There is a strong cultural acceptance within our collective culture, but I think especially for nurses that feel they need a quick stress reliever. We are particularly complacent about alcohol’s overall impact on our lives. I believe there is a lot of shame attached to this as well.
Brittany is a wife, mother of 3, and nurse of almost 13 years.
Raised an ultra-conservative Mormon, Brittany never considered touching a drop of alcohol until after she experienced a crisis of faith and left her church nearly 6.5 years ago.
Once she got a taste of alcohol’s so-called benefits, the drink became increasingly difficult to put down, even as the consequences became increasingly unbearable.
This is an all too familiar tale for many of us.
In the interview below, Brittany bravely shares how she’s overcoming self-diagnosed perfectionism and codependency, (two common conditions for nurses), and how she decided to put down alcohol outside of any religious, moral code. Brittany lives alcohol-free because it’s right for her and her family. Choosing sobriety aligns with her newfound life of radical self-love and acceptance.
This year’s even better. Every single one of the 366 days in 2020, dedicated to us! (Yep, it’s a leap year!)
In honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed 2020:
THE YEAR OF THE NURSE
I might be a tad biased, but if anyone deserves a whole year of devotion, it’s me and my nurse peeps.
#YON2020 isn’t just an excuse to eat birthday cake with Nurse Flo’s name on it. The WHO intends to advance nurses’ vital position in transforming healthcare around the world.
Nurses and midwives play a vital role in providing health services…They are often, the first and only point of care in their communities. The world needs 9 million more nurses and midwives if it is to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.
I’m on board with boosting legislation that results in Universal Health Care, but my agenda is a little different; I’m concerned with the health of nurses themselves.
So when I first heard the phrase “Year of the Nurse” this is what (and who) came to my mind:
Critical Care colleagues physically exhausted, facing moral distress
Colleagues in recovery fighting to keep their license, sobriety and lives intact
Nursing students who are ill-prepared for the sacrifice their careers will demand
I thought of the secret shame so many of us harbor, overwhelmed with life and work but desperate to keep anyone from thinking we’re weak. We even hide from our coworkers, despite our shared experience which could foster deep connections if we felt empowered to let down our walls.
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.
(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 a nurse, I worked in CCU and loved the job, despite its 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.
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!)
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:
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!!)
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.
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.
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!
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!)
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.
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.
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.***
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.