The Road Trip Sessions: Installment #3

I had a secret weapon to deal with anxiety, pain or discomfort: simply self-medicate with substances. Being a little tipsy, a little numb and a little checked out helped me tolerate the surfing situation (not to mention all other hard things in life). The day would pass in sea-salt tinted haze.

“I own a surfboard, but I’m not a surfer.” This is my go-to script when discussing the salty sport.“Surfing is the hardest sport I’ve ever tried.” Is the next sentence that flows off my tongue. It’s all true. I purchased a 9’6” bright red longboard before ever attempting to tackle a wave, and once I did, found it to be the most challenging, intimidating and exhilarating activity I’ve pursued.

Surfing requires balance, coordination, strength, mental composure, a love of water and proclivity for adrenaline. When I first donned a wetsuit at age 30, I didn’t possess many of these attributes. I was physically clumsy, preferred reading on the beach vs. frolicking in the waves, and I’ve got a weird quirk about putting my face under water. I hate it. While I grew up thoroughly enjoying swimming in pools and lakes with my dad and siblings, I would rarely immerse my head. Like a cat, when water touches my face, I instantly recoil. Even in the shower. I know, it’s ridiculous.

(I have a couple theories why this is, but not enough blog space to elaborate. Perhaps another time we’ll examine my two near drownings along with early belief that  maintaining a perfectly made up face to gain male attention was more important than letting go to playfully swim. I’ve predominately overcome these, gratefully, but I still swim with my face fully above the surface!)

Submersion underwater is non-negotiable in surfing. My face was going to get wet; no way around it. But when one is 30 years old, in a new relationship, leaping into life in a fresh, adventurous way and one’s boyfriend says, “I want to take you surfing!!” one does not say “I can’t do that, I don’t like to get my face wet”. One purchases a surfboard and wetsuit and faces their watery foe head-on (after vomiting in the grassy dunes on the way to the waterfront.)

My first surf adventure was at Short Sands on the Oregon Coast. Lucky for me, my older brother is an excellent surfer and was there to walk me through the process. I’ll never forget laying shakily atop the unfamiliar red surfboard as he held tightly to the sides, chest deep in the water.  When the right wave was near, he’d say “Paddle” and push me ahead of the wave. Next, he’d instruct me to “Get up!” as I struggled to get vertical. The ocean was threatening and unpredictable. My brother: reliable and serene.

I’ve surfed a few dozen times since then, but not well. I’d schlep out into the cold liquid and hours would pass as I fell again and again. I’d make it up to my knees a handful of times, but rarely to my feet. The water was frigid, salt relentlessly stung my eyes, and the neck of my wetsuit suffocated me. Mostly, I stood waist deep with my feet firmly planted on the sand, looking out toward limitless rolling waves, hoping everyone was too busy to notice I hardly tried.

Besides avoiding plunging my face under, I was burdened with all the “normal” fears associated with entering a vast, creature-filled body of water:

  • Deep, primal fear of what lies beneath the surface: jelly fish, stingrays, and sharks oh my!
  • Fear of possible and probable injury: surfboards are hard when they hit your head and fins are VERY sharp when they cut your ankle, thigh or arm
  • Fear of unpredictable, merciless currents, waves and riptides: the ocean has a reputation of tumbling people like socks in a giant washing machine.

Signage along the shore warns of the risks assumed by stepping into the sea. The ocean plays by her own rules, and if you don’t know or understand them, you can easily end up a victim to the game.

All of that sounds awful as I put it on paper. “Why do it at all?” you ask. (I’m asking myself as I write this as well.)

I persisted because my partner at the time was into it and it was something to do as a couple. It was also an activity in common with my brother and bonding moments with him were rare and special. I persisted because it was the sexy thing to do. It feels young and trendy to wear a bikini top and a wetsuit pulled up to my waist, flaunting natural beachy waves in my hair. I persisted to belong; to join the after party without feeling like a fraud on dry land when everyone else had kicked ass in, or had their ass kicked by, the ocean.

More significant were the few exceptional moments when I got it. I mean really got it. The wave swelled under me, my body found its way upright and I maintained a balanced, athletic posture all the way to the foamy whitewater at the shore; the moment I caught a wave. That was a feeling I wanted more of. A feeling of alive seldom achieved in any other sport.

That sensation was so pleasant, so magnetic, it was worth facing all my aforementioned fears. Besides, I had a secret weapon to deal with anxiety, pain or discomfort: simply self-medicate with substances. Being a little tipsy, a little numb and a little checked out helped me tolerate the surfing situation (not to mention all other hard things in life). The day would pass in sea-salt tinted haze. Somehow, I’d make it safely to dry land and move on to more savory pastimes such as reading, beach combing, and more drinking. Alcohol washed away worry and Vicodin dulled the dread as I hesitantly paddled out into the Pacific, though they certainly never assisted in gaining balance or expertise.

WARNING: Do not ever surf under the influence. I am in no way insinuating substances ACTUALLY made me brave. They simply numbed my fear.  Which means they also numbed my joy. And then I became an addict and lost my job and many relationships and almost my nursing license along with my dignity and it’s taken me years to overcome the shame and sickness that ensued from thinking it was a good idea to self-medicate. I’m simply relaying how my brain worked at the time, before I understood the catastrophic consequences and life-threatening risks I was taking and before I truly loved myself. Ok, with that out of the way….

