The Woman in the Mirror

In the summer of 2006 my husband, three kids and I were going east to attend a family reunion. I was seeing people i hadn’t seen in decades with my arm casted to the shoulder and trying to hide my out of control alcoholism. I no longer even looked in the mirror because what i was seeing wasn’t even me.

I had always had the family reputation for being just that little bit wild and volatile. It was not a secret that in my younger years I had experimented with drugs but it was assumed that my career as a substance misuse counselor/educator indicated that those days were long behind me. Unfortunately what close family members knew was that over the years since I had been a stay at home mother my alcohol consumption had increased to epic proportions and even my husband was unaware that I was approaching a quart of vodka and a box of wine per day. My arm had been broken falling out of bed drunk. The previous February i had suffered a gastric bleed and almost died in the middle of our kitchen. That I thought I was going to hide anything about my drinking, or the state of my health, is laughable today. Also very sad. I didn’t want to drink in front of family members, I drank alone, so i hid bourbon in the garage. As i was gulping from the bottle my husband walked in. Such a look of disgust, sadness, horror, fear and disappointment all at once. He made it clear that when we got home I must got to a residential treatment program. No discussion.

I had been to many detox programs when I wanted to feel better physically, Reset my body so I could use again but at a more reasonable level. Maybe like a normal person. There were many tries to control my drinking and so many rules. The hard drugs had long since ceased to be a factor. It is true that working in the field using heroin or cocaine lost its appeal. Prescription drugs were an occasional thing but it always came back to alcohol because it was easy. It was also easy to get my husband to bend to my demands. By the summer of 2006 he had reached his limit. I was so close to death and his response was clear. “Go to rehab now and I will leave you in 90 days. Don’t go and I leave you today”. Either way this was lose/lose for me. I was going to have to either sober up enough to get a job or convince him yet again to get off my back.

Off to Rehab I went and convinced them to let me come home each night because of that broken arm. You see I could shower. Such a manipulator. I would go to a 7am AA meeting then to the treatment center and back home. For 25 days this worked and I convinced all I was swell and to let me go. That led to a 4 day run of booze and pills, being left passed out on the driveway, a neighbor calling the cops – who I then assaulted – and me begging to go back to treatment.

While in treatment I still didn’t want to get clean until my husband staged an intervention. He made it very clear, at high volume, that I “no longer brought anything to the table”. That was news to me! I thought I was the table. As far as I was concerned the world revolved around me, me needs, thoughts, feelings and timetable. For 18 years this man had adored me, and in many ways enabled my behavior, and he just wasn’t buying it anymore. I had nowhere to go, and frankly this had been going on since my first drink when I was 8, and I was just tired. Done. I have to admit I wasn’t done quietly though. I was told to go to process group, but I did that with a lot of slammed doors and swearing!!

My journey in recovery began with a lot to learn. I started using before learning long division. Or skills like telling the truth, taking responsibility for my actions, following through with commitments and living within rules. Learning to shut up and listen wasn’t easy but it was key to getting rid of my anger and sitting in rooms with people just like myself. Following a bunch of steps felt really punitive at first. Then those same steps began to feel like a special set of guidelines that I should have been given at the beginning of my life. That secret code other people had that enabled them to slide through things with ease. Once that anger lifted I was able to expand from my initial program of recovery and add in individual therapy, family therapy, exercise, nutritional counseling and a simple “recovery” job to fill my time. I did discover an underlying mental health condition which came as no big surprise. So many of us are dual diagnosed and have used drug and/or alcohol to self medicate. I also gave back to other people who were struggling like me, especially woman, and trained to work as a Peer Support Specialist. My fear that my husband and children would not forgive me, or trust me again, began to subside as the years began to add up.

Today as a woman in longterm substance and mental health recovery I haven’t felt the need to use drugs or alcohol since Sept 12 2006. I no longer work as a Peer Support Specialist but I haven’t closed that door. I do speaking engagements, continue to give back to people just like me, and do advocacy work to push for better healthcare coverage for substance use disorders and mental health. Everyone should have the benefit of the treatment options I was given. I am so very lucky to be alive after 33 years of use and I am aware of that.

If I could talk to the woman I was that summer 9 1/2 years ago i would tell her that “It will be OK. trust the process and you will like what you see in that mirror.”