Recovery: A Journey, Not a Destination

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    Here's a cautionary tale of the lessons learned from a relapse that occurred more than two decades after this nurse achieved sobriety. Though the means were different, the motive for violating abstinence was very much the same as it was back in my drinking days.....and it produced the same sorry results.

    I used to be so proud of my sobriety.

    Every year that I stayed away from alcohol was a cause for celebration. New Year's Eve of 1991 was the last time I'd taken a drink, and as the years passed I became more and more confident that I would go through the rest of my life without ever taking another. Eventually, I reached ten years of sobriety.......then fifteen.......then twenty.

    In fact, I made it all the way to 21 years, eight months, and twenty-nine days before disaster struck. I'd been going through something of an existential crisis for quite some time and my life was much like a bucket of water which needed only one. more. drop. to overflow. That drop came one night when I went on Facebook and saw that my sister had made a post denouncing me as a selfish, weak-willed, and mentally unstable woman who'd "put her away" in an assisted living facility because I refused to take care of her anymore.

    To say that I was devastated would be the understatement of the year. The only thing I could think of was the pain and how badly I wanted not to feel. And there was only one way to accomplish that: the bottle of Ativan I'd just had refilled a few days before. We didn't have any liquor in the house---very rarely does my husband have a wine cooler---but believe me, I'd have consumed it all if there had been. I didn't care that I was approaching 22 years of perfect abstinence.....all I wanted was to be numb, and the small handful of pills did their job swiftly. I didn't wake up for 15 hours.

    What I didn't know at the time was that my husband stayed up all night and half the day to be sure I didn't stop breathing. I didn't know that he called the kids and told them what I'd done. All I knew when I came to was that I'd thrown away over two decades of hard work, and over something utterly stupid to boot. And what I couldn't figure out was what in the world had possessed me to do something so senseless, when I'd lived through much worse during those twenty-plus years?

    I can't even begin to describe how disappointed I was in myself in the wake of this incident; the self-recrimination was so intense that I gave the pills to my husband for safekeeping because I feared I would do it again. As much as I didn't want to scare my family, the craving for oblivion had come roaring back, stronger than ever, and I knew I could never trust myself to have such a handy weapon in my possession.

    The one thing I did right in all of this was seeking absolution from both my priest and my psychiatrist; and in giving it, both men said pretty much the same thing: no matter how many years of recovery I had under my belt, I would always be vulnerable to relapse if I allowed my metaphorical bucket to get too full. "You just broke," said my doctor, who admitted he was disappointed for me, not in me, because he knew how proud I'd been of my longstanding sobriety. "It happens even to the strongest of us, and you are one of the strongest people I know. But now you've got to forgive yourself and move on."

    It took awhile longer for my heart to accept what my mind already knew, but eventually I was able to stop the self-flagellation and begin working on recovery in earnest. As it turned out, I didn't really have to start from scratch as I'd feared; the lessons learned during my first sober period were still there to draw from. But what these events taught me was that recovery isn't so much a destination as it is a journey; there really is no "there" there. I'd thought I was "there", and somewhere along the line I had relaxed my vigilance. The fact that it was pills and not alcohol this time made no difference whatsover---the motive was the same, and so were the results.

    Every day we addicts and alcoholics live, we have to make a conscious choice to stay clean and sober. After all those years of abstinence I'd forgotten this most basic of principles, and that's where I went so terribly wrong. Now when I look in the mirror each morning, I say something along the lines of "Today, I'm not going to drink or use". It reminds me that I am, and will ALWAYS be one drink or one extra pill away from disaster. And I no longer assume that I can stay sober on the strength of my past.

    Today, I have six months and five days of sobriety going forward. I make no guarantees about tomorrow anymore. This journey really is one day at a time......sometimes it's only one crisis at a time, one hour at a time, one white-knuckled minute at a time. And we needn't be in a rush to get to our destination. That will come soon enough.
    Last edit by Joe V on Jan 24, '17
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    About VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN Guide

    Joined: Sep '02; Posts: 26,920; Likes: 44,519
    RN and blogger extraordinaire; from OR , US
    Specialty: 20 year(s) of experience in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych

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  3. by   brandy1017
    I'm glad you're ok and God and the angels were at your side and protected you when you did something so rash. I'm sure you felt tormented and were trying to find relief. You did the right thing to give your husband your meds for safekeeping to make sure you don't OD again. Forgive yourself and continue your journey and seek out the people and help you need to stay well!
  4. by   sapphire18
    ((Hugs)) thank you for sharing, continue to be one of the strongest people I know...*one day at a time*
  5. by   Twoyearnurse
    What a beautiful story. It can at times be such an exhausting journey. The great news is that now you get to be a shining example to us about how to get back up when we knock ourselves down. You are amazing
  6. by   LisalaRN99
    Thank you for your story. I have 25 days sober today. I relapsed months ago after 3 years sober, and never told anyone. I never drank on the job. I never stole any drugs. I lied to my sponsor and friends in AA. Alcohol was my demon. I drank every day and all day on my days off from work. It was a lonely, pitiful life that nobody knew about. Until the guilt, shame, and remorse drove me to suicide.

    I survived and endured further humiliation of having to be brought into my own ER and cared for in my own hospital. Although my confidentiality was well protected from the general public at work, I knew they knew. My ego was deflated at last.

    I am still on medical leave and hope to return to work before too much longer. I've endured medication adjustments and adverse reactions. As a psychiatric nurse (yeah, a psychiatric nurse!) I have a whole new appreciation for what our patients go through. I believe I was meant to experience this so that I could be a better nurse and a better person.

    I have truly learned that recovery is a journey and not a destination and there is nothing more important than my sobriety!
  7. by   Ted
    It is an honor to read your article. . . to read your very personal story. It is inspiring. It is also a HUGE reality check to the concept of living "One Day at a Time." One that I needed to read. Thank you for sharing.
  8. by   BCgradnurse
    Thank you for sharing your story, your humanity, and your strength. I admire you deeply.
  9. by   sharpeimom
    Thank you for sharing your store with us at AN. We appreciate and admire you for not just giving up. You were brave and committed enough to start all over again.

    Wish the icons list still included the bouquet of flowers because you certainly deserve it! How 'bout a big hug instead?
  10. by   VivaLasViejas
    See, you all are part of the reason I've never quite been able to give up on myself, even in the face of alcoholism and mental illness. So many people don't have the kind of love and support that I've been blessed with, and I honestly don't know what I'd do or where I'd be if I were that unfortunate. Thank you SO MUCH for being here.
  11. by   nurseprnRN
    Quote from sharpeimom
    Thank you for sharing your store with us at AN. We appreciate and admire you for not just giving up. You were brave and committed enough to start all over again.

    Wish the icons list still included the bouquet of flowers because you certainly deserve it! How 'bout a big hug instead?

    Here it is: (type : flwrhrts : without the spaces)

  12. by   eldersense
    That was incredibly brave and selfless to share. Quite inspiring and truly honest.
    I am new to the site and just starting to make friends.

  13. by   VivaLasViejas
    Hi, Lucy, and a hearty WELCOME to Allnurses!! I appreciate your comments, and hope your association with us will be a long and happy one.
  14. by   RiverNurse
    Thanks for your post. Peace be with you.