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

New Year’s Eve Reflection: Top 5 Ways I Stayed Sober in 2018 (and 3 things I won’t do next year)

My current goals aren’t that different from my childhood resolutions, but my outlook is much healthier. The difference is I don’t beat myself up over perceived “failure”, and I focus on moving toward balance with simple daily intentions vs. rigorous long term requirements. I also don’t write the list in glitter pen on cardstock and tape it to my wall.

New Year’s Eve is one holiday I love, even sober. (Especially Sober!) As a kid, my BFF Jenny and I celebrated with a sleepover. We made our favorite bean dip (literally just canned refried beans topped with melted cheese), then rang in the new year by clanging pots and pans with wooden spoons on the front porch. Our poor neighbors!

But I’ve never taken New Year’s resolutions too seriously. The last time I officially set them I was probably 12. They undoubtedly went like this:

  • Talk to ____ ASAP and get him to like me
  • Eat 1000 calories a day MAX (no more PIZZA!)
  • Write in diary every day

I would then immediately scarf down pizza (still my fav food!) and write in my diary for about 3 consecutive days before getting distracted. I did follow through with passing a note to the boy I liked, after which he promptly let me know how much I repulsed him.

My current life goals aren’t that different, but my outlook is much healthier. You could still call me boy crazy, I struggle with emotional eating, and I aim to write daily in a journal yet fall short frequently. The difference is I don’t beat myself up over perceived “failure”. I focus on moving toward balance with simple daily intentions vs. rigorous long term requirements. I also don’t write the list in glitter pen on cardstock and tape it to my wall.

(But I do get nostalgic for that big dish filled with bean dip, and the vibration of pots and pans under my spoon as Jenny and I whacked away, our pajama clad legs chilled by the night air.)

This New Year’s Eve, I’m reflecting on my decisions from 2018 – my second full year in active recovery – to see what worked and what I want to avoid in the future.

Top 5 tools that helped me stay sober in 2018:

Meditation/Mindfulness

  • Mindfulness is not just a buzzword (though when I first heard it I rolled my eyes painfully). Diagnostics such as MRI (detailed brain scans) prove that a consistent meditation practice can improve the brain in a number of ways – including decreasing addictive habits. I’m proof this is true. Mindfulness is the concept that has become my lifestyle and source of spirituality. Meditation is the tool, or exercise, to sustain it. What I love about this custom is that it’s inherently positive, with core values of loving kindness, gratitude and compassion. It keeps the focus calmly on the present, not anxiously tied up in the past or future. My routine involves attending/facilitating meetings with guided group meditations and a fairly consistent home practice, though it’s always a work in progress! Mindfulness helps me cultivate self-awareness and observe my thoughts vs. being a victim of them. My mind can be chaotic, negative, and limiting; I get to choose whether or not to get attached to that. (I have really exciting news about how I’m furthering my meditation education in 2019 to be of even more service to others!! Info coming soon!!)

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Connection/Community

  • As an extroverted introvert, I recharge alone. I thrive for hours (days even???) with my face in a book, lost in my own world. That doesn’t mean I don’t genuinely value, cherish and need intimate connections. I’ve self-medicated to numb loneliness and rejection for a long time. Recovery gives me the gift of connection, and She Recovers is a blessing of highest proportions. I used to feel like a lost speck of space dust hurling aimlessly through the sky. Now it’s as though I’m energetically connected to countless other stars; threaded into a tapestry of constellations, each of us with a significant and solid place in the universe. Face to face events like this one are examples of how we support one another. There’s also a secret Facebook group – it’s open to all women, just secret for privacy. (Are you a woman who wants to join? Email me!) Locally, I stay connected through meetings with others who share similar struggles (My program is Refuge Recovery). Staying close with friends and family who aren’t in the sober squad is fulfilling as well. When I lose connection, and feel (or create) isolation, it’s easy to revert to negative, selfish thinking. Supported, empowered and encouraged within a community, I’ve got a much higher chance of sober success.
  • The opposite of addiction is connection. – Johann Hari

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Shout out to Hannah! Connection is essential.

