The night before I was supposed to meet Mary Ellen and Ed, to start my alcoholism treatment program, I could not help but drink as much alcohol as I could ingest. I felt like I was being defiant and also completely in control, because I was deliberately getting drunk. It was my choice. However, I drank myself into yet another blackout.
When I drove to their offices, I felt like it was my first day in school and I wanted to turn around and drive away. I sat in my car for 20 minutes contemplating whether or not I could handle a week’s worth of criticism about my life, talking about things I could have and should have done better and why I ruined my life. I knew it was nerves. I was, after all, the one who had called them. I wanted to learn how to stop drinking. I was the one who had flown 1400 miles to Los Angeles, California to see them. I needed to get out of the car!
Ed was standing outside on the balcony watching for me. I was immediately put at ease. Ed had an agenda and it had nothing to do with my background. We chatted for a half hour and then he drove me to Dr. Norcross’ office, for my appointment which Ed had pre-arranged. Ed actually sat in the waiting room and waited for me to get my blood work done and for Dr. Norcross to prescribe the anti-craving medication Naltrexone and Ativan, a tranquilizer. Dr. Norcross was as non-judgmental as Ed and he understood why I needed to see him. He is a very kind and decent man.
Afterwards, we went back to their offices where I met Mary Ellen. She was as genuine and relaxed as Ed and I began to let down my guard. We talked, very casually, about my life, present day. We did not go back in history as I had anticipated. There wasn’t any of the finger pointing or judging my decisions that I had anticipated. Instead, they explained that my alcohol abuse was not just habit or addiction but a result of problems in areas in my life that could be changed.
Mary Ellen is very knowledgeable in the area of women’s hormones and alcohol treatment for women and she suggested that I get my hormone levels checked due to my age and some circumstances that I discussed with her. She made sure to keep it understood that the hormones may be only one of several triggers for my change to radical drinking and that we would explore all of the contributing factors as we ruled things out, or in.
They provided a Resource Guide for me to keep and use. My husband and I had filled out a sentence completion test that Ed uses with clients suitable for AA alternative treatment and he promised to discuss the results the following day.
My homework for the night was to go onto two different websites provided in the Resource Guide and find out a little more about my actual health.
Day 2: The session began with the “why me” question. I have a great husband, great family, great income, great job, great home…why me? Why am I ruining such a wonderful life?
Mary Ellen and Ed helped me realize that another reason for my alcohol abuse was to conform to the people around me. Although that was only one of many reasons, they took each area of my life and showed me how I could enhance it to live a healthy life. I also realized that I have been attempting to sabotage my successes in life so that I would fit in with other family members and keep my “place” in the family. Unconsciously, I felt that I was not supposed to be the one who succeeded – my brothers were – and I had bypassed them which made me uncomfortable in that position. So, to level off my success, I drank to “even the score.” Sure, I was a success at work, but I was a drunk! It made family life easier to deal with on my end.
The surprise of the day was that I had known all of what they were saying to me for a very long time, but until I talked about it, I never really believed it. I thought it was my own little cop-out for drinking, when in reality, my thoughts were validated. This day brought about a lot of permission to think freely without judging myself.
I had taken the Resource Guide they had given me back to my hotel room the night before. Mary Ellen and Ed asked that I read through chapters 1 and 2, but I was so interested in their approach to drinking and solving my own alcohol abuse problems, I read the entire Guide! Today, I questioned them on several areas of the Guide that I either did not understand or that I did not agree with. Very patiently, they allowed me to run this part of the session and explained their approach to me so by the end of the day, I was out of questions and was ready for more information.
Mary Ellen and Ed encouraged me to begin filling the time I used to use for drinking with healthy activities. They encouraged me to start a workout program, to get involved in helping other people by contributing my time to real charities and not continuing with the unhealthy relationships that I nurtured with too many of my friends and family.
Day 3: We began the day by reviewing the costs and benefits of my drinking and the costs and benefits of quitting drinking, using the Resource Guide charts I had filled out. It was amazing to see, in writing, how little the benefits were to drinking and how many benefits there were if I quit alcohol. I began to realize that my problem with alcohol abuse was not as hopeless and complicated as I thought. I began to believe that there were actual real life changes that I could make to change my behavior.
