The Sleeping Tiger

The Sleeping Tiger

If I think of the disease of addiction like a sleeping Tiger, one that is beyond patient, I can understand the progression of this disease.  It never leaves, it patiently sleeps in waiting for us to believe one of the little lies it tells us, just one lie can bring us back to where we started, one little lie that grows into so many more lie after lie after lie.  The Tiger never leaves, he just waits and gets bigger and bigger the longer you are in recovery.  Don’t believe the lies…

After a long night of drinking, well let's be real, multiple long nights of drinking, I realized my monthly friend didn’t show up.  I was late.  I got a test…… “Two lines, no way in hell can that be.  You need to go back to the store and get another test.  This one is a false positive.”  That is what I said to my future ex-husband.  Upon returning to the store the pharmacist asked him why he was there and if the test was positive or negative. He replied that it was positive, and the pharmacist kind of chuckled, “There are only false negatives, you are going to be a Dad.”  This was the first day of the beginning of life as a soon-to-be Mother.   I was 20 and in my third year of college when we found out.  The shock and surprise, the desire to run, the questions I had were so very vast it was overwhelming. We had to make a decision, which would change our lives forever.

After the dust settled and the fear of calling my father to tell him (I was pregnant out of wedlock in a strictly Roman Catholic family) faded, we both decided to move home. Much to my surprise, when I arrived home, my father had purchased a baby seat and a stroller and left them in my room. My father had accepted that we were going to have a baby and seemed to embrace the new addition to the family with open arms.  My mother was not so receptive but eventually came around.

A year passed, our son was born, such a beautiful baby, and then it started. I cried and cried bringing him home to our new apartment.  I was petrified of being a Mother and didn’t even know if I wanted to be one.  Soon enough we went to a bottle for the little guy, and from there I was able to have my body back.

I had woken my Tiger when I was 15. I remember the first drink, the laughs, the feelings of acceptance, and, of course, the morning after, but it was a feeling I wanted to have over and over again. In college, the Tiger came out, not that I knew what a Tiger was, but I was failing out of school, and all I wanted to do was drink and party, which I did until we found out we were pregnant.

Back to the little guy's first birthday party, I was able to drink and I sure did. For his birthday we got a keg and a piñata; looking back the party wasn’t about him, it was about how much I could party for his party. This continued until I found out I was pregnant with my second child, I was lucky that I knew now that alcohol tasted funny when I was pregnant.  As soon as I found out, with both kids I didn’t drink or use drugs.  Life was good until it wasn't.

We moved into our own home, my mental health was raging. I was not enjoying the disappointment of not completing school, of having to be a stay-at-home Mom.  I was tired all the time.  Eventually, I did go back to school, and that was when I found Adderall.  This made me a “super mom” and I could take care of the boys along with going to school, partying, and being awake and “present” for it all.  This worked out for some time again, until it didn't. Before you know it I was drinking, gambling, and getting high on Adderall all at the same time.  I was angry all the time, I would drink myself to sleep, I would sneak out of my house when my husband was sleeping, and end up at the casino.  This was when I realized I needed help.

My Father came and got me and drove me all the way to Tennessee.   This was my first treatment experience and I for sure didn’t fit in.  My parents found the money to pay the outrageous fee for treatment and I came home worse than when I had left. In treatment, I was able to put my Tiger to sleep, for about 30 days, but without the tools and support, this Tiger of mine was driving and I was nowhere to be seen.

The civil commitment

I earned this civil commitment.  In case you are not familiar with a civil commitment, it takes 3 people who know you well and a licensed psychiatrist or Doctor to start the process.  The person in question will have to be a danger to themselves or others. It's not an easy or quick task.  Again, I earned this one.  My unintentional suicide attempt started this process.  The Doctor had prescribed me benzodiazepines, an antidepressant, and told me directly that I could not drink on these.  That directive went in one ear and out the other.  I was in so much emotional pain at the time that I didn’t care.  I didn’t know how to be a Mom, didn’t know how to be a friend, didn’t even know if I wanted to be a mom of two beautiful boys under 5. I didn’t care anymore about school, or anything but the bottle.  I ended up drinking all day long, popping benzodiazepines, and eventually, I swallowed an entire bottle of my anti-depressant.  This landed me in a coma for 4 days with the Doctors telling my parents they didn’t think I would make it through the night.  During this time my Sister never left my side; if she had I for sure would have been gone because in the coma I vomited which then made me breathe in the fluid to my lungs; had she left my side I would have died.

