Yesterday marked 8 years and 3 months of sobriety. I have been here before. The last time I had 8 years and 3 months of sobriety I was in the process of slowly and subtly moving towards a relapse of epic proportions. Here’s how it all went down…
In 2007, after 10 years of sobriety, I relapsed with alcohol and spent a year spiraling deeper and deeper into the utter hell of alcoholism and addiction. How could this have happened to me? I had been alcohol free for 10 years, I had a wonderful, loving husband, a loving, supportive family, a moderately successful (if unpredictable) career and was garnering attention and accolades for my work as an actor we owned a beautiful home. I looked good, I (thought I) felt good. My life had been good. I was at the top of my game. How had I slipped back?
Looking back is really easy for me to see where it started to go wrong although I could not possibly see it at the time. 12 step work, meditation and careful self-assessment has allowed me to see where I began to slip back into old patterns and old behaviors and it all started for me when I quit going to meetings.
I had gotten sober through 12-Step recovery in 1996 and for the first 4 or 5 years I was pretty active. I stayed close to the rooms, worked with a sponsor, and went through the steps. Somewhere around 2000 I begin to feel I was “cured” from the disease of addiction. Further, my father died and I became disgusted. I got tired of listening to others whine about their problems and I began judging. I was tired of going to meetings and so I stopped. Just . Like. That.
The second thing that happened was I started keeping secrets. Very slowly (I mean really slowly over the course of several years), I began to slip back into old behaviors. I began to lie about little things, act out in old (but seemingly benign) sexual behaviors, began to be concerned mostly with myself and my career, I began to struggle with anxiety and depression and when my father died from cancer at the age of 68 my anxiety rose to the point that I pursued a doctor to ask for help. I was already in therapy and my therapist knew my history with addiction, but I conveniently kept my doctor’s visit a secret from my therapist.
I went to another doctor who, knowing I was an alcoholic, prescribed for me Klonopin. I remember putting up a vague, half-assed argument for about a second when I reminded my doctor that I was alcoholic and couldn’t take anything addictive. His response was that as long as I took it as prescribed that I would not become addicted. “Well then, GREAT”, I responded with a small sinking feeling in my gut. So small in fact, it was indiscernible. Let me make clear that I do not hold the doctor (no longer MY doctor) responsible. It was my choice. MY decision. However I do now see a doctor who is familiar with addiction and who is “addiction friendly”. My current doctor would no more prescribe me benzos anymore than he would suggest drinking Drano.
For the next 3 years I carried on as usual, taking Klonopin “as prescribed” save for the few times I maybe took an extra one on a really bad day. I continued to see my therapist, never mentioning the Klonopin and keeping more and more secrets. One of the biggest secrets that I was keeping was that I ADORED my Klonipin. The first time I took one I’m pretty sure I saw the face of Jesus smiling down on me and giving be a “thumbs up”. I called them my “I don’t give a shit” pill. Even writing this, I can feel the instinctual pull towards something so small which totally and completely changed the way I felt within minutes. It was like a slice of heaven.
I never craved alcohol, and the drugs I was taking were prescribed so I still considered myself completely sober. Once in a blue moon I would attend an AA meeting and I had convinced myself I was doing just fine. Then I got a cold and took some cough medicine (alcohol free, of course) and noticed the scrumptious effect that combining Klonopin with cough medicine gave me. Delicious. Energy with a sweet, cool buzz. It made me want to clean my house. I began to get a sneaking suspicion that combining benzos and cough syrup probably wasn’t the most sober behavior in the world, but I wasn’t harming anyone and it wasn’t alcohol so again I was able to convince myself that carrying around a bottle of Robotussin in the glove compartment of my car was completely normal ( this nagging cough, for heaven’s sake). It was around this time that I started going back into the clubs.
