Today I celebrate my 30th year in recovery.
It’s nice to be on the side of recovery that has more years to it than drinking. While this has not been an easy journey, having friends who have lost their children and/or family members as a result of addiction has left me acutely aware and grateful of this time I have acquired.
When I was drinking, there were many people who told me they were concerned about me. I made bad decisions, compromised relationships, did not utilize the best of judgment and didn’t listen to their concerns. This went on for quite a while until I came to my “when do you know?” point – that point when someone tells you they are concerned about you, that deep down, you know they’re right. And I knew that for me, It was time. And I am so thankful and blessed to have the people in my life that I did at that time who are still in my life now.
I remember when one of my closest friends told me she was concerned for my drinking and thought I should stop. I knew she was right. And the funny part (okay, not funny but ‘quirky’) was that many of my friends had told me of their concerns before. But on this night – it was the first time I really “heard” her concerns. I remember that night like it was last night. 30 years ago last night.
As I sat in my room (I was in my second year of graduate school at the time) trying to figure out who to call and who could assist me, I found myself feeling increasingly anxious and confused and uncertain and ashamed and sick. I didn’t know how to communicate how I felt. I should have, but I didn’t.
So as I sat there thinking about what to do, it occurred to me to call the person who would be able to help me knowing that I wouldn’t be able to completely communicate how I felt. Funny right? – I’m in my 2nd year of grad school and I have no idea how to communicate how I feel. – My friend who I decided to call was my friend, Joy, a pediatric, psychiatric clinical nurse specialist. I once overheard her talking to her partner when they were having an argument and as I listened to her communicate with him, I was amazed at how well she articulated her feelings and emotions while expressing her needs in their relationship. I was in awe of her and I remember thinking “wow, why can’t I communicate like that?”
Retrospectively, it was an easy decision to call her and one of the best decisions I have ever made. So I waited until I thought she would be awake and then I called her. (I had been up all night long feeling incredibly fearful, anxious and sick so at the time, I coped with this by curling up in my bed and watching the movie “Top Gun” over and over and over again – say it with me “Maverick, ya big stud….”).
At 6:30 am, I picked up the phone and called Joy.
“I have a problem, and I’m wondering if you can help me..”; I proceeded to explain how bad my drinking had progressed, the concern of my friends and knowing I was in trouble physically and emotionally.
“Are you suicidal?” she asked. “No”, I told her; I knew that I was feeling really bad emotionally but thought I was okay. I was relieved when she informed me that if I ever “felt unsafe” that I could walk into any hospital Emergency Department and they would help me.
She told me she had an open appointment at 11:00am in her office and asked if I could make it. I told her “yes – thank you!” and was immensely relieved that, as bad as I felt, I had a plan of action and that I would be okay.
My initial appointment with Joy was just the beginning of what would become a very long haul. As I didn’t have insurance or a lot of money to cover care, I used a combination of money from my summer job, tips, and a credit card to get the help I needed. I built a team of a therapist, a support group and some very amazing friends. As my parents still drank, I didn’t speak to them about what I was doing although my dad frequently would ask “where are you going? – I just changed the oil in your car and you’ve driven 3,000 miles!” (I was driving to and from my therapist in Amherst, MA at least once a week and then working and then driving and then working some more).
I never went to an inpatient rehab program and have never relapsed. Like many in recovery, I take things step by step. But it has not always been easy and honestly, I think if I had been able to afford an inpatient or outpatient program, it would have been helpful as I would have obtained a lot more support, insight and knowledge of coping skills sooner than I did.
But when you don’t have insurance, you do what my grandmother always told me: “Susan, you do the best you can with what you have”, so I did. I also relied on the messages from some of my favorite books – “The Little Engine That Could” – “I think I can, I think I can”; and “The Tortoise and The Hare” – “slow and steady wins the race”. Thank God for reading books as a kid and having a family that instills values that stay with you during your lifetime and during the rough times. – even though I was doing it all without saying a lot to them.
Fast forward 6 months:
I’m driving home from a friend’s wedding outside of Boston. The wedding went on very late into the night and I left around 1:00am when I realized that the more my friends drank, the more dangerous it was for me to stay. So I got into my car and headed home.
Driving down 495, I was glad I didn’t feel like drinking, glad that alcohol was no longer a part of my life and that I didn’t miss throwing up and that stale stench of acidic.. well you get the point right?
As I drove, I happened to look up through the sunroof of the car and saw an abundance of very bright stars. I was amazed at how beautiful the night sky was. I looked up again – yep, same beautiful stars. I slowed down, and then opened the sunroof and looked up again. And that’s when it happened. It was so overpowering it was nuts. I pulled the car over into the breakdown lane, put it in park and got out.
Leaning against the hood of the car in the breakdown lane of 495 in my blue silk dress and pumps at 2:00am, somewhere south of Hopkinton, I looked up and breathed in and out and in and out. The juxtaposition of a beautiful starry night with the intoxicating smell of pine was overpowering. And as I sat there taking it all in, it occurred to me that I had been sober for 6 months, yet this was the first time I had fully appreciated how much better I felt now that I wasn’t drinking.
I finally “got it” that recovery from alcohol is really a good thing – and when you’ve endured the muck, emotions, and challenges of early recovery, the end result is a really beautiful evening of stars and pine that I hadn’t taken in in years. I “got it” that when it comes to navigating recovery, the only way around is through.
I am a much better person because of that experience and I am so grateful to have anything involving alcohol behind me. Let me end by saying If you or anyone you know ever needs support or assistance for an addiction, know that there is help available for you, all you need to do is ask.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1 (800) 273-8255.
- SAMHSA Treatment locator line (free and they will give you referrals even if you are uninsured) is 1 (800) 662-4357
- If you are suicidal, you can walk into any ER and there will be help for you.
I’m sorry this is an extremely long post, but if you know the stats on addiction and the families affected by alcohol and drugs across this country, I think sometimes hearing about hope and the care available for you is a good thing. I’m so thankful for my friends and the help I have had that every night before I go to bed I say a prayer for the people who saved my life – my friend Folly and my clinical nurse specialist buds Rorry and Joy.