Alcohol, the real reason I lost my nursing license.

Alcohol, the real reason I lost my nursing license.

Today’s blog entry is from Paulette Vantrease, who has been a member of Café RE since July 2023.  Paulette has been alcohol free since March 22, 2023 and is active within her Café RE OG community.  

“I blamed covid for leaving nursing, but alcohol addiction forced me when I lost my license.”

I stood on a stage about to give a speech to a few hundred festival attendees, I hated speaking in front of a crowd; I still do. But the topic was about something I knew personally, and I had lived it for many months. I felt a sense of comfort and pride in what I was going to say. Writing the speech and practicing it out loud was cathartic. I hoped I could sincerely convey all the emotions I felt up to and on that day. My head was clear, my heart full, and I was sober for several weeks that day.

On September 11, 2021 I was asked by an acquaintance to speak at a festival.  Asked to speak about my experience as a nurse in the emergency department during the pandemic. The worst of covid had passed by then though fear and caution remained throughout our community and much of the country. My focus was on what I saw and lived through in the ER, dealing with non-believers (including a few of my own siblings back home), and the raw emotions felt during and still to that day whenever I thought of those difficult shifts in the hospital.

 

What I omitted in that speech was my struggle with alcohol throughout the entire span of the pandemic.

 

As ER nurses…

 

As ER nurses we deal with people every shift who are at their very worst: mildly or critically ill or injured, in psychiatric crisis, actively dying, and just about everything else you can imagine. We are hardcore adrenaline junkies who thrive on the chaos the department gives us. We willingly work in an environment no one wants to be, most certainly the patients.

The article “Alcoholism and Medical Professionals” states that 10-12% of healthcare professionals will develop a substance abuse disorder during their careers, including 1 in 5 nurses. It also states that the numbers are likely even higher due to vast underreporting. Drinking is the norm after a shift, most certainly after a particularly difficult one. Us night shift workers would often leave the hospital in the morning to go have “breakfast” at a local restaurant that served alcohol after 8:00 am. Food was often only an option.

To say alcoholism is rampant among healthcare workers, especially those in critical care areas, is an understatement. Alcohol is an easy outlet to numb the mind and body after desperately trying to save a young car crash victim only to watch him ultimately slip through your fingers. For me personally, drinking became my daily therapy session.

 

My first successful attempt at sobriety began in late May 2018.

I had been drinking daily and much to my shame and guilt even before work to feel somewhat normal. As William Porter describes in his book “Alcohol Explained,” our brains are essentially hijacked by alcohol and eventually we need to drink in order to simply function normally. It had got to the point where unless I drank my anxiety was unmanageable.  I would begin to withdraw from the effects of alcohol. And eventually withdraw I did. Hard.

As a nurse I took care of detoxing patients and knew all too well how dangerous it could be. So, on a trip out of town with a dear friend that May afternoon the symptoms began on the car ride and though I was completely in denial, I could not get to a hospital fast enough. It scared me shitless. In the ER as my blood pressure read 200s over 100s and my heart rate 180+, I admitted to the doctor that I had been on a very long bender and stopped cold turkey a few days prior. When he ordered 2 mg of Ativan, I believe the relief on my face was visible to everyone in the room, and as it entered my veins the calming effect was almost immediate.

I could not deny any longer what was happening.

The phrase “scared straight” entered my mind and stayed there for a very long time. Looking back on and remembering the physical symptoms of withdrawal kept me sober for over 20 months. In the hospital I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, had a cardiac catheterization, and put on a regimen of medications for my heart, blood pressure, and lingering withdrawal symptoms. I entered an outpatient program and went to my very first AA meeting. One would think that all of this would have kept me sober for the rest of my life. But sheer determination without any plan in place only lasts so long.

Complacency in sobriety is like a bomb waiting to go off, and mine was ticking away the hours. For months I had been planning a dream vacation to Hawaii.   I was set to go in early 2020. By then I had stopped going to AA blaming it on work constraints and subconsciously knew that I would drink there. The memory of detoxing had faded and the trip of a lifetime by myself was meant to be epic. The relapse there was epic as well. Queue explosion.

When I returned from Hawaii covid had begun to make waves as an up-and-coming new deadly virus. I had reached out to an old AA friend and somehow got back on track into sobriety. It didn’t last long. Covid hit with full force along with my drinking. I had countless attempts at sobriety throughout the pandemic however I simply could not sustain any stretches for long. It was a very dark time period for so many people including those of us trying to get and stay sober. Looking back, it is a blur of dying patients, daily chaos, uncertainty, and alcohol to numb it all.

