My Recovery Process
September is National Recovery Month, in addition to it also being National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which is something I’ll also address in the coming weeks. Obviously, this is something near and dear to my heart. In brainstorming post topics, I realized that I haven’t written one about my own recovery process — what I did, what helped, what didn’t, etc. Here’s a look at what’s helped keep me clean and sober for a decade.
Firstly, I want to emphasize that there is no one-size-fits-all recovery. I was able to find help in 12-step meetings, so naturally I preached their efficacy to anyone who would listen. I felt like without them, I, and others, wouldn’t be able to stop using. Now, a decade later, I realize that that’s simply not true. What works for one may not work for another. It’s frustrating to not have one simple solution, but addiction is so multidimensional that it’s naive to think that one solution can help all people. If it did, addiction wouldn’t be such a rampant issue in our society today.
So – all that to say that the best recovery is the one that you’re going to do. The one that will get you to stop using. That’s it.
I didn’t know much about where to turn when I decided to finally quit. I knew I couldn’t do it alone because I had tried and failed. Rehab felt like where I needed to be because I wouldn’t be able to just take myself to meetings and call it a day. I looked up rehab facilities in my area and started making phone calls.
Inpatient rehab was out for me because at that point, my double life hadn’t been exposed. I wanted something I could control and also keep secret until it was time for the truth to come out. Another requirement was medical assistance because at this point I was using heroin on a daily basis and knew that I couldn’t quit cold turkey. I had done it before and it was horrible (and obviously didn’t stick).
I finally found a facility that offered outpatient rehab services that would accept me. It turned out to be such a great place and I met so many amazing people who eventually served as my support network as I got further in my recovery. I went for an intake, where I broke down to the therapist because this was the first time I had told anyone else what was happening in my life. I was started on Antabuse, which makes a person violently ill when mixed with alcohol, and Suboxone, which was a way for me to safely stop the heroin without going through horrible withdrawals.
Initially, the program consisted of 3-hour evening sessions five days a week. There was a mixture of group therapy, education, and one-on-one sessions during that time. In addition, we were required to attend either Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and get slips signed to prove our attendance. I balked at this additional requirement because it felt redundant, but in reality, it was an important step that enabled me to find helpful resources and people once rehab was over.
I don’t remember exactly how long I attended outpatient rehab, but as I progressed, the five days were eventually shortened to two and then graduation. A continuing care option was also offered, which allowed graduates to return one day a week for maintenance care.
It’s also important to note that I was insured during this time by the pharmacy school I attended. This made treatment more financially manageable than if I had been uninsured. If you or anyone you know is seeking treatment, make sure to discuss financial options with the facility because there should be a way to find something that works for both parties.
As luck would have it, many of the people in my outpatient rehab program were similar in age to me. I was able to connect with many of them, and as time went on, we attended NA meetings together and socialized in a drug-free environment a lot of the time. This is something I credit to keeping me from giving up or relapsing. I can’t emphasize the importance of a support network enough times.
12-Step Meetings & Jail
Following rehab, I went to an NA meeting virtually every day. I listened, I learned, and I started sharing about my own experience. (If you’re nervous about going and don’t know what to expect, I wrote a post for you explaining meetings). Since I also had a pretty significant problem with alcohol, I also attended AA meetings here and there, but always felt more at home in Narcotics Anonymous. I got a sponsor and I started working the steps, which is something that was eye-opening and critical in my recovery. I went to conventions, I listened to speaker tapes, and I really dove in head first.
My recovery story is a bit disjointed because after being in recovery for 100 days, I had to go to court for sentencing concerning my arrest charges. Among other things, I was sentenced to 12 months in jail and taken directly from the courtroom. I served nine out of the 12 months and maintained my sobriety through letters and phone calls with my support network, NA literature that was provided, and meetings that were brought into the jail.
My only experience with a jail setting was in this small county detention center, but I found that there was a large discrepancy between what was offered to men vs. women. Meetings for women were few and far between, and I remember writing to the administration to ask for more availability. I made the best of the situation and I’m grateful that I already had a good base of recovery under my belt before I went away.
I was released on May 11, 2011, which was only a few days before my one-year anniversary. I was lucky enough to be able to move in with my sister and return back to meetings immediately, which allowed me to celebrate one year of sobriety with many of the same people I had started the journey with, which was so nice.