Accountability

  • If I’m only accountable to myself, I abandon my ambitions. Alone with my thoughts and schemes, I rationalize unhealthy habits, justifying how it’s perfectly OK to “drink just one”, skip meetings or be a “just a little” dishonest. To avoid this pitfall, I stay accountable in a number of ways. The most formal is random drug tests to maintain my nursing license. So as much as I hate someone watching me pee, I’m very grateful for this commitment! Involvement in a recovery community – including local meetings and social media – plays a major role in reliability. I want to be an example that recovery is possible. I want to represent a drug and alcohol free way of life and do everything possible to end stigma. Being of service, volunteering, and partnering with clients keeps my focus outward and forward; helping others ultimately helps me.

Physical Health

  • Lifting in the gym (THANK YOU to my trainer @Onerepatatime_ !), running outside, or skiing in the winter…frequent physical activity boosts my mood. I find myself craving it in the best way and consider it necessary for sober success. Initially, I had to drag myself to get going. With time and consistency, I really look forward to moving and sweating. It’s especially useful to turn around negative, triggered, anxious or depressed thoughts. Yoga is more than a physical survival tool, it’s holistically healing and an integral part of my exercise/spiritual routine. Nutrition plays a big role in mood, memory, libido, and energy level, so abstaining from toxic substances like alcohol and drugs is a given, but keeping sugar to a minimum and eating whole healthy food has proven to be a challenge for me in 2018. I’ve struggled with sugar cravings even this far into sobriety. Room for growth in the upcoming year!

Failing

  • In 2018 I founded my business, completed a business mentorship and 6 month writing program, wrote a book proposal, built up a social media platform, traveled to Iceland, Paris, & France, drove my Van thousands of miles with a dog as my sidekick, dated a handful of idiots and a few nice guys, published a bunch of articles, and had a bunch more rejected. I overcame obstacles, enforced boundaries, and lost some relationships. I succeeded at many things, and “failed” at many more. In my experience, failure is a necessary part of the adventure. It’s so cliche!! But it means I tried something that was scary and out of my comfort zone requiring courage. Some of you may remember my blog was initially named “Tiffany Tries Again”. Before I disclosed my addiction, I was simply sharing a series of challenging and often humorous undertakings, hoping it would inspire you to keep trying, regardless of outcomes. This is one of my early blogs discussing just that. (And it isn’t one of my best. But that’s really OK.) If I don’t fail a whole bunch in 2019, it’s because I’ve given up and gone to bed. Please break down my door if this happens. (Refer to importance of “connection” and “accountability” above!)
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2018 was a BUSY year!

 

And….3 things I want to avoid…..

Placing others on a pedestal

  • My internal compass generally steers me right. But I’m not exempt from disregarding it completely and taking over navigation. Sometimes I make decisions based on ego and selfish motivation and it hurts when I’m forced to recognize it.I learned the HARD way this year that regardless of years of sobriety, or status in the media, publishing world, or recovery community….every one of us is flawed. We are capable of letting others down. I let someone shine a little too bright in my Universe this last year, and it was painful when the light went dim. My goal in 2019 is to stay on course and use discernment. This means making an effort to view all with balance and compassion; admiring without setting outlandish and admittedly selfish expectations. (I apologize for the ambiguity of this paragraph, but the details of who/what are not nearly as important as the overarching message.)

Saying Yes when the answer is obviously “NO”

  • There were wayyyy too many times last year I ignored my gut and went full speed ahead into disaster and disappointment. This is NOT to be confused with taking healthy risks and going on adventures! I’m talking about saying yes when I absolutely know I should avoid something. Ignoring that internal compass again! This includes saying yes to fun things when the smarter self care is take a bath, go to the gym, or even work (to pay for the fun stuff!) Another example is saying yes to a date even when I was too tired, too grumpy, too triggered, or too vulnerable. There were too many shopping excursions frantically looking for a date outfit; too much time on hair, makeup and sending selfies checking for my girlfriends’ approval. Meanwhile my heart and gut were urging me to STAY the HELL HOME. I’d show up for the date and immediately regret it, feeling like a fool for my day of pampering. My plan in 2019? You got it. Stay the hell home and relish every minute of Netflix and pajamas. I also think maybe I should plan a garage sale….seriously, I can’t believe the amount of pointless clothes I bought this year.
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Dressed up for one of those dates I wish I had skipped altogether…..

