As an ex-client, I talk to clients a lot about the addiction process and the choices we make. I tend to use a lot of cognitive-behavioral therapy such as “self talk” and the idea of being in the moment. Because of my experience in recovery, I feel that I am in a great position to help them. I use a lot of terminology that clients can relate to.
Thinking through every choice and action is crucial. Ask yourself, “What’s going to happen if I pick up & use right now? What’s going to be the next step?” You have to talk yourself through every action & consider the consequences. I practice this myself everyday with items such as food or candy. I’ll ask myself, “How will this help me?” Every time that you sit with the feeling of what you could be doing & fight it, you grow stronger.
Often, I will meet with clients who start off as frustrated and will come in yelling. I always try to get them to sit down & simply breathe. If I keep my tone of voice and body language calm, I feel that the whole experience will go smoother. When we meet, it is my time to listen to what they have to say.
I also try to re-frame the client’s language from being negative to being positive. For example, when the say, “I can’t do this,” I have them say “I can do this” or “I will try” instead of “I won’t”. I always start by listing all of the positive things about them. Regardless of the circumstances, I always start with positives.
I try to normalize with our clients. They may talk bad about themselves, but I try to push the fact that we all make mistakes and we all feel bad about ourselves from time to time. Instead of focusing on their faults, I ask them about all of the good things that they do and have done. Always think positive!
Be an empathetic listener. As a counselor, this is something I always have to keep at the front of my mind. It is crucial to understand that each client is coming from a different place in terms of their experiences, mindset and overall recovery. Not all clients can be treated the same. All too often, we say that “This person is this way, so we’ll treat them this way”. Each person is an individual & we use different modalities of treatment based on their experiences and obstacles. I always make sure to be respectful, honest & straight-forward with those that I help.
Regardless of what a person’s behavior is, I cannot take it personally. They might be dealing with a lot, so I expect some resistance at first. From working with clients, I realized that a lot of them will lack a feeling of self-worth or self-esteem. This confidence needs to be built up. I usually deal with clients throughout the whole treatment process.
I work on self-confidence because as a vocational counselor, my focus is on helping them find work. When they walk into an employer’s office for a job interview, they often feel that they will be judged as an ex-con or a felon. After a great self-worth is instilled, there is no difference between someone who is going through recovery and any other job applicant based on their attitude or mindset. Judgment should never be passed on someone for elements such as piercings or tattoos. If they are a genuinely good person, this will stand above any physical characteristic.
I always aim to instill the hope that they can indeed change their lives & that it will not be easy. As a counselor, I have to be honest with clients but always provide hope to counter the difficulties that they will face.
I was trapped in a black hole of mental chaos. I’ve persevered in some of my hardest times and have watched myself sink in others. When I couldn’t handle what the world threw my way, I let addiction take over. I have experienced things that nobody should ever have to, but I have come out stronger with a new sense of who I am and what I can accomplish.
I was raised in a home full of addiction and backfire from a previous divorce. My father was an alcoholic and drug addict. My mom eventually remarried, but all that resulted from it was abuse and moving on a regular basis. I was never able to actually settle in and make friends. The abuse from my stepfather was emotionally straining. Constantly talking down to me, waking me up for school by throwing ice water on my back, and persistently yelling at me—just to name a few. My mom was always stressed out and stayed out of it.
I was the oldest child in the house and was always disregarded for my younger siblings. When I was 11, my mom got a divorce and we moved toClovis. She eventually went into depression, forcing me to step up. At the age of 12, I was working a full time job and also being home schooled full time. All the while, I was the primary care-giver of my siblings.
When I think back on it, I never really had a childhood. I did like the responsibility, though. I graduated from high school on home study with honors. At this point, I had never dabbled with drugs or alcohol; I was stressed, but I was focused. In 1999, at the age of 18, I bought a house & was going to college full time to get my associate’s degree.
