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A Journey to Sobriety

“I knew this would be the end of the line for me if I wasn’t successful, and they wanted me to succeed as much as I did — maybe a little bit more.”

Marguerite “Peggy” Thielman was given the news that no one struggling with addiction wants to hear — she needed to get sober before she could receive a life-saving liver transplant.

“My breathing, I swear, stopped. Everything sank into my stomach. Will I be able to survive this,” Thielman wondered.

Peggy’s struggle with alcoholism started in 2006 when she was living in Phoenix, Ariz. “I would find myself staying up late drinking my favorite drinks … and then finding myself driving to work … knowing that I was probably still drunk,” she admitted.

Even so, Peggy didn’t think her drinking was out of hand. She went through periods of social drinking to times of heavy drinking and felt like she had everything under control.

She moved back to Minnesota in 2012 and lived with her parents for a brief period. One day she was confronted by her father. “He just looked at me and said, ‘Peg, I need you to stop drinking. I cannot bury a child of mine after burying my sisters and brother to this disease.’ I heard him, but I didn’t think it was that out of control,” Peggy lamented.

Thielman had lost three aunts and two uncles to alcoholism. “I’m not going to get that bad,” she insisted, “yet, it was.”

Still, she wondered whether treatment was necessary. “I had never been to detox. I never went to jail. I never had a DUI. I didn’t know a life of repercussions from drinking. I was a happy drunk.”

In 2018, Thielman was hospitalized for five days after suffering from Hepatopulmonary Syndrome in her lungs. It’s a condition that affects people with advanced liver disease. She was put on round-the-clock oxygen and advised to quit drinking — yet that didn’t stop her.

One night in November, Peggy couldn’t remember where she had parked her car and had no memory of how she got home. She didn’t leave her apartment complex for three days. “The parking lot was small, yet I couldn’t find my car,” she said.

Eventually, she found it in an area of the building where she never parks. “That’s when I thought, ‘I’ve got to stop. This is out of control’. I wasn’t making the safest decisions for my life.”

Peggy checked into treatment for the first time in 2019. “I did follow along, and I really believed that I wasn’t going to relapse.”

Shortly following the start of her treatment program, Peggy’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and her father’s health started declining. Her godfather passed away unexpectedly in October, and then her mother passed in November. Peggy’s father died soon after. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. and Peggy was faced with uncertainty, grief and isolation.

“It was too much for me. I wasn’t dealing with the pain. I started drinking that summer and really drinking in July, August and September.”

Peggy didn’t go back to treatment right away. On Nov. 5, 2020, she had an appointment to see a pulmonologist who gave her news she didn’t want to hear. “He said I was in need of a liver transplant. I quit drinking that same day. Then, I had a relapse for one day on New Year’s Eve.”

Peggy needed to be sober for at least six months to be eligible for a liver transplant. She had so many burning questions that had no real answers.

“Is the deterioration of my liver going to go faster now that I know about it,” she wondered. “Can I even do it,” she questioned.

“The tears came on my drive home and lasted that whole night. I have to live. I’m too young to have this affect me.”

Peggy realized that she needed outside support from CentraCare – St. Cloud Hospital Addiction Services. She checked herself into treatment with the same counselor, Diana Geisinger, whom she trusted with her care the first time.

“I knew she wouldn’t take my guff. She would call me out because she knew deep down, I wanted this.” Peggy recalled. “This time, I felt different going into the building. Everybody was rooting for me, and I didn’t want it to be easy breezy.”

The former patient was welcomed back with open arms. “I knew this would be the end of the line for me if I wasn’t successful, and they wanted me to succeed as much as I did — maybe a little bit more.”

She attended virtual treatment sessions three days a week and was pushed to be honest and vocal in group settings. “They taught me how to be vulnerable and how to be humble. Without that, it’s hard to make it through recovery. You have to have gratitude daily. You have to have belief in yourself and your higher power.”

Peggy started to learn how to set boundaries and take back control of her life. “You have to know you’ll be led into difficult times, but you’ll have the tools to get through it.”

Fast forward to today, Peggy has over one year of sobriety under her belt and has received the new liver she needed to give her a second chance at life.

Her counselor, Diana Geisinger said, “She is rocking recovery! I am so very proud of her!”

Peggy exalted, “I can’t say enough about CentraCare’s tenderness. They call me their successful patient. They made me feel I was an important person that needed support with sobriety. I felt it from everybody — the receptionist team, the individual therapy group and the young counselors.

It’s a feeling she wants others struggling with addiction to experience. Peggy is working on getting her certification to be a peer recovery specialist and is working at Recovery Community Network in St. Cloud.

“My higher power, I call him God, has led me to where I’m supposed to be. I am living right where I am meant to be living.”