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April 21, 2023

‘We are all in the grips of grace’: A journey through addiction recovery

IU Health West Hospital

‘We are all in the grips of grace’: A journey through addiction recovery

When Sharon Hollis realized she was addicted to alcohol, she sought help from IU Health West’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center. Now, she hopes to help others by sharing her journey.

By Emma Avila,, writer for IU Health’s Indianapolis Suburban Region

For Sharon Hollis, her drinking started gradually. It was a drink socially, then a drink alone, then stronger drinks and then hard liquor. It happened over about a year and took her some time to realize she needed help.

“I had no idea what a slippery slope I was on. I had no idea I had become addicted,” she said.

She used alcohol to help combat sadness and stress, with the COVID-19 pandemic playing a large role. She realized if she didn’t drink, she would experience tremors. Even then, it was difficult to reach out and ask for help, but Hollis knew she had to do what was best for herself.

“I was ashamed to reach out. This isn’t who I am. I was afraid it would tarnish my business,” she said.

Asking for help

She reached out to a friend, who happened to be a physician at IU Health West. Through that connection, she was met Marlene Villecco, an addiction counselor at the IU Health West Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center (ATRC).

Marlene Villecco, addiction counselor at the IU Health West Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center
Marlene Villecco, addiction counselor at the IU Health West Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center

She started on a six-week program just days later. She met with Villecco once a week and attended group counseling every night.

“The standard amount of time someone who is recommended to our substance use disorder (SUD) program here is anywhere from six to eight weeks, based upon the patient’s needs,” Villecco explained. “Every patient is different, so there is no set cookie cutter way of treatment for everyone that enters our program.”

Hollis found counseling beneficial. She learned what her triggers were and developed new coping skills.

“The biggest part that stuck out and has stayed with me is I could not believe how poor my coping skills were until I got into group,” she said. “It helped me understand myself. I use the coping skillset I learned in my business. I use them in my personal daily life.”

“Our evidence-based curriculum is set up to help educate, teach and discuss topics. This includes early challenges in recovery, how to work through and process emotions again, how to better communicate, setting and maintaining strong boundaries with family and friends as well as how to develop healthy relationship that will support their recovery,” Villecco added. “The final goal is helping them to develop a relapse prevention plan that is going to support their recovery.”

The road to recovery

Hollis learned new things about addiction, and the information helped eliminate some former biases she had surrounding substance use.

“Addiction in general, I am guilty of not understanding it. After I got started in treatment, my compassion for people with addictions of all kinds has expanded,” she said. “What I learned was that this disease, this problem, affects everyone across the board.”

During her recovery, Hollis took a step back and saw how her addiction hurt herself and those around her. It had a deep impact on her wife and adult son.

“I wish I would’ve known when I was drinking that I needed to be still and not make compulsive decisions. Because I was doing that, I hurt everyone, including my spouse,” she recalled. “Some people say alcohol is a truth serum. For me, it made it easy to lie because I didn’t want to expose my issues. The lying damaged my integrity, both to myself and to others. That is not who I am.”

After completing her six-week program, Hollis continues to go to the occasional meeting, if she feels it is necessary. Villecco was glad Hollis has been so open to the program and recovery as a whole.

“I will have to say, Sharon has been one of those patients that everyone loves to work with. She is someone who has the willingness to keep an open mind to learn and practice new tools that will help with her recovery management,” Villecco said.

Thankfully, Hollis has not had any cravings for alcohol since she finished her program. She is grateful for her support system, and she reaches out to them if she has any triggers.

“They are random, and I’m blessed because they’ve been few and far between. They’ve usually been when I’m stressed after a long day at work,” she explained. “I instantly reach out to either a family member or someone from group.”

Her pastor has also been a major source of comfort through her recovery. As an ordained minister, Hollis leans on her faith continuously. She prays daily and meditates for about 20 minutes each morning and evening.

“That’s what’s working for me right now.”

The goal is helping others

April is National Alcohol Awareness Month. For Hollis, sharing her story is scary, but she hopes it can help others who are struggling.

“Never think ‘it can’t happen to me.’ We are all in the grips of grace. This is a disease, and it can affect anyone and everyone who is not set up with the correct coping skills, regardless of our education, intellect and position in life,” she said. “Asking for help did not make me less than or weak. It actually restored my healing and my life.”

For Villecco, she knows that someone must be fully committed to treatment with their heart, mind, body and soul or else it may not work for them.

“I will say this though,” she said. “I love to plant a seed and will be there, ready to help it grow if they are ready for change.”

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