The seductive call of surfing sang to me again in Costa Rica, while traveling with family. The waves were comparatively warm and small, but I was no less terrified than I’d been in the polar Pacific. All my previous fears remained, with one major distinction: I had no addictive crutch to calm my shaking nerves.

In Costa Rica I would be surfing sober, and I lacked a backup coping mechanism. I longed for a super strong IPA and little white pill to transform my cowardice into (false) confidence.

Having no prescription positivity or liquid courage to consume, I was irritable. My pulse clanged in my ears and I couldn’t summon my inner yogi to maintain balance. The instructor was exasperated with my bad habit of reaching up to plug my nose when I thought I was going under. Every time I did, it caused me to fall off. It was cyclical self-sabotage.

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Tamarindo, Costa Rica. Rare moment standing up! And about to plug my nose before falling in…

Stone cold sober and scared, my sympathetic nervous system took over and I reverted to “flight mode”. Squeezing my eyes shut, I would either jump off the board physically or try to mentally escape the situation, mimicking what substances had done for me. When the instructor said “Ok, paddle!” panic ensued, causing my limbs and trunk to flail in all directions. While adventuring together as a family in Costa Rica is one of my best memories in this lifetime, the surf lesson was a struggle for me. I did my best to stay distracted and prayed it would end soon.

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My amazing family, taking a group lesson. Some of the Best memories of my life.

Nearly two years have passed, and surfing hasn’t been a priority. Until now.

I’m staying in Ucluelet, a small town near Tofino, Canada’s #1 Surf City and international surfing mecca.

The remote region of Vancouver Island didn’t make my travel itinerary for the perfect surf waves specifically. I came for the long stretches of coastline, ancient cedar-lined trails, reputation for delicious seafood and diverse demographic. (That it’s crawling with men who surf is not a deterrent. Something about a man in neoprene tossing back his wet hair while balancing on a board is universally desirable.)

My first day here, as I veered left on The Pacific Rim Highway towards Ucluelet and passed Long Beach Surf Shop, I was overcome by a daring disposition. “Tiffany, you’re here! You have to do it!” Within minutes I’d booked a lesson for Sunday morning, when the winds would be calm and the waves manageable.

“I own a surfboard, but I’m not a surfer.” I told the adorable, curly-haired local surfer boy, and he smiled knowingly from behind the desk. I wasn’t the first kook to come across his shop.

Kook: . 1. someone posing very hard as a surfer or skateboarder. 2. someone that goes to every surfing or skateboarding event to hangout, compile pictures, start conversations, and generally be seen with real surfers or skateboarders.

Sunday morning jolted me wide awake with anticipation. I had to stop at two bathrooms on the way as my stomach rolled, much like the ocean would as I tried to balance atop it.

“Am I really doing this?” I asked myself. “I don’t NEED to be a surfer. I’m so many other things.” The answer arrived easily and quietly, as they do when one learns to listen to one’s spirit.

“Courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear.” (Michael Hyatt) The empowered theme appeared again and again on my road trip, and in these final days of travel I wasn’t about to argue.

Prior to camping in Ucluelet, I’d basked for five days in recovery heaven on Salt Spring Island at a She Recovers Retreat. I felt buoyed by the courage of women I’d connected with and inspired to push myself toward the edge of discomfort; to uncover hidden grit and willingness to fall. Surfing would offer this in spades.

Driving toward Wickanninish beach I experienced a perseverance and purposefulness in my decision. I had no desire to numb or escape. No need to drink or swallow pills in order to pre-medicate and erase the experience before it even had a chance to occur.

There were three of us women in the lesson, all inexperienced. Our instructor, Sean, did not have adorable long curly hair like the boy at the desk, but he did have the body of a professional surfer, (because he is one) the enticing accent of unknown lands (Costa Rica and Canada) and the unwavering patience of an award-winning kindergarten teacher (because apparently, he’s just perfect). I fell a little bit in love.

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Long Beach Surf Shop, Ucluelet BC

After practicing on the beach, I was no more confident about my stance or my skills, but at least I didn’t vomit as we carried our boards into the chilly undulations of the ocean.

Sean lined us up to take turns. We all cheered as the first woman rode the wave in on her belly. Sean gestured to me, and I knew I was up. Like my brother had years before, he stood in front of me holding the nose of my board. Looking into my eyes he said “I’ve got you. You’ve got this.”

I made a conscious decision to believe him.

Salty water crashed over my head as Sean kept my board still. I chose to feel it. I chose to breathe calmly. I did not escape by sending my thoughts to safer places like the dry beach in front of me. I did not get lost in a panicky state and allow the situation to become bigger than my mindset.

I saw kelp swirling near my feet and knew it as kelp; not a monstrous plant poised to pull me under. I considered the fin under my board as a steering tool instead of a weapon designed to cut my face. Rather than transporting myself into an imagined state, submerged under the surface unable to overcome the rolling weight of the waves, I chose to regard the ocean as a child might; a liquid amusement park, my surfboard a floating raft, the waves produced solely for my laughter and delight.