In the summer of 2021 I was introduced to an online community called, “The Luckiest Club”.  By then I had given up on AA but knew I needed something, anything to help me get sober. The spiral down to daily drinking had its grasp on me and I was completely powerless. TLC was like a breath of fresh air for me. I had heard of different types of recovery programs such as SMART recovery, Sober Sis, Recovery Dharma, and the like. But this was unique, and I immediately fell in love with the forum. I attended the online zoom meetings, joined subgroups that interested me and began to raise my hand and speak in meetings, which I never did in AA. I was sober again and felt incredible.

During the speech I gave that September day in 2021 all the emotions and memories of covid came crashing back. A state politician was there listening to me and stopped me as I was leaving to thank me for my service. He said you could hear a pin drop while I was on the stage which at a music festival was quite the feat. Several other attendees thanked me, shook my hand, and even hugged me. In hindsight I knew I should have reached out to someone, anyone from TLC or AA or my friend who drove me to the hospital back in 2018. Instead, I ended up at the liquor store. I got obliterated at home. The old wounds were ripped open, raw, and I wanted to eliminate the pain. STAT.

The rest of 2021 and 2022 was a continuous cycle of drinking.  I was depressed.  My drinking made my depression worse.  I tried numerous times to quit and even had a few stretches of sobriety interspersed. By then I had lost my nursing job and my license due to alcohol and was floundering with what to do with my life. In spite of admitted to a psychiatric hospital a couple of times for suicidal ideation the drink had me in its grasp. If there was a rock bottom, I think I hit it more than once.

I took my last drink on March 22, 2023.  The same day, I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital.   I didn’t have a job.  I was living with my son drinking away the days, foolishly thinking I was cleverly hiding it from the world. Upon my release I rejoined TLC, attended as many meetings there as I could, and immersed myself in reading and re-reading books such as “Quit Like a Woman” by Holly Whitaker, “Alcohol Explained” by William Porter,This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace and several others. I recently began listening to podcasts and joined Recovery Elevator as well. I now listen to several a day. Paul Churchill’s interviews on the Recovery Elevator Podcast are my new daily therapy. I place more tools in my sobriety toolbox as I discover them.  

Today, October 15, 2023, I am 207 days sober, and it is the longest stretch since 2020. I have found community and fellowship in TLC and Café RE. I have reached out to other members and met them in person. We text or talk on the phone, or message each other on the forum. I have a therapist who specializes in addiction who helps to guide me along in this journey.  What the future holds or if I will remain sober, I do not know.  I am unsure if I will, or even can, return to nursing.  As cliché as it sounds, I take one day at a time. Everything feels right though, as if the universe finally put everything in place, and it feels amazing. It IS amazing.

Peace, Love, & Joy

Paulette

 

The Importance of Validation and Self-Compassion in Recovery

The Importance of Validation and Self-Compassion in Recovery

Today’s blog entry is from Amanda McLean, who has been a member of Café RE since November 2019.  Amanda has been alcohol free since March 26, 2019 and is very active within her Café RE GO community.  

“Another day one, I’m such a loser.”
“I’ve ruined everything.”
“I’ll never get sobriety to stick.”

In my journey with alcohol abuse and recovery, these are just a few common mantras that run through my mind. I am someone who chronically struggles with self-judgment and negative self-talk. I know that my inner critic can be harsh and unforgiving. Since our thoughts drive our emotions, this unrelenting internal talk leads to painful feelings including anxiety, sadness, and low self-esteem. For many people, this self-hatred inner monologue and the associated feelings can lead to relapse or other forms of damaging behaviors. In my personal recovery journey, I have learned that being kind and supportive to myself during times of suffering is critical in maintaining my sobriety in recovery. 

 

Avoidance is the Enemy

 

As Paul states in Recovery Elevator Episode 274 – I Feel Your Pain “In order to shift stagnant energy inside of us, we have to talk about our emotions.” Avoiding our thoughts and feelings never ends the way that we hope it will. And experts agree that one of the contributing factors to addiction is avoidance. As a person in recovery, I am guilty of minimizing, invalidating, and negating my feelings. But the more we avoid distress or attempt to suppress it, the worse it becomes. The more energy we use to push emotions like anxiety or anger away, the more powerfully those emotions come back toward us. 

