Outwardly, life seemed to be going very well for Malory Ruesch. She was a gifted student; a member of the honor society, student council, and yearbook committee—and was graduating from high school two years early. But her life was about to spiral downward.
The Early Years
Malory was raised by a single, alcoholic mother, who worked long hours as a medical assistant, doing her best with limited coping skills. The youngest of five children in a blended family, Malory spend much of her early years alone or in day care. Feeling like an only child who was raising herself much of the time, she developed a survivor mindset—a defiant “I can do it myself” attitude that sometimes served her but would later make it difficult to trust and accept help.
Growing up, she wondered what she had done wrong to cause her mother’s addiction. It also seemed like everyone had a dad except her. She questioned why she wasn’t good enough for her father. [Children in fatherless homes are at dramatically greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse.]
Lacking a sense of inner worth, she defined her worth with academic grades. Yet despite her accomplishments and outgoing personality, she felt a deep unfilled need to be wanted, to belong. She reflected, “I didn’t want to deal with the pain of abandonment and why I wasn’t good enough,” so she numbed her pain with perfectionism, self-judging, and avoidance. Like so many who survive adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), Malory was battling very common themes—“I’m not good enough, I’m not lovable, I don’t fit in, I’m worthless.” And like so many others, she didn’t know how to cope with these inner struggles.
The College Crowd
Taking college courses while still in high school, Malory met college students, who invited her to parties. At one party, someone offered her a beer. She reflected, “I was willing to do anything to fit in and be loved. I feared that if I rejected the offer I would be rejected.” So at age sixteen, she took her first drink.
She began a relationship with a popular student who was the life of the party. He was 6 ½ years older and a heavy drinker. In this new relationship, she finally felt loved, wanted, and accepted. He was like a father—protecting, supporting, and taking care of her.
Within weeks, she was drinking heavily and smoking weed every weekend with her boyfriend. And when her head was pounding at a party from drinking, he gave her oxycodone to kill the pain. She trusted him and didn’t want to lose him. She found that oxycodone numbed not only her physical pain, but her emotional pain as well. She reasoned that she was just being a kid—the drugs were helping her relax and have fun, things she’d lacked growing up. And the drugs seemed the only way to stop the perfectionism and self-judgments. Soon she and her boyfriend were hooked, taking twenty 30 mg pills a day. They would sit in a room for days using, doing nothing. When the pills ran out, they desperately turned to cheaper, more readily available heroin to avoid painful withdrawal.
But the drugs were draining her of her spunk, her happy sparkle. So sitting in a room with her boyfriend, friends, and heroin, something said, “I’m done and I don’t want to use anymore.” For the next 3 1/2 days, she went through withdrawal on her own while her boyfriend got high.
On Mothers Day, 2013, Malory awoke at 6:00 am, having completed her painful withdrawal. She opened the window. The air smelled sweeter; the sun felt warmer. She finally felt free. She called her Mom, who was sober, and said, “Mom, I love you. Can you, me, and [sister] Amber go to breakfast? I want to come home. I’m clean.” At breakfast, they laughed and cried. They were all doing well at the same time. Her mother told Malory that she could come home and gave her the best hug she’d ever received.
Full of happiness, Malory drove to her boyfriend’s house to gather her things. The second she pulled in, 10 SWAT cop cars surrounded her, threw her to the floor, and arrested her; her mother saw her face on TV. She was shipped to jail for a week, and her mother bailed her out on condition that she stay clean.
Going to her boyfriend’s house to get the rest of her things, she saw a container of heroin and some meth. (Uppers had become her drug of choice. They helped her feel beautiful and brought out her true personality, feeling on top of world, confident.) She thought, “I can just do it once.” She went to the basement and began an even worse downward spiral ending in IV use.
