Michele Murphy recently celebrated 20 years of sobriety. She owns a virtual long-term post-discharge company that offers a comprehensive aftercare program called Modern Recovery. During Episode 34 of The Courage to Change: A Recovery Podcast, Michele talks with host Ashley Loeb Blassingame on her incredible journey into recovery. You can listen to the interview in its entirety here

Early Childhood

Michele was born and raised in Long Island, New York. She was raised by a young, single mother who Michele described as a “liberal free bird therapist.” Her dad was not in the picture and she said that “[she] never had a relationship with [her] biological father.”

About the time Michele was 6, her mom got married to her step dad who was a major in the Army. The three of them moved across 10 different states throughout her childhood. Michele started going to therapy about the time she was 7. Her mom acknowledged their “inconsistent lifestyle” and thought therapy was a good idea. 

One day during a therapy session, Michele vocalized that she wanted to meet her biological dad. Her mom knew it could be a bad idea, but facilitated them meeting. Her mom was right.  Michele shared, “it was one of the most traumatic experiences I’ve ever had.”

She had an idealized picture of who he was, and was disappointed to find that her dad was an alcoholic and a drug user. Michele and her mom met her dad at an iHop in New York City. Her mom and dad spent most of the time talking to each other. Feeling ignored, she said, “here I am meeting my dad for the first time and they’re just talking like it’s about her in this moment.” Michele was devastated. That day she realized, “if he wanted a relationship, he would have been able to find me very easily.”

Abandonment

After that pivotal moment, Michele experienced emotional abandonment from her dad. She shared, “my whole childhood, from a very young age, what I learned was that I’m not chosen, I’m not considered.” That left her feeling confused and ashamed. She shared, “thematically, my whole life had played out to where I’ve either recreated [that feeling] or avoided it altogether.”

Michele turned to drugs and alcohol at a young age to cope with the pain of her childhood. About the time she was 12 years old, her step dad was relocated to Tennessee. She and her step dad had a poor relationship around this time. She shared, “he didn’t talk to me, he didn’t engage with me.” At one point he told her mom, “I married you, not your child.” This left Michele feeling even more isolated and alone. 

Between sixth and seventh grade, Michele went on a camping trip with her church group. She said the members at her church were very diverse. “There were Wiccans and Pagans and Buddhists and I was exposed to so much when I was little, and that I’m really grateful for,” she said. When she got to the camp, she and a friend decided they were going to drink alcohol to fit in with the older kids. She remembers feeling a part of something for the first time. She returned to school in the fall. She started stealing and smoking cigarettes in the school bathroom. Girls from her school told her she was brave and that became a new way for her to make friends.

Turning Point

Michele moved to Colorado during her sophomore year of high school. At this point, she shared, “I’m 15 and I’m pissed. I’ve been [moving] since I was 5. And I was tired.” She got a job as a carhop at a nearby fast food joint. Her coworkers were using meth in the kitchen, and would ask her to run drugs out from the kitchen to people in their cars. One day, her coworkers offered her meth and she tried it.

She shared, “when I was home alone in my bedroom, I crushed it up, snorted it, and the next thing I know it’s like 6:00 AM, I have watched probably 10 episodes of Jerry Springer, my bedroom’s clean, my homework’s done, I’m ready for school. She thought to herself, “this is a game changer.”

Meth Was Her Drug of Choice

During the interview, Ashley shared, “the drug of choice is the drug you would choose over anything else every day, that’s the one that works with your chemistry.” She added, “but if you’re truly an alcoholic or addict, or have the ‘ism’ then you’re still going to replace that if your drug of choice isn’t there.” Meth was Michele’s drug of choice. Within a few months, she was kicked out of her house and her school. She transferred to an alternative school, and shortly after moved in with her drug dealer, who became her boyfriend. She managed to graduate high school, but continued to use drugs and ultimately became depressed. 

The Car Accident That Changed Her Life

When Michele was 17 years old, she and a few friends drove to the Colorado mountains where they used meth. On their way home, they were hit by a drunk driver. She shared, “the drunk driver ran a red light and slammed into my car, and I had five people in my car.” The driver had passed out at the wheel with a bottle of alcohol in the front seat. Michele jumped out of the car to check on the other driver. She shared, “I’m yelling at her, ‘get out of your car,’ and I look over, and her two year old son is underneath the dash of the seat.” He was alive and completely in shock. In that moment she thought to herself, “you cannot do this. It’s over. You have to stop.” That was the last time Michele used meth.

After that incident, Michele continued to drink and smoke, but became increasingly paranoid. She knew she needed help. She started going to a youth group through her church, and eventually went back to therapy. She tried to escape her boyfriend who became physically abusive to her. 

In trying to escape, she decided to go to college in Arizona. Her ex-boyfriend followed her. About the same time, she got a job as a waitress at Denny’s. One night, her ex-boyfriend showed up at her work and beat her up. Her manager witnessed the attack and called the police. The police told her ex-boyfriend “you can either go to Colorado or we’ll press charges.” He left, and for the first time, Michele was alone.

Shortly after, Michele returned back to work and had a conversation with a group of regular customers at Denny’s. As she started to cry, she asked them, “can you die from being sad all the time?” That’s when they shared that they were members of a 12 step program. The next day, they took Michele to her first meeting, and she’s been sober ever since.

Familiarity and Codependency

After many years of feeling isolated and alone, Michele admitted to wanting a family of her own. She met her ex-husband in recovery, and together they had her daughter, Scarlett. She had a difficult time being there for her daughter during the first couple of years. She felt ashamed, having known what it was like growing up with an absent parent.

She started noticing familiar patterns about herself that she resented as a child. After 12 years of marriage, she and her now ex-husband got divorced. She started dating and moving from state to state, just like her mom had. She got into an emotionally abusive relationship with a man. He badgered her, and accused her of being a pathological liar. She felt like she had lost her voice.

Michele and her boyfriend both served on the International Conference of Young People and Alcoholics Anonymous (ICYPAA) host committee. During her time on the committee, she met her counselors, Ken and Mary Richardson. She saw Ken routinely during this time. One day, her boyfriend asked her to step down from the committee. She shared, “Ken saw what happened. He saw me collapse. He saw me fold into myself. He saw the dysfunction, he saw everything.” Ken confronted her boyfriend and said, “she’s terrified of you.” 

After that moment, Michele left her boyfriend. She did counseling with Ken and Mary over the next two years and learned how to give herself validation and be there for her daughter.

Finding Herself and Experiencing Life With Her Daughter

She shared, “my whole theme as a child was that I was not considered.” Through recovery and being spiritually connected to her higher power, she’s strengthened her relationship with herself. She added, “I’m so grateful. I learned so much about myself. I learned so much about relationships. I learned so much about being a mother, being present, being available, being unavailable. And slowly, I started to empower myself.” In sharing each experience with her daughter, Michele said, “I want her to know that she is considered and super important.” Together, they travel the world, do yoga, swim with sharks, and take on every fear one step at a time.

Quotes have been edited for clarity.