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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

A First-Hand Account of the Baffling, Cunning, and Powerful Disease of Addiction: The Story of Mary

Right from the start of meeting Mary, you can tell that she is an extremely bright, intelligent, social person. One of the most endearing qualities of Mary’s is her heart to tell it like it is. For all that she’s been through in the past, she certainly has a story to tell.

She’s passionate about sharing her story and helping people find The Haven because in her words:

This is her story:

I’ve had a long career. I have a degree in Architectural Engineering with a minor in mathematics. I was a civil engineer, an aerospace engineer, an architectural engineer, and a computer data scientist.

I did eventually leave that to find something I was more passionate about. I chose to fundraise for local nonprofit charities, like the Women's Shelter, and the 211 helpline. I was adept at fundraising, which is funny because my degree was the opposite. On top of it all, I found that I enjoyed acting. I was both an actor and a model. I spent about 10 years doing community theater at San Luis Obispo, Little Theater back then.

I soon moved into a fundraising role for the theatre, but it was a part of my passion to put on and direct my own annual production. They were called ‘The Legend Shows’ and were well-known in the community. I was well-known in the community.

You can imagine the surprise years later when I got up to speak in front of a local community gathering. Somebody yelled from the audience “Are you doing a Legend show?” And I said to them, “No, I have different news for you today. I'm an alcoholic”.

Everybody in that room was shocked. And I said, “Yeah, that's news, huh?” I said, “And you know what? The Haven saved my life.”

“People need to know this: I'm an intelligent college-educated, smart woman. And I know that it strikes rich, poor, white, black, skinny, fat, young or old. The disease has no boundaries. But if I couldn't figure out how to get help, then the people who don't have the money, who don't have that inquisitive mind to figure it out will surely suffer.”

Down the rabbit hole 

The path that led me to addiction, like so many others, was paved with losses and grief. My career was taken from me, the future of my marriage became uncertain, and all at once, I was thrust into a new reality. Without the certainty of those fundamental pieces of my life, I had no structure and routine to my days but to feel the pain and loss. As they say, idle hands are the devil’s workshop.

I had always drunk, but I was “normal”, able to handle it. However, there is a certain cockiness that comes with age, as I thought to myself, “Well, I’m 55. I've never been an alcoholic. I loved to party and drink, but I’ve never done anything stupid.” I was the person who wouldn't drive while drinking and made sure that others did the same.

But when everything in my life started to fall apart, I forgot those lessons, I self-medicated with booze.

I started thinking, “Well I can have a drink at noon.” Soon it became a drink at 10 and then pretty soon you're drinking around the clock and that’s when the obsession begins. Attempts to stop are futile. It becomes a mental obsession.

I kept trying to get sober and failed many times. Finally, the realization hit that I was making things worse because I was only getting more sucked into the addiction and it was affecting my marriage with my husband greatly: widening the gap between us by trying to hold him close. I found wisdom in the serenity prayer and realized that I couldn’t control anybody but me.

I threw myself into AA. I found a sense of calm. I recovered. Our marriage healed.

But the story was long from over

So, I went for two years with no drinking pretty much on my own. I went to AA meetings, but I didn't go into rehab. And after two years the question in my heart had arisen, as it does for many: "Am I even an alcoholic?”

This disease, they say it’s baffling, cunning, and powerful, and they couldn’t be more spot on.

You begin to have the debate with yourself, “Can I drink normally again?” and seek out the self-confirming evidence from those in your life. You’ll begin to believe that you’re not an alcoholic like you thought, that it was just a situational thing and you’ll be fine. You think you’re okay, and maybe you are... until it catches up with you.

For me, it went fine for about three years, and then I started going down the rabbit hole again because I wasn't working, and again was left with more time on my hands, besides taking on the caregiving role for my ailing father. He was very close to me, my dad. He was an awesome man. A sweet, good guy. And I took care of him until the end.

The day he died, I didn't realize how much it had taken out of me to be his caretaker. I loved him so much. It was so hard to watch him die and to let go, but God granted me the grace to do it beautifully. I kept him comfortable, fed, everything. But I was pretty much taking care of him all by myself.

The day after my dad died, I said: "Okay, I made it.” But the next day I woke up and said, “Well if anybody deserves a drink, it's me”. I should have gotten my toenails painted instead...

