Recovery Began with Winter Break in Rehab
I had made it as far as the parking lot, and I was scared. That pit-of-your-stomach feeling that goes along with serious fear was no stranger to me. I had felt it on many of my adventures while skiing, climbing, and paddling white water. But there, sitting in my car outside a rehab clinic, I was more terrified than I had ever been in my entire life.
My struggle with alcohol and drugs had escalated over the past year, and now my addictions consumed every waking moment. I was scared to live another day with alcohol but petrified of living a day without it. As I entered the door that said “Admittance,” I thought about the journey that had led me here—to winter break in rehab.
The minute I stepped onto my first college campus, my relationship with alcohol found the perfect environment in which to thrive. We became long-lost best friends, compadres in fun and mischief. Ultimately, this relationship would prove painful, stubborn, and scornful.
At first, I thought I was just like everyone else. We all partied hard. So what if I drank every night? I was in college. Inside, I was wrestling with years of insecurity, bordering on self-hatred. I struggled to sit still. I was impulsive and often made poor decisions, making up for these shortcomings by working hard—both in school and at work—and by becoming the life of every party. I thought that if I could fake confidence on the outside, one day I would actually have it on the inside. Alcohol was with me every step of the way.
For a long time, I seriously thought it didn’t matter. I had fantastic grades, majoring in something I loved—outdoor recreation and therapeutic recreation. Even after I entered the workforce, I managed to shrug off the consequences of being a daily drinker. I was 22 and starting out strong. I was the therapeutic recreation coordinator for a residential treatment facility for teenagers with mental and emotional disorders. These youths were truly in rough places, most of them in and out of foster care, with no strong adult role models. I loved taking them on adventures all over the state of Maine. But every night after work, I would pick up my bottle of rum and return home to party with my friends. This was about the time I began to notice how much my relationship with alcohol was changing. I knew I was at risk for alcoholism, and I grew concerned about my drinking and drugging habits, but I also had a steady arsenal of excuses to talk myself out of getting help.
Soon the stability of a professional job grew boring. I wanted more adventure, so I took off for the West Coast. Over the next seven years, I lived in six different states, working as a raft guide, ski patroller, and wilderness guide and drinking my way around the country. I lived in tents, RVs, my car, and the occasional apartment. When people who cared about me showed concern about the trail of chaos I was leaving behind, I simply responded that society couldn’t dictate who or what I was supposed to be, that they where locked in cages, and that I, unlike them, was truly free.
My parents were at a loss. They struggled even to keep up with which part of the country I was living in. I was consumed. I love outdoor recreation. It is my passion. But at some point, my love for alcohol became a higher priority. I was still skiing, white-water rafting, biking, and hiking, but my rum was always within reach. With a stomach filled with booze, it was easy for me to make up a million excuses for my drinking.
I had always prided myself on my work ethic, but even that was failing. I was working three jobs so I could still party and scrape by financially. But I was broke. Most nights, I would scrounge around for spare change to buy an eight-dollar bottle of Mr. Boston Rum so I could drink myself into blackout and the comfort of darkness.
When an injury forced me to face a nine-month recovery, I was no longer able to participate in recreation—personally or professionally. Friends took me in, but they nagged me to follow medical advice and lectured me about my drinking, all of which I found annoying. I took to living in my car, where I was free to do as I pleased—and doing as I pleased primarily revolved around lying by the river on painkillers and drinking the days away. I was angry, blaming everyone else for the chaos in my life.
When the weather turned cold, I decided the final cure for my problems would be graduate school. High scores on my GRE and good work experience got me acceptance letters from several schools. I chose the University of New Hampshire. The assistantship and loans I was awarded would give me enough money to move into my own place, and the structure of school would help me sober up. Problem solved.
I wish I could say it worked. Instead, I ended up drinking more and drinking alone. Before, I had always made friends easily. At first, I tried to hang out with peers in my program but quickly decided that they where different from me, and I alienated myself. My pattern of partying and cracking jokes and surrounding myself with lots of people just didn’t seem to be working any more. Although I did well in all my classes, my department was frustrated with my behavior and threatened to take away my assistantship and financial support. I wanted a cure but still couldn’t face the overwhelming fact that my problems revolved around my drinking.
Searching for a quick fix, I decided to visit UNH’s counseling center. At the first meeting, the counselor asked if I thought I was an alcoholic. I replied with an angry, “Of course I am an alcoholic! But I am not here to stop drinking—I am just here to feel better.” She gently replied that, in most cases, working on other issues is pointless until a person stops drinking. She then referred me to the on-campus substance abuse center.
Always stubborn and filled with fear, I must have literally walked by the center’s entrance a dozen times before I made it inside. I’m still not sure what finally carried me through those doors, but the resources I found at UNH’s substance abuse center and the role my counselor played in the upcoming months began my road to recovery and ultimately saved my life.
My counselor’s name was Pam. I am a natural-born fighter, and boy, did I fight her every step of the way. Much to my surprise, she never told me to stop drinking. I think that’s why I kept seeing her. We worked together for two months while I continued to drink, and she never gave up on me. She planted seeds about Twelve Step programs and rehab—both of which were steps I was unwilling to take at the time. As classes wrapped up for the fall semester, I hit what I hoped was my final rock-bottom. I called Pam first. She’s the one who talked me through detoxing and found me a rehab center just days before winter break. It was Pam who met with me twice a week to teach me how to navigate the waters of early recovery, and I still meet with her today, at 18 months sober.
Much has changed over the past year-and-a-half. I graduated from my program two days ago on great terms with my department and advisor, and I hope to publish my research in the upcoming months. I have been accepted into another program revolving around adventure and recreation as a therapeutic tool for mental illness and substance abuse. I have found a new happiness that I didn’t know was possible.
I now regularly attend a Twelve Step program, which has been instrumental to my continued recovery. And when I think back on that woman, sitting in the parking lot outside of rehab, I know the journey has been long and hard. I still have far to go, but today I am truly free.
Written By Meg Rogosienski