Recovery Journey Leads to Career at UConnectCare – Melissa Vinyard: Living Out Loud

Jun 24, 2024 | UConnectCare

By Mike Pettinella
Energetic and personable, with a warm sense of humor and jovial laugh, Melissa Vinyard is only half joking when she tells people that she was “predisposed to be an alcoholic with a last name like Vinyard.”
That’s because the 57-year-old Batavia resident was born to an alcoholic mother, who succumbed to the disease in November 2017.
“My mother was my best friend and worst enemy at the same time,” Vinyard said. “She told me that if I was going to drink, I needed to drink like a lady – whatever that means.”
What it turned out to mean was that Vinyard would become addicted to alcohol and drugs, needing substances to make it through each day. Fortunately for her, however, she broke free from the cycle of addiction and has been in recovery for six years.
Moreover, through her connection with UConnectCare (formerly Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse), where she spent time in treatment, Vinyard’s path of sobriety has resulted in her being hired last June as the nonprofit agency’s coordinator of The Recovery Station on Clinton Street Road.
“Who would have ‘thunk’ it after all that I went through?” she said.
Vinyard says that her introduction to alcohol started in her mother’s womb.
“I’d like to say I had my first drink in utero because my mother was an alcoholic who drank through her pregnancy,” she said. “I can remember my first few sips of alcohol. My mother loved to entertain and at our Christmas parties she would pretend to hire me to be the waitress. And I would be cleaning up and see the half-drank wine glasses.
“I’d say to myself, ‘What’s this? Such a really pretty color. I took a couple sips and automatically it was like, this is luscious. I put it in my mouth, and it started to tingle, and I swallowed it and it burned into me. What have I found? I didn’t know actually what I had found but what I knew was that I felt better.”
She said she didn’t want to lose that “feeling” and embarked on a life of heavy drinking and drug use.
Vinyard grew up in Geneseo, graduating from Geneseo High before helping her mother, Kerry Holmes, run their beauty salon in the village. She became, in her words, “a townie,” partying with the college students and then a “highly-functioning alcoholic” – consuming large volumes of beers and wine coolers – with cocaine use mixed in.
The oldest of five children, she said she was married twice but both ended in divorce.
“I was a good mom; I attended all of my sons’ sporting events, but I wasn’t a good wife,” she admitted.
Vinyard attended Alcoholic Anonymous meetings in Geneseo back in 2010, but she went back to drinking – even after she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer and had to undergo a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Six years later, she suffered a stroke at work, prompting her doctor to tell her that she was going to die if she kept drinking.
“I said, ‘Tell me what I need to do?’ she recalled. “I was too afraid to live and too scared to die.”
With her family’s tough love approach, Vinyard checked herself into the Margaret A. Stutzman Addiction Treatment Center in Buffalo. Just 10 days into her rehabilitation, her mother died of complications from her drinking at the age of 71.
Mourning the loss of her mother and evicted from her home by then fiancé, Vinyard entered intensive outpatient treatment at GCASA, following by 2 ½ years at the agency’s sober living for women residence.
“I went through all the steps and was in group (therapy) every day,” she said. “GCASA saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself.”
Vinyard enrolled at Genesee Community College, taking drug and alcohol counseling courses, and stayed in recovery despite suffering major injuries when struck by a car while crossing the street on East Main in Batavia four years ago.
In 2020, Vinyard took a job as a peer advocate with the agency, working at The Recovery Station and in the detox center. She also has assisted in the clinic and on the mobile unit.
“I’m living my recovery out loud because GCASA saved my life,” she said, adding that she since has found spiritual support at a church in Batavia and is leading a spirituality group at The Recovery Station.
Vinyard shared that the “very first person that I met at church, that greeted me, was a woman named Judy.”
She said Judy had responded to a call for prayer from Vinyard’s brother and sister. The two women became pen pals and now they keep in touch regularly through her church.
“I have found a spiritual connection to Jesus Christ and was baptized,” Vinyard said. “When I came up from the water, it felt like the inside of me had taken a shower. It was the first time that my inside matched my outside.”
The path to recovery begins with U.
(This is part one of a multi-part series.)