Success Stories

Personal Stories of Recovery

Melissa Whaley - Hope is Real

For Melissa Whaley, the letters on the certificate spell out something she has already discovered and proved.

On Aug. 12, she received one more written reminder that “hope is real” when she earned the eponymous award for achievement in recovery at Stairways Behavioral Health’s client picnic at St. Nick’s Grove.

Her survival providing concrete evidence, Melissa is now proof that hope indeed exists. However, this wasn’t always so clear from her perspective.

For years, Melissa suffered painful physical and emotional damages at the hands of her abusers, struggled with substances and depression and eventually landed in jail.

Though Melissa’s battle with addiction has its roots in a turbulent youth, she began abusing substances shortly after high school. This abuse only worsened after she became a wife and mother at age 24.

“The funny thing is I was living a picturebook life,” Melissa, 44, said. “I was married for 13 years, my house was always spotless, but I was using drugs to cover up how I felt.”

While it appeared as the envy of her friends, Melissa’s life was in a downward spiral, taking a dark path that would result in complete separation from her family, a series of abusive relationships as well as financial and legal troubles. Between the extreme guilt she felt over leaving her son and the dangerous and abusive relationships that helped sustain her addiction, Melissa was emotionally and physically damaged.

“I was in a number of abusive relationships for years,” she said. “I was choked, stabbed, suffocated and was with drug dealers who fed my addiction.”

With her sense of self-worth so low, Melissa’s despair nearly ended her life when she attempted suicide  three times in a two-year period.

“I had let my son down and was not there like I should’ve been and I decided the world would be better off without me,” she said.

Finally in 2008, Melissa’s relationships and addiction led her to being an accomplice to robbery on two occasions—an offense that landed her in prison for six months and on probation for several years.

Shortly after her release in late 2009, Melissa began therapy at Stairways Forensic Outpatient clinic, though she was, by her own admission, resistant to treatment.

Having been diagnosed with bipolar and borderline personality disorders, Melissa suffered from severe depression, had regular panic attacks and resorted to harming herself to deal with her symptoms. She could not see her life improving and struggled with extreme guilt about leaving her son.

A few years ago, Melissa told her therapist that she believed she would eventually die by suicide. Her wrists contain the scars from her attempts to do so.

Today, she doesn’t cover the long jagged scars from her past to hide where she once was but instead uses them to trace how far she’s come.

With the help of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy and fighting her own resistance at every turn, Melissa has persevered by using all the tools at her disposal.

While she experiences chronic pain due to injuries and struggles some days, Melissa continues to maintain her progress and lives one day at a time. She has not engaged in self-harm in several years, reached her sixth year of sobriety earlier this year and will be finishing her eight-year probation sentence at the end of the year.

The most fitting element in her journey of recovery, however, is the close relationship she enjoys with her now 19-year-old son, who started college at Edinboro University this year.

Crediting the staff at Forensic Outpatient clinic, Melissa has come to recognize that not only does she hold promise for the future, but hope truly is real.

“They finally made me realize that no matter what happens, that suicide wouldn’t be an option and everything would be OK,” she said.

“They didn’t give up on me when I felt like giving up on myself.”

"Stairways helped me to work on recovery, one step at a time." -Ron S

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