I know it's been a while. Like everything, life gets in the way. I've stopped apologizing for that. Here's something I've been working on, but for once, I refuse to perfect it. Enjoy.
Part 1: The Story
Trigger Warning: Alcoholism, Addiction, Sexual Assault
(If you don’t want to read the story, you can scroll down to Part 2: What I Learned)
I put myself into my first outpatient program in December of 2008. It was the day after Christmas. I was at work which at the time was at a Physical Therapy office. We didn’t have any patients that day, but someone needed to be there to cover the phones. It was me and my boss. We were “on call” in case of "emergency." Two hours into work, and I had a total break from reality.
I remember pieces of it. It was like in the movies when someone dies on the operating table and they watch themselves from afar. I was sitting outside of myself, watching my body go through the motions. I watched myself get up from my desk, robotically walk into my boss’ office, and tell her I needed help. She slowly picked up the phone and called the main hospital in our network to get me an appointment.
I waited at my desk for the appointment time and called my best friend, Pete. He came to pick me up and drove me to the psych building because my boss feared me in a car alone. I remember cranking butts the entire way, something he would have never let me done in his car, but this was an extenuating circumstance.
As we blasted our emo playlist, tears slowly rolled down my cheeks. After almost four months clean, I was still a mess. It was time to stop drinking. For good. We got to the psych building, and it was packed. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, huh?
Let’s rewind a bit. I spent that Christmas Eve in a parking lot, ripping butts, blasting music, waiting for my abusive ex to meet me. This is what he did. He would twirl me around his finger and manipulate me into doing the dumbest shit. I waited for hours, but he was never going to show. After years of abuse, that was the night that broke me, and I am forever grateful.
I went home late that night, took way too much of my prescribed sleeping medication, and slept for 14 hours. I’m not sure if I came downstairs that year to open presents, but I remember my Nana coming over and wanting me to eat something. I don’t think I saw my family that year.
Fast forward, and I’m in a psych office waiting for my intake. I had to do a whole lot of paperwork and a drug test. I saw two social workers, a psychiatric nurse, and some doctor, all of whom were clearly in over their head with holiday madness. No one really listened. They gave me two bottles of pills and sent me home because they had no place to send me, and I wasn’t suicidal enough in their eyes. I don't blame them. We have a shit system.
Fast forward. I’m 31 days clean and sober on weird meds that were giving me horrible side effects, I don't have a therapist or treatment support group, and I had the same groups of friends who weren’t able to comprehend what I was going through...I remember meeting everyone in Boston after some event. We were bowling at Jillian’s. It took two hours for them to break me, and I do say break me because they bought me a vodka redbull and literally put it in front of my face. Literally taunted me with a drink. My favorite drink. I quickly relapsed, started doing shots, and I’m assuming someone drove me home. Couple that with the last time a saw my ex that February when he broke a door an inch away from my head, and I was ready to make a change. However, that change wouldn’t come for another year.
Fast forward. It’s spring of 2009, and I suffer trauma from a good friend raping me. The next day, I checked myself into rehab. I started an IOP program (Intensive Outpatient Program). I had to work the day shift at my retail job, clock out at 4:30, and get to the rehab center by 5:00. I’d be there until the program ended at 10pm. The point of IOP is to keep you busy during any hours your don’t have an obligation such as work or family. It's also your own option next to inpatient treatment.
This program changed my life, but I’ll leave that for the next section. During my weeks in IOP, I was preparing for my first trip to Europe where my new boyfriend and I were going to backpack 7 countries. However, he was an alcoholic, and I was newly sober.
Fast Forward: I’m crying at a café at midnight with some random British girl who had just left everything at home to get her dream job in Madrid. She kept me sober that night and got me dinner. The next morning, I got on a plane by myself and flew home. I wasn’t going to relapse this time. And I didn’t.
Fast forward: It's between 2013 and 2015 during my first few years teaching. I started drinking again, but I wasn’t being crazy. I would go out once a week and drink with the crew, but what I didn’t realize was that I was using alcohol to cope. Back to rehab I went. This time, I did so privately. I went to group sessions at night for a few weeks to get me back on track. I needed a reminder of who I was and the possibility of fucking up my entire life. I didn't want to start over. AGAIN.
I still drink today, but only on rare occasions. I don’t keep alcohol in my home, and I usually get a ginger ale when I go out. I’m cautious about when I drink, where I drink, and with whom. Some of the sober community shuns me for this and others “get it.” But here's the thing: my problem was never with drugs or alcohol; my problem was trauma and lack of coping mechanisms. My problem was that I was hurting, I was in a deep dive of codependency, and I had so much to unpack from my childhood/early adult years that I physically couldn’t handle reality. Once I got clean and sober and started actually doing the inner work, the rest began to fall into place.
Even during rehab, I knew I wanted to be able to have a glass of wine for the taste. I LOVE MALBECS. I wanted to have that crisp, malty Belgian beer at dinner with a friend. I LOVE DUVEL. And I fought for it. I did the therapy, I did the rehab groups that focused on being able to live like I am now, and I still do the work today. This won't be the path for everyone who is struggling with substance, but it was for me. That's a choice you'll have to make with your team and your heart. You always have to ask yourself WHY you want the drink. If TASTE isn't your first answer, put it down. I do. Every time.
Now, I am 11.5 years clean, I barely drink, and I’m happy. Genuinely happy. But the number one thing that brought me to where I am now was isolation.
Part 2: What I Learned
Have you ever blown up your life? Took a figurative grenade to it and said, okay, I am ready to change? I have, a few times, because I desperately wanted a new life, one where I was clean, didn’t NEED alcohol, and was enacting my dreams. But this is what people don’t realize about changing their lives, and I don’t just mean through recovery. Change means change. Change means you can’t do the same things or hang with the same people or have the same damn ideas about the world. It means sacrificing everything you have now for something better. And more often than not, when you're in the pit, you have to blow your life the fuck up to get out.
When I went sober for a year, it was wild to see how many friends I didn’t have. How many people picked alcohol over me. How many people HAD to keep going to the club. It really fucking hurt. But that was their journey, not mine. My body was a mess, my mind was a mess, and I was alone. They said the road to sobriety was one you didn’t have to walk alone, but that wasn’t my reality. I had never felt "loneliness" like this...minimal friends, no substance, and no one who understand my pain. At all. Thank the Heavens for my medical support team and the few people who didn’t leave my side. But at the end of the day when I went home, I had to deal with me. I was the only people who could save me. I had to learn to self-soothe.
Just like Odysseus says to his men as they turn to face Scylla and Charybdis, I now say to myself quite often: Haven’t we been through worse? Haven’t we faced our demons and other tragic trials and tribulations along the way? This is nothing compared to that. This concept brings me comfort. Why? Because back then, I didn’t have a stable place to live, I didn’t have a stable job, I didn’t have stable friends, and I didn’t have a stable mind. Now, I look back from the top of the mountain I climbed and thank life for the challenges, because now, I can sit with myself and find peace. Here’s how:
So, how did rehab prepare me for quarantine? It taught me that I am enough. I don’t need more. I don’t need anything external. It taught me how to sit with myself when everything else has to be put in an extended time out. It taught me that I have a whole lot of privilege, and I should show gratitude for it every damn day. It taught me that I know nothing and have so much more to learn. It taught me that sometimes life is in a way that you can’t control, and instead of trying to control it, find the lesson and make the best of it.
There is shit beyond our control, but life is in constant flux. There is a reason one of the taglines for recovery is “this too shall pass,” because it will. For those who need to hear it, this quarantine shall pass, like the waves rolling in and out of the shore. Take a deep breathe, and let that wave wash your troubles away.