- Friends & Family
While attending the Moments of Change conference in West Palm Beach, FL, I had the privilege to speak with Beth S. This is the story of her journey into recovery.
My name is Beth. I’m in long-term recovery. What that means for me is that I have not had any mood-altering substances since January 12, 1994. I am a much better person, wife, mother, daughter, family member, and friend as a result of not using chemicals. My drug of choice was alcohol.
I was one of those hardcore cases and denial was entrenched deeply within me. In fact, I was an addictions counselor when I bottomed out in my own alcoholism. I was working as a family therapist at a nationally known treatment center. I was doing a lecture on the first day of a family workshop and presenting to 100 family members. All of a sudden, I had this surreal experience of feeling like I was naked in front of them, like I really didn’t have any clothes on. It was bizarre. It was a breakdown, right then and there in front of all of those people. I couldn’t get my words out. I lost my train of thought. Then I just panicked and ran out of the room and locked myself in my office at the treatment center where I worked.
Finally, they were able to get in and the head of the treatment center talked to me for a while and he was very kind. I just felt like I was under stress, just the pressure of this very high profile treatment center; I had a case load of 30 clients at the time. It was a lot of stress and pressure. That was real. The additional thing was I had this horrible secret. I was living a lie. I was completely out of integrity.
The head of our treatment center worked with my therapist to help send me to treatment for my depression and anxiety, because that’s all I really could see. Underneath, I was just this ball of anxiety and I didn’t know why. It was because I didn’t want to go underneath. I wanted to stay on the surface. I didn’t want anyone to see who I really was. I just had a lot of darkness.
I got to the treatment center and there was a very astute counselor who immediately had my number (i.e. he saw the real problem immediately). He had me share my drinking history. I started drinking when I was 12 years old and I drank for fifteen years. I completed my history and it took me two days to complete– about 4 hours total.
The counselor was a wonderful man; he was very spiritual, very centered, and a man of few words. However, the words he said to me at the end of those four hours changed my life. He said, “Beth, if you had a client tell you what you just told me, what would you assess? What would you think?”
It was then that, literally, the shade came up and the light shined on the dark spot. That was a huge dark spot for me. I saw what I was. In that moment, I was literally set free. I had nothing to hide anymore. I could say I was an alcoholic. That was the first step for me. I’d been an addiction counselor for five years at that point. It was the most liberating moment of my life.
I still want to learn and grow every day. It took me a long time to heal from the shame of carrying that secret and acting out of integrity, living a lie my whole life. I really beat myself up for many years, even in my recovery, about who I was and what I had done before I was set free. I couldn’t get past that shame. That was a very challenging thing for me. It could’ve taken me back out (to drinking again), if I did not have a lot of good support around me, both clinical support and recovery support. I think it’s just so important that we surround ourselves with a solid network. It literally saved me from relapse.
I had to heal that shame. I wish I could say that it happened in the first year. I wish I could say it happened in the first five years, but it was a long, slow process for me. I finally was able, with a lot of love and support from the people around me, to learn how to love and support myself. That did not come naturally to me. I could give support. I had given it all my life… but to give it to myself? Really, it never occurred to me. It had to really creep on me through the example of others in the program.
I think being of service is really, really important. In the beginning it was about escaping my own self. It wasn’t altruistic by any means. It was a way that I didn’t have to think about myself. Then it grew into really, genuinely caring about other people.
Before, helping others had always been a way for me to alter my mood or escape myself, which was a really hard truth to accept about myself. I prefer to think of myself as this Gandhi type person, all-giving and completely selfless. But no, my giving and helping used to be a total manipulation. It had been that way my whole life and, really, well in to my recovery.
My recovery became real once I could truly give from a place of love in my heart. The program says, “act as if it is real until it becomes real. It doesn’t matter why you do what you do. Just do it. Then it will become real.”
I think a lot of people in early recovery feel like once they stop doing whatever self-destructive stuff they were doing that they’re going to become so joyous. The thing about early recovery is that it’s hard. You don’t feel particularly great a lot of the time. Recovery is really about going on faith in the beginning.
Whether you call it faith or not– you’re believing in something, believing that something is going to be better than what you were doing. You hold on to that. Maybe you hold on to other people who can echo that back to you.
It’s okay if you feel crappy in the beginning. There’s a lot to be said for getting through a day feeling crappy and not self-destructing over that. If you put enough of those days together you are going to feel better. That’s the beautiful thing about promises. Those promises are the hope of recovery. They do happen. They happen 100% of the time if you can string together small moments, which become a day, and then it’s a period of time, and lo and behold, you feel better. That does happen every single time.
We can get overwhelmed and enter freak-out mode if we take on more than what’s in front of us right at that moment. It is a really hard, hard thing to do to just be where you are now. Look where your feet are–literally and figuratively. If I thought about all the tasks and issues that are ahead of me, I would be paralyzed with fear about how am I going to handle everything. Somehow, I always get by. The only way I can and do is just to be here now. I focus on what is right in front of me today.
All I’ve got to do is this day. Sometimes I have to break it down to even smaller chunks than that, an hour at a time. In early recovery, it was a minute at a time. I’m just going to take it until noon today. I’m going to take it until dinner time today. I can do recovery that long. That was big for me. So big for me.
It is essential to find a place where we belong. The thing about the recovery movement today that is so appealing is that there’s not one way to recovery. There’s many ways to find recovery. It’s not just the old tried and true whatever.
Find a group that you belong to—a group that’s positive, encourages growth, is not destructive, but constructive, and that you feel a part of. The only way to be a part of a group is by being present that one day at a time– keep showing up, and be a part of it. Just be a presence somewhere and you will eventually belong. And take the suggestions. Take them all. That is one thing I think I did do right: I did anything that was suggested to me, because I was so broken. It literally saved me and healed me.
Today, I am most proud that my children (now teenagers) have not had to experience a mother who is altered in any way. I think that’s an example, a rare example, for young people today. And that I can be fully present for them.