“Today, I am whole, and I am enough.”

See that beautiful smile Taylor Brown is wearing? This is what happens when someone reflects on how far they've come on their road to recovery. Taylor endured years of substance misuse, lives as a survivor of sexual assault and overcame depression. Today she serves the homeless population at Transitions and now sits on the LRADAC Foundation board.

My name is Taylor and I am an alcoholic.

I was born into a life of great privilege. I am the only child of two entrepreneurs who tried and prayed for children for well over a decade. I grew up in a loving home with parents who afforded me every chance and opportunity at a good life. I was raised in Columbia, SC, and I was active in school and within a multitude of rigorous extracurricular activities. My time away from my studies was spent further fine-tuning my eventual resumé, diligently honing my ballet form, perfecting my Mock Trial arguments, and voraciously reading my way through classic literature and print media.

After being awarded a generous scholarship, I attended a prestigious college in the upstate where I studied Finance and Government. During my freshman year of college, I drank about as much as any other newly anointed student, with weekend fraternity parties serving as the cornerstone of the social scene. I often drank to excess as I fell into this new life.

One night while I was drinking, I was roofied and subsequently raped after a fraternity party. When I came to, he was on top of me. After stumbling back to my dorm with a black eye and busted lip, I showered for hours — trying to scrub the events of that evening off of my skin.

Within a few hours, I found the good sense and the gumption to seek out student health services. After sharing the traumatic experience I’d just survived, I was merely asked about my own alcohol consumption and it was suggested that I keep quiet about the event. I did not receive further support through my college following my rape.

Following the chilling experience and seeking medical attention, a fellow sorority sister came to me and yelled that she’d heard “what happened” and that my rapist would never do that sort of thing. She insisted my experience was fabricated, going so far as to ask me why I would make up such a lie about my rapist.

As this continued, I started drinking more and more. What I couldn’t scrub off of myself physically, I tried to sanitize from my mind with 100 proof. What little I was still able to feel, I tried my best to numb. If I could drink the memory away, maybe my soul could forget too.

I continued with college, doing OK academically, although in shambles mentally, while chalking up my drinking habits to being part of a school with a party culture—rationalizing it to myself as just, “what everyone here does.” Despite my drinking, I did well enough in my studies to be accepted into a study abroad program in Germany during 2013 where I would be traveling around Europe learning about the various EU governmental institutions.

While in Madrid, Spain, I was kidnapped and raped at gunpoint, and left bleeding with a broken foot. When I finally stumbled back to my hotel, memories of my earlier rape and subsequent medical and social treatment came flooding back. I was terrified of being silenced, being invalidated, being told I did something wrong, and being called a liar.

Finally, I was convinced to seek medical care. After visiting a few hospitals and eventually finding a place to receive care, I became acquainted with a secondary trauma of surviving rape by allowing the completion of a rape kit. While this hospital visit resulted in no cost to me and I was able to have my physical injuries tended to, I was discharged bearing more wounds. After nearly 24 hours of tests, physical exams, and interpreted group discussions, I declined to involve law enforcement after learning my limited rights as a foreign visitor.

I called my family and my then-boyfriend to tell them what happened. Devastatingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, my ex-boyfriend immediately blamed me. After coming to the decision with my parents that I needed to get home, I flew back to America six weeks before the conclusion of my studies. My study abroad program graciously allowed me to complete my remaining assignments in absentia so that I would still receive full course credit for the semester.

My world was completely shattered. My budding dependence on alcohol began to snowball. I started to drink even more heavily. I drank to forget. I drank to numb the pain. I drank more because I needed to.

After college, I made my first attempts at elbowing my way into SC State House politics. Social drinking was and is a primary facet of this culture, and it was the part of the game where I most excelled. My drinking continued to worsen, and eventually, after years of unresolved trauma, PTSD, chronic depression, and anxiety, I attempted to take my own life. I was successful in this attempt for a few minutes. I was revived at a local hospital where I was held in the ICU until I awoke from my coma. After a few days in their step-down program, I was sent to another hospital, where I was involuntarily held for 10 days. This was probably the longest sober time I had had in six years. I was court-ordered into therapy and to live with my parents since I was deemed a threat to myself. I didn’t work for months because I was in PHP and IOP. I drank daily — even during the group therapy meetings. I couldn’t pass a urine test without alcohol showing, and my counselor told me I had a problem. I told her she was wrong and refused treatment.

I kept drinking. I started to go through about a handle of liquor every day or every other day. Anytime someone suggested that I had a problem, I told them they were misinformed and shut them out. The visible evidence of my alcohol dependence was becoming increasingly harder to keep under wraps. However, I distinctly remember one night while drinking alone, at about 3 AM, when I whispered to myself, “I’m an alcoholic.”

My parents forced me to go to LRADAC to get treatment, but I wasn’t ready to give up drinking. I was still drinking–even on the days that I was going to see my addiction treatment counselor. Needless to say, I failed every urine test I was given.

I ran out of options. I had nowhere to go, no job, and very few friends left. My parents gave me the ultimatum of getting treatment at a rehab facility or being committed to inpatient psychiatric care again. I chose rehab.

I honestly and diligently worked through treatment during a 90-day program at the Owl’s Nest in Florence, SC. Upon completion of the in-facility treatment, I moved into their transitional sober living facility. I stayed, healed, and grew in this community for close to a year and a half. I discovered who I was as a person without the influence of alcohol. I began to feel myself rising up into a greater purpose with this newly gained mental clarity and newly acquired coping skills.

I felt I was ready and secure enough in my sobriety that I could spread my wings and look at moving back home to Columbia. I sought out jobs in the nonprofit sector, hoping to land somewhere I could use the knowledge and skills gained at college along with my newly discovered zeal in life for serving others. I secured employment with Transitions Homeless Center within the development team. Close to 50 percent of our clients experiencing homelessness self-report as dependent on one or more substances, and I feel that this shared connection with so many of those we serve fuels my larger passion for our mission. It is important to me that I live out the guiding principles of AA through actionable service within the recovery community.

I am honored to have recently joined the LRADAC Foundation Board where I will have the opportunity to facilitate opportunities for others within our immediate community to achieve sobriety and know joyful lives. I learned firsthand how important LRADAC’s expert, compassionate, evidence-based support is in the journey towards a renewed life. I can think of few things more heart-filling than the opportunity to be a part of providing that support to others.

Today, I don’t have to drink. Today, I don’t rely on any substance to get me through the day. Today, I have friends and family – and the relationships that I had ruined through my drinking have been restored and improved to higher levels than they were before. Today, my mother and father don’t have to worry about me drinking and driving or drinking and dying. Today, my friends have the Taylor back that they used to know — one that is excited to share in their joys. Today, my employer has an employee that is dependable and follows through on her promises. Today, I know happiness greater than I thought possible. Today, I can give back. Today, and every day, I am whole, and I am enough.

Taylor’s smile is a reminder to everyone that you can contribute to helping others on their road to recovery by designating The LRADAC Foundation as your charity of choice on Amazon Smile! It’s easy, free and all done through your Amazon Prime account. Simply visit smile.amazon.com and designate the LRADAC Foundation as the recipient. And thank you, Taylor, for making us smile today.

LRADAC is the designated alcohol abuse and drug abuse authority for Lexington and Richland Counties of South Carolina. The public, not-for-profit agency offers a wide array of prevention, intervention and treatment programs in locations convenient to residents of both counties. The agency has a budget of approximately $10 million and serves more than 5,000 clients per year.