Holly took her last drink on January 4, 2007. This is her story of living alcohol-free (AF).
Finding Your Better You – Odette’s weekly message.
Odette and Holly met in treatment. In 2013, they went to Montecatini together to work on their eating disorders. Odette believed that if she could stop her obsession with food and reach a healthy weight, she would be normal. However, she didn’t address the emotional reasons behind her eating disorder. A few years later, she found herself using alcohol as her new coping mechanism. The behaviors that led to her unhealthy relationship with food mirrored the behaviors of her relationship with alcohol.
Up to 35% of people who abused alcohol also have an eating disorder. This rate is 11 times greater than the general population.
For more information on these statistics, see: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
The stigma for eating disorders is greater than the stigma for alcohol use disorder, so many people struggle in silence.
Odette believes the only way out is through.
Get to the root cause of your addiction. Be aware of co-occurring addictions. Don’t run away from your feelings or numb them with a substance. Find a community. Get professional help. When seeking help, be specific. Find a therapist specializing in addiction, whether it is alcohol, food, drugs, or whatever else. Get specific.
Don’t feel perpetually stuck in addiction whack-a-mole. We can do hard things.
[9:14] Odette introduces Holly
Holly took her last drink on January 4, 2007. Holly is from Montana. She moved to Southern California over 15 years ago for graduate school. She currently works for Mental Health Systems as an employment specialist, helping those with behavioral health issues get employment. On the weekends, she works for a rehab in San Diego as a rehab specialist. Holly has fun playing games. Codeword is her latest favorite. She also enjoys listening to books, music and hanging out with her dog Hannay.
[11:56] Tell me about your history with drinking
Holly started experimenting with alcohol in college. She grew up in a conservative home. She was allowed to drink with adults present, but her family was traditional with alcohol use. Holly didn’t drink in high school. She was a rule follower.
Her drinking took off when she was 21, when it was legal and escalated after her engagement. She attended Fuller Theological Seminary, intending to become a Presbyterian minister. She drank heavily every day and hid her drinking.
[13:39] Did you start questioning your drinking habits at that time?
When Holly lived in Montana, she drank like everyone else. When she moved to California, she would order two drinks at a time and was starting to understand that wasn’t normal. She needed a drink before she went out and then went home afterward to drink alone. She isolated and that isolation led to depression. Alcohol exacerbated the depression. Toward the end of her drinking, she was put on several psychiatric holds (5150).
[15:17] Were you rationalizing your drinking as something sophisticated?
On paper, Holly was very functional. She was a straight-A student, on the Dean’s list, she held to part-time jobs. She aced Hebrew.
[16:40] Did you have a therapist? Was your therapist able to discern the alcohol issues from the depression issues?
Holly had a therapist and kept drinking. She hid her drinking from her therapist. She was annoyed that her therapist occasionally suggested her attending a meeting.
[17:33] Walk me through the progression of your drinking.
Holly noted that two years after moving to California, she couldn’t stop drinking. She would wake up in the morning and drink to recover from the night before. She also struggled with an Eating disorder. Alcohol was the only calories she could keep in her body. She was physically and mentally depleting.
She had suicidal ideations and felt if she got rid of herself, she would solve the problems she caused others. She had several suicide attempts due to alcohol, poor nutrition, and depression.
[18:58] How long did that cycle last?
Holly’s drinking continued for two years. On January 3, her therapist said she didn’t sound right and told her to go immediately to the hospital. Holly knew she couldn’t drive, so she walked toward the hospital. She consumed a pint of Vodka, a handful of Xanax and was mugged on the way to the hospital.
She went missing for several hours. The Pasadena police called her Mom in Montana asking, are you Mom? They told her Mom they couldn’t find Holly. When Holly came to, she walked back to her apartment that has search dogs and an ambulance. She was placed on a 72-hour psych hold, which became a 14-day hold. She was released early because her Dad came down from Montana to take her to rehab.
[21:02] How many holds did you have?
