“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is the second part of my personal story of awakening. See Part 1 here.
Whether you know me or not, I don’t want this story to give the impression of a tragedy. I also don’t want to sound like I am proposing that my way of life is an improvement over the lifestyle choices of any other individual.
Its just my story…and the conclusion is quite encouraging. So be entertained as I get there! Don’t feel pity or remorse for this pathetic soul.
My last writing concluded with my entering treatment for substance abuse/dependence. I was still unsure of the truth to the label “addict” in my case. That being said, I had also made a commitment to at least try to devote myself to overcoming the troubles that had quickly piled up in my life. Nothing could be accomplished without an attempt…
The extended program was housed in resident apartments, with four beds in each apartment. This program also specialized in treating healthcare professionals, so I was among a group of about 20 male physicians.
I was a 24 year old bachelor, and an RN.
I assumed this was going to be analogous to a three month torture sentence. After my first night there, I realized that it potentially could be the greatest Summer of my life. I was housed with a 21 year old “boy genius”, and an ER physician from Boston who was old enough to be my father.
As it turns out, the Doc turned out to be one of the most similar souls I have ever come across. We were known as the “odd couple”, and were nearly inseparable. Our life struggles were vastly different, but our emotions, our personal struggles, our shame and our humor brought us together. I shared things with this man that I had never shared with anyone else before.
Just try to picture it:
…a 60 year old Jewish physician from Boston and a 24 year old bachelor from Virginia becoming the best of friends.
God works in mysterious ways, I’ll say. I think I would not have succeeded in treatment if I had not developed the relationship with this man. I do not think I would have stayed sober unless I entered the treatment program that I did. Synchronicity is something I have become intimately familiar with in recovery, this dance with the divine.
Anyways….some of you may ask: “What the hell did you do while in treatment?”
Glad you asked.
It was some of the most painful, and most enjoyable experiences of my life. It literally was as though I was in a cocoon, struggling to get out, but gaining the strength to fly through the struggle.
The only way I know to detail my experience in treatment is to share the “assignments” I completed while there, and to share portions of the journal I kept while a resident.
First of all, treatment was not isolating. I had my vehicle. I was required to attend 12-step meetings on a daily basis. The only catch was that we had to remain with a peer at all times. It has its drawbacks, but its better than no freedom at all.
The first assignment I completed while there was called my “Crisis Statement“. I basically detailed it in Part 1 of this post, but it amounts to what landed me in treatment to begin with. Of course I knew what I had done, but the act of writing part of my story on paper, and sharing it with a group of peers began the process of facing reality.
The next assignment was called “Negative Consequences“. You will notice a theme in these assignments. Here I answered a list of 40 questions regarding the consequences of my behavior. This forced me to come face to face with what my lifestyle choices had cost. It focused on the following areas: physical, mental (educational/professional), spiritual/moral, financial, and interpersonal (friends/family). The following are examples of the questions:
- Has some of your creative thinking/actions been lost as a result of your drinking or drug use?
- Describe your behavior while high or drunk as compared to when you are straight?
- Give specific examples of how you lied to yourself or others about your use or behavior.
- Describe the events from which you felt ashamed, guilty, or embarrassed others which stem from drug or alcohol use.
- Do you like yourself on drugs? How have your goals and values changed since you began alcohol/drug use?
- Have you been verbally or emotionally abusive to others while under the influence?
- How much money do you spend on drugs/alcohol in an average week? How much have you spent overall? How do you get drugs/alcohol without paying for them?
So you can see…this was not rated PG, and this was not for the faint of heart. Not only did I have to answer 40 questions like the ones above, but I had to share the ones which impacted me the most with a group of people. Imagine how that might feel…
I think you are beginning to grasp the idea of the type of exercises that were done on a daily basis while in treatment. So while this may appear to be a sort of “vacation” to some, and aspects of treatment are designed to foster a stress-free environment, the work that is done while there is grueling and painful. It takes guts to face it honestly, and it is impossible to benefit unless one is completely honest.
Again, this is not about being better than anyone else. This is about saving your ass when you’re an addict.
Think about it:
…not only was I better at drinking than most, but I thoroughly enjoyed it more than most. So if the average person drinks when they feel anxious or depressed or angry, why the HELL wouldn’t I? I kind of HAVE to put myself in a “tulip field” if I want to survive. There you have it, folks.
Anyways…other assignments. Next up was “Defenses“. Here I detailed 3 things: 1) substances or activities that I used to separate myself from reality (drugs, gambling, sex, relationships, etc.); 2) Inner emotions or feelings that were painful or difficult that I did not want to feel or examine; 3) Psychological tools I used to protect my use (drugs/behavior), or to prevent me from feeling those inner feelings. These ranged from lying, to justifying, to intimidating, to “people-pleasing” (which I always thought was just being considerate); to placating. See we do all kinds of things to keep people off our ass!
We aren’t just simply liars, cheats, and thieves!
Final two assignments were “First Step Presentation“, and a “Relapse Prevention Plan“. The first step is sort of like an autobiography, but it basically details the progression of our drinking/drug use. The first step in 12-step lingo states “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable.” You get the idea. The “Relapse Prevention Plan” was a detailed list, organizing goals and priorities upon discharge, to assure that we would not find ourselves in a position that we felt we needed the assistance of a bottle or a pill.
