- Friends & Family
I call myself a person in long-term recovery and at the moment I have not taken a drink since November 1, 2014. That said, it has been a ten-year journey to get to that. For me, I always liked alcohol. There was always a comfort and escape and fun when it came to drinking. From a very early point, even after my first drink I thought “this is for me. I love it.” I felt so safe and it filled a void in me when I started having those drinks. But I started pretty late. I didn’t start until 17, which is late by most of our standards. I had been playing soccer my whole life and was an avid soccer player and even went and got my first gym membership when I was fourteen with my babysitting money because I needed to train during off-season.
I was always drawn to fitness. I was also drawn to music and found comfort in playing music.
I went to a very competitive high school and it became less about playing the sport or playing the instrument as it was about winning the competition or making it to State or beating out other people.
There was a lot of pressure. When I found alcohol, it took all of that away. I went from being an avid musician and soccer player to not even trying out for the soccer team my senior year.
I did still play music and that took precedence. I studied jazz tenor saxophone for a long time and I went to and exceptionally good high school that provided terrific programming for that.
However, when I went off to college I completely dropped music and soccer. I did buy a gym membership, but that was more for vanity reasons than anything else. I was terrified of gaining weight and the “Freshman Fifteen” was kind of looming, but I loved to drink. So, I became what I call a “drunkorexic” which is a term that is actually catching on. I wouldn’t eat all day and would restrict my calories. I would go to a spin class, go home and get ready, wouldn’t eat dinner and then would go out and drink. That just wreaks havoc on your system and can actually help quicken the dependency. Ironically, I studied biochemistry and molecular biology in college but I never made the connection that I was messing up my own biochemistry.
It progressively got worse. When I was drunk, I would black out or pass out, or I would even binge eat. I’d eat a whole pizza or wake up with chips-in-my-bed kind of thing.I had a real terrible relationship between food, alcohol and my body. Despite this, I did graduate. In college, I was still able to kind of manage it. I would stop for a few days to study or cram for finals. It wasn’t too bad at that point.
After college, I had a boyfriend who introduced me to cocaine. I never thought I was a person who would get into drugs. I always stayed away from them and thought I was “smarter than that.” Cocaine was amazing because I didn’t have be to “drunkorexic” anymore. It took care of that for me. I thought “I don’t have to work out any more and I automatically won’t eat and I’ll get skinny! How great!” That unhealthy relationship just got worse and worse and worse. The bio chemistry got worse and worse and all of this was going on in my brain. I quickly saw this was ruining my life. I couldn’t show up to work on time anymore. Within a year I pretty much became a daily cocaine user. I thought, “OK cocaine is destroying my life. I’ll stop doing that, but I don’t need to stop drinking. I’ll be ok.” I ended up quitting my job and moved back in with my mother.
I also ended up with a severe depression. Cocaine just elevates certain neurotransmitters so when you take it away you have no new level of normal. I couldn’t feel normal again. I was horribly depressed and my solution to that was to drink around-the-clock. I self-medicated with a bottle of vodka every day and got to a point where I had a grand mal seizure. I was on several different kinds of anti-depressants because I was seeing a psychiatrist but wasn’t really telling him what I was doing. He didn’t investigate any further and just kept prescribing one anti-depressant after another, and imagine that, none of them are working!
It got to the point that one night I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t have any vodka left and I was wondering if the three bottles of anti-depressants would work enough to kill me…if I just swallowed them all. I started swallowing a few and then I just broke down. I realized I couldn’t live like that anymore.
My dad is very Type-A and said, “OK, so what is the best-of-the best for treatment? You’re going to go to the best, stay for 30 days, you’re going to get an ‘A’, you’re going to graduate and then you’ll be ok!” That was the family mentality. So that’s what I did. I checked into my first detox and went to Betty Ford, or Camp Betty as I fondly call it.
My experience there was a good experience. I will say there are two things I look back on while there: 1) the girls I was able to make connections with and be friends with, that peer-to-peer experience. I remember those girls. 2) I don’t remember any of my counselors and I remember the lady that ran the fitness program. Her name was Kris and she was a spitfire. She had us in the pool and she had us doing workouts. That was the highlight of my day and when I could feel. I have always liked that part of my life and have always been drawn to it. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, that was the part that reached me and was very helpful.
After Betty Ford, they recommended aftercare. They shipped me off to a place for 30 more days and it was “the next step.” We would go to meetings and things like that, but for the most part, we were locked up in this little house all the time. There was nothing to do. We had no fitness, no outside therapies that were brought in and we weren’t taken out to do anything in the community. We sat around the courtyard all day, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and eating cookies. The trajectory I had been on after Betty Ford kind of went down after that and then I wound up in a Sober Living/ IOP where I went to groups at night. The main goal was for me to get a job and integrated back into the real world. I had to get a “get well” job versus a “big girl” job. That was really hard for me.
