The walls came crashing down one morning after an evening that I shouldn’t necessarily be alive to share about. What started out as a normal, casual evening celebrating a friends engagement turned into a nightmare. I was triggered by an emotion, (more like 10,000 emotions), that led me to consuming a dangerous amount of alcohol and prescription medications - plural. There was no conscious decision to do so, I didn’t set out to be reckless that night. Nevertheless, my emotions led me to a near-death place. God kept me around for some reason, maybe for this very reason. It was my rock bottom. And it felt like the most excruciatingly painful day -- the darkest day -- that I’d ever have.
Funny how God works though; He’s full of paradoxes. That very dark day turned out to be the very brightest and best day. Coming to the end of your rope is excruciatingly painful, but oh so beautiful. That’s what happens right before God’s about to do big things. And that rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I began to rebuild my life on.
There was no tap-dancing around it anymore, no more facade to uphold. My addiction was as clear as day, and roaring louder than ever before. For so long, I had been a little fragile porcelain doll set up on a very high shelf, just waiting to crash. And crash, I did. I knew at that moment, it was time to ask for help.
I felt such a sweet sense of relief. But I wasn’t the only one who felt relief, my loved ones did as well. For so long, none of us were able to put a finger on what exactly was going on inside of me, and now we were able to identify this ugly thing as addiction. I didn't know what I was in for, I didn't even know what recovery was, all I knew is that it was an end to silently struggling. I could speak now, I could breathe. And the love that poured in from my family and friends became the little lifeboat that carried me into recovery.
We all have a team in life, whether we’re aware of it or not. I call my closest loved ones ‘Team Caroline,’ and I trust my team when I don't trust myself. I was at a place in life where I needed someone to tell me what to do. I was ready and willing, but I needed someone to make the decision for me. Tell me what to do and I'll do it.
The decision was clear, I needed to go to treatment. Treatment, rehab, whatever you prefer to call it. I used to insist on calling it treatment, because, to me, rehab had all this shameful stigma and God forbid anyone knew I went to rehab. I thank God every day that He’s changed my heart on such matters: I cannot afford to care about such details, about what people will think of me in life. What freedom there is in that.
It was as if God was waiting for me to finally give up, raise my open hands, and say "I cannot do this on my own anymore and I’m all out of ideas, I don’t know what to do; Can you please do this for me?" Once I did that, God started making moves, and fast. At that time, my sister worked for a recovery organization, and she had resources upon resources for my fearful and confused family. She was able to make a few phone calls, and before we knew it, we had a list of top treatment centers that had an open bed for me.
It was as if God was waiting for was for me to finally give up, raise my open hands, and say "I cannot do this on my own anymore... Can you please do this for me?”
But first, I had to submit an application to the treatment centers and then be interviewed, which I found kind of funny. Do I need to be a certain level of screwed up to be admitted? Were they going to evaluate whether or not I was desperate enough? Would they deem me a 7 on a scale of 10 of messed up and in trouble?
Nonetheless, I was accepted. And getting accepted into rehab brought me to tears like no other acceptance letter I could have ever received. I remember where I was when the call came. My sister, boyfriend, and I were grabbing a late brunch at one of my favorite Austin diners. After a lengthy wait, we were seated. As we sat there perusing over the menu, quietly skipping over the bottomless brunch drinks, my phone rang. I looked at my sister and boyfriend, and all of our eyes got big, listening to the phone ring for a second as if time had stopped, followed by a hurried, “Answer it! Answer it!"
I stepped outside. They told me that I was accepted, that help was on the way. I ran inside with teary eyes and the two sprung out of their seats and hugged me, jumping up and down, tears in their eyes, making a partial scene in the diner. But I didn't care. In that moment I knew that everything was going to be alright.
After brunch, my sister took me shopping. Apparently there's a dress code at some rehab centers, and no way was my sister going to let me go away for six weeks without being properly prepared. We laughed and called the look, "rehab chic," a mix of leggings, casual tees and cozy sweaters.