Holly said, five or six, and she was still in denial. She was in rehab for 97 days, and it took her until Day 45 to acknowledge she had a bit of a drinking problem. She admitted to depression and an eating disorder, but not alcohol.
[22:07] What was it about alcohol that made it difficult for you to admit you had a problem?
Holly said that alcohol was such a part of her lifestyle that it seemed normal. Her view of an alcoholic was a homeless person on the street with a bottle in a brown bag. She had extreme denial that it was a problem.
[23:08] Tell me more about when you went to rehab?
Holly attended rehab in San Clemente, CA. It was a 12 Step based program. She was scared. Forty-five days into rehab, she begrudgingly got a sponsor. She was asked, “are you willing to do whatever it takes?” That temporary sponsor was with her for 7.5 years. Holly is grateful to her sponsor, her family, and all of the rehab staff who had to put up with her attitude.
On family weekend, her Dad was crying when he told Holly what he saw when he came to put her in rehab. There were alcohol bottles and diet pills strewn about her apartment. Nobody knew how bad she was because she only reported the good news, from her grades to her two jobs. Seeing the pain in her father’s eyes snapped her into awareness.
[27:08] Did you realize your body was withdrawing from alcohol?
Holly said she had no recall of the first several days because she had overdosed. She later learned that her blood alcohol level was toxically high. The doctors said it was amazing she pulled through. Holly believes from her faith that angels were watching over her, and that is why she is still with us.
[28:19] What happened after you left rehab. How was it adjusting to the real world?
Holly said she did a lot of work but knew she had to take one day at a time. In early recovery, she leveraged AA, her sponsor, and plenty of therapy. Holly said connections, connections, connections – that was her saving grace. She began to lean in on other sobriety tools like the Recovery Elevator podcast. She returned to grad school and added recovery ministry to her curriculum. Her heart changed, and there was an ego shift that allowed her to focus on recovery ministry, sharing her recovery tools with others who struggle with addiction. She still takes it one day at a time, and her recovery isn’t perfect. Now she can hold space for others.
[31:12] Did your eating disorder progress after you stopped drinking?
Holly said she exchanged one obsession for another. Her addictive brain focused on alcohol, then alcohol plus food, trauma. Her recovery has not been a straight line but rather a windy pathway.
She realized variety, moderation and balance are essential in her life, but moderation is not an option with alcohol. She has infinite possibilities without alcohol.
[34:33] How do you handle difficult emotions now?
Holly said she has to reach out to talk to people, or she is in trouble. If she starts to isolate from family and friends, it’s a red flag.
[37:00] Tell me how you transitioned into the recovery industry?
Holly said after graduating, she felt a pull to help others. She began helping people in recovery homes and believes her past was a calling for her to hold space for others.
She practices playing the tape through regularly to avoid the insanity of her thoughts. She knows she is not going to drink, just for today. She believes in affirmations to rewire her neuropathways.
[45:38] How has your recovery evolved over time?
Holly remains involved in her 12-step program, but her mind has shifted from, I have to, to I get to. She continues to work with a therapist and connects with other people in recovery.
[49:17] Rapid Fire Round
- What would you say to your younger self?
Stay in the present, don’t worry about the past. You are loved.
- What is a lightbulb moment for you in this journey?
Everyone has a past, don’t cast judgment. It’s about what you are doing today.
- What do you bring to a party?
Diet Coke or Coke Zero with a splash of lemonade.
- What are your favorite resources in recovery?
Connection, 12-steps, mental health support groups, quit lit, friends, and family.
- What parting piece of guidance can you give listeners who are thinking of ditching the booze?
Be gentle with yourself and know there are people who want to support you. No matter what, you have worth, value and you are loved.
You may have to say Adios to booze if …
You finish your whiskey, and you yell at the bartender, “same ice” because you don’t want the marinated ice to go down the drain.
Odette’s weekly challenge:
This journey should make you feel lighter and propel you toward the life you deserve. Let this be the best experiment in your life, the path back to yourself. Challenges are lessons, not obstacles. We can fail forward into beautiful things. You are not alone, together is always better.
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