We are very grateful to our client for so kindly offering to keep a diary of her experience participating in our 5-day Women’s Outpatient Alcoholism Treatment Program and also for allowing us to share her experiences with you. – Mary Ellen and Ed
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.
Day 1: I woke at 3:00 AM and felt so anxious that I could not sleep anymore. I was anticipating that the next week would be my judgment week and I would have to start my story at birth and go through all the ups and downs of my life and all the behaviors I experienced throughout my life to uncover the real reasons for my “disease.”
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.
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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[/expand]
Six months after her work with us, an eastern Pennsylvania woman wrote:
“Hi Mary Ellen and Ed,
I wanted to write this letter to express my gratitude and appreciation for the non-12 step program you have put together and also for how professionally and caringly you execute it. The best part for me is that it really works!
I have re-written this letter many times because I wanted it to be exactly right, but I am throwing in the towel because I’m not sure I can convey in words how thankful I am for the profound changes in my life that were made possible by attending your outpatient program and utilizing your ongoing support after I went back home (which lasted much longer than the 90 days promised I might add).
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I have not had a drink in the six months since I attended your program. I am 51 years old and I cannot actually remember a time since I was 16 when I have not had a drink for six months. I tried to quit the first time when I was 23. My mom had just gotten out of a 12 step rehab and I jumped right on the bandwagon because I already knew I was not a “normal” drinker and 12 step programs were the only thing around. It lasted about a week. After listening to some of the people at the meetings, I decided my drinking was normal compared to theirs!
I quit a number of times over the next 27 years. The longest was for 3 months and it was tough. I tried attending AA meetings but they were just not for me. I couldn’t relate to the people, I thought the steps were ridiculous and after talking about drinking so much at the meetings, I couldn’t wait to get home to have one. That first step really got me – I could never admit I was powerless over alcohol. Many times I certainly felt powerless, but I always knew the ability to change was inside myself somewhere. I just didn’t have the right tools.
Over the years, my drinking got heavier and my resolve to quit got weaker. I could never find a substitute for the fast-acting stress reliever and fear eliminator that alcohol was to me. I drank a large bottle of chardonnay (or more) every single night. The good thing was I could compartmentalize my drinking so well that no one outside of my family would have guessed I had a problem. However, it was also the bad thing because even though no one could see the effects the alcohol was having, I could feel them – mentally, spiritually and physically.
At 50 I had a midlife crisis and decided to leave my job of many years and started a business with a partner. I found I drank even more then, and I felt I was not able to pull my weight because I was either drinking or recovering from drinking. Every morning when I woke up feeling sick I would swear to myself I wasn’t going to drink again. But by 5p.m., I forgot all about those promises and couldn’t wait for my first glass of wine. I had pretty much lost interest in any activities that did not involve drinking and lost much of my motivation to exercise my body and my mind.
I finally came to the realization that I could not fix this on my own and I knew I needed to find some help before I got really sick. A 12 step program was not going to be the answer for me. I also could not see myself “going away” for 30 or more days to a residential program. No one except those closest to me even knew I had a problem and I didn’t want them to find out. So, I started looking for other options. I did lots of research using the Internet and found your web site.
Everything there made sense to me and for the first time in a very long time, I felt a glimmer of hope that there might be a way out. I printed out a number of the materials available on the web site, reviewed them and thought about it for a few days. I was too scared to make the phone call but on a day when I was so hung over I was shaking, I dialed the number.
I was relieved to get a machine but then all of a sudden, Ed came on the phone. And I started talking a mile a minute. I ended up speaking with him at length and then with Mary Ellen a few days later. You were both easy to confide in, you understood what I was talking about and I really liked the fact that your program included a combination of anti-craving medication, cognitive therapy and meditation. I reserved my week before I chickened out and sent a deposit before I even told my husband.”
I was absolutely terrified the first day I arrived at your office. I was also hung over since I felt it necessary to down my last bottle of chardonnay the night before. I felt ashamed and disgusted that I had let myself get to such a point and it was hard to have to face it and talk about it. But you both have a very calming manner and after speaking with you for about an hour, my panic subsided somewhat. When Ed took me to Dr. Norcross I was shaking so badly you could see it. But the doctor was matter of fact, non-judgmental and was truly interested in helping me. He saw how scared I was and reassured me that I was a good candidate for success. He explained about the Naltrexone and also gave me a small amount of an anti-anxiety medicine, which was really a lifesaver for me that first week.
After the appointment, we talked for a few hours, and then you sent me home with lots of material to read. I tried to dive right in but honestly, I was so exhausted from the worry and panic, and I felt so relieved after the meetings that I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until dinner time. I walked to one of the nearby restaurants, got take-out and did start to read. And it wasn’t that hard not to drink.
The second day, we reviewed some of the materials and I told you I had gone into a panic when I saw all of the work I was supposed to do regarding setting goals. I have never been very good at that – I typically operated in a fly by the seat of your pants mode. You told me not to worry about it and not to do anything with it at all until I was ready. We talked for several hours and you sent me on my way with more homework and a meditation CD. I found the CD to be incredibly helpful and centering. I had done meditation before, but the CD put me in a meditative state faster than I could get there with traditional methods. It really helped me focus. I got through another day with no chardonnay.
