All of us, at one point or another, came to the conclusion that we desperately needed help. Asking, pleading, fighting, or in total denial of that help was conditional, as we are all unique and we all have a different journey to follow, or at least to try to follow. Upon arriving at Mountainside, we were welcomed with love and support and stripped down, leaving us vulnerable, emotional and for many, clear-minded, for the first time in as long as we could remember. We realized that regardless of who we were, where we came from, what type of family or financial status we had, we are all alike. We were all addicts facing the unknown, but we were alive and willing.
I left Mountainside with more than I bargained for, and I say that with positivity. My past consisted of emotional baggage coupled with addiction. All of us have different stories, but the end result was the brutality of needing a substance to reduce the anger, pain, guilt, and any other faults we may have felt at some point in our lives. I heard over and over again from my peers that we actually enjoyed being an addict to a certain degree or until the fun was not fun anymore. We became our addiction; we became what we flooded our bodies and minds with. We were poison. We were sneaky and we lied, we were dark and stormy and resentful, and we buried our true selves beneath active use. We brought down everything good with family, friends, loved ones and we blamed all of them for our commitment to self-destruction.
The intensity of struggle is crippling. The desire to stay strong was muddled by booze and drugs. Every word was a terrifying expression of being worn out. The faith of survival. The transformation of dark clouds to existence. A rolling, disturbed existence, stealing away hope. This is addiction. And the realization that I was a full-blown alcoholic did not hit me until I hit rock bottom. I needed a miracle. I had a few miracles in my lifetime. I gave birth to three healthy children. I survived a brutal childhood. I made lifelong friends. I consider my recovery to be a miracle. And the true miracle is “doing recovery” every day in any shape or form.
Those first few weeks home from Mountainside were frightening and filled with doubt, vulnerability, fighting cravings and mixed emotions. I was determined not to cave and give in to the demons that held me tight for so many years. My rock bottom was brutal and, as they say, ‘play the tape.’ I did many times. It worked and I continue to use that tool when the urge to drink seeps back into my mind. All of us have had to attend functions and although we remain sober, life does go on. I know that I am not, nor will I ever be a “social drinker.” When I am in the company of alcohol I prepare with a few tricks. I give the bartender a heads up that I am in recovery, I carry an AA coin in my pocket, and I always have an exit plan. Thankfully, there is always someone I can call if I get itchy. These are extremely important tactics to have, and I personally know it works.
So, what does recovery look like? Personally, I chose to do OP and IOP, which were a lifesaver when I returned home, but recovery is different for everyone. One thing that we all have learned is that we need each other. Consistently. The support offered by Mountainside is a life-saver for me. The online groups, the connection to the Alumni gang and all they do for us, the Mountainside App, and the ability to reach out if we need it are things we must take advantage of – all of it. I find myself wanting to walk away some days. I did walk away for about a month and although I did not pick up, it was an emotional roller coaster until I had enough and I reached out and joined the groups again, a reminder that we need each other to navigate this journey through all of the ups and downs. All of us have the ability to reach out and know that there is someone on the other end who will reciprocate and answer immediately. We are truly blessed to have these connections. I could not do any of this without all of you, and that gives me momentum to move on and do the work.
Having that structure early on was comforting and valuable. In active use, I thought I was the only one who needed to drink all day, every day. I thought I was the only one who had anger and rage. I felt entirely alone. Discovering that all my thoughts were absolutely unfounded and that I could continue talking and sharing with people after treatment who had the same thoughts, was invaluable. There were times, later on, that I didn’t want recovery to become the “everything” in my daily life. I had to put in the work to keep going. I define work as anything that makes you happy and gives you a feeling of fulfillment. It could be getting outside and being in nature, or it could be something you are passionate or curious about. If you like to write, do what Lincoln taught me; he called it “In Cleaning.” Simply write whatever comes to your mind at that moment. For example, it could be “today I cleaned the bathroom and walked the dog” — boom, you are a writer!
Finding a rhythm with work and pleasure was tough. When I was a kid, I lived on my bike; growing up in Brooklyn, having a bike was a must. So, I bought a bike — a slamming bike — and I rode like the wind. Oddly enough, I am attracted to the cemeteries because they have hills and I became a kid again, screaming in my head “the devil ain’t gonna catch me again!” I cannot tell you how fulfilling this feels. I have the absolute pleasure of living near the ocean and many beautiful lakes. Both bring me peace and I visit them often. On a bad day, I throw rocks into the lake. On a good day, I calmly sit and listen to the roar of the ocean or walk on the beach collecting whatever catches my eye. And for some reason unknown to mankind, a picnic by a lake with a book is by far the most peaceful and enjoyable respite imaginable.
There are so many things that “I am” and I lost them through addiction. I am an artist. I am creative. Make a list of who you are. Yes, we did this at Mountainside but have any of you looked back at all of the written works we did? Doing these simple things forces me to remember the hard work I did, how powerful that felt and how much I need to remind myself of those accomplishments. I climbed a mountain and experienced a bond with a bunch of women I had not known for less than a month. And we still talk and text and laugh and cry together. I sat with nature and lost myself in that beauty on a camping trip I did not think I would be able to do. I was pushed to the extreme and I did it. And it was life changing, just like they said it would be. Make a gratitude list, because it is needed to remember exactly how we felt while we were at Mountainside and how extremely grateful we are for all of those people who give everything they have to make us whole again in a comforting, loving way. They pushed us to test our abilities so that we are armed and ready when we bust out of there. I remember. All the time. My relationships with my peers on the noon meetings and six thirty meetings offered by Mountainside were unquestionably the most important part of my recovery. We formed a very close, tight knit group and we continue to share intimate thoughts, struggles, and triumphs every day. We gather enormous strength from one another – it is working recovery without it being work.
The common denominators with my peers from Mountainside are connection and trust. The knowledge that we cannot survive this disease without each other. Recovery started at Mountainside. And it will never end. It will be a part of me for the rest of my life. And I will take that and keep it close to my heart and soul for I know that if I let go of all that I learned and all of those who help me on this journey, I will fail. And it is not just about taking a drink… emotional health is my issue. The cravings are real, but they do get manageable after time. The dreams haunt me, but they will diminish eventually. I will not sacrifice my dignity again for the sake of wrecking my mind and destroying relationships which are finally on the mend. I remember that the earth is alive. We are a living, breathing manifestation of this beautiful and generous planet. Knowing this, we can begin to walk differently and to care for her differently. We will fall completely in love with the Earth again. I have learned to forgive. I have learned and taught myself that I cannot control anything other than myself. I actually found out who I really am, but still a work in progress.
Work hard in silence and let your success be your voice. Yes, another silly phrase. Feel the power of all these silly phrases and perhaps, just perhaps, recovery will become an easier task than you believe it to be.