Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Addiction and the Hidden Wounds from Childhood

Part I: The inspirational story of Malory Ruesch. The downward spiral.

Key points

  • Common themes imprinted in the early years set people up for addictions.
  • Knowing how to counter these themes is critical for recovery and prevention of relapse.

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.

Malory Ruesch, Used with Permission
Malory Ruesch
Source: Malory Ruesch, Used with Permission

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 spent much of her early years alone or in daycare. 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 through 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.” At age 16, she took her first drink.

She began a relationship with a popular student who was the life of the party. He was 6½ 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, and 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. 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 three or four days, she went through withdrawal on her own while her boyfriend got high.

On Mother's 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, 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 the condition that she stays 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 the 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 supporting her use. Facing many years in prison at age 19, 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 realized, “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?

Malory's remarkable road to recovery was just beginning. Part II will recount the amazing series of events that would turn her life around.

With permission of Malory Ruesch
The Way in 90 Days
Source: With permission of Malory Ruesch



This post 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

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, (cover preview below).

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.