By Wednesday, I was starting to feel better – a combination of the Naltrexone, the anti-anxiety medicine, the meditation and the fact that I hadn’t had a drink for two days. We again reviewed the material and tried to look at some of the underlying reasons for my drinking. In the midst of this, you also gave me a lot of good material regarding starting a new business and marketing it. I went back to the hotel after our meetings and looked at some of the business material. I took a walk, listened to the meditation CD and voila – I had an epiphany. My head felt so clear and I began working on all of my goals. They just poured out of me. All of the things I wanted to accomplish that had been stifled by my drinking and subsequent de-motivation. I was so excited and I had almost no desire to drink. I was starting to formulate my plan for the future.
The next day and a half flew by and it was time to leave. I was a little worried but this time I had a whole box full of tools to help me and I had a plan. Quitting drinking using a fly by night methodology hadn’t worked but I thought that doing so using a plan would work. And it did.
Has it been easy? No. Has it been a big struggle? No. I just followed the plan. I worked on refining my goals when I got home and tried to prioritize them. I knew I would need to do something in the evening hours when I used to drink so I focused a lot on the to-do list I had for the house. I painted, I sewed, and yes, I did spend some money purchasing items for my redecorating efforts but I figured I was saving a lot on chardonnay. I didn’t focus on the not drinking. When I thought about it, I just let it go and worked on my plan. I meditated often and at first, I just didn’t put myself into any positions that would make it harder for me. I talked to Mary Ellen every week and it really helped. I could discuss all of the issues I was having and talk about what to do when difficult and/or new situations presented themselves. The support was key factor for me but it wasn’t obtrusive. I got to decide how often to talk and what I needed. It was so good to be able to talk about things – I got to vent, I got good advice and got lots of positive reinforcement. I needed someone in my corner who understood and who didn’t think it was weird that I was totally focused on myself. And I was. I thought about what was good for me and didn’t worry too much about anyone else. I knew I needed to be selfish for a while to make this work.
I took the Naltrexone religiously and I truly believe it had a huge effect on reducing my cravings, because in all honesty, they weren’t that bad. The hardest part was facing each new situation and trying to deal with it in a new way. Going out to eat, going on vacation, going out with friends, boating, parties – even watching movies. That was why the phone calls with Mary Ellen were invaluable. And each situation I made it through made me stronger and more confident and less dreading of the new situations to come. I kept myself busy, but not by going to AA meetings to talk about my sickness or powerlessness. I did things that made me feel powerful. I had just started martial arts before attending your program and I couldn’t even do one pushup. When I got back home, I did have a hard time motivating myself to go to class, and I missed a number of them. But I kept pushing and now I go three times a week. I can do 100 pushups and an hour and a half class just flies by. I have lost 15 pounds, I just got my yellow belt and I have even starting running again (well, more like jogging) for the first time in a lot of years. I started working with a nutritionist and am working on a healthier me.
What is most amazing to me is that I no longer have a big desire to drink, I am no longer depressed, I sleep great and my head is so clear. I am stronger and feel more empowered and happy. I see so many opportunities for the future. I don’t feel disgusted with myself anymore. I would be lying if I said I never think about drinking but whenever I want a drink, I think of how wonderful it feels to wake up every morning feeling good instead of waking up wishing I had not downed another large bottle of Chardonnay, and that is enough to convince me not to do it. Amazingly enough, a surprise to me, there are lots of people around who don’t drink. I see them everywhere now. And most of the time, I am happy to be one of them. I don’t really ever see myself drinking again. I don’t want to lose this good feeling and opportunity to make a difference in my life.
I owe this all to you both and your program. I could not and would not have been able to do this without your help. The program works. It’s not rocket science and it’s hard to believe there aren’t more programs out there that follow these principles. I am so thankful I found this program and would recommend it to anyone.”
P.J. Philadelphia, PA
Yes, she still reads the Newsletter from time to time, we talk occasionally, we have lunch whenever any of us are in the others’ neighborhood, and we all continue to take an interest in each other’s lives.
Additionally, as she wrote to us recently:
“It has been almost three years! I am ready to test for my green belt now and even did a Navy Seal challenge a few weeks ago with martial arts where we did an hour of calisthenics, ran 4 miles and then did the martial arts obstacle course. I am doing things I could never do if I were still drinking. I still struggle with my weight but maybe someday!!
And I just love going to the doctor now and not having to lie about my drinking. I feel really good saying “No I don’t smoke” and “No I don’t drink”. I no longer have to take blood pressure medication either. And did I mention no hangovers?!
Life is good. I am happy and content and thankful that Chardonnay is no longer my best friend!!” – P.J.[/expand]
“More women need to try your approach. I am now doing things I’d never even have thought of. It’s so nice to work with doctors who not only understand women’s perspectives, but also have new ideas about overcoming old behaviors” – Patti B. Torrance CA.
“For the first time in 5 years, I am finally staying sober. Ed and Mary Ellen really worked hard with me to help me build a better life. It worked. This is one hell of a good program.” – Jim P. Phoenix, AZ
“I have hope for a happy life.”
“Dear Mary Ellen:
Thank you for the wonderful week with you and Ed. For the first time in a long time, I have hope for a happy life. I understand my problem so clearly now and I know the changes that I have to make. I can do this! Thank you. Your program has made all the difference.”
-L. C., Lancaster, PA