Repaired Health and Relationships After Rehab Journey

‘White Knuckling’ No Way to Hold on to Sobriety

James W. had five months of sobriety, the “white-knuckle version,” he called it, when he decided to have a drink with his friends during a trip to the Ozarks. He had this covered, he thought. He could have just one. So he lied to his friends, one of the innumerable lies he’s told to them, his family and himself over the years. “The doctor said it’s OK if I have a drink every once in a while,” James told his buddies. In truth, his doctors had told him he could never touch alcohol again. “If I drank again, they said, ‘You’re a dead person. Might as well carry a shovel around with you’.”

A Trip to the Hospital

Five months earlier, James had been taken to a hospital after throwing up about eight pints of blood during a vacation in Florida. It was an annual sojourn he made with his friends, but this trip was cut short by James’s illness. He and his buddies made a bee-line to get him back home to St. Louis. “We would pull over at gas stations and I would go behind a dumpster and vomit,” James said. “I would try to hydrate myself because I was so dehydrated, but then just throw up.” When James arrived in the ER, his eyes and skin were jaundiced with his belly fully distended. The doctors told him he’d probably need a liver transplant and that he needed to stay sober to qualify. He took that seriously…for a while. “After that, I was sober for about five months, but without a program,” he said. “You’re white-knuckling it. You’re not picking up a drink. But without seeing a professional about underlying issues, I was just a dry drunk. I was grumpier than ever. I just lived to cross off the day on the calendar and be proud of that day.” In the Ozarks, James’s days as a “dry drunk” came to an end. His pride in maintaining his sobriety was overcome by his desire for one more drink, which became two, then three. His drinking would continue beyond his trip to the mountains and for the next year. All along, James was receiving regular signals that his doctor’s bleak warning about his alcoholism was not mere melodrama. On multiple occasions, he was experiencing frightful bleeds from bursting veins in his esophagus. It is an often life-threatening condition known as “esophageal varices”, common among people with advanced liver disease. “I probably had four to five trips to the hospital with the same situation,” he said. Yet he kept drinking, despite the bleeding and other complications from his failing liver. While his body was on the verge of being “totaled” by alcohol, it was a fender-bender that landed James in drug rehab. The accident occurred when there were warrants out for his arrest. He had accumulated five DWIs over the years and was driving on a revoked license. Now in jail, he reached out to his mother for help—the only person left for him to turn to.

Turning Life Around at Drug Rehab

“Here I am, a 43-year-old adult talking to his mom like he’s a teenager. ‘Bail me out of jail, bail me out of jail,’” he said. But this time, his pleas fell on deaf ears. He shared that two other people stepped in to get involved: a woman named Patricia Meyers, the Executive Director of Alumni and Client Services at Promises Treatment Centers, and an interventionist. “They told my mom not to bail me out of jail until I had a ticket to rehab,” James said. And she didn’t. The judge then told him that he needed to go to treatment for a month or face incarceration. “Those were the circumstances that got me kicking and screaming the whole way to Promises, completely unwilling, oblivious to how close I was to death.” Today, James is now almost 18 months sober. He spent a full 60 days at Promises and then seven months in sober living. He says he was able to gain and maintain his sobriety “by surrendering, by just giving in to the program and deciding that this is what you need to do.” In short, just “following the principles.” “I also learned that there are people who have worse stories than mine and there are people with the same story as me. We can all lean on each other. You’re not alone.”

Looking Back

By the time James began his stay at Promises, his mother was at her wit’s end. (He had lost the support of his wife years earlier. She divorced him in 2009.) When he had moved in with her after the divorce, he took up drinking from airplane liquor bottles in an effort to convince himself that he wasn’t really drinking that much. “Alcoholics are experts at fooling themselves and others—or at least they think they are”, he said. James would sneak out of the house, go out to his car, and drink from the little bottles he’d stashed there. “I’d drink like three of them and smoke a cigarette and come back in,” he said. “Then I’d go to the bathroom and use mouthwash and wash my hands. That was a pattern. I would rationalize it that they were just little airplane shots. They’re just little shots. It’s not a big bottle. It’s not a fifth of a bottle.” “You get so far off from reality,” he said. “You justify anything. I have lied to my mother, cheated her, manipulated every angle. I was so sick.” She just couldn’t take anymore and sent him a letter that knocked him back on his heels. “James, I cannot talk to you,” his mother wrote to him in jail. “I am done. I buried my brother because he had cancer. I buried my sister because she had cancer. I buried my mother and father due to old age, and I can’t bear to bury my son. I can’t talk to you now.”

A Return to Health

After his two months at Promises, James wasn’t big on the idea of sober living. He didn’t need it, or so he told the staff. But it was his mother, now back in his life, who was able to persuade him to see the situation otherwise. “What is six months out of your life?” she asked he. “It’s a drop in the bucket. And it will give you an advantage.” James remembers that he was “very angry”. But he did it and he’s never doubted that decision. In fact, he’s now working part-time at a sober living facility. His health has improved dramatically. His liver that used to function at 35% during his hospitalization is now functioning at about 93%. He works out three times a week and has lost 40 pounds. ‘I have a life again,” James says. “I’ve been focused on my program so much and multiple commitments and multiple meetings. And I can’t tell you how priceless the Promises Alumni Association is to me and going up to visit Promises Malibu. I probably speak there on a panel once a month and every Wednesday, I’m at the alumni meeting. I volunteer a ton of time. My life has purpose again.” But perhaps the biggest plus in James’s new life is that he’s regained people’s trust. It wasn’t that long ago when his best friend had a “tough conversation” with him, telling James that he was no longer comfortable with him being the godparent of his children. “Then on my last visit home, he just had one look at me and listened to how I spoke and he told me I could be a godparent again to his children. The pieces of the puzzle have all yet to be put in place, but every day, things are just working out.”

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