 

Another disadvantage of avoidance is that our bodies interpret avoidance as proof of danger, and this signals our internal alarm system. When my internal alarm system is activated, I often crave something to soothe my nervous system. Historically, I used and abused alcohol to calm my painful emotions. Although this solution proved to be immediate, it came with long term undesirable consequences including more painful emotions and negative self-talk. And thus, the cycle continued. 

 

Start with Validation

 

Rather than avoiding negative self-talk and painful feelings that we would rather not face, we need to make a shift. We need to remember that the thought and the feeling are not the enemy. We need to remind ourselves that our thoughts and feelings are allowed to be here. We can tolerate discomfort. This starts with noticing the thought and/or the feeling and then providing validation. 

 

Validation is useful for addressing any uncomfortable thought or feeling. It starts with acknowledging or labeling the feeling. For example, “I feel like I fail at everything, and this feels rough” or “I feel like I can’t do anything right and my entire body is tense” or “My chest feels tight and I feel so anxious”.

Once we acknowledge what we are feeling, we can then tell ourselves why it makes sense that we feel this way. In other words, tell yourself the story about why it makes sense that you feel the way that you feel. For example, “It makes sense that this feels rough because I worked a long day and now I am cooking dinner for my family while my kids argue”, or “It makes sense that I feel like I can’t do anything right and I am tense because my boss just snapped at me”, or “It makes sense that I am feeling anxious because this is my daughter’s first day at her new school and I am scared she won’t make friends”. 

 

Self-Compassion

 

I know that feeling. That feeling of shame. When I was abusing alcohol, I didn’t want anyone else to know the things I had done. This is exactly when we need self-compassion. Self-compassion reminds me that I made a mistake but that does not mean that I am fundamentally a bad person. I can separate my worth as a person from my behavior. 

 

When I fail to validate and hold my feelings, when I shame myself, I cannot learn from my mistakes. Shaming myself through self-judgement and self-criticism shuts down the learning receptors in the brain. Shame freezes a person. Self-compassion allows me to acknowledge and validate my thoughts and feelings, commit to not making the mistake again, and then forgive myself. 

 

Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, states that self-compassion is acting toward yourself the way you would act toward a cherished friend when you are having a difficult time, when you fail, or when you notice something that you don’t like about yourself. When something goes wrong or we have a difficult moment, avoiding or fighting against the suffering in that moment will only increase our anxiety, distress, and self-criticism. Self-compassion is a method for soothing or comforting our nervous system.

 

The 3 steps of Self-Compassion

 

When I was at the height of my alcohol abuse, waking up each morning feeling like a failure, the most common self-criticism that I heard in my head was, “I am such a loser”. More often than not, self-criticism caused me significant distress which led me to soothe my system with alcohol. In recovery, I have learned the value of self-compassion: giving myself kindness, care, and support. 

 

Self-compassion involves three steps. First, I must hold the pain of my mistakes. This takes a lot of courage because I must acknowledge the pain I have caused myself and others. Second, I remember that pain and suffering are a part of being human and therefore other people have felt this way as well. I am not alone. Third, I must be kind to myself. Self-kindness means that I treat myself with sympathy, warmth, and patience. 

 

Practicing these three steps may sound like, “I drank again and I was not present for my children and my husband. Other people struggle with repeated mistakes, and I am not the only person who has felt and experienced this pain. I have been through a lot this year and quitting alcohol is hard. AND I can do hard things.” From that space of openheartedness, I can do everything I can to commit to doing it differently in the future. This allows me to soothe my nervous system without using or abusing a harmful substance.

***By Amanda McLean; Café RE Go Group

Living on Sobriety

Living on Sobriety

Recovery Elevator is excited to offer a new type of blog experience to our readers!  We are reaching out to our Café RE members and giving those that are interested the opportunity to be guest bloggers for our site.  Think of it as a podcast interview in written form.  You will get parts of their story along with tips and tools that they have found beneficial in their own recovery journey.  Please let us know what you think, or perhaps topics you would like to see covered, in the comments. 
Today’s blog entry is from Adrienne, who has been a member of Café RE since July 2022.  Adrienne has been alcohol free since July 31, 2022 and is very active within her Café RE GO community.  

Living on Sobriety

By: Adrienne (Café RE GO)

 

INTRODUCTION 

I sat down at the computer today and wondered what would my sober crew like to hear about; my past or my present?. I decided to give you a little bit of both; along with what has gotten me through a lot of the obstacle course known as alcohol (thank you Clare Pooley, The Sober Diaries for this analogy).

