Local woman, 14 years sober, shares challenges, triumphs of recovery journey


MARQUETTE — When Chanin Edwards, now a Marquette resident, first arrived in the Upper Peninsula in 2005, she stepped off a Greyhound bus that she had caught “somewhere down south,” having detoxed from alcohol on the two-day bus ride.

In Ironwood, where she lived for several years before moving to Marquette, she was met by the friend who had purchased her bus ticket and with her, a bottle of liquor and a 30-pack of beer.

“I got off that bus sober,” Edwards said, “but that was the last time I was sober until Feb. 11, 2008.”

Edwards’ move to Ironwood from Atlanta — from where she originates — was, as she recounted, the result of a drunken dart-throw at a map and desperation. At the time, Edwards was in an abusive relationship — one in a string of abusive relationships that supported her addiction.

“You would be surprised at the amount of s—- that women specifically will tolerate in order to be in a situation/relationship/environment that will allow them to feed their addiction,” she said. “If you’re with a man that doesn’t blink twice at you drinking a 30-pack over the course of seven hours, you (are) in love…but with that, people that drink like that or condone that kind of drinking, they got their own set of problems and sometimes they’re not very nice; they’re nasty and dangerous and I just couldn’t anymore…. I decided, ‘I’m gonna die if I stay here.'”

So Edwards threw the dart and sought escape — from her situation and her own addiction. And although she had “every intention” of staying that way once she arrived in Ironwood, it would be three years until she found sobriety again and kept it.

Like many, Edwards’ situation was a combination of hereditary predeterminants, the circumstances she was born into, and the social and cultural parameters of the places she lived and people around whom she lived.

“I come from a home riddled with addiction,” Edwards said. “I pretty much have been on my own since I was 14, just kind of bouncing back and forth from family member to family member. My mom was an addict, walked away very early on in my life.”

A 14-year-old Edwards had been given two lives to choose from — that with her mother, who was “self-absorbed,” and caught up in her own addiction and problems, –or one with her grandparents in a steady, structured home.

Her choice may be surprising.

“The opposite of (my mother) for me was this strict home with five brothers and two sisters in the picture who were actually my aunts and uncles. My grandparents had been married forever and (grandma) was a stay-at-home mom with three meals on the table,” Edwards explained. “And, if you are a person who has experienced being that young and just being able to do whatever you want to do — as much as you need it and crave it and probably want it — structure is not your thing. You can’t go from being a wild child to having someone tell you it’s time to come in when the streetlights come on. ‘Cause I just came from an environment where I didn’t have to come home for three days if I didn’t want to.”

And so Edwards chose to be with her mother for the freedom and lack of supervision to which she had already grown accustomed. With it, however, came her mother’s environment of drug addiction and alcohol use, which affected Edwards’ ability to connect with others her age.

“I never hung out with people my age,” she explained. “It’s real hard to be friends with anybody when you are a grown adult by 14. People who are your age and your peers are doing 14-year-old s— like going to school and hanging out with friends and having sleepovers and I didn’t have that experience…. I always had a friend group who was older than me.”

Edwards said she had already done cocaine by 14 and was able to get into bars by the age of 16. And although it would take years to come to terms with it herself, she now says that she would have already been considered an alcoholic in those teenage years.

“I’d always been around and had access to alcohol just by the older crowd, and people like me that have any kind of addictions — whether they consciously seek out other people like them or not — they tend to gravitate to people who can hang with their lifestyle. You know, I never recall sitting down and saying, ‘Geeze, I think I’m gonna move to Michigan where I think them boys can keep up with me,'” Edwards said. “But you do gravitate towards people who don’t question your (habits) because they’re all doing the same thing. Nobody is going to question you slamming a half a pint of vodka in the morning to shake off the hair of the dog if everyone in the room at some point or another has done it.”

Unfortunately this continued to ring true for Edwards even after arriving in Ironwood, where she found acceptance, or at least neutrality, about her drinking, rather than concern. In addition, she found a place which supported the lifestyle she had intended to leave.

