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My Journey from Despair to Hope

Updated: Apr 10, 2023


"The best road to progress is freedom's road." -- John F. Kennedy


About 12 years ago, a doctor told me I was the most abused person she’d ever met.

I’ve been emotionally and physically abused, sexually molested and raped and survived some scary situations


By the time I visited that doctor, I was 220 pounds, had high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and PTSD.


Oh, and I was drinking so much I was becoming an alcoholic.



Today I’m sober, off all medications, my anxiety and depression are gone, and I’m down to my normal and healthy weight.


These past three years in sobriety, I’ve had amazing emotional and spiritual growth -- more than I ever had in more than 30 years in therapy! And it’s all because what I’ve been learning and the work I’ve been doing on my thought process


I’m here today to share what I’ve learned. I feel that if this worked for me, I think it will work for anyone.


When I was in rehab three years ago the head of clinical said, “Alcoholism is a disease of emotions.” That really made an impact. I’d never felt comfortable with my emotions.

Starting in my childhood, I hated any uncomfortable feelings. I avoided them through running away to friends’ homes.


When I was in college -- which I ran away to -- I found another way to avoid my emotions: alcohol.


Running away and alcohol were my only coping skills, all for avoiding feelings. This kept me from any growth or knowing who I was. Any time I felt something I didn’t like, I didn’t examine it or challenge my thinking. I ran away. I moved several times and finding myself in dangerous situations where I was almost killed and was sexually abused and raped.


If you asked me at any point back then what I was feeling, I didn’t have a clue.


About 10 years ago, I decided to stop drinking. I felt I was in a good place and didn’t need it anymore. I thought I’d just stop. Then I was shocked when I couldn’t.


I’d lost more than 70 pounds by then, but I couldn’t put down the bottle.


I tried everything:

  • Hypnosis

  • TMS -- magnets to stimulate your brain.

  • Books -- enough for a bookstore

  • Medical marijuana

  • Moderate drinking class -- iced water/lemon, yoga

I recently realized I didn’t really want to stop. I wanted to drink "normally" and be like "normal people" all around me. What I didn’t realize that by abusing alcohol for so long, I’d changed my brain’s chemistry. There's a saying: Once a cucumber becomes a pickle it can’t be a cucumber again.


It was irreversible. I was a pickle.


All I knew then was that I couldn’t stop except for a couple of weeks … and each time I picked up alcohol, it was worse. At my lowest I was drinking about ½ gallon of vodka a day.


But one day the bottle turned on me.


It didn’t take away my anxiety; I was jumping out of my skin, afraid I was losing my mind or going to die.


I checked into detox so I wouldn’t die. No plans. Just don’t die!


They recommended I go to rehab for dual treatment for depression and alcoholism. And when I got there I was scared and wanted to run back home. But my husband looked at me with tears and said, “This is where you need to be, Kar. You’ve got to stop running.”


The road ended. What I didn’t know was there was a better road for me, and it was just the beginning of an emotional and spiritual journey which I’m still on today.


It started when I went to mandatory recovery meetings. I saw people in long-term sobriety that were happy and leading healthy and full lives. I looked at the women in the house and noticed the ones doing the 12 steps (the recovery program’s lessons) were growing emotionally and gaining confidence.


They had hope. I started to have it too … for the first time in many years.


I started doing my recovery work beginning with getting honest, open and willing (tattoo):

  • · Honest – that I’m an alcoholic and honest with myself and others. No more lies.

  • · Open – open to suggestions and advice and to help from a Higher Power

  • · Willing – willing to do the work to get well, and giving my will to a Higher Power.

My tattoo - honest, open & willling


The journey continued with writing down my past resentments and fears and understanding how my thinking and emotions were affected. Then discovering my distorted thoughts,

understanding them and letting them go, replacing them with healthy thoughts.


Example: Mother hits me. It affects my natural instincts: security, self-esteem, fear. What did I want from her? I wanted her love. What did I not want? I didn’t want her hurting me. What lie did I tell myself (subconscious)? I’m bad, I deserve abuse, I’m worthless, I’m unlovable and I don’t matter.

What do I fear? Anger.


Adding up all the resentments I have written down -- more than 100 -- that’s a lot of distorted thinking


And distorted thinking turns into dysfunctional living.


As my thinking starting changing I started developing healthy coping skills. I was able to start building a toolbox for life.


Here are some of my tools that I use daily:


  1. Prayer and meditation: Wake up and ask to do the next right thing. Then wait in silence for the answer.

  2. Gratitude: Want what you have, not what you don’t have.

  3. Self care: Physical and mental. Move a muscle, change a thought.

  4. Service: If you want to raise your self-esteem, practice estimable acts.

  5. Acceptance: Live life on life’s terms.

  6. Living in the moment: I used to live in the past filled with depression, or losing sleep worrying about the future.


Working the program has changed my life.


I feel like was swimming upstream in the River of Life my entire life before sobriety, and just when I was about to drown, my Higher Power placed a branch for me to grab. I held onto that branch for a while as I grew stronger. But trust kept me holding on in fear of the river below.


Once I trusted the river to take me where I needed to go -- once I trusted my Higher Power -- I let go and fell into the river.


The river takes me to places I’ve never dreamed of, and opportunities appear at every river bend.

Last year I started a pop-up coffee shop for people in recovery and was invited by Tam (the founder of Women Who Boss up series), to be in her book on Inspiring Women. I speak at hospitals and rehabs, and this year I started my website, karenrubinstein.com (can’t believe I got my name for a domain), and I write about the toolbox for coping and sharing on living a healthy life -- mentally, physically and spiritually.


I’m in the process of getting certified as a transformational life coach (conventional life coaches work with your actions, while transformational life coaches work with how you think or how you see yourself.)


So now I’m rebuilding my life from one of despair to one of joy and hope. I’m now happy, joyous and free!




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