After struggling with an alcohol addiction, Beth Wilkas Feraco found support, sobriety and running.
When Beth Wilkas Feraco, 45, decided to quit drinking, she found comfort in an even more daunting challenge: running. “Running is not easy. It sucks,” she says. “I felt like running was harder than quitting drinking, so I wanted to keep doing it. I wanted to get to the next mile. I wanted to do a bigger race.” Feraco, a mother, wife, avid runner and fitness instructor, is nearly three years sober. “We can do hard things,” she says.
Tucked away in the small, near-coastal Maine town of Thomaston, Feraco is married to her high school boyfriend, Mike, and lives just minutes from her childhood home. She returned to Maine after nearly two decades away, her departure a reaction to her father’s sudden passing when she was 18. “It happened four days before my graduation. Shortly after, I took off and left,” she says. After spending most of her twenties and thirties in Los Angeles, she drove east, reconnected with Mike, and moved with him back to Maine. “I told myself I would never live here again,” she laughs. “And here I am!”
Feraco’s struggle with alcohol began in the years that followed her return. Prior to the birth of her son, Johnny, now 6, “My husband had a stroke.” He recovered, but his reduced capability and the lingering stress weighed heavily on her. “I was a mess. I cried throughout the whole pregnancy,” she says, but she abstained from alcohol while she was pregnant. “It was after the nine months of breastfeeding that I started drinking wine at night. It’s super isolating when you’re a stay-at-home mom with a baby that won’t stop crying.” This was on top of gaining a new stepdaughter, Kiley, now 9, and settling near-constant custody and child support disputes in court. “A few glasses went to a bottle,” she says, and her stress relief had transformed into an addiction.
Dulcie Witman, LADC, a Portland-based therapist and addiction expert, explains that a combination of genetics (“what is in us”) and the environment (“what is around us”) shape the likelihood of addiction. “What is surprising is where it can take us,” says Witman. “Intelligent, kind-hearted people who care about their families and their health can and do end up destroying both when caught up in the pull of addiction to something that began by simply giving pleasure.”
Feraco’s dark secret made the days harder. “In the morning, I would be so hungover, but I’d still have to do these mom things. I have to go to the library. I have to go to story time. I have to go to music class,” she says. “The whole time, I’m dying. I’m like, ‘I can’t wait until I get home so I can have a glass of wine again.’” Her addiction went on like this for three years.
“I was trying to be the perfect mom on the outside, but inside I was dying,” she says. Mike knew she was struggling with the pressures of motherhood, so he continued buying her more wine. “He just wanted me to be happy,” she says. “God bless his heart, but in my head I’m thinking, I wish someone would just take me to rehab.”
Witman describes addiction as a disease as destructive as an epidemic. “The shame that invades the mind and soul of a person makes it increasingly difficult to see their own truth, and they begin to mistrust even their closest allies. And they drink and use more in order to live with how that feels,” she says. “It’s a hideous cycle.” The cycle, however, can be broken.
“Something has to make us feel bad enough that, rather than blaming others, we can see at least a teeny crack of light shed on the justifications for using whatever we’re using. Even if we don’t see it clearly (which we often don’t in the early stages of recovery) we need to see that drinking or drugging is getting in the way of us having the life we want,” says Witman. “We’re not the person we want to be, we’re not the mother we want to be. And we don’t know how to get there.”
Almost three years ago, Feraco experienced her moment of clarity. “I drove Johnny from Camden to Thomaston, which is a good thirty minutes, and I think I may have had almost a bottle of wine,” she says. The realization of what she’d done terrified her. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, what if I crashed, killed my son, killed myself, killed somebody else…’ I just couldn’t do it anymore.” That’s when she went to her first Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, meeting around the corner from her house. “I went to AA for a year straight, every day. That changed my life.”
She and a friend started to run in the mornings before her AA meeting. “I pretty much just dumped myself into running. I thought of it as like ‘running the crazy out.’” So far, Feraco has run 5ks, 10ks, half marathons and trail races. “With every step, it’s one foot in front of the other, and that’s how it is with quitting drinking.” Her longest run was a 12-accidentally-turned-15-mile race when she got lost on a Bradbury Mountain trail during a thunderstorm. At the end, she was awarded a t-shirt appropriately emblazoned with the word “badass.”
She stopped attending AA after a year but has continued her sobriety journey. “The idea is that recovery is not, ultimately, just about not using,” says Witman. “It becomes a more rewarding way of living your life.”
Feraco is currently earning her certificate in fitness nutrition from the International Sports Sciences Association and teaches fitness classes at her local gym, where she works out every morning. “Almost three years ago, I never would have imagined—ever—that I would be teaching group classes and taking nutrition courses and working in a gym and helping other women in fitness,” she says. “I’m actually grateful for the journey. I would not be this person without it.”
Bailey O’Brien is a Portland-based freelance writer and editor. In her spare time, she can be found in tiny bookstores, on top of mountains or beside the ocean.