I felt firm, smooth foam beneath my hands, chest and hip bones.

I breathed in pelagic air and tasted high sodium droplets on my lower lip.

I ebbed and flowed rhythmically with the waves and waited for my teacher to give me the signal.

I was as present in the moment as I’ve ever been.

My wave came, and Sean’s lilting voice hit my ears. “This is it. Paddle!”

I stayed in my body.

The ocean surged under my board, pushing me up and forward.

“Get up!” He called out.

I stayed in my body.

My arms and legs moved in sync, just as we’d rehearsed on the sand.

I stayed in my body.

I caught the wave.

I caught every single wave I paddled for.

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Wickanninish Beach, Ucluelet BC. Surf Success!

I never plugged my nose in a panic throwing off my balance, frantically wiped salt water out of my face or tugged insistently at the neck of my wetsuit to keep me from choking.

Instead, I just surfed.

The hour flew by. We laughed, cheered and high-fived. I said, “just one more!” to Sean at least five times. When it was over, I kept my wetsuit on for over an hour because I felt happy and secure tucked inside it. img_8896

Catching waves at Wickanninish beach will forever be etched in my mind as the day I learned I am perfectly safe when I choose to stay present in a situation. I’m more than safe; I’m resilient, effective and happy.

This is mindfulness in motion. This is how meditation positively impacts me in everyday life.

Drugs and alcohol numbed my fear and robbed me of joy, competence and strength. This is crystal clear in hind sight. Recovery has been an education in learning to accept the whole spectrum of feelings/emotions as part of the human condition, without needing to escape, through substances or otherwise.

I don’t know when or if I will surf again. I know that on this trip, the timing, waves, instructor and mindset serendipitously became magical marine memories.

Consistently surfing successfully takes repetition and I’m still not 100% sold on spending that amount of time in cold climate water. Besides I still need to ski, run, bike, and paddle board. If I lived in Costa Rica, this may be a different conversation. I’d likely sign up for summer long surf camps and get in line to be Sean’s newest ex-girlfriend. (Not because I want to be an EX…just a realistic assumption he can’t keep them around too long with all the traveling he does for surf competitions.)

I’ll sum up the moral of this story with the words of Jon Kabat Zinn who said it best:

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

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Cassie enjoying Wickanninish Beach

I’ve learned a thing or two about surfing waves of emotion! If you’d like to chat about how this might help on your journey of recovery, check out my website www.recoverandrise.com or email me, tiffany@recoverandrise.com.

Cheers and Gratitude,

Tiffany

The Roadtrip Sessions: Installment #2

Especially as a woman in recovery from religious trauma, self-loathing, perfectionism, opiates and alcohol, the ability to walk around with the experience that “I am absolutely OK just as I am” is nothing less than a miracle.

It’s been 10 consecutive days camping, hiking, swimming and posting up in driveways. The evidence is indisputable:

  • I have not changed out of my Olakai sandals, except for ONCE when I used the local Planet Fitness in Eureka California. My feet are toughened up for the barefoot season, to put it nicely. (I did book a pedicure today. I’m camping, but a girl still has needs.)
  • I’ve not worn a bra once, only occasional tank top like sports bras. If you’ve been reading for awhile, you know I probably don’t NEED a bra. (refer to this early blog. Fair warning: not my best material. Raw, genuine, but pre-writing course and I’m not taking the time to edit.) From the looks of the locals, I don’t think this part of Oregon requires the undergarment.
  • My skin is glowing with summer tan. And by tan, I mean my freckles have grown together close enough that from a distance, if you squint your eyes, I appear to have a mild bronze sheen. I’ll take it, it’s the best I can ask for.
  • My eyes are sparkling, my gait nonchalant and my face relaxed. (Ok, that could be the botox I got right before the trip…) Schedules/plans/obligations are beginning to feel like a thing of the past.

It’s official. I’m in vacation mode. After a week of reveling in the foggy western coastline and brilliant green shade of Northern California’s Redwoods, it was time to head inland for sunnier times.

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Sunny spot just outside Eagle Point, Oregon

Meandering northeast, I stopped for the night in Eagle Point, Oregon where I met a charismatic, van-owning woman whom impacted my life significantly in a matter of hours. She gifted me a homemade smudge stick, added me to a women’s only online van community, and generously shared the journey of her grief/healing process when our conversation turned to aging dogs and loss of parents. She introduced me to Laurie Anderson’s documentary “Heart of a Dog”,  and showed me mementos such as a healing candle from her mother’s service, and gorgeous glass pendant created from her beloved dog’s ashes by Psyche Cremation Jewelry in Bend, Oregon (which as you know was my next stop!) Cassie – my own special canine soulmate  – is still very much alive, but a large part of my trip’s purpose has been to celebrate her life and prepare for inevitable loss as she begins to slow down at 14 years old. And always, in the back of my mind, are thoughts of how and when I’ll begin to deal with my father’s passing in 2017. So much occurred in one brief night at Eagle Point, it’s hard to explain in a paragraph. Just trust me; I was meant to meet this woman.

