland.

“I wrote for newspapers most of my life,” Geraghty said. “I hadn’t written for myself since I was a kid. When I retired I asked myself, where was my voice? My unique voice that expresses who I am. I wanted to find my subjective voice. I had lost that over the years.”

These days, Geraghty writes personal essays and poetry for herself and coaches others using creative writing in their recoveries. It brings her joy, even as the writing sessions are meant to help the participants rediscover theirs.

“This is the real me,” Geraghty said. “This is the person I’ve always wanted to show to the world. It isn’t perfect, I’m a flawed human being who has enough gifts that I’ve managed to hold onto that I can still share. I am a person in recovery. I will always be in recovery. But I am not broken anymore.”

“This is what recovery looks like. Everybody is in recovery from something …. Be who you are and live your life as best you can, serving others and serving yourself.”


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