OK, I sort of lied.

  • I thought I’d have a definite 3rd thing I don’t want to repeat in 2019. Last year was a roller coaster of joyous, painful, even embarrassing experiences. But thinking back over mistakes I made and chances I took, I don’t think I’d change much. Even if I’m not in love with every bit of 2018’s reflection, I’m honestly satisfied with my current station in life. All of there is what got me here. I hope to say that again at the end of 2019.

Thank you for encouraging, supporting and sharing with me in this journey. I hope it’s inspired you to love yourself and believe you can overcome anything. Or at the least, showed you what not to do and saved you some heartache.

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Cheers to a happy, healthy and bright 2019!

Is a SOBER lifestyle your goal? I wish you complete success!

If you would like accountability, support and structure with addiction recovery or life transition, I would love to help!

Check out my website for program details, or schedule a FREE call with me here!

***I’M HOSTING A FREE ONLINE VISION BOARD WORKSHOP JANUARY 19TH! EMAIL ME TO SIGN UP ASAP! REGISTRATION ENDS JANUARY 9TH.***

Tiffany@recoverandrise.com

Lighting Up and Letting Go

My dirty little secret made me feel self-righteous, cool and aloof. Emotionally, I was wrecked and seeking relief. I’d found a solution that both soothed and fueled the addiction monster.

You may have read my blog post “Sober Wedding Success”; In a triggered moment I texted a friend: “I need a drink, a cigarette, a man, or a brownie.” A variety of stressors had accumulated, thrusting me into “Fight or Flight” mode. The pressure rising, impulsive thoughts bounced off each other: “You need to feel different and better NOW.” In hindsight, I could have done some stretching, gone for a run or a walk. But the wedding was going to start, I was all dolled up in a dress and heels, and rational thought was hijacked by panic. img_4856

What I didn’t mention in that blog was the part where I gave in to a craving. About an hour before the bride was due to walk down the aisle, I changed into flip-flops and stealthily drove to a store.

(Ok not stealthily. Side Note – The story of my life is that I ALWAYS get caught. Sneaking out in the middle of the night at age 15… My friend’s parent saw me and called my parents. Skipping prom to go to Denny’s and hang out at a hotel… I accidentally recorded myself on the answering machine sharing every detail with a friend. A couple years back, during a sober attempt, I hit “facetime” on my phone at the exact moment I took a drink of a beer. But have I learned? Noooooo. )

Someone, who shall simply be called Aunt D. in order to keep her anonymity, (haha, love you Aunt D.) saw me drive away from the church. On my return, I was met with: “Where’d you go, huh? We know you left. Aunt D. told us.” I mumbled about needing to help the bride and hurried away.

The truth is:

I drove to a gas station and awkwardly bought a pack of Camel cigarettes. On a scale of surrendering to cravings, it’s better than a bottle of vodka, worse than a giant brownie. I found a parking lot near the water and walked around in the rain (still in my dress and flip-flops, holding a sweatshirt over my head to save my wedding- hair) searching for a secluded place to smoke my first cigarette in years. It suddenly seemed crowds of people were milling around, screwing up my plan. And I certainly wasn’t going to smoke inside my own car. I have boundaries, after all.

Settling on a spot, I opened the pack. The cigarette fit neatly between my fingers, muscle memory reminding them exactly what shape to make. I lit it, pressed my lips lightly around the filter, and inhaled. Then I made a face. They were gross. I forgot that I actually like menthols, when I do smoke. Which isn’t often. I’ve done this 3 times in the last few years. Once during a (temporary) breakup, and again when I started treatment for addiction and had quit everything else. People smoke like chimneys at recovery meetings, and for a few months I made friends by blowing smoke outside the treatment center doors alongside them.

I’d like to say the non-menthols were gross enough I threw them away, jolting myself back to more effective coping skills. But I didn’t. I finished the pack, and returned to the store to buy the “tastier” minty selection.

