The scene is the Jim Thorpe St. Patrick’s parade in 2008. Thirty-three-year-old Desha Utsick is drunk again. Afterward, she stumbles home to swallow a bottle of pills so she could pass out to forget that she’s alive and hope she won’t awaken to have to face a new day.

One time too many

The next morning, Utsick arrives late again at her $60,000-a-year job. She’s been warned that the next time she’s late would be her last.

After 10 years and a day, with a five-week vacation benefit coming up, she is fired.

While fellow employees clear out her desk, Utsick is led by security to her car.

She opens the door and reaches for a can of beer.

“I knew I had a problem with alcohol,” she said, “but I just couldn’t stop, even after I lost the best job ever because of my drinking.”

There were “one time too manys” often in her young life. Pass-outs and blackouts became common experiences.

None of her behavior might have been expected. Raised by her mother in Jim Thorpe, Utsick had a normal childhood and was an excellent student, finishing second academically in her senior class at Jim Thorpe High School in 1992.

“I was in sports, clubs and played the flute in the band,” she said. “I snuck some beer once, and I liked the taste, but nothing made me want to drink it every day.”

Liquid dinner with a side of food

Utsick attended Moravian College, where her drinking problems began. She went to parties and bars. She discovered that she enjoyed people who liked to drink. Despite her binges and blackouts, she managed to maintain a 3.0 GPA.

“I knew I was insecure, but when I went away to college, I found freedom from myself when I drank. I also developed an eating disorder, which certainly made my drinking issues worse.”

Utsick fell under the “Freshmen 15” curse, a common 15-pound weight gain for freshmen students who eat large amounts of junk food while away from home. She overate bad foods after getting drunk. She gained too much weight. Aware of her eating issue, she would go out to eat at a bar and have a “liquid dinner with a side of food.”

“I drank so much I lost 30 pounds by the end of my first year at Moravian.”

From bad to worse

After graduating college with a degree in business management, Utsick returned to Jim Thorpe, where she says her life “fell downhill.”

With a great job and a promising future, she continued to drink every day with other “drinkers” and “druggies.”

She was introduced to crack and cocaine and she added the drugs to her habitual routine. She lost a “good man” to her problem and hooked up with someone who drank and drugged with her.

“I knew what was happening to me, but I didn’t care. I gave up on everything including my belief in God. I would go to church and sneak a drink in the bathroom there.”

Rock bottom came next. No job and no money to pay her house bills, Utsick twice tried to ingest enough pills to end her misery of being alive.

The rocky road to recovery

Utsick’s mother became so angry with her daughter, she gave her the phone number to a recovery program.

I called and went to a meeting for the Twelve Step Program. I was very impressed, but not enough to stop my addictions. I still drank heavily and took drugs.”

Despite help from her mother and support letters from aunts and uncles, Utsick realized she hated herself. Four relapses later, a moment of clarity came to her one day when she looked long and hard at herself in a mirror.

“I didn’t see me. I saw a face with a mask like the one the character Jason wears in those horror movies. I was in a physically abusive relationship at the time too, that sent me twice to the hospital. I needed to find a way out.”

Rescue dogs help with her rescue

Utsick had gotten two mixed-breed dogs at a rescue shelter. One named Lila became sick and needed surgery. Utsick had a respiratory illness at the same time so she stayed sober to be able to take Lila to the veterinarian.

After complications from the surgery, Lila had to be put down.

“I got home from the vet’s and I immediately started to drink again. I took one look at Bella, my other dog and told her I was sorry. I told her that I can’t do this anymore. I had to be responsible for Bella, for my bills, and for my house. I guess you could say I had a spiritual awakening. I think God made me sick so I would be there for Lila, and with my faith restored, I knew I had reached a turning point.”

Welcome to the new ‘me’

Now at age 42, Utsick has just celebrated her seventh anniversary of sobriety.

“I believe now I was on a spiritual path. I had a hole in my heart sewn together by something greater than me. I have put my faith back in God.”

Reinventing herself has brought other benefits. She has begun her own photography business called “Dreams by Desha.” She teaches how to use a camera to take pictures of nature, which she calls, “an exploration for healing.” She has gone public with her past struggles and speaks at schools and centers to young people who are at risk. She intends to take a trip to Illinois with Bella to speak at a national recovery event.

“If I can help one person with my story, it will be worth my effort.”

In her own words, Utsick has found “peace, forgiveness and love.”

At her speaking events, she passes out a brochure titled, “How Addiction Helped Me Discover My Life.”

She preaches that life needs purpose. Life is about living and not just existing. She talks about being a “conduit” from God to help her bless others. She awakens each day with prayer and takes nothing for granted.

Desha Utsick is living proof that courage and faith can defeat the evils of addiction. She hopes that telling her story will help those at risk find their peace, too.