Tuesday allowed for a detour through Umpqua Hot Springs. I love hot springs! Growing up, I had a foggy sense of their existence as there are some near Baker Lake at our family’s annual camping location. But I only came to appreciate the rich, sultry liquid when my former partner and I visited Ainsworth Hot Springs in BC Canada (GO! there are caves to swim through. It’s breathtaking). Later, we enjoyed both primitive and man-made hot spring stops in Utah. I fell so in love with them, I have a future road trip planned entirely around hot pool destinations.

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Umpqua!

After soaking in nature’s steamy mineral bath (Cassie accidentally soaked for a second herself, thinking it was an individual dog-sized lake) we continued to Bend.

Bend, Oregon. Outdoor Utopia.

Every time I visit I resolve to relocating, along with thousands of other visitors who are searching for the perfect combination of city/country/mountains/nature/metro/hipster/family friendly/dog loving/sunshine/snow sports/progressive paradise.

But don’t tell anyone. If too many migrate, it won’t stay this way! (at least that’s what many of the locals will say if you mention interest in transferring your life to their precinct.)

Nowhere is perfect, but Bend is close. The downside is it’s verrryyy expensive, so I’ll have to find a longterm “Driveway Host” and live out of my van if I’m going to make the move. It’s not a completely preposterous scheme.

  • “Driveway Host”: A van owner who offers other van owners a driveway, curb side parking, guest room or lawn to camp in. They may also provide access to shower, shore power, laundry, mechanical assistance, and if you’re really lucky, as I was – morning lattes and late evening dog-sitting.
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    Outside my Driveway Host’s house, with their pup and mine!

Turning the corner in my van, Bend’s city proper welcomed us. The sun shone, freshly filtered through tall evergreens; the Deschutes river burbled in the distance and mixed with a buskers ukulele, composed a uniquely local melody; the subtle smell of coffee, organic gardens, kombucha, hops, and cannabis (all types – CBD, THC, whole hemp) wafted through the air.

Between the the mountainous atmosphere and the eclectic yet cozy culture, I feel at home in this region of Oregon. Free to live my truth without judgment, criticism or dismissal, I feel at home in my mind, skin, and van. My quirky vehicle weighted down with a SUP, bike, wetsuit filled rubbermaid totes and a big-eared cattledog perched in the passenger seat is only one of many on the road. Walking through town sporting overalls, bikini top, and tattoos perpetually attached to a dog at the end of a leash could make me the town’s poster model.

This notion was verified at a food truck lot when I asked the bartender “Do you have anything non-alcoholic?” She smiled widely and listed 4 delicious options besides water, cola, or iced tea. When I googled “non alcoholic beer, Bend” about 5 articles popped up. This is my place, you guys.

The ultimate display of my comfort level occurred at Sparks Lake when I opted to sunbathe topless, completely unprovoked.

If you know me, you know this habit to be opposite my personality. Skinny dipping with friends? Sounds awesome! You go in the buff, I’ll wear prudish undies. Women’s only, clothing-optional spa? I option for clothing, thank you very much! And politely avert my eyes from those choosing otherwise. Not because I judge them; because I judge myself and my own thoughts. I often joke about refusing to go naked in my own sauna at home.  Raised in a conservative household, bodies were invariably covered with clothing. Which is fine. But I’ve had a bit of envy mixed with confusion and uncertainty around people who let it all hang out, in public no less than private. For instance, the free spirited nakeds at Umpqua hot springs. I myself was in a bold bikini, but the uninhibited confidence of those in the nude left me longing for even a hint of that character trait. Turns out, I’m not lacking it altogether. It simply took 24 hours in a safe environment before I could start expressing it.

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Rare sighting of Tiffany in her natural state

Of course, I kept my top within reach and every time a voice or footsteps got too close, I hurriedly clutched it against the “R” rated parts of my chest. My risk taking behavior was worth it – not a tan line in site.

Cassie and I have been hard at work trying to fit as many activities as possible in our time in Bend. We splashed in the river at Tumalo State Park. We jogged lazily around Mirror Pond, stopping to greet the geese. We bought hipster sunglasses and a variety of “Be nice, you’re in Bend” and “Ride Oregon” stickers. I drank many coffees at many shops and Cassie lapped up water from the plethora of dog bowls available around the city. We ate the best fried chicken po’boy I’ve ever had at ‘The Lot’ food truck park. And there, as if planted right in the middle of a Warner Bros rom-Com, we met the nicest boy with striking light green eyes and his sweet 10 month old puppy, Rolf. (names have been changed to protect the innocent)

Here’s what happens when people feel at home; we become relaxed, confident, at ease and at peace. Self-doubt and self-judgment slips away. We can begin to act without obsessively over-analyzing each move.

As I continue to mature in my late 30’s, I grow less concerned with anyone else’s opinion. But as a human, I have to admit I still fear judgment. I long for acceptance.

Especially as a woman in recovery from religious trauma, self-loathing, perfectionism, opiates and alcohol, the ability to walk around with the inner wisdom that “I am absolutely OK just as I am” is nothing less than a miracle.

When I initially entered into a contract with the state department of health, I lived a double life for about one full year. Desperate to preserve my reputation through anonymity, I went to great lengths to hide the fact I was on anti-addiction medication and attending weekly therapy and support groups. I spent a lot of that time considering whether my life was worth living.

