Graham shares her life’s journey
By Angie Landsverk
Brooke Graham begins and ends each day with prayer.
“My relationship with God is my No. 1 priority. It comes first. Without that, I don’t have anything else. It is above my marriage, my business,” she said.
That relationship is one that began and developed during Graham’s recovery from addiction.
“I wouldn’t have a relationship with God if I had not been an alcoholic and addict first. I think God is so full of grace and mercy. He takes whatever mess you’re in and uses it for His message, to share his glory,” she said.
In early 2003, Graham was a few months into her sobriety when she faced a court date in Outagamie County for an operating while under the influence charge.
She was in her early 20s at the time, and it was her second OWI. She got her first at age 19, when she left a house party to move her vehicle so it would not get towed and hit the tow truck.
That was her first experience spending a night in jail.
She got her second OWI in the fall of 2002 and shortly after decided to go into recovery.
“I was a sober a couple months. I didn’t hire an attorney. I was going to tell the judge what I was doing, be honest,” Graham said. “He still gave me 40 days, which is kind of a significant number. I had to do 30 of 40 in the Outagamie County Jail.”
Graham hated being in jail.
“I felt like an animal in a cage. And I am a private person. Suddenly I’m in a cell block with other women,” she said. “While I was there, that is where I read the Bible and started a regular prayer life, first thing in the morning and at night. I stuck with that.”
The first taste
Graham grew up in New London and was 2 1/2 when her father went into recovery for alcohol.
“I always knew about it,” she said. “Dad said if he drank again, he would die.”
Graham had her first taste of alcohol when she was 11.
She was at a friend’s house for her first sleepover when her friend brought out a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps.
“Even at that age, I didn’t want to stop. I think I had two shots,” Graham said. “I liked the feeling, because I was very reserved. All of a sudden, I wasn’t feeling as shy and reserved.”
She did not take another drink until about age 14.
“When I was 14, I started smoking pot. It was easier to get a hold of,” Graham said. “When I was 16, I started to get more heavy into smoking pot and drinking. I came home very high one time. It was obvious when I got home to my parents that I was under the influence.”
With her father in recovery, Graham knew the way to get everyone off her back about it was to agree to go for treatment.
She spent a week in treatment at an Appleton hospital.
During her teen years, Graham was also obsessed about her weight.
While in treatment, she ate little and ended up also being treated for an eating disorder.
Graham said one week was not long enough to get anything done.
“I signed the form, saying I was not going to drink or use anymore,” she said.
By the time Graham turned 17, she had moved into heavier drugs, including cocaine and acid.
Set to graduate a year early from high school, she instead dropped out in the fall of 1996.
“School was cramping my style,” she said. “I moved out of home for the first time when I was 16. I stayed with older friends.”
Her parents forced her to return home, she said. She ran away from home twice.
Initially, Graham felt happy and giddy when she smoked pot. Later, she felt paranoid when she smoked it.
Eventually, she moved off of pot and onto alcohol and cocaine.
“I liked the effects better,” she said.
Shortly before turning 18, Graham moved to Allenton to live with her older boyfriend.
They partied at the house, and on several occasions, she tagged along on drug runs to Milwaukee.
“Through all my teenage years, I had it in the back of my head I wanted to die,” she said. “I figured if I drank enough and used enough, it would just happen, and it would look like an accident.”
During her time living in Allenton, she lost between five and eight pounds during two days of heavy partying.
Her friends confronted her and told her she needed to stop using.
“I decided the drugs were the problem, so I stopped doing that but kept drinking,” Graham said. “I think early on I had the personality characteristics of someone who could become an alcoholic or addict. I feel I didn’t have the tools for dealing with it.”
Graham quit using cocaine for about three years. She continued to drink, smoke pot and occasionally use psychedelic drugs.
At 19, she broke up with her boyfriend and went on the road, hitchhiking throughout the country and going to parties for about six months.
When she went on the road, the charges related to her first OWI had not all gone through the court system, which meant there was a warrant out for her arrest.
In late 1999, Graham returned to Wisconsin and decided to clear up her court issues.
She got a job, saved money to hire an attorney, turned herself in and faced her penalties.
Graham had to go through an AODA assessment to get her license back.
Her counselor challenged her to quit drinking.
