Chotsie Barnes was well aware of the dangers of addiction from a young age. Her parents, Mary and Wade, met at Valley Hope, an addiction treatment center located in Cushing, Oklahoma. Married shortly thereafter, they packed up their life and moved to Dallas, Texas for a fresh start. Despite the change in location and the addition of a baby girl to the family, their struggles soon resurfaced and derailed any hopes of lasting sobriety. As their addictions grew, Wade began to disappear for days at a time without telling his wife where he was going. A week after Chotsie’s first birthday, there was a knock on the door from a detective. Her father had been found dead in a hotel room of a morphine overdose.
The loss of her husband and father of her child had a devastating effect on Mary who, like many addicts, wanted to numb the onslaught of painful emotions brought on by the trauma. Her drinking quickly escalated and it wasn’t long before DHS was intervening in an attempt to remove Chotsie from her mother’s care. As a last ditch effort, Chotsie’s paternal grandmother, Lesta, stepped in and offered to care for her at her home in Oklahoma until Mary was in a position to care for her daughter again. It was the beginning of a pattern for Mary who lived in a continuous cycle of binge drinking and sobriety; watching her life fall apart only to become sober long enough in an attempt to fix what she had broken. During her periods of sobriety, Chotsie remembers her as an amazing mom. But, her days of endless drinking left her unable to care for a young child. A DUI resulted in Mary violating the terms of her parole, and she was sentenced to several months in jail while Chotsie was sent to live with Lesta again. She was five years old.
Living with her paternal grandparents, Chotsie found herself feeling numb at the turbulence in her life. Confused and unhappy, Chotsie complained over the phone to her mother that she didn’t enjoy it at her grandparents’ house. Her grandmother had been listening in on the other line and confronted the five-year old Chotsie about her conversation later that night. For all of Lesta’s kindness, she was also a mother in grieving who found herself caring for her grandchild as her late son’s widow was in jail. It would be a difficult situation for anyone, but Chotsie remembers a lot of blame being directed at her in addition to her mother for the situation Lesta found herself in.
Refusing to have Chotsie caught between herself and Lesta in assigning blame for Wade’s death, Mary moved with her mother, Grace, and Chotsie to Denver, Colorado. It was an effort to escape an increasingly resentful situation between Lesta and Mary in the hope that she could provide Chotsie with a healthier upbringing. Living with Grace was a much needed change for Chotsie. When Mary’s drinking escalated, Grace held Chotsie close and made her feel safe. She became the rock in the family, making dinner for Chotsie when her mother was absent and taking on many of the day-to-day stresses of being a parent. The unconventional family unit, working through loss and addiction, would spend thirteen years in Denver before returning to Oklahoma.
By the time they moved back, Chotsie was in the eighth grade and had become a regular user of marijuana in addition to drinking every weekend. Her best friend’s dad had first introduced her to marijuana, offering it to her and her friend when they were in the fourth grade. Two years later, she snuck into her backyard and had her first beer; a warm Coors Light that she had stolen from her mom and hidden in an Adidas box under her bed. She remembers her friend being disgusted by the taste, but Chotsie was on a high. She loved it. More than the feeling alcohol gave her, it also provided a sense of belonging. After a fractured childhood, she had found friends that accepted her and looked up to her. She recognized what drinking had done to her mom, but she didn’t believe it affected her in the same way. It made her funny and likable. She drank with her friends to have fun; she would never let herself turn into her mom.
Chotsie was devastated to learn they were moving back to Oklahoma. She was uprooted from the friends that had made her feel wanted and had trouble connecting with the kids at her school in Oklahoma City. Instead of the unsupervised basement parties that she had grown accustomed to, she found herself at slumber parties with parents bringing in trays of snacks. She blamed her mom and began to notice a building resentment towards her and her alcoholism. The resentment only grew stronger when she sent Chotsie to a private high school the following year, forcing Chotsie to once again be the outsider in a new environment.
However, to Chotsie’s surprise, she discovered that the kids at her private school were much more like her friends in Denver than her old classmates who threw slumber parties. They smoked pot with her and told her which gas stations would sell her beer. Her drinking and smoking picked up right where they left off, but her resentment towards her mother continued to grow. When her mom would pass out in a binge, Chotsie would take her mom’s debit card, steal her car and withdraw money from the nearest ATM. In the morning, Chotsie blamed her mom saying she had done it in an alcohol-induced haze. It was enough to bankroll her habit and served as revenge for embarrassing her in front of her friends by her drunken behavior.
