Dena Gaines

Dena Gaines

Dena Gaines, 51, Recovery/Sobriety 

How would you explain addiction to a child?

Addiction is a treatable, chronic disease that occurs when dysfunction in the brain circuits affects reward, motivation, and memory. People with addiction suffer from the inability to stop using a substance or engaging in a behavior despite harmful consequences. My addiction is to drugs, but people can become addicted to many different things, such as shopping, eating, smoking, and even using their cell phones and social media.

What would you like to share about your addiction?

Living in sobriety is a very personal thing! For me, abusing drugs for so long was like being trapped inside a prison with no hope. It was lonely, isolating, and demoralizing. I started experimenting as a young adult in New York City. I had a great job in the garment industry, traveled a lot, was married, and had many friends. But recreational drugs turned into a full-blown addiction that went from bad to out of control. My family sent me down to South Florida. It would be the first of several rehabs. Against everyone’s advice, I entered a long, toxic relationship for over eight years. He passed away from alcoholism as I continued on my journey of drug abuse, which ended up in an even darker place, suicidal and ultimately defeated. Drugs had taken everything from me; my family, friends, ambition, drive, money, and lack of human connection.

I had become a chronic relapser jumping in and out of rehab until my older sister, with my family, intervened and gave me that gift I needed but could not ask for. It felt so scary to get off drugs, and I felt so undeserving of yet another chance after what I had put my family through. I didn't know who I was or what I would become, but there was hope for the first time. I was on my way to treatment, to listen and learn about this disease. To follow all the suggestions and use the tools I was taught to stop returning to the old life and start being a productive member of society. I learned how to get my family back, who still loved and rooted for me.

Despite the trust being understandably gone. One of the many crucial characteristics I learned in treatment was the consequences of my horrifying and abhorrent behavior toward people I loved while selfishly harming myself as an addict. It took getting sober to truly understand that that did not define who I was, even though it was all self-imposed. Addiction is a three-fold disease manifested in the mind, body, and spirit. Some say the opposite of addiction is connection. 

After I detoxed from all substances, I was still me, steeped in all the relentless thoughts of shame, remorse, and guilt. I may have been clean and sober, but to truly find serenity, I had to understand that I could not change my past or remove the wreckage in the wake.

I needed the discipline of nurturing a newly found sober life in recovery by using spiritual tools. This is ongoing and not easy - it’s a constant ebb and flow of emotions. I had to change everything I thought about myself and everything I knew -and let it go. At the same time, I will NEVER forget in order to make a real change. I had to accept that I could only change the here and the now. 

How do I maintain my sobriety and stay sober?

I am honest and open-minded with myself and others and live each day with gratitude. I reach out to others who are in recovery. And then I am blessed with another 24 hours of sobriety. Life in recovery truly is living in the moment, one day at a time, and accepting that I am powerless over substances. I am responsible only for MY actions and how I choose to react. Living sober is boundless; the more I keep going, the happier I am. There is no final destination in recovery. This is my new way of life. This is how I live. The novelty and awesomeness of being sober energizes and propels me forward! A lifelong journey where every day, I wake up thankful to be alive, sober, and willing to take the following right action. 

Addiction is an incurable disease that can be arrested if I continue working on myself daily. I also need to remember that by no means do I do this perfectly, and there is no perfect way. I do fall down emotionally and spiritually all the time, but as long as I don’t pick up that first drug, I am well on my way….. 

Today I love, laugh, and connect- on my continuous journey of self-exploration. 

What brings you joy?

I am happy to say that this July, I will be five years sober and clean. I work on my emotional and spiritual stability daily by attending meetings, meditating, and serving others, still sick and suffering from addiction and alcoholism.

One of the best gifts from sobriety was to come back to NYC and live with my sister, who unfortunately has a very different disease, one that is unforgiving and not self-imposed. She has MS. Helping her in any way I can to make her days easier is a privilege. One day my sister told me that she heard me through my door in meetings reciting the phrase repeatedly, “Accept the things I cannot change. “She says she applies this to her disease. I also help my father, who is turning 87 this week. These are people that I have let down for many years through my lies and deception.

Being able to show up and be present for them brings me peace, serenity, and joy beyond my wildest dreams.


  • elyse adams

    It has been a joy to watch Deanna grow and learn and unlearn from her mistakes

  • Olga V

    Dena, what a beautiful, vulnerable and deep share. So grateful to know you, my wonderful friend! Way to go and yes to keeping trucking! You rock!

  • Cindy H — Los Angeles, CA

    A most heartfelt, pure & lovely share by Dena. Her words are truly an inspiration to me and will certainly be to anyone fortunate to read Dena’s journey. I pray this beautiful piece of a sober woman speaking from the heart, will be shared all over the world. Bless you Dena!🙏🏽

  • Laura J

    Dena-you’re amazing. I love you and wish you many more twenty-four hour days. Hugs to you and your family.

  • Nina

    I am so proud of you !

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