That same year, I had a gastric bypass surgery and sunk into depression. Trying to find ways to cope or even just rebel, I decided to get piercings. I eventually met my future husband at a piercing parlor. This was the beginning of my decline. I dropped out of college and eventually lost my house. This was the most abusive relationship I have ever had. I tasted blood every day for 6 years. I wanted out, but was forced to stay involved with him.
My rocky relationship drove me to drug and alcohol use to cope with the pain. I worked from home, but his abusive nature made this very difficult. I eventually started working in an office, but was almost always intoxicated. If I wasn’t going to work drunk, I was hiding alcohol in the restroom’s trash can. Months at a time felt like blackouts. The last time that he beat me was what punched his ticket into prison for a second time.
Having been freed from an abusive relationship, I decided that it was time to turn my life around. In 2004, I decided to get sober and recovered. I maintained sobriety for 6 years. During this time, I was involved in AA, was working, met someone knew and had a child. My relationship ended, leaving me alone with my daughter. I eventually dated and married a friend of mine, who had baggage of his own. He had 5 children whose ages ranged from 1 and a half to 21 years old.
His ex-wife was an addict herself and did everything that she could to bring us down. I was working three jobs and had a house; we were both sharing the responsibilities of living. After we got married, we ended up going to court to fight for full custody of the children. We won, but when we got them, I had no idea of what I was in for. They were trained to hate me by their mom. I fought to get them into a good home, but never earned their respect. Life was difficult to say the least, but I have never blamed them for the situation.
During this time, I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel and had to have surgery. Surgery equals pain medication; this was fine with me, having already overcome addiction. I’ve been through alcohol and cocaine, pills would be nothing, right? I was wrong. I eventually started building up to between 30 to 60 pills a day. I then found myself switching back and forth between pills and alcohol. I would take to the streets to buy more as well as whatever else I could get.
I was caught up in a full relapse with not just pills or alcohol, but everything. In 2011, I must have experimented with every drug out there. When I drank, it would be as much as 3 liters a day. That year, I had two DUI’s to my name as well as a car crash. I rolled my car 5 minutes away from picking my daughter up at her father’s house. I slammed through a fence; my whole car was destroyed and packed with barb wire, including the child’s seat. My daughter could have been in there when it happened. I thank God every day that He protected her from this.
The bottom line of my addiction at this point was that I needed to feel numb. Without a car, I would walk to the liquor store. One day in May of 2011, I took a shortcut through an apartment complex nearBulldog Laneand was confronted by a group of 12 men. I was beaten, raped, tortured and left for dead in the street. A man picked me up and dropped me off at my apartment where I laid there, bleeding from the inside with a crushed soul. I was in the hospital for a week.
One after another, I was hit with blow after blow and didn’t know how to deal with it. I went into a deep depression and watched things go on and off with my husband. I checked myself into a recovery program, but unfortunately this was not a positive experience. I entered to strengthen my relationship with not only God, but with my husband. When I left, I discovered that he had a girlfriend.
My marriage was over and my kids were caught in the middle of it. I eventually became numb to everything. I used every day, and did not care if I was going to wake up or not. I just sat there day after day in apathy. My family was aware of this. They would check up on me daily to see if I was still alive and eventually took my daughter to watch after. They began making funeral plans for me, but on July 24th of 2011, those plans changed. My sister was murdered by a co-worker before he took his own life. I felt like they buried the wrong daughter.
I had so much guilt. I switched my addiction to Listerine at this point thinking that I’d be wasted, but still smell minty-fresh. One day, I packed up, got my daughter and just left. My family was scared knowing that I had her. I had a plan, though. We were moving in with a close friend of mine who was 20 years sober. This in theory worked, but I was isolated since she was at work and the kids were at school. I found myself drinking all of her Listerine and searching her cabinets for pills, thinking that no one would notice. After Thanksgiving of 2011, I was wasted and passed out. On the way to the floor, I hit my head on the corner of a nightstand.
As I laid there bleeding from the head, my daughter, who was 4 at the time, ran in to see me unconscious. She grabbed my friend’s 16 year old daughter and they both got help. My mom came over and took me to the hospital. After I was released the next day, I walked a mile or so to my car. I proceeded to get drunk again and then drove to my mom’s seeking help. She called the cops on me.
