‘Don’t let this opportunity go to waste’

In recovery, ‘community and support are essential’

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Riley Walstrom, of Fort Dodge, struggled with alcohol and drug addiction since they were a teenager. Now they’re clean and sober and focused on recovery from addiction.

For Riley Walstrom, of Fort Dodge, the key to being successful in recovering from drug and alcohol addiction is finding community with others who understand what that person is going through.

When they decided they were ready to start the recovery journey in 2021, they found community in 12-step programs in Fort Dodge and other recovery support groups.

“It’s essential,” Walstrom, who uses they/them pronouns, said.

Walstrom said that growing up, it seemed “logical” that they would drink alcohol and do drugs.

“Addiction has been one of those things that has been in the branches of my family tree for generations,” they said. “So I grew up in a household where it was normal to drink, until it wasn’t, and then it became chaotic for a long time.”

At 14, Walstrom stole liquor from their parents and consumed alcohol for the first time.

“I got drunk and fell down the stairs,” they said. “I was on the phone with my friend and I was like ‘Hey, this is great, this is brilliant.’ And it was within that same year that I was showing up to school all messed up.”

Walstrom said they would even drink while at school sometimes, but no one ever noticed.

“The thing is people didn’t pay that much attention to me because I got good grades — I graduated with a 3.4 GPA,” they said. “I was functioning then.”

From an outsider’s perspective, they added, Walstrom seemed like a “normal” teenager from a “normal” family.

After starting with alcohol, Walstrom began smoking cigarettes and trying illegal drugs.

“And then I went to stealing prescription pills out of my mom’s purse,” they said. “Very quickly it became like I didn’t have to care about anything or anyone because, in my head, nobody cared about me.”

Walstrom was 15 when they realized they had a drug problem. They recall finding an entry they wrote in an old journal recently.

“It was like ‘Dear Diary, I think I have a problem with drugs,'” they said. It was around this time that Walstrom’s close family and friends noticed too. Given an ultimatum from their parents, Walstrom began attending meetings for 12-step programs twice a week. The alternative was to be admitted into a residential treatment program for teenagers.

“I was like, well I can still get messed up if I go to these meetings,” they said.

After graduating high school, Walstrom went to college for a semester.

“I dropped out because I didn’t have the support system and my drug use was all jacked up. I was just a mess and had undiagnosed mental health stuff too.”

At the time, Walstrom was also struggling with body dysmorphia and coming to terms with their gender identity, which they coped with by turning to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate.

For years, Walstrom was convinced that they wouldn’t become like a “real” addict — that they had it all under control.

“I was like ‘I’m never going to end up like that,’ ‘I’m never going to do meth,’ ‘I’ll never do this,’ ‘I’ll never do that,” they said. “And then I started slowly becoming like the people I didn’t want to follow … slowly I started checking off these boxes of things I said I would never do.”

It was when faced with yet another ultimatum that Walstrom began their recovery from addiction. A person they were dating had told Walstrom that they needed to stop using drugs or the couple would have to break up. Initially, Walstrom gave a “half-assed attempt,” they said, where they stopped using drugs to try to save the relationship, but never intended to keep with it.

“I’ll quit until it stops being an issue as much and then I’m gonna start again, that was my initial thought process,” Walstrom said.

When the couple broke up anyway, Walstrom stayed clean as a way to try to win her back. Over time, Walstrom realized they were only staying clean as a way to manipulate their ex, and that they didn’t need that reason to stay clean, but they weren’t going to give up.

“‘Don’t let this opportunity go to waste’ is the main thing that went through my head,” Walstrom said.

Walstrom now has a little over two years in recovery. They credit the 12-step programs in town and the recovery community for becoming the support system Walstrom needs.

“It’s essential,” they said of the programs and community. “So many times before, I tried to quit [drugs] but my problem was I tried to do it myself…With a group, I just don’t have to do it by myself anymore, because I was failing miserably.”

Earlier this summer, in an effort to expand the recovery community and create a place for LGBTQ+ people in recovery from addiction, Walstrom helped co-found Rainbow to Recovery, a support group that meets twice a month at the Vincent House in Fort Dodge.

“Community and support are essential because I can’t get there by myself,” Walstrom said.

Resources for Recovery

YWCA of Fort Dodge

826 First Ave. N.



Services: Clinically-managed residential treatment for women and women with children; intensive and extensive outpatient care for males and females.

Community and Family Resources

211 Ave. M West



Services: Prevention and education; detox; outpatient substance use treatment; recovery housing; mental health services; residential substance use treatment.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Visit www.aa-iowa.org for local meeting information.

Narcotics Anonymous

Visit www.na.org for local meeting information.

Rainbow to Recovery

An LGBTQ+ focused addiction recovery support group. Meets at 7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays at the Vincent House, 824 Third Ave. S. Search “Rainbow To Recovery” on Facebook for more information.

Your Life Iowa

Help for alcohol/drug/gambling concerns, suicidal thoughts and more.

Call 855-581-8111

Text 855-895-8398

Chat yourlifeiowa.org

Resources in other parts of the state can also be found at yourlifeiowa.org.

Did we miss an organization or program?

Email kwingert@messengernews.net.


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