Losing her brother to suicide sent a new mother to seek solace in alcohol, a habit that slowly spiraled out of control. Her rock-bottom moment occurred in a doctor’s office when she was diagnosed with pancreatitis.
Today, 30-year-old mom-of-two Nicole Marso, of Denver, Colorado, is fighting to stay sober for her health, her kids, and their future. Describing her journey out of addiction as “the easiest hard thing” that she has ever done, Nicole hopes her story of pain, hope, and healing would help others.
Nicole told The Epoch Times that opening up to friends and family—especially to her 8-year-old thoughtful daughter—helped her become accountable on her path to sobriety.
“I wanted to quit in order to be the best parent that I could be,” she said. “My daughter watched me get sober, and then she watched me start my life over as a sober person. She saw those changes. She would just come up to me and give me a hug, and tell me how proud of me she is.
“It’s nice to have other people that you don’t want to disappoint, because sometimes we give up on ourselves the quickest.”
Nicole was raised by a single mom, and money was tight. “My dad was not really in the picture until I was an adult; he struggles with alcohol and addiction issues,” Nicole said. “I didn’t get to do as much as maybe some other kids did, but I think, overall, I was a pretty happy kid.”
Everything changed when Nicole, then 21, lost her brother. She had just given birth to her daughter, Aspen, and hadn’t touched a drink in her life, but she believes the trauma and the grief of losing a sibling triggered something inside her.
“I started to consume alcohol shortly after my brother died,” she said. “I struggled with alcohol addiction, on and off, for the next eight years in my life. Luckily, I never turned to drugs, but I don’t think that that really matters—I think alcohol can be just as dangerous as drugs.”
Nicole said that in her early drinking days, she would “take breaks from drinking” to prove to herself that she had control over it. She said she was even able to “quit drinking right away” when she became pregnant with her second child, a son named Oakley, and breastfed for 18 months.
Even as her addiction claimed a hold on her, Nicole always put her kids first: they never missed school, nor church. But behind closed doors, Nicole would wait until the children went to bed before drinking to intoxication.
Her habit hit fever pitch in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic when she didn’t have any job and was “stuck at home.” She found herself struggling with pain, anxiety, and panic attacks and ended up being a regular patient at the emergency room.
“It’s hard to live in a constant state of anxiety, because you can’t really get out of it,” she said. “I also knew that it was a direct result of my drinking.”
However, she said something clicked during one of these visits.
“I think [the doctor] knew the answer to his question before he asked it, but he wanted to see if I was going to be honest,” Nicole recalled. “He said, ‘You’re in a lot of pain, aren’t you?'”
When Nicole insisted she only drank wine with dinner, the doctor pushed harder. “He said, ’29-year-olds don’t get pancreatitis, and you have pancreatitis,'” Nicole recalled, adding it was then and there that she admitted her addiction.
The doctor told Nicole she had not yet caused irreparable organ damage. But if she continued, she “wouldn’t see her kids graduate high school,” a warning that broke Nicole’s heart. Her kids were just 7 and 3 at the time.
“He said, ‘Do you want help getting sober?'” Nicole recalled. “Before I could process the statement, my mouth just said, ‘Yes.’ I think it was just a wave of relief. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew it was going to be worth it.”
Looking back, Nicole is convinced she never had control over her addiction. She had tricked her loved ones for years, but the doctor “saw through everything.”
Between medication, withdrawal, and sleep, Nicole doesn’t remember her first day in hospital on Aug. 26, 2020. But she remembers what came next: a healthy, low-carb diet to heal her pancreas, and a massive lifestyle overhaul, starting with leaving a 10-year relationship with the father of her children, who was also her drinking accomplice.
“He was the person that I drank with throughout all of my drinking career,” she said. “So I knew that the very first step was going to be leaving that relationship, because I knew that if I stayed in that relationship, I would go back to drinking.”
As a newly single parent, inpatient treatment wasn’t an option for Nicole. Instead, she began sharing her journey on Instagram, bolstered by willpower, family, friends, and a spiritual recovery group in Denver that reached out via social media. Seeing Nicole thrive, soon achieving one year sober, a group member invited her to write a letter to her addiction. Nicole accepted.
“I knew it was going to be healing,” she said. “I was writing a letter to the person that I was before I quit drinking and telling that person what life is like now, as a sober person. It was really cool, and it was really powerful.”
Wanting to get back on her feet financially, Nicole approached her former employers and secured her old job as a bartender. Her coworkers, whom Nicole describes as “like family,” have helped make the space safe for her as she continues her sobriety.
“If you’re to the point where you’re struggling, and you’re questioning if you have a problem, you probably do,” she said. “I think the best thing you can do is reach out to someone for help, someone that you either know is sober, or someone that you know can point you in the right direction for help, because recovery doesn’t look the same for everyone.
“It is so worth it. The other side is so much better—it is just so much more calm and beautiful. Sobriety is possible for everyone that wants it.”
Arshdeep Sarao contributed to this report.