Days turned into weeks, and before I knew it, I’d been smoking steadily for a month. I was disgusted with myself. Smoking made me lazy and nauseated. Addiction is dishonest, isolating, depressing, and anxiety inducing; smoking re-awakened all of that, along with the clinging, craving monster inside. Instead of going to the gym – I smoked. Instead of writing – I smoked. I wasted hours lighting them up and putting them out. And yet, a part of me relished every single drag. My dirty little secret made me feel self-righteous, cool and aloof. Emotionally, I was wrecked and seeking relief. I’d found a solution that both soothed and fueled the addiction monster. Returning to this behavior was like slipping back under the mud after a period of living in the sun. I was sober, but acting very much like my non-sober self. Literally playing with fire.

Participating in addictive habits can give one a case of the “F-it’s” and the “Might as wells”. For example “F it. I’m already smoking, might as well eat what I want too.” The mud got deeper and stickier. I ate fast food, ignored deadlines and neglected obligations. I toyed with ideas of “just one drink”. Thankfully I have accountability to my treatment program. When it’s hard to trust oneself, impending drug tests are a convincing reason to abstain. So I didn’t drink, but I smoked nicotine incessantly. Good thing the tests don’t look for nicotine or caffeine. (Treatment centers everywhere would be out of business.)

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When I first smoked at 14 years old (and continued for 8 years, minus 9 months of pregnancy), it was the best kind of dangerous fun. I was rebellious, wise, untouchable. Slinking into a store at age 36, making sure no one recognizes me, and asking for “camel crush – yeah the blue box” without meeting the attendants’ eyes, doesn’t have the same ego-stroking appeal. Honestly I was miserable. I succumbed to an obsessive-compulsive drive to do something I was bizarrely convinced would help me overcome anxiety. It only managed to increase the compulsion, all the while invoking deep shame and disappointment. It was repetitious, unfulfilled desperation, with nausea as a side effect. The empty, achy place inside of me found minor temporary relief, but I was simultaneously cognitively aware that the tobacco/poison filled paper sticks offered nothing but dirty lungs, yellow teeth and nasty headache when I eventually quit. Ruminating over all of this, I lit another smoke.

That, my friends, is addiction.

In the past, these episodes of smoking have been brief, due to two compelling factors: a boyfriend and daughter that despise the habit. Smoking is tough to keep secret for long around others. But I was grateful for their disdain, as it forced me to give it up quickly.

During this recent trip down Tobacco Lane, with no suspicious glares or accusations of “You smell like smoke” pressuring me to surrender, I needed motivation. My own willpower and half-assed “This is your last pack, Tiff” was proving ineffective. I needed a reward, ultimatum, or serious kick in the ass.

The light at the end of the smoky tunnel was a shining She Recovers Retreat. The timing was perfect; divine some may say. At the end of July, one of the more challenging months I’ve survived in a while, I would board a ferry and meet my favorite women on Salt Spring Island for a week of rejuvenation. There was no way I’d smoke while enjoying nature, doing yoga, and working on recovery. There was no way I’d admit this to my friends or smoke in front of them.

Right?

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On the Ferry To Salt Spring Island

Tricky thing, addiction. Embeds itself deeply, even when one is determined to set themselves free. Not the retreat, my admiration of the women, or my horror at being found out as a smoker was enough for me to quit. When my fancy Camel Crush ran out on day 2, I bought very light, very bad tasting, non-menthol cigarettes in a Canadian store (they don’t sell menthol in the Gulf Islands!!)

While puffing away on these bland, thin smokes I made a promise. By the time I got on the ferry heading back to America, I’d untangle myself from their grasp. I wasn’t sure how, or if I was ready, but I was WILLING to be ready. I was tired of fighting to stay afloat, and afraid of getting pulled further down into addiction’s muddy grasp.

My answer came on the 3rd night of Retreat, in the form of a letting go ceremony (I also strategically ran out of cigarettes on the very last morning in Canada, and swore I wouldn’t touch another pack back in the US.)

The ceremony symbolizes liberation. We are all carrying some unwanted weight…unspeakable trauma, substance abuse, disordered eating, codependency, unhealthy shopping habits or persistent fatigue and apathy. The ceremony is an opportunity to look these hindrances in the eye, and love ourselves enough to begin to let them go.img_7414-1

The ceremony doesn’t require forgetting our past, but gives us permission to stop suffering over it. Permission to accept experiences, mistakes, relationships, and addictions while releasing the shame, self-loathing, and guilt we’ve attached to them.