Once awake from the coma the civil commit began to do its job.  I was transferred to the behavioral health unit at a Hospital, where because my Tiger was still loud and strong I refused to go to treatment.  I sat in the unit for 3 weeks until I decided that treatment would be better than sitting feeling trapped on the floor.  I entered treatment and realized it wasn’t so bad.  My mind was still a mess, so I remember yelling at my family especially when the civil commitment worker said I had to follow recommendations from the LADC and go to sober living.  I did not want to live in a sober house, that was beneath me at the time.  How ungrateful I was, not even thinking about the trauma I put my family through. How sick was I to not even acknowledge the fear my family felt with the thought of me dying?

I completed treatment successfully and went to sober living, it wasn’t that bad.  I think it was the fear of the unknown that really took its toll on me.  Now I know that fear has a lot to do with being too far ahead in the future. I made some good friends in treatment and in sober living.  But… those “good friends” eventually turned into even better “drinking & using friends”.

Obviously, after that treatment experience, my Tiger was still very alive and well.  I began to drink again very soon after leaving sober housing. I had a friend who needed some pot, again my Tiger says. “It's all good, you can be the middleman with a drug dealer” My former dealer had quit selling so I needed to find a new one.  I found one via the people I was in sober housing with.  Go figure.  As I said, my Tiger was alive and well.  Since I wasn’t honest in the hospital or treatment about my issues with Adderall, (because it was prescribed and I manipulated the doctor for more and more pills) I would eventually run out of my script. So what to do, of course! Let's ask the new dealer if he has any uppers.  First thought wrong.   He sure had Adderall but that was super expensive, so he rolled up a dollar bill and slid a white line across the table.  That was all it took. Hooked.

Life got progressively worse from here. I was unable to hold down a job, I left my husband, was told I couldn't be around my family, and eventually just disappeared for about 6 months.  I would roam from casino to casino looking for anyone to “take care of me”.  When I would find a person to do so it ended up in sexual assaults, my truck being stolen, violence, and a loss of everything I had worked for in a matter of months.  Need I say, the Tiger was very ferocious by now and my wise mind had been shunned to the back of my brain, not coming out again for some time.

After months of running around, I got myself into a spot that I had nobody to turn to. I started to message my Sister.  I had been assaulted so badly that I was bleeding profusely from my rear end.  In a moment of clarity or fear, one of the two, I reached out to my Sister and sent her pictures of what had happened to me.  This was when she was able to start the second commitment to me.  This was the process that started to save my life.  I finally was able to surrender, for the most part, (or I thought) and I called my Father and he brought me to detox.  I didn’t know the commitment was in process and as I came down I got madder and madder.  Thankfully that process was in play or I wouldn't be here today.  I was sent to treatment for 60 days, then to a step down for another 3 months, then to sober living.   I was able to stay sober for multiple years in a row. I found a community of people who were just like me.  I spoke at events, I spoke at meetings, I was asked to work for notable companies to help them build their programs, I was elected board chair for national and international boards, and I was doing great for the first 4 years. I was able to thrive… again until I wasn’t.

About 4 years into my sobriety, I was still not happy. Note, I say sobriety here because I was not working a program, hindsight is 20/20, and I was not living a life of recovery. There was still the jealousy anger and fear that comes along with this disease.  I was unable to accept that I was an alcoholic, so eventually, when I started dating again, guess what happened?  I started drinking, to fit in again, and this was that damn Tiger, telling me lies, and again I believed it.  I kept lying to myself that I was fine and I could drink and gamble like a “normie”.

Ugh, what’s a normie anyway, we all have issues.