“Why? I am not an alcoholic,” Graham told her.
“Then it shouldn’t be too hard, should it,” her counselor responded.
Graham intended to show the counselor she could.
The night before Graham was supposed to return to meet with the counselor, she got drunk.
“It was the first time I thought, ‘If I can’t go one week, maybe it is a problem,’” Graham said.
Forward and back
On Dec. 21, 2000, Graham’s father died at 51 of a heart attack. A few years earlier, he had started drinking again.
Now 21, Graham had been sober for two weeks at the time of his death and remained so another eight months.
“I watched him go through that. I think about that now. He was sober 14 years. There isn’t any place where you’re safe,” Graham said.
During that time, Graham’s counselor encouraged her to try a 12-step program.
She did not want to and eventually started drinking again.
At a bluegrass festival, Graham flipped a coin to determine whether she was going to drink or not.
She kept flipping the coin until she got the answer she wanted and drank for two days.
When she woke up, she thought, “There’s something wrong with this.”
Graham decided to try a 12-step program but said she did not need a sponsor.
She was sober about two weeks and went to lots of meetings. At one of them, she proceeded to tell everyone what they needed to do.
Graham intended to stay sober but contact with someone from her past resulted in another year and a half of drinking and drugs in the Fox Valley and Madison.
Graham tended bar, which she thought was the “perfect job” since she could drink while she worked.
She drank herself to sleep and had herself convinced that she had everything under control, because she “only smoked crack on weekends and just drank during the week.”
When Graham got her second OWI in the fall of 2002, she thought God hated her.
“I’m not sure what changed. I would disappear for days at times, because I knew people everywhere,” she said. “On Nov. 11, 2002, for whatever reason, when I woke up that day, I didn’t want to live that way anymore. I didn’t want to die anymore. I knew if I kept going like that, I would either die or end up in prison. I didn’t want either one of those.”
That day, Graham made it to her mother’s house.
“I tried calling treatment centers. No one would take me without health insurance or $10,000,” she said. “I wanted to do something now.”
Sitting in the kitchen of her mother’s home, Graham asked God for help. She does not remember if she said it out loud, but for the first time, she meant it.
“I could immediately feel God’s presence there. I haven’t had the compulsion to drink or use drugs since that day. I had peace for the first time in my life,” she said.
Her mother suggested she again try a 12-step program, and Graham called a hotline.
“I went to a meeting that night. Someone asked if I wanted a sponsor. I said, ‘Yeah. I need all the help I can get,’” Graham said.
Sober since that day in November, Graham continues to remain active in a 12-step program.
It was also shortly after her decision to become sober that Graham met her husband Trent.
On Dec. 31, 2002, her boyfriend’s plans for the night included drinking, smoking pot and playing video games.
“I had already learned I could not put myself in that situation, so I went dancing with Mom and met Trent that night,” she said.
He was active in his church and invited her to attend with him.
“I’m not really a church person,” Graham said. “Every week, he had a different excuse for me to come.”
During the church services she attended with him, Graham began to hear many of the same messages she heard at her recovery program.
Early in her relationship with Trent, Graham had to serve her 40-day sentence in jail. He wrote her a letter every day and they were married in August 2004.
Today, Graham is part of the worship team at Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church.
She continues to go to 12-step meetings two to three times a week and also volunteers once a month, chairing such a meeting at the jail.
Three years ago, she opened The Revival in downtown Waupaca, inspired to do so after seeing a similar boutique during a trip to Washington, D.C.
“It’s amazing how it all came together,” she said.
The name of her business has a lot to do with the number of reclaimed items in it.
It also has a deeper meaning to her because of her recovery.
About a year ago, Graham opened a second boutique in Menasha.
Graham said drug and alcohol addiction affects a lot more people than one realizes.
“A lot of people do a good job of hiding it or covering it up,” she said. “When you’re in the middle of your sickness, you can’t see it. It’s important for family members to keep from enabling.”
Graham said there is a need for more treatment programs.
She shares her story with others as a way to give others hope.
“If I can do it, you can do it. Recovery is hard work. You have to face a lot of things you didn’t want to face,” Graham said. “But it doesn’t have to stay like that. I encourage those starting or thinking about recovery that it gets better. There is hope. If somebody wants to recover bad enough, they will.”