“I Dreamed a Dream”

Hi. My name is Valerie Swanberg and I have a mental illness. It no longer has me, although, I still suffer with it periodically. I now know there is help available if you reach out and ask for it. Life does not have to be filled with denial, fear, anger, shame, and loss of hope. Believe me when I tell you that I have suffered all of those emotions and many, many more.

Life is good today, not perfect, but good. I can look in a mirror, with pride and acceptance. I love my recovery and it is never ending. I always have something to work on. It is difficult sometimes and I feel like I want to give up but I go back into my past as a learning and memory tool. It usually snaps me back to today and reality.

I named my story “I Dreamed a Dream” because that is what life was like for me at one time, alwaysdreaming that my life would be wonderful just like “in my dreams”. When things didn’t work out the way I thought they should, I’d become angry, feeling sorry for myself, blaming other people for my bad decisions and miserable life. I didn’t understand why no one would fix me. I didn’t realize that I had to fix myself, with the help of others, if I reached out and asked for help. I didn’t want people to really know me because if they did, they wouldn’t like me.

I moved to Waukegan, IL, after high school graduation with a friend and we just loved it. Drinking, partying, no parents to tell you want to do. Life was great or so I thought. Little did I know that my whole world was about to fall apart. On September 18, 1964, a male friend and I went to get more booze. I didn’t know that he was high on drugs. He wound up ditching his car and we started walking to my apartment. The next thing I knew I was laying on the ground, underneath my apartment. He had hit me over the head with a booze bottle and I had passed out. He then proceded to rape me, I started screaming, he hit me three times, fracturing my jaw, knocking out teeth, choking me, hitting and biting me all over. He finally passed out and I crawled to my apartment. I was in the hospital for three weeks, they wound up catching him. I had to go through a trial, which was horrendous. He was convicted. I blamed myself for many years because I was drinking. I now know today it was not my fault. Women don’t ask to be raped. If I had shame, fear, insecurities before, I was really in bad shape now. Really, drinking, chasing men, stealing from stores, lied to everyone, especially I.

I got married, had three daughters. The marriage didn’t work out, I blamed him for everything, later when I got into recovery, I realized we were both at fault and that was a big step for me to take. I think it was the first time I really had to look at myself. Not a pleasant sight.

My oldest daughter got into alcohol and drugs and she was a carbon copy of me. I couldn’t stand what I had done to her or my other children. I started having suicidal thoughts (I had two attempts late teens/early 20’s).

My daughter got into AA. I went to Alanon – it didn’t take me long to discover that I too had a drinking problem. Anger, anger, anger!

When I was sober for about two years, she was hit by a drunk driver. I felt that total insanity was going on in my life. I felt “I’m sober for two years and trying to make changes in my life and you (God) do this to me”. I can’t begin to tell you the emotions that I went through after praying in the chapel at the hospital one night, I felt like warmth and a light surrounded me. All of a sudden, I knew I had my reward that my daughter was alive and I was still sober.

Shortly after that (about 6 months), I began to experience feelings that I had before, when I was drinking. Feelings of depression, feeling lost, making poor decisions, not sleeping well, isolating. I went to see someone professionally and they told me I was suffering from depression. I was really angry then. Bad enough to be an alcoholic, but now to have mental illness problems, too. God must really hate me. Little did I know that He once again was giving me a beautiful gift of recovery.

For the most part, I love my life today. I like who I am becoming and I like the people I have met on my path of recovery. I know that it is a never-ending path and the experiences that I go through will help me and hopefully others.

I’ve had three psychiatric hospitalizations, 16 E.C.T. treatments (electro-convulsive therapy), I am diagnosed with Bi-polar, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from my rape, and now I am having problems with hoarding. What I have decided about my life is that it is not perfect, but it sure is better than it was. I’m on the Mental Health Board, Anti-Stigma Committee and several others. I believe in my personal honesty sharing with others and moving forward. I use my past as only a tool to remember what life was like, when I let my illnesses run my life. Today I have a mental illness, it does not have me!

For those of you that are still struggling, I urge you to get honest, learn to like yourself, and take it “one day at a time”. The new friendships and how you feel about yourself is worth everything you put into it.

God Bless you. Reach a hand out ~ you’d be surprised what you get back in return.
Live life to the fullest!


Val Swanberg,

A Grateful Consumer

“I Dreamed a Dream” – Recovery Story