But before you know it, I was once again in a place obsessing about the drink and the gamble.  Although it wasn’t meth, it was a cross addiction, the one my Tiger really really protected since the beginning.

I know now alcohol and gambling are my primary addictions and not facing the truth was only going to keep me sick.  They say secrets keep us sick, think that through, and add in the ones that you don’t even know you have … yet…

The lies I told myself were so much more powerful and believable. I would lie to myself saying things like  “I have a great job, I’m not like I was before.”  “My kids are with me, I’m not like I was before.” “I show up and am still involved. That's not like before.”  “I don’t have any legal consequences, I must be okay”,  “I still show up, for sure I am okay”.   All these great lies I told myself were right on point with my disease that slowly took over my brain yet again.

As my disease progressed so did my desire to focus on others than myself.  An old using friend somehow became a boyfriend.  He was not honest about where he was in his life or recovery, but neither was I. It was a recipe for disaster I thought I could help him, but who was I kidding, I couldn’t even help myself.   That relationship turned violent quickly which impacted my family and those around me in various ways.  I am grateful to have the love and support I do and am so ashamed that this is happening to not just me.  Not that this is an excuse, but as mentioned my disease was already ramping up, so these events enhanced the need to escape, which I did with alcohol and gambling.  It wasn’t until I truly asked for help, that I got it.  I ended up in treatment for gambling and alcohol, which I realized I needed all along.

Experiencing treatment after 7 years without treatment was a gift, only this time I knew more.  I knew what I needed to do, and I was grateful for the time I was gifted to take care of myself.  Many of us are not this lucky to have another recovery in us, but for those of us who do, embrace it, and be humble and open, you may not get another chance at recovery because we know that each day we wake up our Tiger in our brains are trying to actively kill us.  Sometimes Tiger is quiet, and other times it's loud, just remember not to listen!

Recovery had been good to me and everything I had learned did not disappear.  It may have taken a backseat to my Tiger, but it was not so far gone that I didn’t have a moment of clarity here and there. I tried on my own to get back into the program, but the shame and fear wouldn’t let me. I would set up dates to go to meetings and my Tiger would find a reason to make sure I didn’t go.  I tried to set up parameters to limit and restrict my drinking and gambling.  Again, failed attempt after failed attempt.  Until finally. I just had enough. I called my Sister, got honest with my boss, and told them I needed help.

Help is what I got.

My Sister and Boss took care of everything.  I communicated with my Sister and others on my leadership team and found they showed nothing but love and support from all around me.  There was no shame from them, only love and kindness.  They truly see this as a disease and know that punishing a disease is unrealistic, it's love, support, and kindness that allows people to ask for help, not stay quiet and live in shame.

I got honest, listened, and learned. I remained open, and willing to be helped. I was honest with my employers, my family, and my kids. Being honest is a very hard yet essential part of recovery. When we can’t be honest with ourselves, we can’t be open to help.  While in treatment the shame monster tried its hardest to keep me quiet about all the things I needed help with.  It tried to protect my ego so I wouldn’t share my story. It tried to get me to cross addict with food because I wasn’t able to control anything else while in treatment. I have never had an eating disorder, but my brain sure wanted to start one up in treatment.  I got honest with my counselor, and my therapist and started to work a program.  I got help.

Returning home was scary so I accepted help. I worked with my work mentors to decide who to share what with.  As addiction is a disease and a disability, it is protected and I don’t have to say anything at all.  However, I did because of the stigma that is still associated with this disease. We have to speak up to start to shame the stigma into hiding, so we can receive help when needed.

Shame is a feeling that keeps us sick, so if you do for some reason have a return to use, shut that shame up and ask for help before you are too far gone.  Before you have to go to treatment, before you can’t ask for help, before it's too late.  Remember that this disease is trying to kill you every single day.  Remember that the thoughts that come into your head are just that Tiger snoring trying to wake up to take over your life.  Remember that the Tiger is still there growing each day, and remember that all it takes is one sip, one bet, one line, to wake the Tiger, and without help, it's only a matter of time before it is strong enough to take your life.

Ask for help and don't forget.