“Girl, there are bars open at seven in the morning,” she said. “So I had every intention of shaking it off and getting my s— together … but here, you could literally get up, take a shower, get dressed, and be sitting on a barstool at seven in the morning. So every good intention I had for myself was just right out the window cause there was nothing, not one sideways look…. ‘Come on in,’ you can sit on a barstool at 7 o’clock in the morning and tell your whole sad story to somebody that just keeps pouring drinks.”

According to Edwards, the centrality of alcohol in social circumstances and rituals played a role in allowing her to slip further into her addiction. For example, she recalled the yearly tradition among neighbors of cutting wood to prepare for the winter, toting 30-packs of beer with them from house to house.

In addition, she mentioned the availability of alcohol on grocery store shelves — as opposed to more heavily regulated liquor stores — as well as the common gifting of alcohol. She also commented on trading beer for work or favors, and how deeply ingrained into social norms it is.

“If you tried to hand someone the equivalent cash value of a 30-pack for work, they would be insulted,” Edwards said. “If you gave someone a 30-pack for $600 worth of work, that’s somehow acceptable.”

More troublesome than these social norms, however, was the commonality and lack of concern about drunk driving that she has experienced.

“(T)here was not one person that I met after I moved here that didn’t drink and drive,” she said. “If you don’t get caught, (or) if you grew up in a town that’s small and you get pulled over after you’ve had too many…. The guy I was with was pulled over numerous times and they followed him home just like the good old days…. And drinking and driving is illegal…. Like today, I’m fully aware that you don’t get those slides. But it took me three (driving under the influence citations) — all within the first six months of living here.”

According to Edwards, even her first operating while intoxicated citation was not enough to convince her to seek help. She said, “Everything about this place and the mentality on alcohol just embraced the train wreck that I was.”

By the second OWI, Edwards said there had been multiple domestic disturbance and violence calls to she and her partner’s house. At this point, she was going to meetings and receiving prescription anxiety and pain medications from her physician to deal with the mental health trauma and physical injuries that her abuser was inflicting on her. And still not one person told her to check into treatment, she said.

It took a third OWI and a sympathetic judge for things to change.

“I just kind of spilled everything at that court hearing…. I had already told the probation officer I had a note from my doctor (about my injuries),” Edwards said. “The judge said, ‘Go to treatment, and don’t misunderstand what I’m about to tell you, because you can go to prison, or you can start doing something different.'”

So on Feb. 11, 2008, Edwards checked into treatment in the city of Marquette at 11:40 p.m. She remembers the date because it is her oldest daughter’s and her father’s birthday. And she remembers the time, because she had her last drink at 4:30 p.m. that day.

Edwards was in treatment for 28 days and said that it was amazing how clear her head was after just 10 days of sobriety. In that time, she began to make plans with Harbor House to get shelter for herself and her daughters, and with the police department for restraining orders against her former abusive partner. In the middle of the night when he was gone, she packed her daughters’ possessions into garbage bags and a friend drove them from Ironwood to Marquette, where she would begin a new life — though it was by no way easy.

“It was hard to stay sober here for the first little while,” Edwards said. “I remember leaving meetings sometimes wanting to drink more than I ever had in my entire life because once the guilt train takes off, it’s a lot of ‘choo-choo.’… I f—- packed out two teenage girls in the middle of the night and all they could take was two big black garbage bags. As much as they knew we had to go, and they did what I asked them to…. It was hard.”

Despite the obstacles of continuing a life of sobriety, Edwards will celebrate 14 years of sobriety in February. She now manages a successful business, owns several rental properties in the area, and will be getting married in September.

Her story demonstrates the many factors which contribute to addiction in someone’s life, including those which are intertwined with the social and cultural norms which dominate a region. However, it also highlights that recovery is possible and that there are resources and communities to support those seeking help.

Shannon Konoske can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is skonoske@miningjournal.net.


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