During my first week out of treatment, I had never been so scared. But, beneath my fear, I had a resolve to stay sober like I’d never had before. As I launched into my new life of recovery from alcohol—with 30 days of treatment behind me—I knew that to look forward, I had to remember my past. And, it was important that while acknowledging my past, I could not dwell on it for too long. I had to remember that to be successful in my sobriety, I would have to continue to practice the tools and coping skills I learned in treatment. These strategies were focused on healing from past experiences to pave the way for my future. So—ever briefly—I glanced back…
By the time I was 25 I had lost everything. And, it’s not like I had much to lose in the first place. The problem was: I had never developed any life skills. By the age of 14, I had started drinking alcohol—heavily. Even before my teen years, I can remember my parent’s friends letting me have sips of their beer—thinking how funny it was to see a preschooler’s confused reaction. I even remember my grandmother giving me the olives from her martini glasses, clearly remembering the “weird” taste they had.
At 14 I had already shelved the unpleasant tastes of beer and olives, fully accepting the blackouts, berating of my parents, and negative consequences. All this was worth the escape I felt from drinking. Now, many many years later, I am convinced I was an alcoholic from the first sip of beer—or first olive. But, during those teen years, I thought I was simply doing what everyone else was. After all, don’t most teens drink? Don’t most get in trouble for it a time or two?
Plus, while dismissing my drinking behavior and its consequences (which could have been much worse) I made it through high school and college fairly unscathed. Somehow, I managed to continue playing sports until college (making some notable track and field accomplishments). And, I had fairly decent college grades. But, one thing that was very clear is that I had very few friends. I wasn’t that close to my parents, particularly not my father who—like his mother (grandmother with her martinis) was an alcoholic. I also, somewhat ironically, said to myself “I would never be like my dad or grandmother” (at least as far as drinking was concerned).
By the time I was 25, I felt utterly alone. I had no real friends, no girlfriend, no more sports. The only thing I did have was a job I truly enjoyed. I was able to land a fairly promising—albeit humble beginnings position—as a journalist at a small newspaper in my local town. Somehow, I managed to not only hold on to the job but even was promoted throughout the two years I had been there. I was, however, finding it harder to maintain my drinking.
I exclusively worked nights, which helped enable my drinking. Not only did I start drinking at work because there weren’t a lot of people there, but I was also encouraged to drink after hours. Because I was known for my sports accomplishments during high school, and now for my journalism contributions to the town, many people were happy to buy my drinks until the wee hours of the morning.
Everything came to a head when I had left my shift early (without asking or telling anyone) to grab a “drink or two.” But, because I never only had one or two drinks, I came back to the newspaper beyond intoxicated. After discovering a change had been made to one of the stories I had been working on, I became belligerent. I started punching a coworker’s desk and area, subsequently causing a good deal of damage (including ruining sentimental items that could not be repaired or replaced).
I was confronted by my boss, who then divulged he had been suspicious about my drinking use for some time. Rather than fire me—which he obviously was in his right to do—he suggested I go to a treatment center that could help me with my drinking. He didn’t accuse me of being an “alcoholic” or of even having a drinking problem—only that I needed help. Somewhat reluctantly, but also desperately, I agreed to go.
It wasn’t until I got to the treatment center did it even occurred to me I was an alcoholic. After all, I never ended up in jail or got a DUI. But, neither had my father or grandmother who I considered alcoholics! It took a while to connect the dots for me. Treatment helped me learn that alcoholism, alcohol abuse disorder (or whatever term I was comfortable with)—was often a family disease.
I realized that if I wanted a life different from my family members, I would need to change. So, I eagerly dove into the individual and group therapy, skill-building, and coping mechanisms offered. By the end of treatment, although I was somewhat nervous about leaving the comfort, familiarity, and support that treatment provided me, I was confident I could stay sober on my own—armed with my new knowledge and approaches to life.
Then, the real world struck. After 30 days (I spent two days in treatment simply detoxing), I was released into my “real life.” The confidence I had was quickly outpaced by fear. How could I return to a workplace where I drank? An apartment where I drank? The community where people knew I drank? How could I explain to family members—especially my dad and grandmother (they didn’t understand why I needed treatment for alcohol)?
My mother picked me up from the treatment center. Although she was supportive, I could tell that she was anxious about my return to life outside the safe confines of treatment. And, even though I understood where she was coming from, her anxiety made mine worse—and, if I was honest, made me feel somewhat resentful. I had, after all, completed the program successfully!
When I returned to my apartment, I felt utterly alone. And, even though I didn’t want to drink, I was restless. My first major challenge came the next day when I went to make breakfast and came across a half-empty Vodka bottle in my kitchen. I had hidden it in the freezer behind a frozen box of waffles (hidden it from who?! It was just me). I remember clear as day, slamming the freezer door and then two distinct thoughts occurred to me at the same exact time: 1. I could drink the rest of the Vodka and no one would ever know. 2. I would know that I drank the Vodka.
Quickly, I ran through the arsenal of lessons learned from treatment: Call a trusted friend or sponsor. Go to a support meeting. Call my therapist. I didn’t have a sponsor, and as I said earlier, I didn’t have any friends. The only person I could think of to call was my boss!
In desperation, I called my boss Jerry to tell him about the vodka. Within 10 minutes he was at my house pouring out the rest down the drain. After, we searched the house for additional bottles. Finding none, because I was typically fastidious in drinking all sources of alcohol, we sat on my apartment balcony for awhile.
“Did you know that my wife has been clean and sober for 10 years?” Jerry said. At my look of surprise, he said, “She went to the same treatment center you did. That’s how I knew about it.”
I was flabbergasted. I had met Jerry’s wife Nicole on several occasions. She was extroverted, bubbly, fun! It never occurred to me that she had anything other than cocktails at the work events where I’d seen her.
After Jerry left, I knew it would be too hard to remain sober all on my own. I needed support. So, with trepidation—but again a level of desperation—I researched support meetings. I found a 12-Step meeting for alcoholics in recovery. I was scared as ever to walk into my first meeting. What if someone recognized me? But, I quickly remembered, that many people recognized me making an utter fool out of myself when I was drinking. Why not swallow any embarrassment from at least being sober now.
I was warmly greeted by people with varying lengths of sobriety, ages, and stages of life. And, while I didn’t have things in common with all—or even many of them—what we all had in common was the desire to stay sober. They helped me understand that I not only wasn’t alone, but the fear I had was normal. And, they helped me get through that first week following treatment—and many others after.
Today, several years later, I still practice the strategies and resources that were given to me so many years ago during treatment. I have a host of close friends and even a wife (and kids). While my dad and grandmother still don’t quite understand why I don’t drink, they respect my need to continue to stay active in my recovery. Eventually, I even offered to reimburse my coworker for the destruction I caused to her personal items. She was so happy that I was continuing to stay sober, she told me that was payback enough. She even came to my one-year sobriety celebration with Jerry and Nicole.
Although leaving treatment can feel intimidating, overwhelming, fearful—you can get through it. Don’t be afraid to look back a little, so you can see how beautiful your life can be ahead.
If you or a loved one needs support for substance abuse, Futures is here to help. We offer multiple pathways of addiction treatment and wellness programming. This includes inpatient detoxification and residential treatment, and outpatient services by qualified, experienced professionals in substance abuse and mental health disorders.
Many people suffering from addiction go on to live fulfilling, joyful, and productive lives. Start your journey today.
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