We really studied the theory of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) today. It was amazing to be enlightened as to why I drink in certain situations – how I jump into a situation because I believe it is the way I am supposed to behave, without any thought at all. My example was that if I am going to a party, I will get drunk. I have to get drunk because I am going to a party. Today, I learned how to deconstruct that thought pattern. I learned that I was making up my own rules and that, in fact, I did not have to get drunk if I went to a party. I was equating the event with the reason and not slowing my thought process down enough to actually think it through. I also realized today that I needed a lot more education in the area of cognitive behavioral therapy.
We began to develop an on-going non 12 step treatment plan for going home. It dawned on me that this is not a one week cure-all. I realized that Mary Ellen and Ed were giving me basic tools to reshape my life – tools that included freedom from conformity and assertiveness training tools to help me deal with family and friends.
We drafted a treatment plan for my return home, which really opened my eyes. It dawned on me that everything was about to change and not just in the doctor’s offices, but my entire life was about to shift and I was excited. I realized that change was about to upturn my life as I knew it, and at the same time, give me the freedom to finally be me. I was really excited.
Next, we started to list who (of my family and friends) I wanted to see and when. This was based on which relationships were healthy and which were, as Ed called it “parasitic” and how to deal with the latter in the short term.
Also, how would I fill my time now that I was going to quit alcohol? I would start working out with a personal trainer; I would get the two work-related certifications that I have wanted to get for a long time; I would volunteer at a place where I could really contribute. Also, we looked at how the holidays would work for me. I even had a financial plan that I could live with. A lot of pressure was lifted.
Just by contributing to my own treatment plan, I felt empowered that I was taking charge of the rest of my life. It felt great! As soon as I got back to my hotel room, I called my husband and went through each of the steps and he was in complete agreement. I could not have asked for a better response.
Day 4: We talked about the treatment plan and I was relieved when Mary Ellen told me that I did not have to rush home and implement all of these changes at once. Mary Ellen and Ed wanted me to take it slow, just like my new way of thinking.
Today I was also introduced to the “Balance” meditation CD. I lay on the couch for 5 – 10 minutes and really listened to it. Amazingly, I was not sleepy but reflective, while listening.
After the session, I went to the mall. I shopped and then I walked for hours. I did not want to go back to the hotel. I did not want to tempt myself since my sister (who had come out with me) had left that day and I was completely alone, so I walked. I finally went back to the room, ate, took my medication and went to sleep.
Day 5: I woke at 2:00 AM and within 10 minutes had myself completely spun up. Today would be my last day with Mary Ellen and Ed. I was freaking out. I realized that I was going back to the real world and everything came crashing down on my shoulders. What if I go back to my old ways? What if the people around me don’t agree with the changes? Would they get mad at me?
I had so many concerns that by the time of my appointment, I walked in the door and just started crying. I had forgotten to print my airline ticket so Mary Ellen took it out of my hand and immediately went to the computer to print it out for me. Ed just stood there and hugged me for a very long time. I was afraid to leave and I did not want to leave.
As anyone does when someone is in crisis mode, Mary Ellen and Ed were completely calm. I could not stop crying and Ed got out a down comforter, Mary Ellen got me in a big, fluffy, comfy chair and put the comforter around me, Ed put the headphones on me and the Balance CD came on. They turned off the lights and gave me half an hour to return from my mini-meltdown. I was learning an alternative to alcohol abuse for those times when my anxiety flared up.
When they came back in the room, I was relaxed and was really able to enjoy the CD. I asked them if this was a natural reaction because I am a person that typically does not cry at all. They said that it was a good sign that I was concerned with my re-emergence into my life. It said that I was not taking the program for granted.
As we talked about returning home, I felt so sorry for everything I had put my husband through and today was the first time I truly recognized how much he must be hurting.
I hugged both of them and thanked them for changing the course of my life. I truly felt that I could handle the changes, especially since I would be able to talk to them anytime I wanted and email them as well. We set up our first call for the next week. We said our goodbyes and I felt, on the one hand, scared to be leaving the nest and on the other hand, empowered to really implement the changes I needed to keep me strong.
Today, I realized there are so many facets of my life I needed to work on and alcohol abuse was the barrier that I used to ignore confrontations, to level out the successes in my life with a little drunken failure, and that perhaps, as I grow older, I am changing hormonally. I would not have understood these things without a program that understood alcohol treatment for women. I also now understand that habits and beliefs can be changed by acknowledging them as real and identifying that they need to change.
Today is the first day of a new life without alcohol abuse, for me, for my husband and my family, thanks to Ed and Mary Ellen and yes, to me, too, for being brave enough to accept my need to change and to seek the help to accomplish it.
– K. L. Chicago, IL