HISTORY 

I got sober for the first time in 2005 when my husband (then boyfriend) got his second DUI. His experience with rehab and counseling lent itself to a lot of education surrounding alcohol.  So much that when he came home from his seven day stay he had made the decision he needed to quit drinking, and thought that I might have some of the tendencies that he had learned about…to go from cucumber to pickle.

I was resistant; but after some time I quit with him.  This lasted for 7-8 years.  Our marriage, buying a home, and starting a family were some of the beautiful fruits of that decision. 

 

Eventually we decided that we could start drinking again, here and there.  I don’t remember the exact thing that prompted this, but what I do know is that it went from ‘here and there’ to full bore very quickly. Life went on like this for years.  All of our friends with kids drank, all of my family still drank, so nothing really was amiss (that I knew of) to anyone outside of our home; we just appeared to love partying. 

DO I HAVE A PROBLEM? 

 

Do I have a problem? I would ask myself this question regularly searching for any answer that would allow me to maintain my lifestyle. 

The 2AM heart palpitations, anxiety, depression, drinking every day after work or when I didn’t have to go to any function for our son, day drinking (even during the week when my son was at school).  Everything revolved around drinking, and eventually I didn’t want to go anywhere because I could just stay home and drink and not be judged. 

 

When there is alcohol in my life, there are no other activities. 

 

I finally decided that I needed to stop drinking.  This prompted a lot of day ones, 30 days here and there. I told my husband that I couldn’t live like this anymore. He continued drinking which made for a lot of internal confusion for me and so many questions. 

 

Would our marriage survive if I stopped drinking? Would we grow apart? What will it be like?. I had a lot of anger toward him and was doing a lot of finger pointing; “I can’t do this if you don’t do this” and “why won’t you help me to do this?”. 

 

These were valid questions, but what it really came down to was what kind of a life do I want to live? I had to look at things from an independent perspective rather than a “we” perspective. It was a do or die moment.

 

FORGING A WAY THROUGH 

 

I started my sobriety journey for myself about 3 years ago. I started by reading quit lit and of course googling if I’m an alcoholic 100,000 times at 2AM. What I realized is that the label is irrelevant; the real question here is; Is alcohol causing problems in my life? 

 

The answer was YES. 

 

With the help of reading a ton of quit lit; specifically Annie Grace’s; This Naked Mind (which I’ve read at least 7 times) and an online group entitled One Year No Beer; I was able to quit for 18 months, but I still wasn’t sold that I could never drink again.

 

Somewhere there still remained this idea of myself as a normal drinker. 

 

A weekend away with my husband was coming up.  I was scared. What will it be like?  We hadn’t been away together without my drinking in a long time.  So I searched myself for the answer of if I could moderate; maybe I could just drink while on vacation together, and not drink at home. 

 

That thought was all I needed to give myself the go ahead.  As you could imagine that plan failed; and I continued drinking for about six months right back to the level that I had been before.  

 

Somewhere in this time frame I came across Recovery Elevator podcasts and began listening, relating, and learning that I am not alone. There was something so intimate about the testimony people shared that had me nodding my head in total agreement. I knew that if I wanted to succeed I would need to connect with a community of like minded people; because friends, we cannot do this alone. 

PRESENT DAY 

 

Today, I am 333 days into this journey; approaching my one year again. I’m coming to it from a stronger, more settled and balanced place. My life is fuller and happier. Life is still ‘lifey’. It still has its ups and downs; but I’m present for it all; making the sweet that much sweeter. 

I’m excited for the future, to see what year two will bring, and to be there with you guys. 

If I could leave you with two final thoughts: Connection is the opposite of addiction and pineapple does belong on pizza! 

***Adrienne; Café RE Go Group

Benefits of Service in Recovery

Benefits of Service in Recovery

Recovery Elevator is excited to offer a new type of blog experience to our readers!  We are reaching out to our Café RE members and giving those that are interested the opportunity to be guest bloggers for our site.  Think of it as a podcast interview in written form.  You will get parts of their story along with tips and tools that they have found beneficial in their own recovery journey.  Please let us know what you think, or perhaps topics you would like to see covered, in the comments. 
I’m excited to bring our first guest blog submission to you today!  Stephanie McCarroll has been a member of Café RE since August 2020, has been alcohol free since January 12, 2020 and is very active within the community.  You can often find her on one of our daily ZOOM chats, if not hosting it, offering support and accountability to our members.  Thank you Steph!! 

