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