Sherry Irvin
Wounded but Not Broken

I may be wounded, but I am not broken,” explains Sherry Irvin about her journey from abuse through addiction into surviving and thriving. Her face expresses firm resolve—the passionate promise and the hidden grief behind this simple statement. Sherry regularly shares her journey with others, hoping to help them overcome similar challenges.

What happened to you?
In Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Frazier’s new book, “What Happened to You,” they explain that rather than asking “What is wrong with you?”, we need to ask, “What happened to you?” For many people experiencing addiction, the answer is trauma. Trauma triggers chronic dysregulation, or the feeling of being wound up or anxious—what Russell Brand calls an “internal storm.”

Sherry’s internal storm started when she was sexually abused as a child. Like many survivors of child sexual abuse, she experienced vulnerability and a complete lack of control. She believed the abuser’s false message that it was her fault, and she internalized a sense of shame and responsibility. She had low self-esteem and didn’t feel worthy of love or positive relationships. As a result of her victimization, she gained weight and insulated herself, trying to become invisible so that people wouldn’t hurt her.

As a young adult, she realized that she could gain control of her body through her eating. She became obsessed with limiting what she ate, which caused rapid weight loss. As a result, she was rewarded socially. “Once I realized that I could be thin and started interacting more, I still kept people at arm’s length,” she says. “It looked like I was engaging with them, but I really had a wall that they couldn’t get past.” This wall prevented her from making authentic connections through relationships. One addiction turned into another, and she began to abuse alcohol.

Surviving with family and faith
On December 17, 2011, Sherry hit her rock bottom. It was a stormy winter night. She told her sons (then 9 and 11 years old) that she was going Christmas shopping. Instead, she went to a liquor store and bought a lot of alcohol. She drove to a railroad crossing, parked on the track and drank while she waited for a train to come and end her suffering. At one point, frustrated that the train had not arrived, she left the car, fell and hit her head. As she lay there, she heard her sons’ voices and saw their faces. She imagined the headline in the paper the next day, “Mom Leaves Behind Two Sons Because She Couldn’t Hack It.” Sherry realized that she didn’t want to miss out on her children’s lives and needed help. A week later, she entered Generose for detox and treatment. “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” she counsels.

While in treatment, she experienced what she believes was divine intervention. One day she wandered into Saint Marys Chapel. She couldn’t understand a god that would make her go through this. She decided to try praying, since everything else she had done wasn’t working. “I was in the back row; I didn’t feel worthy to be in the front row,” she shares. “I prayed to God to take the obsession away from me. I felt a tingling, and from that day forward, I haven’t had the urge to drink.”

The most grateful alcoholic in the world
“I am the most grateful alcoholic in the world,” Sherry says. “I have my life back. I was given a second chance, and I can’t waste that gift.” She believes it is her mission to pay that gift forward to others.

Sherry explains that there are many pathways in recovery and that not every path is right for everyone. She does a spiritual Twelve Step Program. Part of being vigilant to her program is to regularly go to meetings and do service work. One of the biggest challenges she experiences is feeling unsettled. Making a difference in other people’s lives brings her peace and helps her feel settled.

Sherry spends most of her time helping others. She works full time at Cardinal of MN, helping developmentally disabled adults. She loves the joy she experiences at the end of her overnight shift when she is greeted by people who are happy to see her when they wake up. Her eyes light up when she talks about her part-time position at The Landing, a local day center for unsheltered people in Rochester. She is a passionate supporter of the program. “People need a soft place to land,” she says, and The Landing provides that. She is excited to have recently started her patrols with the Community Engagement Response Team, whose purpose is to patrol, support and engage within the Rochester community.

Finding my way
“As I am getting older, I am starting to find my way,” Sherry shares. “Through my trials and tribulations, I have found where my strengths lie. I have found out how resilient and strong I am. I am not afraid to reach out for help. I try to be a better person than I was yesterday.”

Sherry hopes that sharing her story will be someone else’s salvation. If you think you may have a problem with addiction, there are many resources in Rochester to help. Tell a friend, connect with one of the treatment programs in town, tell your care provider and keep asking until you get help. “It is scary to ask for help,” Sherry says. “For many people, even getting up in the morning is hard. You are living moment by moment. Keep coming back until the miracle occurs. Everyone wants you to succeed. Find a sponsor, work your program. You don’t have to do this alone.”

“When you find an addiction, do not be ashamed. Be joyful. You have found something that you have come to this Earth to heal. When you confront and heal an addiction, you are doing the deepest spiritual work that you can do on this earth. -Gary Zukav”

Substance Abuse Support
Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge • 612-254-7939
Common Ground • 507-281-0023
Rochester Metro Treatment Center
Zumbro Valley Health Center • 507-289-2089
Mayo Clinic Fountain Centers • 507-252-0818
The Gables Treatment Center for Women

Find Sherry Irvin on her podcast: Abuses, Addiction and Recovery

About Author

Terri Allred

When Terri moved to Rochester 13 years ago, she looked to Rochester Women magazine to find connections. Because she works as a nonprofit consultant and coach, helping women find balance, connection and purpose, she knew how important those connections would be for her. Now, she looks forward to offering that same opportunity for connection to others in our community through her work at Rochester Women Magazine. When she is not working, she enjoys looking for seashells, dancing and snuggling her dogs.

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