12 years, that’s how long I was a nightly drinker. From the age of 22 until 34. At age 25, I began day drinking. So, for about 9 years I was an all-the-time drinker. I always had alcohol nearby. If I didn’t, I was scheming about how to get it quickly. By age 34, I couldn’t go more than 2 hours without alcohol before withdrawing. My chest would tighten, I would be gasping for air, my hands and feet would begin to tingle, I would start shaking like crazy, and my mind would race so fast that I couldn’t process my thoughts. I lost track of how many times that I have been rushed to the emergency room with seizures. I was admitted to an inpatient detox facility four times in a year and a half. I did a 30-day stint in a rehab facility and lived in a halfway house for 90 days. None of that stopped me from drinking. I found myself at 34 years old and living on my parents couch with anxiety so intense that I couldn’t even walk across the street to bar I went to every night without my legs buckling under me due to shaking so bad. It took a good 12-pack of beer and a couple of glasses of rum and coke for the tremors to subside to a manageable level. I was a barely walking ball of extreme anxiety. Most of my time was spent on my parents couch just trying to out drink the anxiety. It seemed like there wasn’t enough alcohol in the world to calm me down some days. I had discovered benzodiazepines and a xanax bar or a couple of klonopin mixed with alcohol would take the edge off temporarily but the mixture turned me into a blackout thief. Mixing the benzos and alcohol erased my memory and I would steal shit. Inhibitions went out the window. A couple of years before the end of my run, one of those blackout binges landed me in jail for a dine and dash from a fancy restaurant. That’s what had led to me staying at my parents “for a few days.” That turned into over 2 years, and finally, in January of 2018, I’d had enough.
I couldn’t go on living with my anxiety anymore. So, I made an appointment with a neuropsychologist to address it. In that initial visit, the doctor told me that I needed to detox once again in order to be treated. I was desperate. Two days later, I admitted myself to another inpatient detox for what turned out to be an eight day stay. During that time, I made a vow to myself to do whatever it took to stay sober and begin addressing my severe anxiety and depression. I took advantage of all programs and resources offered to me. After detox, I took a seven-week intensive outpatient program (IOP) for three hours per group session, three nights per week. I began seeing a therapist one-on-one, once a week. I began receiving the Vivitrol injection once per month to help with cravings. I began working with a case manager on my day-to-day activities. I got on meds for my anxiety, depression, and tremors. I began practicing guided meditation, journaling, and reading quit lit. I tracked my mooring line behaviors. I did everything I possibly could. I made recovery my full-time job. After IOP, I took a 16-week relapse prevention group. I joined a bunch of online support groups, enrolled in college, and started a blog. I found SMART Recovery. I found a passion for recovery and helping others. For me, it took every one of these activities to keep me on track.
Eventually, I reached one year sober. That’s when another addiction came to light. I had started going to the casino to get away. Compulsive gambling became a problem. Like drinking, I couldn’t control how much I did. I couldn’t stop on my own. I used SMART Recovery and its tools to begin a new recovery process. The gambling damn near derailed my entire sobriety but I held on. All of the effort I had put into recovery had me worn out but it became clear that I needed to keep my foot on the gas and fight through this too. I eventually retrained my thinking around gambling and was able to abstain. Everyone kept saying that since I was in recovery for drinking, I already knew what to do and it pissed me off. But I eventually got the reality check that I needed and realized that they were right. I could apply the same methods of recovery to gambling too.
Aside from the compulsive gambling battle, an even more difficult battle has emerged in year two. After the newness and euphoria of sobriety has worn off, I’m left to deal with the raw, natural feelings and emotions that come with life. Feelings I have never properly dealt with as an adult. For my entire adult life, I have used a substance or negative behavior to numb out and escape uncomfortable feelings. This year has required me to do a deep dive into my emotions with my therapist. I’ve had to learn how to be present in the moment even through uncomfortable feelings. I’ve had to learn that it is okay to feel uncomfortable. That is how I know that something needs to be done differently. I’ve learned to have faith in my tools and processes. I’ve learned to be patient and to take a step back to really recognize how I’m feeling. I can redirect negative thoughts into positive ones, which leads to positive feelings and positive behaviors. I’ve gotten to know myself and love myself as I am. My confidence and self-esteem are at an all-time high. I can go out in public without anxiety now. I started my own SMART Recovery meeting and facilitate it weekly in my hometown. I speak to groups and share my story of recovery to others who are struggling. I still get some anxiety but it is a manageable level now. Not everything is perfect but I know that’s okay now. I can handle life as it comes and make adjustments as necessary. I only see my therapist once per month now. My life has changed for the better on every single level.
The not drinking gets easier over time. I rarely think about alcohol these days. But, man, the feelings are a trip. I get restless and overwhelmed. I have to keep myself busy but not too busy. I have to find creative outlets for my energy and rapid fire thoughts. It’s a delicate balance. A balance between letting my creativity flow and harnessing my overactive tendencies. I still use a lot of the tools from SMART Recovery. I’m still very active in the recovery community and spend a lot of my time writing. Writing has become my go-to outlet. When I’m having a hard day, I write. I still read quit lit. I’m still going to college pursuing a degree in addictions counseling from Indiana Wesleyan University. I still keep myself open to learning and growing. I still have to slow myself down and get back to basics from time to time. I wouldn’t change one moment of this new life for my old life. I am on a mission to help as many people who are struggling as I can. There’s no value in that old life for me anymore other than to use it as an example.
Helping others was awkward for me at first. I didnt want to say the wrong thing or give bad advice. Then, I figured out that it isn’t my job to give advice or save anyone. I simply be supportive of their situation, share my experiences, and be an example. People have to save themselves, I’m just here to make the journey not so lonely. I needed professional help. Therapy, case management, and doctors provided the exact support that I was looking for. I understand that isn’t for everyone and each person needs to find their own path. What worked for me isn’t the conventional path of AA or a 12-step program. I fully support anyone who takes the traditional path if it works for them. But if it doesn’t, they need to know that there are other paths out there that work. There’s no right or wrong way to recover. We are all in this together and need to support each other.
Do you OWN your sobriety? Would you like to share your story with others? Simply contact me via email or social media to discuss sharing your story on this blog and my social media accounts.