Falling back into the trap

I went deep into the gutter. For the 10 days between his death and the funeral, I was completely gone. Every day when my husband left for work, I would walk to the liquor store. I’d stumble in, get a bottle of vodka, walk out, and sit between two cars parked on the street so that nobody could see me. Wedging myself between those two cars with the brown paper bag, I’d chug that vodka. I’d stumble home, go upstairs, chug some more, hide the bottle, and pass out. I’d wake up, couldn’t find the bottle, and do it all again.

I knew I needed help. I stumbled up to the hospital. I told them I'm having alcohol problems and I need help. They would not detox me. I tried everything to get help. I didn't know where to go.  

I'm a white, middle-aged, middle-class, intelligent woman and even I didn’t know where to go.

Finally, the day before my dad’s funeral, after going to three different hospitals, I told my sister-in-law, “Take me to The Haven”.

Recovery at The Haven

It was a brutal detox, absolutely brutal, But I made it through to the other side. After phase one detox, I made it through to phase two- Residential Treatment. I loved phase two.

The food was awesome and they’d bring you breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You'd have counseling. They bring in a yoga instructor twice a week, so you'd do an hour of yoga or they’d bring in a circuit trainer. They had a gym in the garage and you’d do a little weight lifting and circuit training. Once a week, you had a massage in a little room all by yourself. We went horseback riding every night. We went to an AA meeting at a different location so that you got to know all the meetings in the area. And it had a hot tub in the back.

It was awesome. And my husband's insurance covered everything. So, by the end of it, there was a part of me that didn’t want to leave. I've been taking care of men my whole life and I thought to myself “I’ve never been able to focus on myself like this”. For the first time, it's all about what I need.

In my time at The Haven, I learned to reframe my view of addiction, to do some self-analysis and get to the root of why I fell prey, and what was the role I played that I needed to own. I learned that the enemy of addiction is socialization, and by going to AA meetings and being of service to your fellow alcoholics you can take away some of its power over you.  I use whatever excuse works to stay sober. For me, healing was also in learning about my neural pathways. Now I've made a new pathway in my mind, and I’m committed to it.

A powerful enemy

The disease is powerful. It's always ready to take you down. You can be sober for 20 years and it could get you. There was a guy I knew who had been sober for 20 years. He took his car to get repaired. They said it will be ready in 20 minutes. He was relaxed. It was a beautiful day. He went for a little walk, went by a liquor store. He went inside and bought a bottle of vodka. He was missing for a week. 

That was it. After 20 years. That's how powerful it is.

A baffling downfall

There was another lady I knew once who said, “It's the most patient lover I have ever had. It waits forever for me.”

How else do you at 55 become an alcoholic when you've been normal and fine, with no DUIs? I was always a responsible drinker. How does that happen?

The answer: the disease of addiction is wicked. And you will not outsmart it by yourself, I've tried. It can hit you at any time in your life. I was 55 and became an alcoholic. And believe me, if it could happen to me, it can happen to anybody.

A cunning illusion

I now think of it as a monster entity. And if there ever was a devil on Earth or Satan, one of his forms is the disease of addiction.

Even now, I'll sit here some nights after a year sober and I'll say to myself “I could probably have a drink. I'll be fine. We're not going anywhere. Why not?” I always think I could probably do one or two and I'll be fine. And so, addiction is like the little bad devil on your shoulder. It is always there saying “You can do it. You're smart now. You know what to do. You know how to quit.”

But that's my problem, I can't stop. I drink those two glasses. My switch goes on and it’s broken. It will not go off.

Tricks that I learned at The Haven help me to stay sober, after learning about the neural pathways of the brain and when I think about that broken switch inside me. I’ve also learned to think of alcohol as a deadly allergy. It'll kill me if I let it. 

And it sounds dramatic, but the truth of addiction and alcoholism is very simple. I think of it as an entity that wants something from you.  Do you know what it wants? It wants you to lose your job. It wants you to lose your family. It wants you to lose your friends. It wants you to lose everybody. And it wants you to have nothing except it; the bottle of booze, the syringe, the pills, and it wants you to be alone and just be with it. It's very selfish and it wants to kill you. 

That's the bottom line. Getting you alone, have you risk losing everything and kill you.  It may sound melodramatic, but when you're a serious alcoholic or addict, that's it, it’ll stop at nothing.

I’ll say it again, The Haven saved my life. So if you’re lost, unsure of where to go, or see someone you love headed down a similar path as I was, give them a call. They’ll take good care of you.