Ten Things I Learned from Rehab and Life After Treatment

I can’t believe it’s been six months since I wrote a blog post. Six months of distractions, overcoming obstacles, and following what feels right for me despite others’ opinions

Last February I was still working a nursing desk job, one that I enjoyed my coworkers and the flexibility, but the hours I spent getting the boys and myself ready and out the door, then shuttling Dillon to school 7 miles north of town, turning around and driving 37 miles to Logan’s daycare, and then driving across town to work were wearing on me.

Something else was calling  me, but it seemed impossible. I honestly felt doomed to repeat this routine for the next 4 years until Logan was in school. I tried going part-time at my desk job, but that still didn’t feel right. I found an RN job 20 miles north of our house-a small town hospital where I do everything—ER, acute care, observation, and skilled and long-term care. This felt a lot better, but still things weren’t quite right. I decided to get my own apartment to see if that would help. I could stay at the apartment so I didn’t have to commute on the days I worked 12 hour shifts. That felt a little bit better, but still I didn’t feel right.

Talk of divorce came up more and more often. Nate was at the end of his rope with my drinking and I was just at the end of my rope.  I was drowning my anxiety and sense of dread and overwhelm with Chardonnay. Family members were concerned and reaching out, but I carefully ignored them. This continued until the beginning of April. I had tried quitting on my own and quickly realized I couldn’t. I was up to 5 Black Boxes of Chardonnay a week and if I didn’t drink, I would get shaky, sick, and extremely anxious. I had a routine where I would drop Dillon off at school and start day drinking on my way home. On the mornings I worked, I would cut myself off at a certain time the night before and then start drinking again once I was off work.

With alarm and self-loathing, I admitted I needed to get help. Nate came and got me from my apartment, helped me find a 30 day treatment program, and let me stay with him until they had an opening a few days later.

April 15th I took Dillon to school, then frantically tried to find something to drink. It felt like I was losing my best friend, security blanket, life jacket. Desperately I looked around until I found a Twisted Tea and a little Crown Royal. A few hours I checked in. I remember sitting there, desperately wishing Nate would answer the endless questions the admissions woman was asking. My heart was racing and I felt like I could easily pass out from adrenaline. We finished and Nate and I said good-bye as I was led to the nurse.

After giving a urine sample, changed into scrubs, my belongings taken, and my vital signs/assessment completed, I was taken to my room where I would detox. It was a surreal feeling, but as I looked out the window, there was a dragonfly sticker attached to the window. I’ve written before how dragonflies and butterflies feel like the Universe is telling me everything will be okay.

I was started on a high dose of Librium (like long-acting Ativan; a sedative) and detoxed for 5 days. I don’t remember much from the first 3 days—barely eating and doing little but sleep. I remember having dreams of trying to open my eyes but they were too heavy and I could only get them half open. My blood pressure was 163/90 something when I checked in—a shock as I have never had high blood pressure.

On the fourth day I started to participate in activities/group and went to the cafeteria and ate with the others.  This program was strict about no fraternization between sexes. We slept on opposite sides of the hall, couldn’t go outside and smoke together, weren’t allowed to be in the opposite sex lounge without a treatment assistant present, and took separate vans to AA meetings and outings. There were 12 other girls but quite a few of them graduate that first week so I didn’t get to know them well. Everyone was friendly to me but there was drama between other girls that ended once some of them graduated.

Once I was done detox’ing I was allowed to wear street clothes and make phone calls at certain times. After wearing scrubs non-stop for almost a week, I was so thankful to have my clothes back and feel like me again. We had a strict schedule from wake up time to lights out that kept us busy. Counselor education, small groups, group check-ins with the treatment assistants, recreation, and sharing/listening each others’ life stories became our norm.

Sharing the life story was one of the more difficult parts of treatment, some for reading it out loud, and others for processing it afterward. I didn’t mind sharing my life story, but I wasn’t ready for the feelings of shame and self-judgment that overwhelmed me the next 48 hours. I remember sitting in the back of the van with two other girls and being unable to contain my emotions. This was slightly horrifying for me because I hate crying in front of people, but I couldn’t help it. Suddenly I couldn’t help laughing, because all my life I’ve only cried out of one eye, leaving one side of my face splotchy and red and leaving the other looking normal. The idea of going into the AA meeting looking like Two-Face gave me the giggles and as I explained my bizarre mood swing they couldn’t help laughing. The girl sitting next to me, this brilliant woman younger than me, who was street smart and hard as nails tough and had gotten caught up in using and selling meth and other drugs to make ends meet, gently squeezed my hand and sat by me. We became close and I learned so much from her—what a stripper baggy was, and some of the horrors she’d encountered in her experience with drugs.

She and I would later have a cigarette and talk about treatment. I joked it felt like hell at the moment, but she wisely told me it was purgatory. Having grown up in a Catholic school, she explained to me purgatory is where your soul goes to be purified before moving on to heaven. I loved that parallel—we were in purgatory so we could move on from these negative thought processes, addictions, and past traumas and live a better life.