Coming out as a sober, recovering individual gave me the freedom to learn to love myself. I started, of course with a blog. Eternally a work in progress, my confidences waxes and wanes. Many times, prior to meeting a new person or entering unfamiliar territory, I have a debate with myself: “Do I share about sobriety? How much is enough, how much is too much? Will I be judged for my addiction? Will I be dismissed for my past mistakes?” Recovery is not the only factor in my self-imposed deliberation. There’s also my fervent liberal views, Buddhist inspired meditation practice, advocacy for LGBTQ….and Oh Yeah, my passion for hippy van-living.

For four days last week, in Bend, I was nearly 100% free from the inner conflict of how much “myself” I “should” be. I shed my armor and glowed with authenticity. I gathered courage and seized the idea that this roadtrip was welcoming me home to myself.

Find the place that makes you feel most at home and allow yourself to practice being you. Once you encounter the joy and liberation this brings, you can’t settle for anything less. You’ll discover acceptance is defined only by you; those that can’t or won’t accept your truth – even if you love them – have no say in the matter.

I feel exceptionally lucky that traveling landed me in a community that called for me to come as I am. Looking forward to a She Recovers Retreat as my next stop on this adventure, I realize I have many of these spaces. It’s not just luck though, it’s a choice to engage with others who are authentic, seeking transformation and letting go of old shame, stories and habits that poison their perceptions.

It’s a life I’m deliberately cultivating, filled with strong women, opportunities for growth and endless possibilities to experience intrinsic wholeness.

Where are you most yourself? Where can you shed armor and glow authentic?

Where do you feel you need to dampen your shine, or conform to the “norm”?

I challenge you to push yourself to glow more often, more places, regardless of opinion or circumstance!

Looking for support, structure and accountability to make this a reality in your life? I would love to accompany you on your journey.

Cheers and Gratitude,

Tiffany

Email me: tiffany@recoverandrise.com or make an appointment for a FREE Discovery Call here! 

Recover and Rise: Life and Recovery Coaching for your highest well-being

Road to Redemption: Return to Critical Care

I’m happy for the opportunity to make amends to the organization, my coworkers, my patients, and the nursing profession. It’s not a privilege I’m taking lightly. I know the rate of relapse. I know this could be my last chance at a blemish free nursing license.

Two point five years ago, I had to leave my position as a nurse in Critical Care due to probably the most shameful and disturbing reasons a nurse can imagine.

It feels nothing short of miraculous that I’ve been given an opportunity to return.

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Fueled by caffeine and ready for orientation

(Although some might say I’m returning to the scene of the crime, and they would technically be correct.)

For nearly five of my 14 years as nurse, I worked in CCU and loved the job, despite it’s flaws. I felt at home in the role. But I completely mismanaged the stress in my life, making tragic and regretful decisions.

For the background on my detour away from “overachiever” into “Real Life Nurse Jackie” check out this BLOG I wrote, publicly declaring myself as an addict.

I was let go from the job, spent three months in treatment and submerged myself in recovery. Since returning to work, I’ve been employed in lower acuity areas than CCU, working my way up – but stayed on night shift because it’s where I’ve always felt most comfortable mentally and physically.

Probably beginning somewhere early last Fall, I felt in my soul it was time to take another step forward. I reached out to key people in administration, asking their blessing to apply for a new position. I also talked it over with my case manager and my sober support system.

I had to ask my case manager because I’m not allowed to work wherever I want. I’m enrolled in a monitoring program for another 2.5 years that restricts some employment, but as long as I remain sober, most doors remain open.

Even though I’m under strict supervision, my nursing license (so far, cross your fingers) is unmarred. That’s a benefit of WHPS; a statewide alternative to discipline program. I wrote all about how it works HERE, dispelling myths and detailing the true nature of this type of probation.

WHPS enables nurses to keep licenses intact, but it can be a substantial challenge to gain employment after being found diverting, stealing/using drugs or even abusing alcohol. This is especially the case if time lapsed between jobs. Too many employers, even in Washington state, simply fire employees on the spot, leaving them to navigate sobriety, employment and licensure on their own. The consequences of this can lead to isolation and suicidal ideation/attempt. Rejection from potential employers, lack of income or insurance to pay for treatment, and the debilitating hit to self esteem can make prevailing in sobriety near impossible. It’s hard enough some days to stay on a sober track when life is running smooth.

I don’t know how to convey this without sounding cliche, but not for a second do I take my continued employment for granted. I’ve done the hard work of recovery, but the support of the organization has been priceless. I can only hope to show this by being accountable and maintaining my integrity and professionalism. Choosing to live “Sober out loud” and advocating to end stigma is a part of my amends as well.

So, I’m halfway through my sentence. I graduate WHPS in August 2021! Thirty One short months! Approximately 133 brief weeks! You can tell I’m joyfully counting down. (I’ll also turn 40 that year – no small feat in itself. I’ll invite you to the party.)

Most nurses in “the program” do not return to the same department, or even the same hospital; for many good reasons. I’ve gone back to the exact department the administration escorted me away from in May 2016. The management has changed, the unit name and skill specialities have morphed, and there’s been a turnover in employees. But physically, it’s the same, with many of the same faces.

