Since leaving Axis, I've had good days and bad days, fluctuations which I've now learned to accept as part of the ebb and flow of life…and my newfound recovery. In the beginning, when I left the facility, I was on a total high (no pun intended). I had all the confidence in the world I could get through the days, weeks, months, and years ahead without slipping and drinking again. I didn't know it at the time, but they actually call that syndrome the "pink cloud"—a kind of euphoria that comes in the wake of early sobriety. Luckily, even though my pink cloud has lifted, I haven't broken yet, but I have been tempted.
When you leave rehab you want to feel normal again, which for me meant socializing with family and friends. While Jenny is very supportive and has chosen not to drink around me (she doesn't even keep any booze in the house anymore), I can't really say the same for most of my old friends. It's definitely when I'm hanging with old buddies that I find I'm faced with the most temptation. You see, most of my colleagues deal with constant stress. Not only is alcohol one way to relieve the duress, it's also been our primary way of bonding over the years. So naturally, when I went to catch up with old my friends the other night, they ordered a round of drinks, and it quickly became clear they really didn't get "the whole rehab thing."
"I'm sure you can have one drink," my friends cajoled. And for a moment there, I was tempted. Maybe I could just have one and stop? Maybe I was cured? Maybe I could drink like a gentleman after all? As these thoughts raced through my mind, thank God Jenny and Ryder popped into my head as well, reminding me about how I got into rehab in the first place. Drinking just one could open that door and take me back to the place where my addiction was in control. Where my son was scared of me and my wife couldn't even stand to sleep in our bed. I thought of what I'd put them through and the disappointment they'd both feel if they knew I drank again. On the one hand, I don't know if I could handle another drink; on the other, I don't know if my family could either. The time I spent at Axis would be for nothing; my drinking could spiral out of control again and then have to start from scratch. Only this time possibly without the support of my family.
Thinking back, one drink was never enough for me. There's a lyric from a Grateful Dead song that pretty much sums up my approach to drinking: "It takes dynamite to get me off…Too much of everything is just enough!" The only problem was, too much of everything wound up making me feel lousy. Drinking led to prescription meds, which led to more drinking, ad infinitum. I would get drunk/high and then return home in a foul mood, either angry or wanting to be alone. I learned in rehab that sometimes living in recovery means letting go of people in your life if they don't understand or support you; relationships can change. Some might strengthen, some might break. Sitting in the restaurant with my pals the other night, I realized just how relevant that lesson was.
Returning to the table from the excursion with my racing mind, I didn't fold to temptation. I just got up and said, "Hey guys, I gotta run—I'll catch you later." They ragged on me about it, but I didn't care. I knew I had to remove myself from that situation. Instead of going straight home, I sat in my car for a while and called my sponsor. I felt weak for being tempted, but he made me realize that I had a choice and that the choice I made was spot-on. I had reached a milestone in my recovery and didn't even know it. For a moment, I felt like I deserved an award of some kind, a medal at least. I allowed myself a smile. The fact that I'd made a choice that confirmed my commitment to living a better life was reward in itself.
From the moment I left rehab, I have been going to regular AA meetings. I welcome the reinforcement and additional support. It feels good to be around people who understand my struggle and who have words of encouragement I can relate to. It's good to hear how others deal with temptation, and the occasional slip. It's very valuable for me to see these "slippers" welcomed back with opens arms and to hear them express their regret for having tried once again to take control of their lives, rather than turning them over to a higher power..
Back home, I told Jenny what had happened. I thought she'd be angry that I put myself in that situation, but instead she smiled and told me how proud she was. She truly is my champion. I felt a huge burden lift off of my chest. It's amazing how much better life can be when you're not running around trying to hide everything from those who love you most.
To keep from falling back into my old patterns, I know it's crucial that I use the aftercare resources given to me by Axis, including reaching out to my sponsor, attending meetings back at the facility that are geared towards alumni, and meeting with my therapist regularly.
Being around people who are drinking and using is not an environment that is set up for me to win. Who knows? Maybe after some time passes, it will be easier for me to be nonchalant about it. But right now, I don't want to risk putting myself in that situation. I know this now. I have to continue to stay focused, and that means continuing to engage in alcohol-free activities like golf, hiking, and going to the theater/bookstore. It means spending more time with my family and friends from rehab, or friends who understand my situation. It means playing catch with Ryder, NOT playing dice with my future!
When all is said and done, I've had more highs than lows after getting out of rehab. Whenever I think I have to stay sober for the rest of my life, I get overwhelmed and panicky. But the cliché is true: If I take it one day at a time, it actually seems manageable. And that's how, little by little…slowly but surely…calling upon all the gratitude, grace, and compassion I can muster…I really have gotten my life back together, and I feel happier and healthier than ever before. I'm looking forward to my future.
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Disclaimer: This is a fictitious depiction of a patient's experience undergoing treatment for addiction. It is written on behalf of and sponsored by Axis Residential. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Experiences associated with addiction treatment can vary widely and this post may not reflect all such experiences. To learn more about the process of being treated for addiction, please contact Axis Residential.