True Story: Alanna

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

alannaMy drinking took off in the ’80s when I was bartending. I dabbled in other drugs, too, but it was alcohol that I couldn’t do without.

More than a decade passed before I realized I had a problem. I had quit drugs after missing my husband’s 40th birthday to snort coke, but it took another incident to make me quit drinking. I was drunk and saw a woman backing into my brand new car. I went to slam her head on the pavement when someone said to me, “Honey, that’s not your car.”

I didn’t have another drink for 13 years. At the time, I thought I was cured. What I didn’t realize was that the only thing I’d quit was drinking—and that wasn’t enough. I hadn’t quit my negative way of thinking, and I hadn’t quit trying to run away from the demons that made me drink; I hadn’t learned any coping skills. On New Year’s Eve 2010, I took a sip of Champagne, and that’s all it took to get rolling again.

It was a tough time. I was 53 and my health was starting to fail: I found out I had an enlarged heart, chronic kidney disease, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. While my husband worked, I was home alone all day, in pain. I started drinking daily, at first in the afternoon, then earlier and earlier, until I was having my first drink of the day at 7:30 a.m. I had also been prescribed OxyContin for my fibromyalgia and was taking more than I’d been prescribed. I would read the warning that alcohol might intensify the effects and think, “Yes!” I was drinking a pint of whiskey and taking eight to 10 Oxys a day. I hid the bottles from my husband and thought I was so slick. But eventually I couldn’t hide it anymore. In 2014, I was hospitalized three times for alcohol poisoning, and once for a suicide attempt. I realized I needed help and said to my husband, “I can’t do this on my own. I gotta go to rehab.” Our insurance company recommended Phoenix House’s Demeter House.

When I got there, I was terrified, ashamed, and felt like a little girl being told when to do things like get up in the morning and eat my meals. But by the end of the first week, I realized I needed the structure. For alcoholics, rules are for everyone else; I began to understand that the rules applied to me, too.

But the best thing about Demeter House was the groups. Both my counselor and the other women really made an impression on me. The counselor helped us truly deal with our feelings. She challenged us by asking us to think about why we were feeling a certain way—and then help us figure out what to do about those feelings. She had a great saying that stuck with me: “Your thoughts become your words, and your words become your actions.” So you’ve got to start with your thoughts.

The other women helped me realize that the bad things that had happened to me as a child happened to other people, too. I don’t want to talk too much about it, but there was a lot of neglect and abandonment in my childhood; let’s just say that by the age of 12, I knew what strip bars were. But as I listened to other clients’ stories, I started to open up and understand just how much I’d internalized the bad things that had happened to me. For about 30 years, every time I remembered something from my childhood that I didn’t want to think about, I would drink.

Now I know how to deal with uncomfortable feelings and change my thinking. I’ve also learned to accept things I can’t change. For example, because of my health problems, I can’t do some things that I used to love to do, like ride my motorcycle and skydive; I basically had to reinvent myself. But while you’re drinking, the only thing you can reinvent is your next drink.

I left Demeter House with the strength to reinvent myself. While there, I learned I have a penchant for cooking and helping other people. Now I cook a lot and volunteer at a women’s recovery house. I still have health problems, but now I take only what’s prescribed and let my husband handle any narcotics. I remember all the useful things I learned in group and use them to help me through the tough times.

Last month, I celebrated a year of sobriety, and I feel more a part of life than ever—like I’ve woken up from a very long sleep. Phoenix House is the best thing that ever happened to me.

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