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Sharing My Recovery Story: How the Nature of Alcohol Nurtured my Young Addiction

Susan Raphael's younger self when in addiction
Bemelman’s Bar, a place I went for fun and comfort.

Reminiscent of a playful kaleidoscope, the sparkling booze-filled bottles that lined the wall tempted my youthful will.

There was something magical about that glass wall at Bemelman’s – a former Toronto hotspot – where I once lunched with my father after visiting my mom in palliative care.

Maybe it seemed magical because it’s one of my last good memories before everything changed.  Or maybe it’s because that wall was foretelling, reminding me of a certain fragility that with one swift move, life could easily shatter. 

What I knew for sure is the bar was like a mirror that reflected an inner thirst.


The moment the bitter-sweet sting of alcohol touched my tongue, I felt a tinge of weakness by the power it afforded me.

I knew I wanted more.

I didn’t have a problem, I had just discovered the magic in those bottles. It was the perfect blend of courage, charisma and confidence that evaporated my anxieties and elevated my ability to cope.


My mom was lying almost lifeless in her hospital bed. Her labored breathing softened and slowed, wrongly allowing me to believe–for just a moment–that this meant she would be okay.

For that moment, I watched my mom eagerly, expecting that her breathing was starting to regulate and that she would soon return home.

But I was wrong and instead I watched helplessly as the biggest champion in my life took her last breath. A breath that slowly suffocated me.

At only 13-years-old, I was unarmed and ill-prepared for the emotional battle that followed.

My father, as a newly single parent, was working to support his three kids, that included my younger and older sister, who seemed to have created a connection that reinforced my feelings of exclusion.

I hadn’t yet found my voice and had a difficult time expressing myself.

Also, I was a quiet kid – more of a spectator than a participant – and preferred to internalize my emotions. No one at school knew I was rushing home at lunch to care for my sick mother, nor did they know she had died. It’s likely the other kids, and teachers, would have been sympathetic but for me, it was better to be unseen than seen as the school misfit.


And while I was wrangling my insecurities that demanded I was better off as invisible, life pitched me another gut punch.

Within one year of losing my mom, I started to develop severe physical symptoms that were trivialized by my frigid environment, which left me yearning for some warmth and understanding.

In the next few months, after being hospitalized numerous times, I was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that comes with bouts of serious symptoms.

This diagnosis resulted from emergency surgery where my appendix was removed, and to decrease the potentially fatal risk that Crohn’s has on my health, my colon was significantly reduced in size. While adapting to the new illness, I became entangled with a reoccurring eating disorder. Denying myself of nourishment was a terrible solution, and I later learned that starving away my troubles only fed my mental distress.

That feeling of loss, emptiness and abandonment of comfort, was a common theme in my life, with which I had become closely acquainted. In fact, loss was the one thing I could depend on, so consequence was never a concern. Also, there was no way I could lose more than I lost that day when my mother died.

And in the few decades that followed, I tried to find a place of comfort, where I belonged. 

Unfortunately, the arch-nemesis of any superhero is driven by a craving for excessive indulgence, and substance abuse would become the super-villain I would battle for control over my universe.

I was in grade 10, when I finally found my place. Joining the social committee at school, I expanded my circle of friends and to my detriment, I also developed new behaviors.

Parties, dances, clubbing and nights of substance-fueled debauchery. 

Though I never carried alcohol to any of those school parties, it was readily available. And when it wasn’t, I would find more, often creeping the room, emptying drinks abandoned by others.

Defying social graces, I became the “it” girl–“it” as in the iteration of foibles.

At only 16, I had met the criteria of a person with alcohol dependency.

But, convinced that I was free of consequence, I was uninspired to change my abject behavior. On separate occasions, I vomited on the shoes of a cop, was cuffed and tossed into a police wagon, and felt immortal despite continued physical assault that left me bruised.

Over the next two decades, I would battle the addiction to defend myself over the adversary that trapped me in a chasm of chaos. 

And, over the past two decades I persevered in recovery and severed my ties with alcohol and illicit substances.

With the support of family and friends who rallied behind me, walked before me and beside me, I celebrated a milestone anniversary of 20 years in recovery.

I have over 30 years of combined personal and professional experience in addiction and recovery, and will guide you in a rewarding adventure that leads to your best life!

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