She was arrested three months later for multiple felonies and misdemeanors committed to support her use. Facing many years in prison at age nineteen, she thought of all the things in life she wouldn’t experience—motherhood, having a great relationship, and other dreams. She judgmentally thought, “I have all the tools in the world to be something and I chose to be an addict.” Later she’d realize “I’d never dealt with the deeper hurt I didn’t want to feel—the hurt of being abandoned, of never being good enough for my own [father] to love and guide me.”
In the courtroom, the judge said, “Mal, I’ve given you every chance to save yourself—in both inpatient and outpatient treatment, and they’ve failed.” Malory knew she’d failed—feeling that she hadn’t fit in with the traditional treatments. But in her defiant survivor mode she thought, “I raised myself and I’ll succeed or fail in my own way.” The judge continued, “You clearly don’t want to live.” The therapist file basically said she was a lost cause; that the best option was to make her an example. As the judge was about to sentence her to years in prison, the courtroom doors swung open.
In walked a man named Chuck she’d never seen before. He said that he needed to talk to the judge and the prosecution. After talking for what seemed forever, Chuck walked out. The judge looked at Malory and said, “I’m willing to give Chuck time to try. I sentence you to three years private probation.” And Malory wondered what had just happened?
Turning Point: The Father Figure
Chuck, an accomplished private probation officer who’d followed her case, sternly warned Malory, “I’ll see you in two weeks for a zero tolerance drug test: If you fail you’ll go straight to jail.” Within 48 hours Malory stole her mother’s car, went to Vegas, robbed a hooker, and stole from drug dealers. Failing the drug test, she heard Chuck say, “What do we have to do to get you to choose to live? Clearly you don’t want to. Maybe the judge was right. Maybe I was an idiot to think you could do this.”
Malory cried, “I just want to be loved; to know if I went away someone would care.” Chuck said, “I would care. And if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have come into the courtroom. Malory replied, “I want to be inspired into recovery, not punished into recovery. I did it once.”
Chuck told her, “For the next six months call me every night so I will know if you’re alive or high.” That six months changed everything because she was building a relationship with the father figure she’d longed for all her life, one who cared and loved her. They’d laugh, talk and joke. Chuck also held her accountable for her actions and encouraged her to go to college to keep her mind busy.
Malory was living in a homeless shelter when another amazing relationship began. Wes was an introvert that Malory had met during the early party years. He came to the homeless shelter and said that he had a room for her. Chuck inspected the room and told Wes, “She’s unavailable. Don’t even think about being any more than a friend. She’s co-dependent and needs to learn to love herself and live on her own.”
Wes came to support groups and heard all of her story. They built an unbreakable friendship, staying up at night talking, building a foundation for a most magical relationship.
Eventually, Chuck told Malory that the six-month check-in period had ended. She was sad, though. She had looked forward to have someone to celebrate with and to hear “I’m proud of you.” Chuck said, “Now you have to learn to love and validate yourself.”
Malory enrolled in school and got a job, which she still has, working with addicts. She had finally made the decision to live.
Life was great. Chuck arranged for all her charges to be expunged upon her graduation so that she could graduate free and clear of all her bad choices.
Wes ended up going to Chuck to ask if he could propose. Wes was everything Malory ever wanted in life. She asked Wes one day, “Who do I have to walk me down the aisle?” and Wes said, “Why wouldn’t you ask Chuck?” She agreed.
Malory called Chuck, but got no answer. Three months later, the day before the wedding, Chuck’s friend called and said, “Mal, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this. Chuck was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three months ago; he’s under hospice care. He asked me to call you. He wants to see you.” So she rushed off to his house. His entire family was there in silence.
Chuck’s wife took her hand and led her to his bedroom. As the door opened, he was lying there, ironically with painkillers. He said, “Mal, I’m so sorry I haven’t been able to return your calls.” She quipped, “I wanted you to walk me down aisle, dummy.” Chuck said, “I want you to know I’ll be there [in spirit]. I needed to tell you something: If this is the last time, I need you to know how much I love and care about you. You were never a lost cause. I need you to do something. Tell Wes that I will come after him [if he mistreats you], and have the best day of your life tomorrow. Promise me you’ll tell your story. Continue saving people that everyone else things is a lost cause.”