At this point, I wanted to go to jail. I couldn’t control myself anymore and needed help. The cops couldn’t find anything to violate me on. My attorney, who got me out of several DUI’s before, was my guardian angel. He rushed over and had me signed up for detox with CAP the following day. I spent 14 days in detox and then 90 days at WestCare in recovery.
Through this program, I was able to focus on myself and ask, “Who am I?” and “How did I get here?” I learned to be perfectly happy with myself and be happy with being sober. I made friends in WestCare who have become more like family. Sometimes, the closest family isn’t even blood related. You have to hold on close to what you have. These friends are my sisters; I owe so much to them and everyone I’ve met at WestCare.
The classes helped me, but it was the time spent talking outside of class that was the most beneficial. Everyone in recovery is going through something and they can all open up and support each other. I now give back by driving people where they need to go or set up group outings such as getting pizza. We know they serve beer there, but we can fight the urge together.
A lot of people would stand up on a pedestal in recovery. The bottom line in recovery is that we are all addicts. It’s not a contest; this should bring us all together. The other day, I spoke with my brother who is facing addiction. He told me, “You think you’re perfect and you’re not.” He’s right. I’m exactly the same as him. I’m not better than anyone else and I’m not competing to be. We all have different reasons that brought us to where we are and we can’t get caught up with comparing. Just because I’m sober, it doesn’t make me any better. I’m still fighting every day. I got better and I pray that he does too.
I feel stronger today than I did in my previous 6 years of sobriety. I still have things that I struggle with, however. I try my best not to care what others think about me. You can easily judge a book by its cover and people judge me all of the time because of my tattoos and piercings. I have a tattoo that reads in Latin,”Condemnant Quod Non Intellegunt”; which translates to “They condemn what they don’t understand.” I know that what other people think of me is not my business and will not help.
I am happy with my life now. My number one inspiration is my daughter. She no longer has to ask ‘what’s wrong with mommy’ or ‘what monster has control of mommy’; I’m back and will take care of her. I’m ready to break the cycle and raise her right. I will continue to help others with recovery. It’s motivating for me to see others progress forward. I currently have a career, but I plan to become a counselor in time and continue to pay it forward. In my mind, I have already reached “success.” For me, it is loving myself and living life free of the burden that guilt, shame and self-loathing create. Every day for me is a gift.
My advice to those that are still addicted is this: GET REAL. The only person that you’re truly hurting is yourself. Your family is hurt because they’re watching you, but you’re the one that’s dying. It was your choices that got you to where you are and you are the only one that has a key to change it. Play the tape through and ask yourself, “Where is this going to get me?” Do you ever see elderly heroin addicts walking around? No you don’t, because they don’t make it that far.
The best advice that I was ever given was this: You are always guaranteed another relapse; but you are never guaranteed another recovery. So, you might want to take this recovery seriously. You might not get that second chance at life.
I’ve realized that I can’t say sorry anymore. Us addicts, that’s all we say; “I’m sorry.” We’re just a bunch of sorry people. Now what I can do is look in the mirror and feel happy about who I am. I used to look in the mirror and ask, “Another day?” Now, I look in the mirror and say, “Bring on tomorrow!” It’s easy to just not use, but it’s the hardest thing to just live. Enjoy life. Live life as it’s thrown at you; it will be hard sometimes, but it will be worth it.
Thank you for taking an interest in our WestCare California blog! We hope this will become a place to discover more about who we are and what we do, as well as a place to create positive change in the world of recovery. The WestCare motto is “uplifting the human spirit,” and this is what we strive to live by each and every day. No one is immune to difficult and troublesome times, and it is through these hardships that we discover who we truly are. Recovery is a beautiful process that may not happen overnight, but the outcome is always worth waiting for. On this site we’ll include stories, guidance, and encouragement for the road to recovery. Remember– it happens!