We were asked to write down our intentions and a list of what we needed to let go. I wasn’t sure if this would work, but it felt like a legitimate start. I put my heart, soul and energy into that pen and paper as I scrawled out the words

“Let go of SMOKING”.

Then, as instructed, I lined up with the others and waited my turn to be “drummed”. A musician beat a rhythm on a percussion instrument while moving it up the front of my body and down the back – close, but not touching my skin. My understanding is this was meant to improve the alignment of my chakras, a component of self I don’t totally grasp, but am more than willing to offer up for re-structuring. The drumming ended, and as I paused before the next step – a meditative walk – I noticed the outer aspect of each of my hips burned, as though a fire spread across them. The fire pulsated, intensified, simmered, then disappeared. Coincidence? Psychosomatic effect? Bug bites? I can’t say for sure, but it felt significant.

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One of my favorite resources for cultivating self-love

Two days later, on the final morning of the retreat, my heart was light. I’d experienced the fullness of She Recovers retreat magic, and felt empowered to return home renewed. I smoked 3 final cigarettes before leaving the island, that I had ashamedly bummed off a couple of friends (but obviously not too ashamed, since I asked anyway. Love you ladies.)

I haven’t smoked since that morning. Re-entry into real life post-retreat was pretty rocky, but I still did not pick them back up. The first few nights, my sleep was riddled with drinking nightmares. I also had a cigarette-smoking dream (Amy Dresner was there, also smoking, and super pissed off about having to order pizza for a bunch of hyper women in recovery. Bizarre!)

Thoughts of buying a pack – picturing the inhale, the hot menthol taste, the instant and very temporarily relief – flitter through my mind on occasion. But they’re just thoughts. They come, they go. They pass. As do all thoughts, feelings, emotions, if we let them.

Quitting was hard, but not the hardest thing I’ve ever done. (I remember trying to quit after 8 years hooked on those things- not sure there’s a drum big enough to beat it out of me then. Torture.) Smoking wasn’t the only thing on my “let go list” either – that was a month-long distraction; an outward sign that my insides were sick. I have a multitude of situations and self-limiting beliefs to shed. But the weight of it all is lifting. Did the drum vibrations shake it off my shoulders? I believe so… along with all the other blessed moments that week. (Read my BLOG to learn more about the Magic of She Recovers retreats) I entered the ceremony with a piece of paper, a trembling hope, and a soul full of desire for health and wholeness. I have a deep, intuitive certainty that this will come to fruition. Where I had felt clouded, uncertain and lethargic, I now felt bright, anticipatory and strong.

In the center of the gardens at Stowel Lake Farm where the retreat is held, there’s a big muddy pond. Across the surface of the murky water, giant Lotus blossoms stretch their pink petals eagerly toward the sun. The lush flowers would be nonexistent if it weren’t for the rich, complicated, nourishing mud beneath them.

Like the flowers, we need rich, complicated, often painful experiences to cultivate growth. “No Mud, No Lotus” as Thich Naht Hahn’s book tells us. Smoking wasn’t mandatory for my growth; it was an outward sign that helped me become more aware of my inner strife. For a month, I was slogging through mud; sluggish, sticky, uncomfortable and difficult to see any light through the darkness. During the retreat, I spent a lot of time being honest with myself, uncovering the source of pain and revealing it’s purpose.

I wasn’t overcome by the mud, but transformed by it. Smoking was a brief detour, and a close call. But I saw the light and persisted. I ascended above the surface; back into the fresh air.

Continuing to Recover and Rise,

Tiffany

Do you have habits you’d like to explore letting go? Perhaps you’re sober but still attached to food, smoking, relationships, and want to set yourself free? I’d love to offer you a system, support and accountability as your coach.

Interested in learning more about She Recovers and their retreats and conferences? Go To www.sherecovers.co

Please contact me! You’re beautiful and deserving of health and wholeness.

Tiffany@recoverandrise.com

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