The evening before I went to rehab, we had a celebratory dinner. That may sound strange, given the circumstances. And it was a little bit strange. But as a family, we chose to rejoice over the fact that I was at the end of my rope, and it was an end to an era. I still have the pictures that were taken that evening, and despite our fears and confusion at the time, the joy we had was evident.
Twenty-four hours later, I was on a plane accompanied by my Dad off to North Carolina where I would spend the next six weeks receiving intensive treatment for my addiction.
I was so full of mixed emotions that day, with absolutely no idea what to expect. I was so hopeful, but so unbelievably fearful, too. So what did I do? I headed straight for the airport wine bar where I managed to drink two glasses of wine ever so casually in my rehab-chic outfit, talking on the phone with a friend, as if I didn't have a care in the world. Underneath the rehab chic, I was scared out of my mind, and I couldn't even imagine getting on the plane without being slightly tipsy.
During the full day of traveling, I consumed a lot of wine, and I was sneaky about most of it. I was in the business of numbing the fears and doubts I had about this new stage I was entering into. I even managed to get in a cab from our hotel at 1:00am in Charlotte to head over to the only corner store open to buy a bottle of wine, because even after eight glasses, I couldn’t fall asleep. But no matter how much I drank, the loneliness and fear still wouldn't go away. I ended up with my head in the toilet, tears streaming down my face as my little body nearly convulsed as it tried to get every ounce of alcohol out of my system.
I managed to get a little sleep that night, and we woke up the next morning and drove out to the beautiful mountains of North Carolina where the rehab center was tucked away quietly. I hugged my Dad around the neck and said goodbye, feeling like a child all over again, wishing he could do the work for me. But I knew it was me time, go time.
Despite three whirlwind days of being humbled beyond belief, I still managed to have my pride partially in tact. So, when they sent me to the detox unit on my first day in rehab, I looked at them with a face of confusion - Who? Me? I’m not an alcoholic. You fools don’t know what you’re talking about. I just drink wine, the classy shit. Reason number 1,203,325 that I wasn’t an alcoholic or addict: I didn’t have shakes. I didn’t have withdrawals. I never drank in the morning or afternoon. I never drank on the job. I never fell over at bars. Never got a DWI. Never touched a hard drug in my life. And I didn’t experience cravings.
But shakes or not, it was my first night in eight years that I had slept without a chemical in my body. I slept peacefully and hard for the next six weeks. It felt so out of this world good to finally start treating my body with the care that it deserved. It was as if my body was making up for all of the lost time, and I reveled at the sweetness of being able to remember what I read the night before when I woke up in the morning. However, It was still not easy getting up; my body was so out of whack coming off of sleeping medication that my mornings were colored with grogginess, dizziness, and sometimes even a minor fainting spell. But I was grateful. Anything beat what it felt like before.
While in treatment, I worked hard. I cried a lot. I prayed a lot. I slept a lot. I got hugged a lot. And I learned more about myself than ever in my life before. We drudged up the past and we waded knee deep in it, only to find healing. I say ‘we’ because I did not do this alone, and people lovingly and gently walked with me through it. Struggling silently and alone was no longer an option in recovery. I learned the way of acceptance and forgiveness -- self-acceptance and self-forgiveness being of first order. And I learned that if I ever wanted a shot at a full, rich life, it was going to have to happen without alcohol and Ambien.
That’s a no brainer, right? But that thought did not come easy to me. I still have to accept it on a daily basis.
When I returned to the real world, to be quite honest with you, I didn’t know what the hell to do with myself. I suddenly felt the heavy weight and stigma of the badge I carried on me - so unbearably misunderstood. How will I explain myself to the world? To my friends? Everything felt different, and in a way, everything was different, because I was different. It was now clear to me that my addiction affected every single part of my life, and my recovery and sobriety affected every aspect of my life, too. I was still defrosting from all the time I had numbed emotions and not dealt with them. I was starting to feel some things for the first time, just without a glass of wine to take the edge off, which makes the defrosting very painful.