The tension continued to grow between the two and came to a breaking point in the middle of a drunken argument about Chotsie wanting to leave private school to follow her boyfriend to the public school system. Chotsie pushed her mom, causing her to fall to the ground opening a gash over her eye. It was the first crack in the façade that Chotsie had created for herself and others; that she was happy, that she drank to have fun and that she would never be the embarrassing drunk that she saw in her mom. By junior year, Chotsie was more at odds with her mom than ever; drinking and driving regularly, in unhealthy relationships and continuing to flaunt her behavior in her mom’s face as if daring her to challenge her drinking despite her own alcoholism. Chotsie’s mom had had enough.
Walking back to the parking lot after pom practice, Chotsie found her car missing from where she had left it. Returning home with a friend, she discovered her car parked in front with all of the doors to the house locked. Furious, Chotsie tried climbing through the doggie door before seeing a flash of metal dart out of the corner of her eye and land with a thud by her hand. Her mom had armed herself with a garden tool and told Chotsie she was calling the cops. She had no choice but to move in with her boyfriend.
Lonely and confined to a small one bedroom existence, Chotsie felt her life closing in around her. She hadn’t spoken to her mother in six weeks and finally picked up the phone to call her, fully expecting another heated exchange. Instead, she received an invitation from her mom to join her at church. She agreed and after the service listened to her mom talk about what she had been doing during the time they had been apart. She was going back to AA meetings and was intent on maintaining sobriety this time around. It was something Chotsie had heard before, but there was a difference in the way she looked and the sincerity with which she spoke that made her believe her mom this time around. Chotsie gave her mom her full support in pursuit of sobriety and asked if she could move back in with her. Her mom agreed.
Over the following years, Chotsie would occasionally offer to go to AA meetings with her mom but always rationalized to herself that it was to support her mother who, in her mind, was the only one with the problem. The meetings were helping her mother considerably, but didn’t have much of an effect on Chotsie during that time. Despite close calls with the police after leaving the scene of a single car accident, unhealthy relationships with friends and family and an increasing number of mornings unable to remember the events of the night before, Chotsie struggled with admitting to herself that she shared in her mom’s struggle. The turning point came after she blacked out at her mom’s 50th birthday celebration in Las Vegas. Unsure what exactly had happened, but realizing she had hurt her mom by her actions, she told her mom that she wanted to get help for the first time. Visiting her boyfriend after the trip only further confirmed her commitment to turn her life around. In rehab for meth, Chotsie’s boyfriend asked her to consider whether she may have a problem. It was hard to hide from reality any longer; she needed help.
Chotsie’s recovery began that day and she has been sober ever since. Immediately taken in by her mother and her mother’s AA friends, Chotsie found that any absence of love and attention she lacked as a child was returned tenfold by this group of women who loved her until she loved herself. Six months later she found herself at a New Year’s Eve AA meeting on her first date with Tyler Barnes, whose story I wrote about here. Brought together by the power of modern dating apps, the two found that they shared in their journey through addiction and wanted to continue on that journey together for the rest of their lives. They are now happily married. Her mother also found love and is married to her husband of five years, living on a ranch in Montana and celebrating over twelve years of sobriety.
Chotsie has found fulfillment in using her story to empower and bring help to those struggling through addiction and other forms of mental illness. Originally working towards becoming a therapist, Chotsie soon discovered that she wanted to do more hands on work without the red tape associated with being a therapist. Leveraging her newfound sobriety, she applied for Recovery Support Manager at Red Rock Behavioral Health Services and utilized her own experience in helping others advance towards recovery. She is now in business development at Oakwood Springs, a center in Oklahoma City that provides inpatient and outpatient treatment services to adults suffering from mental illness and/or addiction.
Mission: To change people’s lives by delivering innovative and evidence-based treatment in a professional and compassionate environment that creates a foundation for long-term healing and recovery.
Inpatient Treatment; Offering a controlled, structured environment with 24-hour care.
Partial Hospitalization Program; Intensive group therapy along with medication managed by a physician.
Intensive Outpatient Program; A structured treatment program of group therapy from 9-15 hours per week.
HOPE for Heroes Program: Created to address the unique needs of military personnel, veterans and first responders. Through a specialized treatment track, individuals can overcome challenges brought on by repeated exposure to stress and trauma in the line of duty.