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. 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 for 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 whether from the past or the present. And 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 if we even knew what that was. And 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. And I needed a miracle. And I had a few miracles in my lifetime. I gave birth to three healthy children. I survived a brutal childhood. I have lifelong friendships. 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, 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.” And I did many times. And it worked and I continue to use that tool when the urge to drink seeps 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. And 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? It is completely unique for each of us, that much we know. 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 on-line 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. 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. 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!
There are tons of books on recovery. The one book I return to often is The Four Agreements. Simple logic: Be impeccable with your word. Do not make assumptions. Always do your best. Do not take anything seriously. I was guilty of not following any of these guidelines while in active use.
I chose to do OP and IOP which were a lifesaver when I returned home. Having that structure early on was comforting and valuable. In active use, I thought I was the only one who needed to drink every day, all day, and all night. 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 after treatment talking and sharing with people 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. 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 ride like the wind. And oddly enough, I am attracted to the cemeteries because they have hills and I become 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 peacefully listen to the roar of the ocean or I 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.
I’m a writer. So, I journal. And it does not have to be a novel. It could be as simple as writing what you are grateful for, or what you wish to fulfill on a particular day. And I break up all of that substantial work with reading about my favorite subject — history, sweeping novels about bygone times. Reading takes me away from life in general, giving me a break from brainstorming this recovery stuff, having something to escape to. Sometimes I feel like a caged animal, as I love to travel and did it often, so I am planning some trips for next year. I am super confident that my addiction will not be a problem because I utilize everything available to me. It has become a goal to stay on this recovery path. It is truly enlightening.
Let’s talk about this meditation thing. Some love it and some cannot grasp it for the life of them. It does not have to be so strict. I personally cannot sit still at all and although I did like to meditate, I have tailored it for my benefit. You can actually take a walk, be silent and observe the simplicity and beauty around you (forest bathing) and call that “meditating”. I like to have my coffee in the morning in my backyard when it is quiet and “listen” to a new day waking up, gathering my thoughts and thankful to be clear and clean and have the ability to ponder all of the great things going on in my life. I call that meditating. And at times, when I acknowledge the not so great things going on, that is where I ask for strength. And I remember: **At your absolute best, you won’t be good enough for the wrong people. But at your worst, you will still be worth it to the right ones**. Remember that and keep holding on to that.
And we walk. Walking is the opposite of standing still. I know the sayings are ridiculous at times, but they “mean” something… Move a muscle, Change a thought. It is a scientific fact that being outdoors is a great thing for our mind, body, and soul. Change is inevitable and why not make a positive change towards your recovery. After all, nobody can take that away from us. Beneficial activity, getting un-stuck, and setting goals. Walking and noticing the beauty of nature is a natural high. Nature often saved me from many forms of abuse. And to this day it still does. Imagine how absolutely thrilled I was arriving on that beautiful campus at the base of a mountain surrounded by beauty. It was that natural beauty that brings us down a few notches from the anger and rage, humbling us to feel and see what is around us and realize how we, as addicts, have done nothing but contribute our zombie-like incapability’s, rummaging through life wasted and obnoxious, giving this earth our worst person that we could be.
I felt as if I was scarring the earth. How dare I walk around this beautiful planet, loathing myself and others while all of her glory awaits if we just take a moment to see it, to feel it and to live the best life I could have. And aren’t we the lucky ones who get to walk this journey. Recovery is neither hard nor easy. It’s what you put into it. I refuse to go back to what I became, what I was. Some days are wonderful, and some days are not, but we have the power to sit with it and feel it or move it and own it. There will be those times when we cannot do anything but endure our pain, or, when attending to our healing is all we should do, but when it is not one of those times, it is time to be doing something. Anything that involves movement. We all have that stupid drawer that is a mess, or a closet full of crap we do not need. Go for it and donate. Sounds silly but it works.
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 are unquestionably the most important part of my recovery. We are a very close, tight knit group and we share intimate thoughts, struggles, and triumphs every day. And we gather enormous strength from one another. It simply is working recovery without it being work. I highly recommend it to all.
I am in the process of opening an Etsy account. It is hard work. I find myself in the basement for hours at a time. I love what I am doing, but I realize that I also need a distraction as it gets a bit lonely and isolating. So I break up my time down there. And some days I want to do nothing, and it is OK. I had the pleasure of working with Leandro on an art project. It is in my basement hanging up and I look at it and I smile my ass off, and again, another reminder of accomplishment and hard work. Moments like that keep our world open and exciting and eager to look back at the great things we have done and urge us to continue to do the work without making it actual work. Finding a balance between recovery and living a life that we deserve, that we love and that we trust is the best thing not only for us, but for our family and those who love us.
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.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
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