I won’t lie, it’s freaked me out a little. I’m worried about the staff being OK with me. I’m cognizant of any discomfort or mistrust that might linger. During my hiatus, interactions with former coworkers were overwhelmingly compassionate and positive. But I wouldn’t blame anyone who feels hurt or hesitant. Fortunately, recovery teaches the difference between guilt and shame; between honoring someone’s feelings and taking things personally. Shame is the worst. I’m lucky to say that it’s possible to find strength on the other side of it.

Of course I have some fear and embarrassment. I’m not impenetrable to the opinions of others; my self esteem’s not fully restored. It’s just that my drive to move forward and enjoy life and my drive to end the stigma of addiction and recovery is greater than any shame, anxiety or doubt that persists. IMG_6302

That sounds brave. I don’t feel brave. I just feel…determined. And brave doesn’t mean fearless anyway. It doesn’t mean I have it all together. It just means I’m doing it despite fear. Recently said by one of my heroes in a women’s recovery group: “Courage, not Confidence”. I’m holding on to that like a talisman.

I worked my first official shift back this week. The night before, I prepared healthy food and packed my lunch bag. Coffee was set to brew at 4:45am, and my favorite scrubs were laid out. (Yes, I’m now working DAYSHIFT! After 14 years on nights. More to come on that soon, trust me.)

Excited, I went to bed early and woke up with enthusiasm. Not that I was mindlessly giddy. But overall I’ve felt really positive about this decision. I really only had one major dread going in.

The nurse who initially reported me still works on this unit.

Let me state very clearly: I am GRATEFUL to this nurse; the role they played was beneficial in my recovery. They did the RIGHT thing. I am solely culpable for the situation and I do not harbor anger toward the informant. I needed help desperately, and probably wouldn’t have turned myself in. Even though I was privately seeing a chemical dependency counselor, I was struggling to stay clean. I am GRATEFUL this person brought attention to the charge nurse. (leaving nurse gender neutral to protect privacy)

Total transparency; I find it difficult to feel grateful for the way this person addressed me publicly at the end of a shift. Regardless of the very positive outcome, that memory brings back anguish and humiliation. The thought of coming face to face is like facing my own atrocities all over again. Seeing each other would be inevitable, but a lot of nurses work there. I figured I’d get into a comfortable routine and eventually we’d cross paths.

This is not at all what happened.

As I walked down the hall on my very first day to approach the very first nurse I’d receive report from; irony laughed in my face.

I was looking right at this nurse.

Out of all the assignments I could have ended up with; out of all the nurses working. I was about to spend 20 minutes with the one nurse I wanted to avoid.

I think I might have said out loud, “You’ve got to be f***ing kidding me”.

(As I write this out, I recognize something I never have before. Experiencing this from their point of view and having to report me must have been traumatizing to a degree as well. They were thrown into this mess by me. They didn’t ask for this. I’m sure they never wanted to be labeled the informant. There’s really nothing left for me to feel but compassion.)

Seeing each other was not as awkward as my imagination had created. I was greeted “Welcome back”; we smiled and acted like professionals.

What can I do but laugh? The one thing I was most afraid of occurred in the first half hour.

Moving on, I was met with hugs and a welcoming atmosphere. I experienced a lightness I’ve not felt in a long time at work, and I settled right in to the practice of patient care.

Why would I ever ever do a drug? I thought.

I feel great. I enjoy being a nurse. I love this feeling of productivity and doing service. I’m not a thief. I don’t even like to be drunk. I don’t like to be out of control. Why would I have done any of those things?

For a passing moment, I felt completely dissociated from the “me” that injected IV fentanyl and consumed a mad amount of Vicodin, Percocet, or Oxycodone. The “me” that put procuring drugs to escape my own pain above everyone and everything else in my life.

I felt like the “me” before addiction. Eager, energetic, balanced and healthy.

I thought: working in Critical Care is going to be perfect. So what if there’s access to drugs? It’s not going to be a problem. I would never commit such a horrible act. I’m fine!!!

Then I thought: Not so fast, idiot.

“I would never” was precisely my mindset the first decade of my career. I’d NEVER cross that boundary. Until I did it myself, I could not wrap my brain around how a nurse would steal narcotics from their workplace. It was a foreign, forbidden, and ridiculous concept.

But a series of events led me to become compulsive and addicted. I know what many of you must be thinking, especially my sober friends.

“Why the F have you returned to a department where you did this?”

“If CCU turned you into an addict, and your sober life is thriving, why would you go back?”

Those are great questions. And you’ll have to stay tuned for the answers. Next time, I’ll share why CCU didn’t make me an addict and what’s different today.

I’ll also detail how it felt to encounter Fentanyl  – my drug of choice – on my first day back.

I feel happier this week than I can recall. I texted one of my best sober friends:

“I might have sang in my kitchen while I cooked this week. Also I woke up at 5:45am all by myself. No alarm. Goddamn post-acute sober pink cloud.”

Getting off nights is a big part of this transformation. So is the redemption my soul is experiencing, finding I didn’t completely destroy my career. I’m happy to have a job that challenges me intellectually. I’m happy for the opportunity to make amends to the organization, my coworkers, my patients, and the nursing profession. It’s not a privilege I’m taking lightly. I know the rate of relapse. I know this could be my last chance at a blemish free nursing license.