It was somewhat of a difficult transition back into “normal” life because I was no longer able to return to my previous job or job field (pharmacy), so I now had to start from scratch with a criminal record. It made finding a job pretty difficult, and I then understood the issues that come with trying to find employment after incarceration. After three months of trying, I got a job as a receptionist because that company was the only one who didn’t do a background check.
I continued attending NA meetings, although now it was in a new area because I had been dating Neil and moved in with him in Virginia. I’m a pretty introverted person, so it was difficult to create a new support network, but not impossible. I made new friends, got a new sponsor, and restarted the 12-steps.
At some point, I felt like my life was pretty much back on track. I had a steady job, a relationship, and had pretty much lost the desire to escape life with drugs or alcohol. Because of this, I cut back on meetings. I didn’t stop altogether, but I attended less frequently. This is what you often hear in meetings as “complacency.” I had become complacent in my recovery and didn’t feel the need to put in as much work.
If you’ve been here for awhile, you know what followed. I developed disordered eating and exercise habits and although I was no longer drinking or using drugs, I had found a new way to escape life and my feelings. I exercised compulsively and wound up with a stress fracture in my leg that sidelined me and finally led me to reach out to people in my network and tell them what was going on. The same principles that allowed me to stop using drugs and alcohol were able to help me overcome these issues as well. I attended meetings more regularly again.
Neil and I moved to Chicago at the end of 2014. The following year, the fifth in my recovery, posed to be the most challenging. We started couples AND individual therapy, almost separated, and somehow managed to work through many of our issues. I went to NA meetings, but suddenly felt disconnected. I felt like many of the meetings I attended were geared towards newcomers, with a heavy emphasis on not using. While this is immensely important, I was no longer in that same stage and didn’t feel like I was getting what I needed on how to continue living a successful life. I had more questions about why I had even started in the first place vs. staying stopped, which is what eventually led me to Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA).
ACOA is a subset of Al-Anon, an organization for family members of alcoholics. It is another 12-step program for people who may have come from a dysfunctional family system (not only alcoholism). There is a “laundry list” of traits to see if you identify, and I did with significantly more than half.
This group felt like the next step in my recovery. It examined reasons for behavior stemming from childhood and I made a lot of revelations during my time there. I went a couple times a week for a little over a year, but didn’t get a sponsor or work steps in that fellowship, although that’s something that is also offered and encouraged. I can’t pinpoint a specific reason for why I stopped attending, but as Neil and I worked through our issues and started to fare better in therapy, I started to take a step back.
Since 2016, I haven’t been to a 12-step meeting. I’ve continued therapy, which is something that I find invaluable, but I haven’t been as plagued and consumed by the fear of returning to drugs and alcohol. Over those years, I have gathered many essential tools and resources to deal with issues that come up, and I know where I can turn if I need to.
What I Did Differently
In order to make significant changes in my life, I had to put in significant work. I had to do things differently than the way I had been doing them up to this point. Here are some of the most significant changes I made:
- Changed my environment – no longer lived alone, stayed away from situations where I may have been tempted to use again
- Changed my associations – even though I really used by myself, drinking was a pretty social thing. No longer hung out with people I only drank or partied with before
- Attended as many meetings as possible
- Opened up to others – I kept a lot of secrets. For me to change things, I had to be more open about my life. This is one of the reasons for starting this blog and being so vocal about mental health and addiction
- Accepted that I didn’t know everything and wasn’t always right
- Learned how to set boundaries
- Made and relied on a support network
- Asked for help
There are many different types of recovery (will work on a post for this). What works for one may not work for another. Just like I emphasize in fitness, do the one that works for you. The type of exercise that’s the best for you is the one you are actually going to do. The type of recovery that’s best for you is the one that you’ll actually stick with and not relapse.
There will always be people who aren’t serious about recovery in rehabs and meetings. Some may be court-ordered or maybe there on their parent’s money to avoid bigger consequences. Temptations will always be there, but if you’re serious about recovery, you’ll know who to surround yourself with and who not to.
This has been my experience. It was a hard journey, but one that was absolutely imperative to me getting to where I am today. If you’re on your own journey, know that it is possible, but you’re going to have to work for it. You got this.