I worked in theatre so many of my colleges went out after shows and for years I had declined because I knew I had no business hanging out in bars. But with a little pill and some cough syrup I could hang with the best of them. I could sip my diet coke or bottled water, smoke cigarettes and feel connected to “the party” like I hadn’t in years. I love to dance and shoot pool and in my mind those were my reasons for going. “I’m not drinking” I told myself, “I don’t even want to drink”. I was still very verbose about my “sobriety” and everyone I hung out with knew I was ” in recovery” and didn’t drink. So I could go out, kick back and enjoy a secret buzz and I thought I was the smartest person in the world for having figured this out. If there had been a way to patent and sell this idea I would have. I was the king of the dive bar world.
This went on for another year or so.
On the outside I seemed (mostly) perfectly normal, although my husband may disagree with that. I looked good, I worked, I traveled, I helped take care of the house and yard, I was getting lots of acting work. I had not told anyone, even my husband about the cough syrup or about how it made me feel. I never talked to my therapist about going to bars and clubs or any of it. And in 2007 on a business trip to Dallas, without planning, or scheming or any thought whatsoever, I reached across a cocktail table and took a giant sip of my friends glass of wine. It was a Kendall Jackson in a tall, slender stem glass; I can still see it today. There had been nothing between me and that first drink. NO program, no higher power or higher mind, ( whatever you choose to call it), no resistance. “Man that’s good” I said. My friend Kathy said “Uhhhh… wait, I thought you were in AA. Aren’t you not supposed to drink?” I said, “You know what? Fuck it. Fuuuuuuck IT. I have not had a drink in 10 years, I want to party tonight and when I get back home I’ll go back to AA and start over, but tonight I want to have some fun!” And from the bottom of my soul that was my intention. I knew I wanted to get good and drunk, ( I knew myself well enough to know I never had one – or five- of anything) ,have one huge blow out in Dallas, and then come home and go back to life as I had known it. I did succeed in getting extremely drunk and after several bottles of wine a handful of klonopin and about 8 Absolut martini’s later, found myself naked in the swimming pool with a bunch of strangers. This was pretty normal for me; drunk and naked always seemed to go together. (I thought EVERYONE was naked, turns out it was just me). I had no intentions of continuing to drink after this one big night. My disease had other plans.
That chilly October night in Dallas marked the beginning of the most hideous, destructive, and nearly fatal 7 months of my life and I believe that the self-pity, the guilt and shame of the “first drunk” and my inability to forgive myself and move forward was one of the main reasons I continued to drink. Besides, of course the physiological fact that the craving and obsession had been activated by my drinking. The genie was out of the bottle.
Of course I drank the next morning to ward off the hangover, and get through work and I drank martinis on the plane on the way home. I have a vague recollection of getting into an argument with a fellow passenger on the plane and telling him to go fuck himself and the flight attendant cutting me off and telling me to keep my voice down. I had phoned my husband the first night I got drunk, hysterical and crying and saying how sorry I was and how I was going to get back on track.( I called him about 15 times that night alternately professing my remorse and raging at him demanding he fly to Dallas to get me.) He told me to eat something, go to bed and we would work through this together.
Yes, he’s a bit of a saint.
But when i got home I was unable to stop drinking. Something in my brain had short circuited. I went to 12-Step meetings and I got a sponsor, but I couldn’t stop drinking. I would put together a few days, a few weeks, but then would drink again and it was always worse. I continued taking the Klonipin and cough medicine along with the alcohol I was consuming. I stole bottles of booze from my job and worked drunk. I began drinking Lysterine and other mouthwash to hide the fact that I was drinking. I probably consumed anywhere from 50 to 100 bottles of mouth wash during those 7 months and I spent a lot of time on the toilet. I began having accidents. Falling, running into things, banging my head on countertops. I went to the Urgent Care for a shoulder injury and got Vicodan. I went to another Urgent Care for a back injury and got Oxycodone. I have some vague, foggy, memories of going to several other Urgent Cares and faking symptoms to get more Klonipin and one doctor prescribed me Xanax. I went to different drug stores all over town in the hopes that I wouldn’t be discovered. I began to steal pills from the medicine cabinets of friends and family. I stole handfuls of my 70-year-old mothers valium (she takes for an inner ear problem) from her nightstand. I had stashes of little pills everywhere. Sometimes I would take one, or two, or three, or a combination and wash it back with mouthwash. And then get in my car go to a meeting.