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First day back: Full on Critical Care

 

I’m primarily happy that by returning I can demonstrate to employers that rehabilitation reigns over discipline, and offer hope to nurses who are just starting a sober journey.

I hope to give back more than I have ever taken. To tip the karmic scales by showing up every day honest and willing. And for all healthcare professionals that have or are suffering from the shame addiction has caused in their lives – I hope to prove recovery is possible.

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Actual message sent to me by a nurse halfway across the nation that saw my 1 minute video about returning to CCU.

Cheers and Gratitude upon Gratitude,

Tiffany

If you are in need of addiction treatment and you are a healthcare provider in WA state, please contact Washington Health Professional Services at whps@doh.wa.gov or 360-236-2880 for a confidential consultation.

I am always available for anyone looking to explore sobriety. Our conversation is guaranteed confidential. 

And of course – if you’d like to explore working with me as your life or recovery coach – check out my website http://www.recoverandrise.com

Other resources:

www.yesyoucanrn.com (Lists every state that has an alternative to discipline program)

SAMHSA – Substance abuse and mental health services administrations – national helpline

Warming Up to Hot Yoga

The sign on the door warned ominously: “Do not enter until you are prepared to settle in and stay the whole time.” Running late, I didn’t have time to think twice. Prepared or not, I was going in.

People LOVE hot yoga. It’s one of those things where if you’re in, you’re IN. People claim it works for everything from stress detox to curing cancer.

I’ve not been one of those people. Firstly, I’m a skeptic when it comes to cure-alls. Secondly, I prefer Iceland to Costa Rica. I own a beautiful cedar sauna, but that’s mostly ironic. I have to sit in a low chair near the floor to escape the heat.

In spite of my preference for exercising in temperatures that don’t cause heat stroke; and my disdain for humidity (my hair will not behave in it), I am always open to adventure. So when the opportunity arose to join a class while traveling in B.C., I accepted with a (sort of) open mind.

Besides, it’s been on my radar for some time after watching an acquaintance on Instagram attribute her ripped abs to a year of this practice. (I never said my motives were all pure!)

After paying the drop in fee to the extra friendly employee at the desk (Did yoga make her so amicable? Or her good natured Canadian blood?) I was shown the studio where I’d spend the next 75 minutes getting intimate with my sweat glands and bodily odors.

The sign on the door warned ominously: “Do not enter until you are prepared to settle in and stay the whole time.” Running late, I didn’t have time to think twice. Prepared or not, I was going in.

As I made my way in to the aptly named “Sun Room”, I was overcome by two memories:

  1. Running out the door to play at my grandparent’s “over 55” mobile home park in Vegas. In July. In no time at all, my plastic rubber flip flops were melting to the asphalt, and my eyes, nose, mouth – anything previously fortified with natural moisture – were instantly parched. I lasted about 3.5 minutes before submerging myself in a pool.
  2. Eighteen years old and rushing from the baggage claim area in the New Orleans airport. I was a smoker then, and needed to get outside for a cigarette. Once out of the chilly air-conditioned lobby into the sweltering marsh climate, breathing- much less inhaling tobacco I had set on fire- was not an option. My lungs rejected the 100% humidity and I choked on the hot air. Suddenly going without nicotine wasn’t quite so difficult.

In neither one of those situations did I think; “You know what would be really refreshing right now? A long, intense yoga session!”

Yet, there in the “Sun Room”  – 99 Fahrenheit, 40% humidity, 30 human bodies exhaling hot breath – I lay on a mat and hoped to Buddha I was prepared to settle in and stay.

Taking a peek around, I noticed very little clothing. Women were clad in shorts and tank tops or sports bras and briefs. Most men were topless – shorts only. A couple wore loose cotton shirts, which I thought was smart. They could suffice as a towel, in case one didn’t have one to wipe one’s sweaty face. Which I didn’t. And that was unfortunate, because within seconds I was pouring buckets of it.

Since it was winter vacation, I hadn’t really planned ahead for this scenario. My luggage contained one exercise outfit: long, black leggings, and a thick, double layered top – also black. At least it wasn’t long sleeved. This was the type of outfit you’d pack if you planned to power walk outdoors in near freezing weather. An outfit you would layer under a sweater and match with gloves and boots- not proper attire for doing push-ups in a sauna.

So there I was. Bending, stretching, downward-dogging in my black ninja suit, with no towel to wipe the sweat rivers pouring off my forehead onto the mat. “Reach your arms up like branches. Become the tree that you are.” How apropos. As I became the tree, I realized I wasn’t sweating, I was oozing tan colored tree sap.

OK it wasn’t really sap. It was just the ONE day that week I chose to slather my face in a layer of “natural ivory” foundation. Only to have it seep off me into creamy puddles on my blue mat.

The instructor’s voice rose “As you inhale…” (This was a chore in itself, as inhaling meant sucking in hot air. See New Orleans, #2 above). “…plant your hands in front of you on your mat, and raise your hips high into the air.”