I had gotten my “get well” job as a waitress because that is what I had done before. I was around alcohol all the time. I felt very lonely and I still carried a lot of shame about the fact that I had become this “horrible person” and I drank and I’m in recovery. I didn’t tell anybody outside of my treatment center what I was going through or that I chose not to drink and really couldn’t drink.
When I did relapse, it wasn’t by going out with a bunch of coworkers and having fun. It was after work that I secretly went to the liquor store and got a couple of drinks and went and drank them by myself. After a couple of months of trying to figure all of this out with a counselor, I worked on figuring out what I could do for work. A job that would provide a safe environment, be something I could enjoy and still fit in this “get well” job idea.
I was going to a gym at the time and whenever I was doing cardio I would look at the people who worked there and always thought that would be a cool thing to do. I decided to apply at the gym and I got a job as Membership Sales Counselor. I started working there and was creating healthier habits for myself and managed to get myself off antidepressants. Exercise was a big part of helping me accomplish this and I stayed there for 6 1/2 – 7 years.
For the first two years, I rode my bike everywhere because I had lost my license after my grand mal seizure. I always thought the job was temporary until I was ready to go back and get a “big girl” job. After about a year and a half they kept trying to promote me and I would tell them that I wasn’t going to be there long and I was going to keep riding my bike and I wouldn’t be able to get to another gym. Typically, when someone was promoted they would move to another gym. Finally, I realized, I wasn’t going anywhere. I liked what I was doing and I was good at it. So, I agreed to a promotion. Eventually, I learned that there were buses and that I didn’t HAVE to ride a bike to work! Although the bus I was taking didn’t run on the weekends and I was weekend manager, the experience was really character-building. I had to get on my bike and ride eight miles to work and eight miles home. I found a lot of strength in the things that I was doing in my recovery.
Along with these actions of being able to move forward in life and learn about fitness, I was still having issues with over-training and binge eating early in my recovery. I was drinking gallons of coffee. I still wasn’t quite healthy and perpetuated some insomnia and wishful thinking about alcohol and things like that. I became a certified personal trainer and had been a client of personal trainers in trying to get better at my job. I really liked that one-on-one relationship that forms between trainer and client. I felt like I had something to give people. At the same time, I pursued a holistic health practitioner certification through The Institute of Integrative Nutrition online. Because nutrition has always been of interest to me, especially with my background in biochemistry, it was always my favorite part.
In that process, I learned A LOT. I learned a lot about balance. In that school, they taught me about balancing mind, body, spirit and the true mind, body, spirit connection. They taught me about stress management, coping skills and self-care. These were things I never learned about in treatment and self-care is so critical. I learned about bio individuality, which is that no one process works for everybody. No one diet works for everybody. That started to make me think that other things are like that to….like recovery doesn’t have to look the same for everybody.
I ended up changing jobs and moved on to work for a group fitness program called Orange Theory Fitness. I had the opportunity to open three locations for them and then became a Regional Manager for OTF. What I found in the group fitness places that was very different than the gym setting was there was a strong sense of community. People were bonding and encouraging each other. People were accomplishing things they never thought they could achieve before.
That also made me stop to think and to watch, observe and see people create friendships. In the back of my mind I thought, “How do I give this to people in recovery?” I thought back to what had been missing for me in my early recovery. I wish I could help others find the mind, body, spirit connection. I still wasn’t clear whether I would go through the fitness arena, the holistic nutrition arena or if I would pioneer something myself or if I would go work for somebody who was doing something similar. I didn’t what it was going to look like but I did know I had to go find something.
Enter…..Phoenix Multisport (now known as The Phoenix) I saw a job posting for a non-profit. It looked like recovery fitness. I applied for the job and a few months later I started working for The Phoenix.
The Phoenix is a sober, active community. What that means is we have fitness programming, outdoor activities and social events for people who are in recovery and anyone with 48 hours or more of sobriety can come work out for free. That is a huge piece that takes away that barrier to access fitness. Fitness is so critical.
It’s amazing to see someone come in who has never lifted a barbell before and then they look and see someone next to them doing it so they do it and then the next thing you know they’re lifting it over their head. To see that self-confidence build is priceless. Then the confidence starts to bleed into other areas of life. The social connections that are created within this community are incredible. We’re connecting and talking peer-to-peer. People are talking about goals and achievement and not talking about the bad stuff that happened in active addiction. They are making progress and positive changes.
Through my journey there were so many times when I struggled with self-confidence and feeling like I wasn’t good enough or I didn’t know enough to help other people. What I found is that I DO know enough and I AM capable of helping other people and that we’re stronger together. I realized I can’t do it alone. I found social connections and it has been so huge for me.
How has your recovery journey impacted the relationship with your family and their understanding substance use disorder?
I love that question because I recently came to the realization that when I was in early recovery they provided financial support but they were also trying to just meddle with everything that I was doing. They felt they needed to control things. As I realized my path had to be my own, my family seemed to realize that at the same time. They would provide support and let me know they were there for me but they also just kind of stepped back and trusted me to find my own path. I believe that trust in me also helped me truly find recovery.