Tracy Viola On How To Achieve Great Success After Recovering From An Addiction

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
11 min readFeb 23, 2024

I get it. Trust me. It feels monumental. But if you’re at this point, you know the drugs and alcohol aren’t working anymore. And once you glimpse that reality — really acknowledge that your way isn’t working — you can’t unsee it. And that’s your moment! That’s the tiny fire, the little piece of control you get to take back. That’s your moment to begin to turn it around. One day or day one — you decide.

When people are trapped in a severe addiction, it can feel like there is no way out and there is no hope for a better future. This is of course not true. Millions of people are in recovery from an addiction and they go on to lead successful, fulfilling and inspiring lives.

Authority Magazine started a new series about women who were able to achieve great success after recovering from an addiction. The premise of the series is to offer hope and inspiration to people who feel trapped in similar circumstances. As a part of this series we had the pleasure to interview Tracy Viola.

Tracy Viola was born on Philadelphia’s Main Line where she still resides with her husband, two daughters and her calico cat, Olivia. She holds a BA from Villanova University and a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Temple University. Tracy has been continuously sober since February of 1996, and has been a sought-after speaker by schools and recovery centers.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

While I was fortunate enough to have a loving mother and live in a wealthy area with a nice house, good schools, access to pretty much anything I needed, my (alcoholic) father was not really part of my life starting at 6 years old. And then when I was 12 my mother married my stepfather. He was nice at first, but this turned out to be a ruse. He ended up being a sociopathic narcissistic monster that put my mother and I into a terrible spiral. It was only a few weeks after we left him that I turned to drugs to try to escape his disgusting words that were echoing in my head.

Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers how you were initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?

At around 15 years old I started to be exposed to alcohol and cigarettes. That’s normal — no big deal, it happens. And then at 16, just before we left my stepfather, I started dating somebody who was using alcohol and drugs with regularity; primarily pot and mushrooms, nothing too extreme. (But I’ll say this — it’s something I share when I speak to students: If you hang out with a bunch of swimmers, eventually you’re going to jump in the fucking pool… And that’s exactly what happened). One day when I was with this boyfriend, hanging out in his room with his friends, I just decided to not pass the bowl. All of the pain from my stepfather and stress of our sudden move caught up to me and I kind of thought “let’s try it.”

Since I had alcoholism / addiction in my blood, passed down from my father, once that connection to substances was made, I really took off! I had the biological component, the psychological damage, and then once you added in the social exposure to the alcohol/drugs… I mean, it was the perfect storm. I was off and running instantly.

As you know, addictions are often an attempt to mask an underlying problem. In your experience, what do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place? Can you explain?

Hahaha! If I answered this fully, we would be here all day! I don’t really know how I can describe the darkness that was my stepfather in a few short sentences, but I was absolutely using drugs and alcohol to numb myself from his horrible voice and toxic words that I had lived with for 4 years. No question — I used the drugs and alcohol to help me run from the reality that my young brain could not process.

Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?

By answering this, I’m going to give away the best story in the book in a chapter called “The Cold and the Heat.” The lowest point in my addiction was after I spent weeks homeless having signed myself out of my first rehab (yes, first rehab) only to have my loving grandfather die suddenly. My mother allowed me home for his funeral, and on the day that we buried him, my 15-year-old dog, Ruffles, died on our kitchen floor. And THEN, the next morning, my courageous mother opened the front door and told me to get out — again. And that was it for me. That broke me to the core. I can still see myself kneeling broken on the floor next to my suitcase preparing to leave my home again, and looking back to the stairs where Ruffles loved to sit. But she was dead.

And that was my lowest point.

I still can’t even say/write those words without crying, and it’s been over 28 years since that day in 1996.

Was there a tipping point that made you decide that you needed to change? Can you please share the story?

Interestingly enough, even after I’d hit my ‘bottom’ — having been kicked out of my house and losing so much, including my beloved grandfather and dog — I hadn’t yet embraced my true tipping point. The tipping point came at my second rehab after about three weeks sober. I hadn’t yet given up the idea of using drugs and alcohol again — I didn’t know what I wanted! — but I (miraculously) WAS NOT using for those few weeks. And then after a rehab session one evening, I got into an argument with my counselors and mom. And in that moment, something happened… I felt a shift, a moment of clarity where I could really see me and my choices. And the only way to describe that clarity was I finally became ready to take responsibility for my addiction. I became ready to do whatever I needed to do to change. That was the tipping point; when I turned from simply not using to truly desiring recovery.

Can you tell us the story about how you were able to overcome your addiction?

Not to sound trite, but one day at a time. At first it was one moment at a time, one hour at a time, baby stepping through the day. I got involved in AA meetings and listened to people that had more time sober than me — what were they doing, reading, thinking — and I’d do that.

In AA I learned the phrase “make the next right decision”, and that really stuck with me. It just made sense. Minute to minute, decision to decision, day to day — it was just as simple and as difficult as that. Until one day, it just becomes who you are.

How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them? Can you please share a story about that?