I kept picking up “start-over” chips in meetings. Something in me wanted so desperately to stop using. Many times, I would stop at a bar on the way home from the meeting to belt back a few shots and think to myself “I’ll try again tomorrow”. I had lost my mind.
I can only describe my mental state as seriously fucking crazy. I mean out of my mind crazy. I can’t adequately describe the level of sadness and despair I felt. The confusion and guilt and shame never left my side. I wanted to die but would not consider suicide, and I was hopeful that I would get lucky, take the wrong combination of pills and booze and maybe, just maybe, not wake up. That thought crossed my mind almost every night. My husband was in complete despair not knowing what to do or how to help me. He was only partially aware of everything I was ingesting because I lied to him so much. But he knew I was very sick. He is in recovery himself and he relied on his meetings, his sponsor and his friends in recovery to keep him afloat. He was close to throwing in the towel on our 10 year relationship. He kept telling me I needed to go to treatment, but I kept insisting I had gotten sober once before, and goddamnit I would do it again. And then I would drink.
The last 2 months of my drinking had me drinking rubbing alcohol and mouthwash, alone in the back yard of our North Carolina home. It was spring, May and June and the weather was beautiful. I remember vividly how surreal everything looked and felt. I relinquished my money, credit cards, drivers license and passport to my husband so I didn’t wind up taking a one way flight out of the country and disappearing, (a very real possibility) and I had wrecked my car so I had nothing to drive. I had lost 2 jobs, was unemployed and unemployable. I gave up my credit cards willingly believing it would make it more difficult for me to get alcohol, but you know, we always find a way. I was spending lots of time in the bathroom, sick. I spent the days at home alone with the puppy I had gotten ( thinking she would help me get sober)…
and for what it’s worth that sweet puppy was the one reason I got out of bed in the morning and I give her credit for helping to save my life).
I spent the last 2 months of my relapse, sitting in our back yard taking what pills I had left or could find and drinking rubbing alcohol I had stolen from a neighbor’s medicine cabinet.
It was a beautiful, warm summer morning in late June when, while rummaging through a medicine closet, realizing I was almost out of rubbing alcohol that the thought of drinking gasoline from the gas can in the garage hit my mind like a sharp tack. It was very specific and very doable. The very next thought was what I believe and refer to as my “moment of clarity”. ” You’re insane” a loud and specific voice in my head told me. “You have literally lost your mind and you need to be in a hospital. You need round the clock, professional help.” These words rang out in my mind loud and clear and over and over. I immediately, almost robotically closed the closet door and went to the phone and called my husband. ” I’m sick” I said, “I need help”. He asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to go to treatment. I told him I had no idea how we were going to pay for it. He said he had already taken a loan out on the house and the money was in the bank. I asked him why he hadn’t told me that. He told me he was hoping and praying I would come to the realization that I needed help myself. He told me he knew me well enough to know that if he had forced me into treatment that it wouldn’t have worked. I asked him to call the treatment center. He told me I needed to be the one to make that phone call. He told me how much he loved me, and that was leaving work immediately and would be home shortly. He told me he loved me again, and to make the phone call, sit tight, and wait for him. And he told me he loved me again.
I entered treatment the next day, on July 1, 2008. That was the very beginning my journey in recovery and my story of hope.
Today as I write this I am a few months past my 8 year anniversary and continue to invest my heart and soul in a program of recovery. My life has gone in a direction I did not choose, but that chose me. I practice 12-step philosophy, meditation and visualization, and I am a part of a vibrant recovery community. I get to work as an addiction counselor helping others. I am able to use my experience, all the good, and especially all the bad to help others. I am grateful everyday to wake up alive and sober.
Recovery IS possible for anyone who seeks it and it is my sincere hope that I will be able to inspire and support anyone who has a desire to get sober.
October 2, 2016