Making it through detox and rehab are major accomplishments, but transitioning back into the real…
Detours Didn’t Stop This Addiction Recovery Journey
When Abby B. started drinking at age 13, it was just a way to hang out with friends and have fun.
“But that quickly turned into not fun,” the California native said. “By the time I was 14 or 15, I knew that alcohol affected me differently. I knew I had a problem. And I started getting into drugs, doing a lot of coke and ecstasy.”
By age 18, “I had just had it,” she said. “I was physically, mentally, emotionally done. I remember waking up one morning and looking in the mirror and thinking, Who is this girl?”
That day, she turned to her mother for help and soon found herself at Promises Young Adult inpatient rehab in West Los Angeles, “and it was one of the best experiences of my life,” the now 25-year-old said. “I loved it.”
She wasn’t sure what to expect from addiction treatment, and the reality came as a welcome surprise. “I didn’t know I was going to learn all this stuff about myself. I didn’t know I was going to learn how to communicate with people and have healthy relationships and really look inward at myself and why I use and why I do the things that I do,” she said. “I came to treatment to stop drinking and stop doing drugs, and that was my only goal. And what I’ve gotten is so much more than that.”
The contrast between her lowest point and her life now, for example, is stark, she said. “I was just so lonely before. I was going to sleep at night and just hoping I didn’t wake up in the morning. It was like every day was a struggle to live. And now I wake up and I’m excited for the day.”
Getting from there to here, however, hasn’t been a straight line. Six months after leaving that first rehab stay, Abby briefly relapsed. “Someone offered me some coke,” she remembers, “and I was off and running.”
But she quickly returned to the program, spent a year in sober living, and eventually found herself celebrating five years of sobriety. Her past troubles seemed conquered, but there were warning signs, she realizes now.
“I had been clean for a long time and felt good and I was kind of, ‘Oh, I don’t need AA anymore. I don’t want to be involved with that. I have a job and a house and a boyfriend. Everything’s good.’ But I was so spiritually bankrupt the last year of my sobriety because I wasn’t applying the tools and principals I’d learned to my life.”
Then came a trip to Thailand, “and I found myself in a room full of people with a lot of drugs and alcohol, and I was just off again.”
She struggled for four months, “and I was tricking myself because I was taking prescriptions that weren’t prescribed to me, but in my head I was saying, ‘Oh, Xanax, Adderall — these are all things that a doctor gives you. I can take these and it’s OK. And alcohol is acceptable. I’m just going to stick to these.’ And it ended up being really scary because I was trying to cut back by myself, and I was getting really sick.”
Finally, she reached out to a friend to ask if they knew a place she could detox “and they immediately called my mom.” The next day, Abby was back at Promises.
A Newcomer Again
At first, it was tough to come back, she said — tough to accept that years of sobriety could be overthrown in a moment. But as statistics make clear, relapse is not only possible for those with substance use disorders, it’s likely. The relapse rate for addiction is similar, in fact, to the relapse rates for other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, which also have physiological and behavioral aspects, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains. Rather than a sign of failure, relapse simply means there’s more healing to be done.
For those who find themselves dealing with their own relapses, Abby has this advice: “I would tell them don’t beat themselves up over it. I was so hard on myself. I thought everyone would judge me. Even when I see people at meetings and they ask me how much time [in sobriety] I have. I say, ‘Oh, I have 30 days — but I had five years.’ I could just never leave it at that point, that I’m a newcomer again. But the thing is, the more I shared about it, and the more honest and open I was, the more I could see that so many people have the same experiences that I do.”
There were also pluses to being a veteran of rehab, Abby found. “All those fears and feelings I had coming in the first time I didn’t necessarily have this time because I knew that I could get sober. I knew I could stay sober. I just needed help getting back on my feet.”
She also had the benefit of understanding that life without drugs or alcohol means richer experiences, not diminished ones. “When you’re newly sober, you have these thoughts like, ‘I’m never going to have fun again. Life is going to be boring. What am I going to do?’ The truth is — I can probably speak on behalf of everyone — we weren’t having fun when we were getting f—— up. Most of the time, we were probably just sitting in our rooms getting high. It wasn’t like we were out living.”
These days, Abby stays closely connected to Promises alumni network, which hosts an ongoing assortment of events, including softball tournaments, movie nights, sushi lunches, hiking, sailing, barbecues, beach bonfires and more, as well as regular meetings. “Every day there’s something going on. And I think that’s the most important thing — the community, especially in early recovery. That’s such a huge part of what I’ve gotten out of this. I’m constantly surrounded by strong people in recovery and the staff, keeping everyone connected.”
She also continues the work of better understanding herself and the impulses that led her to turn to drugs and alcohol. “I’ve always constantly searched for some external thing to fill this hole I have in myself,” she explained. “The minute the drugs and alcohol are gone, it’s the men, the shopping, the food or lack of food or exercise — I always want something that’s going to make me feel different than my current state.”
Among the most valuable insights she’s come to learn, she said, is that those distressing sensations can be managed or simply waited out, and that running from herself gets her nowhere.
“Feelings are temporary, whether you’re feeling happy or you’re feeling sad. And what I’m feeling today might be completely different from what I’m feeling tomorrow. I just try to shift my perspective to a more positive space and keep in mind that all these experiences that we have are going to make us better able to help someone else later who is going through the same thing.”
And to those fellow travelers at the start of their own recovery journey, Abby offers these words of encouragement: “I know it’s so hard to see that life is going to get better when you’re in your addiction because it’s so small and it’s so dark and it’s so scary and it’s all you know and all your friends use and you’re in this little bubble and you don’t know how you’re going to talk to people and how you’re going to function and how you’re going to go to work and how you are going to live a sober life because it’s so foreign to you. But it happens,” she said, “and it’s wonderful.”
By Kendal Patterson
Follow Kendal on Twitter @kendalpatterson