I am really grateful that my addiction was short-lived — it was a fast and furious train wreck that ended with me on my knees, surrendering. I was very grateful to have the structure of AA as I processed all of the things that I had done to myself and to others. I found going through the 12 steps very healing and helpful. I understand and respect that 12-step programs aren’t for everyone, and that’s fine — I hope people find what works for them for lasting recovery — but the 12 steps and AA worked wonders for me. I loved having a group of people that went before me, and having instructions on what to do next, and next, and next. Because based on my history, clearly I didn’t have a clue about how to live a healthy and fruitful life.

But even outside of working the steps, and recognizing my place in my addiction, making amends, etc, I think at the end of the day my actions spoke louder than my words. It wasn’t my direct apologies that really moved the needle towards reconciliation, it was the people in my life — including MYSELF — that lived the change with me.

When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?

There was this guy named Bo at a meeting I attended regularly. He was kind of a surly older fella, and I remember one time he pulled me aside and he pointed to a sign on the wall. Bo said, “See that sign?” — the sign said Think, Think, Think — He continued, “Yeah, that’s not for you.”

Basically as a newly sober person, my job was to live and breathe recovery and staying out of trouble. My job was to make the next right decision. I kept myself as busy as possible going to a meeting everyday, working two jobs, running (literally, like exercising) and basically not allowing myself enough time to slip up.

I’m grateful to say that not only did this keep me sober, but it lit a fire in me to go back to school and work towards a successful career and life.

What positive habits have you incorporated into your life, post addiction, to keep you on the right path?

When I walked into recovery and the rooms of AA at 19 years old, I had no idea how lucky I was. I was basically given an instruction manual for how to live a healthy life, not hold on to resentments, process emotions quickly and effectively, recognize and appreciate healthy friendships, and live life with gratitude. All of these things are lessons I have carried with me for the past 28 years. I truly credit the concepts of ‘radical honesty’ and ‘not keeping a record of wrongs’ to the health and happiness of my 18-year marriage. Argue, discuss, decide, and move the fuck on. That’s true in marriage and pretty much everything in life. I’m incredibly grateful I learned how to do that at 19 years old.

Can you tell us a story about the success that you achieved after you began your recovery?

I basically took the same focus I put towards finding and using substances (alcohol and drugs into recovering from substances into my recovery. I like to call that person The Fighter. She became the result of a highly focused and motivated person to get sober and to put her life back together. So I worked my butt off and got accepted into Villanova University, and then went to Temple University for my master’s degree, and even went on to the University of Pennsylvania for another master’s degree. All of these things led me to a wonderful and successful job, blah blah blah. Yes, that’s all great… BUT at the end of the day, the more important thing — the MOST important thing — is that I genuinely love myself. I am truly proud of who I am, where I am, and the life that I lead.

What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your current achievements? Please share both the positive and negative.

Actually, I would argue that The Fighter is both positive and negative. Sometimes The Fighter doesn’t know when to stop, sit down, and take a break! While I am endlessly grateful for Her hard work and determination, sometimes she just needs to chill out. Still working on that one… progress not perfection.

Can you share five pieces of advice that you would give to a person who is struggling with some sort of addiction but is ashamed to speak about it or get help?

Ok. If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m kind of direct, so here goes:

  1. You will (may) feel like this is impossible, and I’m not going to lie, it’s going to really hurt for a period of time. But nothing worth having comes easy. I’m not going to act like I walked into rehab or my first AA meeting singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” It. Was. Hard. AND…
  2. You can decide how much more you want to pile on yourself. I know what it’s like to have that mountain, but stopping today means that the mountain stops getting bigger. Deciding to make a change next week only means you have more time to shovel more on the mountain that you’ll have to deal with at a later date. BESIDES…
  3. Everybody has had to walk into that room for a first time. You are not alone. Get involved in some kind of group, and I don’t care if it’s AA / NA, a rehab, sober curious, counseling, or religious group — whatever. I cannot stress the importance of being involved with people that have done this before and have more time in recovery than you do. It helps to hear their stories, learn their path, and see what things look like on the other side.
  4. Baby steps… There were all these annoying sayings that used to drive me crazy, but now they are tattooed in my soul. One day at a time. Make the next right decision. Little by little. Keep it simple. I can still see those 8x10 framed little sayings on the walls… Damn it if they weren’t right! Start off by baby stepping and keeping it simple. The job / focus should be no longer using alcohol or drugs. Get to one day, one week, one month… I did not get to 28 years without first having day 4 or 12 or 50 or 100…
  5. I get it. Trust me. It feels monumental. But if you’re at this point, you know the drugs and alcohol aren’t working anymore. And once you glimpse that reality — really acknowledge that your way isn’t working — you can’t unsee it. And that’s your moment! That’s the tiny fire, the little piece of control you get to take back. That’s your moment to begin to turn it around. One day or day one — you decide.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

That’s almost an impossible question! There are so many people and celebrities that have blown me away with their honesty and recovery. That said, if I had to choose one person to have lunch with, I think it would be Drew Barrymore. I mean, need I say more? She’s so genuine, funny, and sensitive — she just seems like a good human! I would love to hear more about what makes her tick as a strong, beautiful, successful, sober woman. So, yeah… Drew — gimmie a call! 😊

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Well the big news is that my memoir Pretty Wrecked is available for pre-order on Amazon March 1st! My main platform is Instagram: @tracyviolaauthor, and I’m also on FB “Pretty Wrecked”, and you can sign up for my once-a-month-promise-not-to-annoy-you-newsletter on my website at

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.