Lord knows I’ve failed that plan many times since I wrote it, but somehow never picked up. Pretty miraculous.
Other experiences I was able to have: a “Psychodrama” – this is where a trained therapist guides one through a memory, using other individuals to play the part of people in the memory. Simply a powerful experience, I don’t have enough space here to explain the benefit from that process, maybe another time. There was also a weekend for family to attend, to spend time in classes and workshops all weekend, gaining education and processing some of their feelings, and on Monday they would join the small group for an interaction – I was able to express feelings to my parents in a controlled environment, and they were allowed to do the same.
So I realize I am almost at 1500 words already. I could detail a lot more of the “A-Ha” moments and self-discoveries I had while in treatment, but again I will save them for another time due to time and space.
Three final experiences occurred before I was discharged in the beginning of September (I was admitted on Memorial Day, 2010). First off, I struggled mightily with certain aspects of therapy, was disciplined, became frustrated, which finally led to a moment of surrender; Secondly, I was nearly attacked by another resident, and became a leader amongst a group of Docs twice my age; Thirdly, I found myself in a relationship with a woman 11 years my elder, who was a Harvard trained physician.
My surrender experience was my first taste of a “spiritual awakening” while in recovery. Basically, my counselors told me I was still trying to control the outcome. That I was not “willing” enough to achieve sobriety. This caused this wild mustang to buck back! Eventually, I opened up my Bible, read some verses that seemed to jump from the pages to me. I realized that I could not do this without God’s help. Fell to my knees, and prayed a form of the “3rd step Prayer”, which went something like this:
“God, I offer myself to you completely. I can’t do it alone. I am lost, and I have no idea what to do in order to save myself. I am done fighting. I am done questioning. If you place something in front of me, I will simply acknowledge its presence. I don’t ask for anything except that you reveal Your Will to me, and that you give me enough strength to pursue it. Thank You. Amen“
So there was my first “Come to Jesus” moment. I’ve had several more since. Now, I was raised in a Christian home, and even went to a Christian High School, but through my years of drinking, I had long since turned my back on religion. I considered myself agnostic upon entering treatment, and up until this point, the only spiritual reading I had done was in the Eastern religions – Buddhism, Taoism. Today, I tend to incorporate teachings from all major religions, but consider myself Christian when asked.
Shortly after this incident, my course of treatment changed dramatically. I ceased fighting when I was criticized or given suggestions. I was defenseless. I also gained a tremendous amount of self-esteem and courage. In this facility, we had a “Community” meeting 3 times a week. In this meeting, we would confront our peers on their behaviors. There was 3 rounds – First, we openly confronted a “Relapsive” behavior in ourselves (lying, rule-breaking, emotional highs/lows, manipulations, etc.); the second round, we confronted a behavior we saw in another person (the philosophy on this is that the most dangerous behaviors in ourselves, we are blind to); Finally, the third round recognized a “Recovery” behavior by a peer (sort of a “cheer-me-up” portion after the initial flogging).
Well…as I said, at this point I had gained a large amount of self-esteem and courage. Needless to say, the confrontation of peers tended to be on the amusing side (or in the case of the women, inner-bickering). Finally, I decided to confront a member of the men’s community who was overtly intimidating, and manipulated the rules at everyone else’s expense. I simply stated exactly what I had seen, which brought him rushing to my face. I didn’t flinch, and he was promptly escorted off the premises.
This began the final leg of my time at treatment. I had a new level of surrender, and through this I had attained a level of leadership within the men’s community.
Ironic, when you consider that I was just a 24 year old bachelor in a community of Ivy League educated physicians.
As my time at treatment began to wind down, an attractive member of the women’s community decided to express her attraction to me. I had faced horrendous self-esteem issues up to this point in my life, and the only way for me to overcome them was with the help of alcohol. So with my new-found confidence, lack of any mood-altering behavior in almost 3 months, and the fact that she was a tall blond who was the most attractive member of the community, not to mention a Harvard physician 11 years my senior, I was helpless.
Within a week, this “secret” romance progressed to a sexual relationship. I would sneak from my apartment sometime after midnight. She didn’t have a roommate, so we would spend the night frolicking under the sheets, releasing plenty of pent-up emotions in a sweaty, carnal, secretive lust-fest.
Fond memories, to be sure, but a choice that could have cost me my license, my sobriety, and potentially my life. More on that later.
As I moved towards discharge, the “treatment team” decided that the smart thing to do would be for me to move to a “Sober-Living House”, aka “Half-way House”.
Initially, I was mortified. I was adamantly opposed.
After my “surrender” moment, I became open to the idea. Finally I became willing. So as September rolled around, it now appeared I was going to move halfway across the state instead of returning home to live with Mom and Dad.
If you remember from part 1, I began this whole journey openly unsure of whether or not I had a problem to begin with. Shocked that treatment was recommended for me. Determined to do the bare minimum of treatment required (28 days). Now, I had completed over 3 months in rehab, and was headed to another level of supervision.