I became incredibly close with some of the girls. Once I graduated, it felt like nobody else but the people I’d gone to treatment with could quite understand my experience. It was hard and overwhelming to try to explain it all to everyone. It was so much easier to not interact with family and friends and just do my own thing.

Before I went in to treatment, I googled other blogs to see if there were any insights or advice I could use about checking into treatment. I kept a mental list of things I wish I would have known before checking in:

Things I wish I would have known before checking into treatment:

1) Don’t be ashamed of drinking/getting help. Checking into treatment felt like I was a failure at first, when really l needed help with my thought processes, negative self-talk, and taking care of the invisible garbage bags I had been carrying with me since childhood.

2) I would have packed a lot differently. I wasn’t allowed to keep my books or Tarot cards. Anyone who knows me knows when I pack I tend to bring a lot of books. Instead I would have packed more clothes so Nate didn’t have to bring me so many things.

3) Take care of financial matters beforehand. I really wasn’t in a frame of mind to think about this, but when bills were due and I had no internet access to get my debit card number (my purse and wallet had been packed away when I checked in) it was a pain to have to get the number to my bank from Nate, call them, explain what was going on, and get him the information. Call anyone who you might have loans with and explain what is going on. I wish I would have done this for my student loans a lot sooner. I was able to get a few payments deferred until I got back on my feet.

4) Work your own journey. Being a nurse, it was hard for me to not go into ‘nurse mode’ and just be a patient. I had to realize I couldn’t make things easier for people, and I wasn’t there to work. I learned later from my counselor how codependent I can be. Other people being sad, angry, or upset makes me uncomfortable. Instead of giving them the space to process their own journey, I was trying to make it easier for them so it would be easier for me. This wasn’t fair to them or myself, and I’ve since learned it’s okay to allow others to express their emotions without needing to mother them.

5) Treatment is a lot like a detention center (I realized this after watching a Netflix show about low-security female incarceration). I was told where to go and what to do, everyday and all day. We couldn’t take food back to our rooms, we couldn’t use the phones until we ‘leveled up’, we couldn’t pass notes. From 8:30 to 9:00 our day was mapped out with counseling sessions, small groups, etc. At first it was frustrating having someone tell me what to do all the time, but it helped me develop more discipline.

6) There will be drama. When there are that many people with serious addiction issues living together, there will be issues and squabbles that come up. Cliques still develop, just like high school. I tried hard to get along and be friendly with everyone. I really enjoyed learning how to smudge with one of the Native American women, and one of the older patients became like a mom to me. Instead of letting things others did frustrate me, I tried to think of their side of things. Sometimes they hadn’t learned any other way, other times they had experienced horrible things and couldn’t help the victim mentality the had developed. I tried to not judge others. It wasn’t always easy. Sometimes things come out wrong and people get offended. If I realized I’d genuinely upset someone unintentionally, I explained what I meant, apologized, and left it at that.

7) The treatment assistants are not your friends. Everything you say and do will be repeated back to the other treatment assistants, counselors, and staff. Treat them respectfully, but unless you want everyone else knowing, don’t talk about things you’d rather keep private. Don’t vent about the program or other staff to them. It’s too easy for things to be misunderstood and misconstrued.

8) Keep an open mind. I hated having to go to an overly zealous Christian movie as our outing. While I still don’t agree with having certain religions spoon fed to me, I enjoyed spending time away from the treatment center, especially when we were able to get Dairy Queen after.

9) Manage expectations. If you don’t have expectations for others or situations, you won’t be bummed or upset. Now if someone makes me a promise, I think, “If she shows up, great. If not, no big deal.” I’m not counting on anyone else to make a situation better. Once I learned to go with the flow and not resist or try to control things, I felt so much more relaxed.

10) Your emotions will be all over the place. I had never heard of PAWS before treatment (post-acute withdrawal symptoms) but it’s real and I still forget about it, until I catch myself asking, “What is wrong with me?” When I read the symptoms, I realize I’m PAWSing. I also learned to recognize when others are PAWSing and to give them a little grace when they have an outburst or don’t seem like their usual selves.

Two weeks after I graduated, Nate and I realized treatment wasn’t going to fix much of anything with our marriage and mutually decided to divorce. I moved out of the house into my apartment. The first time I had ever lived on my own. We are sharing custody of the boys until the divorce was finalized. There were a lot of frustrating moments, but when I felt overwhelmed, I thought about the boys and what would be best for them and that helped me dissolve petty feelings and anger more easily.

So six months later, I can honestly say I feel better than I have in years. I know a lot of my family don’t understand my decisions, and that’s okay. I know I’m doing the right thing by listening to my intuition, trusting the Universe, and following my heart.

I saved this post as a draft…I wrote it a few months ago. Reading it over, I have to add number 11:

11) For the love of all that is holy, stay off dating websites. Tinder is not your friend. Don’t jump into another relationship. Being newly single and sober is terrifying, but jumping into a rebound relationship complicated things so much more for me. Now not only am I dealing with tying up loose ends with my divorce, I also have to process this epically failed relationship, the guilt of hurting someone, and the realization of just how bad my blinders were.

 

 

 

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