Everything around me became a trigger to drink. Every song on the radio, every commercial, every grocery store, every vacation, every weekend, every engagement, every brunch, every movie theater, every restaurant, every football game, every wedding ALL made me feel the sting that I no longer could partake and drink like the rest of the people around me.
Relapse is a part of my story, but it doesn’t have to be a part of yours.
When I came back from treatment, I thought I had recovered. No doubt I was stronger, but I had to learn the hard way that I will never be invincible when it comes to that first drink, and I will always be recovering. They say addiction is a progressive disease, that it only gets worse. A couple of times in the past year, I have put that theory to the test. The theory passed in flying colors: Every time I picked up a drink again, it only got worse, darker, more hopeless and the consequences and hurts deeper. I picked up my shovel and dug to an even deeper rock bottom. Relapse is a part of my story, but it doesn’t have to be a part of yours.
After falling though, I got back up. And I’m told that even if you fall, if you get back up, then it’s not failure. All of that said, I got through it one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time. I lived off of the love and peace I found in the rooms of AA, where I found acceptance and felt acceptance. Although the people in the rooms were once strangers to me, worlds apart, they became my family. And they loved me when I couldn’t love myself, and they spoke truth to me and reminded me daily: It gets better. I wouldn’t believe them if I hadn’t seen it for myself in the rooms of AA: the blind restored to sight, and the lame picking up their mats and walking again.
Yes. It gets better. And it is getting better. I cling to this, because today it is still hard. I still miss drinking, I still long for my old social life. I still can’t imagine forever without it. But here’s the thing: I don’t have to. All I have to do is get through today, one day at a time. Sometimes it feels like a long 24 hours, but if I’m able to abandon myself entirely to God, I can get through it. And I believe with every fiber of my being that the life ahead of me is so very good.
My words and how I’ve chosen to communicate myself may sound smooth and pretty, but this journey has been anything but that. My addiction hurt, and it nearly killed me. But it’s important for me to say that I was not the only one hurt by it. The ones that loved me hardest through it all are also the ones that have been hurt by it the most. The effects of addiction reach far beyond the addict. And I’m eternally grateful to those who have traveled this uphill road with me, in particular, my mom, dad and sister.
Today, instead of walking around with the stigma of addiction sewn on like a scarlet letter, I proudly wear my badge of recovery with honor, knowing that I’ve chosen a courageous and narrow path - the path that saved my life.
Today, instead of walking around with the stigma of addiction sewn on like a scarlet letter, I proudly wear my badge of recovery with honor, knowing that I’ve chosen a courageous and narrow path - the path that saved my life. I still have to watch diligently for shame creeping in, because I know when it does, I’m game over. I gratefully sit in the rooms of AA on Friday and Saturday nights, and manage to do so without throwing a massive, raging pity party. Why? Because I am one of the luckiest.
I am gratefully sober today. I laugh more purely. I connect with people and the world around me in a deeper and more meaningful way. I have a level of compassion and empathy I never thought possible. I fall asleep without chemicals and I wake up without hangovers (!!!). I am at ease in my own skin and I like who I see in the mirror. Life is still life - unpredictable and often not fair - it is not particularly rose-colored now that I’m in recovery, I just now know how to accept life on life’s terms. By relying on God, He enables me to match calamity with serenity.
I tried to think of a clever, compelling way to end my story, but then I remember how I started out my story. I declared that there was no lovely bow to tie around it at the end, because I’m still in the middle, and I am still learning.
I once heard that we all need to write the story that we need to read. Well, I’m writing mine. And please, please, don’t be afraid to write yours, too.
We were never meant to walk this road alone. If you have questions about Caroline's journey to recovery or your own, please comment below. She would love to hear from you.
(Photo source: Pexels.com)