Road to Recovery

Road to Recovery: First Lady Kathryn Burgum’s story

Road to Recovery

She’s not just the First Lady, she loves a good movie. She’s a cat person, she loves Italian food and coffee and she struggled for years.

Now she is openly sharing her story of overcoming addiction to alcohol so generations to come will know how to normalize the conversations surrounding this disease.

“Well if it’s someone struggling, you know, I would just say ‘Don’t give up. Don’t give up before the miracles happen…because there’s always hope for recovery,” said the First Lady.

She grew up in Jamestown, ND and just like any Scandinavian family, she was taught to be tough.

“We don’t show weakness, you know we sort of, don’t talk about our problems,” said Lady Burgum.

This drive for perfection became one of the voices she carried with her throughout her life. She internalized a lot of things she struggled to talk about. On the outside, it appeared everything was ok but when the voices in her head became so loud …she drowned them out with alcohol.

“I knew I had those voices in my head telling me things like, ‘You’re stupid, you always make mistakes and you need to be perfect. And so I couldn’t turn off those voices in my head,” said Burgum.

That’s why she didn’t talk about her recovery for so long. After years of drinking, she got a DUI and realized she needed help. But even after the DUI and many attempts to stay sober, she still drank.

“I was very miserable. I’d be sober for 3 months and I’d start drinking again. I’d be sober a year and I’d start drinking again,” said the First Lady.

It took eight years after the DUI when she took a friend’s suggestion and made the decision to attend recovery meetings. The program worked for her and after 15 years of being in the recovery closet, she came out when she became the First Lady of North Dakota in 2016.

At this point in her life, she was at peace with her past and was ready to help others battle against the stigma of addiction.

“It was a lot about what was happening with the opioid crisis that I all of a sudden had this opportunity to try to help people. And so it was kind of like the perfect storm of everything coming together,” said Burgum.

She says she continues to do the next right thing. It’s become normal to talk about the stigma of addiction due to the Recovery Reinvented movement, an annual event the First Lady and her team created to share success stories surrounding addiction and highlighting the truth of this disease.

She says, “We need to create these great paths for young people that give them the opportunity to reach their full potential and to have a bright future.”

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