I planted my hands and used them to frantically rub the makeup/sap into the mat, in a desperate attempt to keep people from noticing and thinking

  • A) I’m so vain I do my makeup just to attend hot yoga

OR

  • B) I wasn’t perspiring but in fact exuding a tan liquid dangerously close to the color of pus and likely due to an infectious process

I don’t know which of those is worse. Either way, all I managed to do was spread it around like finger painting.

“Hold your pose. Embrace the stillness as you enhance your posture.”

Hold the pose!? I was slip sliding all over! Was everyone else holding still? I peered around, and sure enough, most of them were “embracing the stillness”. Not because they were expert yogis, or suffered from anhidrosis, but because all of them – every single one – had a large, thin towel laying over top of their mats, collecting the sweat and creating a textured, non-skid surface for their hands and feet.

You know who didn’t have one of these magic mats?

Me. The tree-sap leaking, makeup melting, yoga ninja. The puddle was growing, and I was non-too gracefully gliding through it. My head hung down between my lubricated hands, my eyes burned, blinded by sweat, and my butt perched high in the air. Every limb wiggled in different directions. Sort of like a newborn fawn might look on an ice rink. Only less graceful. And less cute. img_2329

I guess when I told the uber-friendly Canadian employee it was my first time and I’d need to rent a mat, she forgot the all too important hot yoga accessory: the “non-slip towel”. I forgave her though. She really was super nice.

I managed to slide my way into puppy pose without breaking my neck. As others dabbed translucent beads of perspiration off their foreheads with towels, I balled up the hem of my thick black shirt to wipe my face. When I stretched it back out, it was ivory tie dyed.

I was hot, thirsty and drenched.

And…

I felt unexpectedly good.

My body acclimated to the heat, like it’s meant to. And my thoughts, feelings and sensations all stayed right where they should – in the present moment – despite being somewhat uncomfortable.

One pose was particularly challenging: Standing on tip toes, then squatting down as far as my butt would go towards the ground, while keeping heels up and staying on tip toes. My hands held in prayer then stretched up toward the sky as my thighs squeezed tighter and my butt lowered further.

It started to hurt like a mother…

The instructor encouraged: “You can stay here, just a moment longer. For 3….2….1…and now stand and allow your arms to fall, as you take the biggest deepest breath. Feel all those sensations fade away.”

And they did. I watched myself in the mirror experience the magic of impermanence…the burning “pain” sensations in my quads faded at the exact moment she said they would. We gently moved to the next pose, the tightness in my legs long forgotten.

For 75 minutes I was fully immersed in the practice of healing yoga (and my own  aqueous material. Ew.) All my focus was directed at balance and breath; there was no brain room left for anything else. For 75 minutes, I was able to release everything in life but the Now.

Hot Yoga was mindfulness in motion. Maybe with enough practice, I could glide through the movements without thinking; distractions like dinner plans, work woes, or family drama could consume me while I posed. But I think the temperature truly helps counteract this. The heat couldn’t be ignored – it served as a constant reminder that I was right there, not in the past or future.

And after all, noticing distraction is the practice. Thoughts won’t go away, but we can learn to bring ourselves back to NOW over and over. As an activity becomes more familiar and automaticity takes over, it’s an opportunity to stretch our limits and push the edges to continue cultivating deep mindful presence.

When class ended, I was so tired, soaked, and buzzed from vasodilation and mild dehydration I could hardly carry my water bottle. I definitely could not pull my denim jeans up over my legs, and was grateful for the dark color as I wore very wet leggings home.

But as we left I had an unanticipated thought:

“I want to do that again.”

I expected to mostly hate it. I thought I’d spend much of the time in “corpse pose”, flat on the ground wishing it would end. Like the heat of Vegas or New Orleans – it was alluring, unfamiliar and initially intolerable. But I adapted. And unlike visiting those areas, when it was over I felt invigorated – not wasted.

I felt the best kind of tired. The kind of tired you get after a day of bright sunshine, swimming in a glacial lake, or belly laughing with your girl friends.

Not weary or lethargic. Just healthily wrung out, grateful, and content.

Two days later, I really did go back! (No abs yet though. Hm.) And I’ve been marking the days on my calendar that I can start attending regularly at my local studio.

This is not an advertisement for a hot yoga studio by the way (the one I went to though, is MODO in Kelowna BC and obviously they were Ahhh Mazing 😁) It’s not even a suggestion to do hot yoga at all. I know it’s not for everyone, and even physically dangerous for some.

I’m simply sharing an experience I expected to leave me high and dry, yet found surprisingly refreshing.

I’m encouraging you to try something new, even if you don’t have the right clothes, the right moves or the right towel. Attempt the unfamiliar and totally drench yourself in the moment. Your body is brilliant – it will adapt to surroundings, even if your mind doesn’t agree.

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And those stretching, pulling, tugging, burning, and even uncomfortable sensations you’re feeling? Take a deep breath; they will always fade and pass.

If you do decide to give it a try – skip the makeup that day. Trust me.

I’d love to hear YOUR experience. Are you a Hot Yogi? Or do you prefer your baby cobra in cooler climates? Comment below! Or email me

Tiffany@recoverandrise.com

 

Cheers and Gratitude,

Tiffany