Benefits of Service in Recovery

By Stephanie McCarroll

One of the most important aspects of long term recovery is being of service to others. At the early stages of sobriety, my focus was to get through the day sober. While sobriety continues to be my most valuable thing I have, my life moved past just getting through the day without a drink.  A greater need arose in myself to heal and thrive in all areas of my life: physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually.

Like the disease we have, recovery is also progressive.

 

True recovery is a path beyond simple abstinence. Rather, it is a journey by which we build strength to face the wounds that may have led to addiction and create a flourishing sober life. Being a helpful and valuable part of my recovery community is an integral part of such a life, and it is deeply nourishing to our social and spiritual wellbeing.

 

Alcohol isolated us.

It demanded we put our substance abuse above all others in our lives. Some of us feel a great deal of guilt for the time lost to our addiction. Although we cannot go back and erase our mistakes, our addiction gave us insight of what slavery to alcohol looked like. Hearing that other alcoholics could stop and recover was something that inspired us to keep fighting. We were no longer alone. We had evidence we could recover. 

 

For those who have shared their stories, they chose to be of service, giving powerful testimony of the benefits of living an alcohol free life. In recovery, the idea of service could be a new, daunting thought. Yet, giving back to our communities provides us with so many benefits.

 

Science has proven that being of service positively affects your brain and mental health. According to research, when you give your time and resources to people in need, your brain activates pleasure sensors, giving you a feeling of wellbeing. In this way, being of service in recovery is a form of self-care and lifts our spirits. It also helps us to manage stress. 

 

It also helps us rediscover our self-worth. It means being part of something bigger. At Cafe RE, members are encouraged to find ways to be of service wherever possible. Because Cafe RE is an intimate community, members volunteer to host chats and participate in community service projects.

 

In recovery, my art of writing has been rediscovered.  Like those who had a fondness for music and photography, I wanted to reach out to the writers. This prompted me to inquire about the possibility of forming a members-driven Guest Blog for Recovery Elevator. Paul said YES!

 

In finding the right service opportunity for you, it can be helpful to tune into your passions and what makes you come alive. Being in recovery is a beautiful gift that gives you the chance to pursue the things you love most about life, things that may have been robbed from you during your addiction.

 

If you would like to give back to the recovery community and guest blog, please contact kmac@recoveryelevator.com. We know our members have a lot to say and want to be of service. We are excited for this new endeavor and know it will help a lot of people.

BYO Mocktail: Full Circle Mocktails

BYO Mocktail: Full Circle Mocktails

I hope I’m not disappointing my 4 readers (hi Roxanne, Robyn, Kerri and Trisha!) No mocktail recipe this month. But I will throw in my favorite homemade ice cream recipe as of late for a little change up. Lately my mocktails have been top secret as I’ve been writing one for a friend that’s getting married this month.

wedding

 

Being my reflective self, I realized that it 2 years ago exactly I hosted my first a mocktail class with Café RE. I’m really proud of myself for becoming comfortable enough with myself to be known as someone who makes mocktails. And not just mocktails, but delicious ones that people request.

 

Cher Horowitz

 

We can say it, Sobriety is weird sometimes. How do you make friends? What do you do with your hands?

 

When does my “ASK MY ABOUT MY BEING SOBER” tee shirt arrive that is now a requirement to wear to all parties?

 

All of a sudden you can feel 14 again, but actually be 39. So figuring out who you are next can be hard and takes some time to get comfortable in a new skin. I liked to make and drink cocktails before I stopped drinking, so why should that stop just because there’s no more booze in my drink? Happy to be making cocktails still.

 
All that said and now here’s your recipe for this month.
Kiwi Strawberry

 

 

Birthday Cake Ice Cream

Serves 1 (because Ice cream isn’t meant for sharing)
 Ingredients
  • 2 C heavy cream
  • 1 C whole milk
  • ¾ C sugar
  • ⅛ t sea salt
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 t almond extract
  • 1/4 cup sprinkles or jimmies

1- Pour 1 cup of the cream into a saucepan and add the sugar, salt and vanilla. Warm mixture over medium / low heat until the sugar has just dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the remaining cream, milk, and almond extract. Stir to combine and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

2- Once chilled Whisk mixture and pour into ice cream maker. Make according to manufacturer’s instructions. Last 5 minutes add sprinkles and finish churn.

3- Eat.

 

Until next time!

 

Love and Mocktails,

Kate

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