Malory promised, gave him a big hug and walked out. The sun was setting. Chuck had said that one of the best therapies is to watch the sun set—which allows you to say goodbye to the scars of that day. But she knew her scars would continue long after the sunset.
Her grandpa walked Malory down the aisle. As the ship was leaving the dock on her honeymoon cruise, she received a phone call saying Chuck had passed. On the cruise, Malory got pregnant with her precious daughter. Wes said that was Chuck’s gift, for Chuck knew how much she wanted to be a mother.
She graduated with honors six days after delivering her child. She went straight to Chuck’s gravesite holding her baby and her degree and sat there with overwhelming gratitude, knowing she wouldn’t be where she was if not for him.
Two years went by, and she didn’t know how to fill her promise to Chuck. One day she just started writing every lesson he’d ever given her: every quote and statistic; every inspiration when she thought of him. All of a sudden, she realized that her promise was taking shape in the form of a book. She knew she could love others as Chuck had loved her. Wes said, “What better way [to fulfill your promise] than to put all you ‘ve learned into a book.” She’s calling her book, The Way in 90 Days, because the first ninety days of recovery are so critical.
In the book’s dedication to Chuck, she said, in essence: “You taught me the will to live, to have dreams, to be independent, to set boundaries and not be ashamed of my past. Thanks for being the father I never had, for filling my void. Without you my life would have been very different—death or prison. You showed me a different way. You rooted for the underdog with compassionate support. I hope to grow up to be like my hero and have a portion of the impact you did.”
Today Malory is courageously striving to be the transition person in her family. She’s learned that a pain that is not faced and healed will continue to build and hurt more. She passes on Chuck’s lessons to her two daughters—that they’re worthwhile, strong, and loved—with the help of a wonderful partner. She describes Wes as “an amazing father, who cherishes every moment with our babies. He’s there 100% for our children who know he loves them.”
She has put her whole heart and soul into her book, which she hopes will save lives. She also joys in speaking to high schools, sharing the lessons she’s learned..
For Malory, like each of us, the healing process continues. Life presents us with challenges that reveal vulnerabilities and trigger unhealed hurts. But acknowledged hurts can be healed with many strategies that are more effective than numbing.
Malory’s painful experiences have given her many useful insights. But ultimately it is love that heals the hidden wounds of childhood. Malory was fortunate to find a mature, responsible, loving parent figure in Chuck, who “loved me until I was strong enough to love myself.” But those who lack such a person must learn how to become loving parents to themselves. Fortunately, there are many new ways to heal the pains of the past in an atmosphere of love, calm, and safety—topics to be addressed in future blogs.
- This blog is based, with permission, on an interview with Al Richards. Find it on YouTube, “Other Side of Addiction with Special Guest Malory Ruesch,” Episode #10, June 21, 2021.
- For high school speaking engagements, contact Malory at Rueschrecovery@gmail.com.
- Malory’s soon-to-be published book, The Way in 90 Days describes recovery for addicts and family members who don’t know how to help. To reserve a copy, go to her website, Rueschrecovery.com (cover preview below).
- Also look on Amazon for Malory’s My Journey Journal. Your recovery story begins when you start to write it down. A helpful tool for completing The Way in 90 Days.
About the Author
Glenn R. Schiraldi, PhD, has served on the stress management faculties at The Pentagon, the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, and the University of Maryland, where he received the Outstanding Teacher Award in addition to other teaching/service awards. His fourteen books on stress-related topics have been translated into seventeen languages, and include The Adverse Childhood Experiences Recovery Workbook, The Resilience Workbook, The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook, and The Self-Esteem Workbook. The founder of Resilience Training International (www.ResilienceFirst.com), he has trained laypersons and clinicians around the world on various aspects of stress, trauma, and resilience.