TW: Suicidal thoughts
What led you to enter recovery?
I had known for a long time that I was an alcoholic; I was just never ready to do anything about it. But then when alcohol wasn’t working as well as I needed it to—and I couldn’t cope with my life circumstances at the time—I added drugs. I was a nurse, so I was taking drugs that would be wasted after patients’ pain was controlled. I would give myself a shot in the leg. That was maybe a few times a week, then it became a daily thing, and then that wasn’t enough.
I couldn’t imagine going on the way I was living with the drugs—or actually, dying with the drugs. The only option I could see at the time was to kill myself. I attempted it, and that was the beginning of the bottom. I went to Sibley’s psychiatric unit, but downplayed my alcohol use and didn’t tell them about the drugs. I thought, “Maybe if they just fix my depression and give me different medications, it’ll work itself out.” I was always blaming something else so I wouldn’t have to give up alcohol or drugs.
I hit my bottom on August 23rd, 2014. I was using a lot before a friend’s wedding, then after the wedding, and then continuing at the after party. I went home with my husband at the time and went from Dr. Jekyyl to Mr. Hyde. I always had those moments, and I never knew when it could happen. I just kind of flipped out and drank some more, smoked more pot. I later learned that I had no pot in my system, so my dealer might have given me K2 or spice.
After a while, I became psychotic and then went into a catatonic state. I wound up in Sibley’s ER. Once I came out of that, a social worker was the right person to say the right thing at the right time. She said, “It’s time to stop using drugs and drinking.” That was the moment I surrendered for the first time and said, “I know.”
It took me a while after that, because I thought my only problem was drugs, not alcohol; I was like, “If I take care of this, I’ll be able to drink normally.” October 2nd, 2014 was the first time I said my name and admitted that I was an alcoholic.
Thank you for sharing that with me. So you said you were going to AA meetings; what do you consider your recovery program? That can be anything from 12-step programs to meditation, therapy—all that kind of stuff.
Yeah, I do a lot. In the beginning, I didn’t feel like I had to do everything they were suggesting, and I relapsed quite a few times for over four years. Since coming back in November 2018—I’ve been sober since then—I do everything they suggest. Or I at least give it a try, and I usually find that it works.
I typically go to at least one meeting a day. I work the steps and talk to my sponsor every day, even if it’s just a quick check-in by text. I have two sponsees. I do AA and NA. Other things I do are service, fellowship, and talking to other addicts. I pray; I meditate.
What are some of the biggest changes you noticed within yourself since you’ve been in recovery?
When I got my first service position and started participating in fellowship, that was when I noticed things changing. I started to feel less afraid of people, which was a huge thing of mine. It was a big part of why I wouldn’t do that other stuff before, because that meant I had to get close to people and that was very uncomfortable. Now I crave connection.
I still have that fear, but it’s much quieter. When it does become louder, I’m able to not let it dictate my actions. I kind of lean into that fear. That has really helped me stay sober, because I have that connection.
I also started expressing my gender the way I felt, and then after a few months I turned to my trans self. I’ve known that my whole life, but I became so good at suppressing it. It would kind of pop up at points, but I was like, “No, no, no—shut this down.” But in 2018, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw it. What I’d learned from recovery, therapy, treatment, and AA is that I had to be true to myself. If I couldn’t be my true self, I would never be happy; I would continue to live a life of pain and suffering, of lying, and I would never be able to get and stay sober.
I had another relapse after I started hormone treatment; it only lasted a couple months, but it was enough. With the hormones, I felt like myself inside and I was very comfortable with that, but the outside was not changing quick enough for me. That caused a lot of dysphoria, and I started using the alcohol and pot again to numb those feelings. It didn’t work. It was making me sick; I wasn’t enjoying it; it was painful. I felt like I was losing Angel again, and I didn’t want that to happen.
I went back into treatment—I was in detox for a week and then a treatment center for a month. On the third day at that treatment center, I started presenting as Angel, and I haven’t stopped since. I think that has been the biggest change since recovery. I’m able to be true to myself, and it’s been a monumental shift in my recovery. Not using allows me to be myself—and being myself helps me stay sober. Becoming willing to do everything, so that I don’t lose this.
Has COVID-19 impacted your recovery in any way, good or bad?
It posed its challenges. In early 2019, I moved out of the house I shared with my ex. It was becoming very toxic, and I was like, “If I stay here, I will use again.” I went into a sober living house. That was spring of 2019, and my year was up right as the pandemic was hitting our area. That was a moderately fearful time, because I’m like, “I’m not going to be living with other people anymore where I have connection all day long. I’m afraid that being alone is a high-risk situation.”
I knew that I had to do whatever I could to keep connection, so that I wouldn’t become lonely, put myself in danger, and use again. I did all the zoom meetings. A few months into it—when we realized we could go outside and do things with each other as long as we were wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance—I made sure I took advantage of opportunities to meet my friends. We’d go for walks and maybe get some food, sit in the park, and eat.
I made sure I was doing all I could to stay connected to other people. I found very quickly that it is possible. I don’t have to be alone; I don’t have to feel lonely.
Those were all my questions. Is there anything we didn’t cover that you want to add?
Whenever I’ve been sober and active in my recovery, I’ve always felt like life is really good, even with any challenges I’ve faced. I would hear people with a significant amount of time talk about, “This has been a really tough time for me,” but they didn’t drink or use any drugs. They got through it by asking for help and using the support of their network. I could never imagine, because I never kind of fell off the pink cloud.
But this year has been very challenging for me. Seeing that I can deal with my feelings through healthier coping mechanisms—and not return to alcohol or drugs—was huge. I had moments where I thought about it, but I got honest about it right away. It’s starting to feel more intuitive to pause, notice patterns, and see if I need to do things differently. And when I notice it, to not deny it. To accept it, surrender, and do the next right thing for me—which typically winds up being the next right thing for everyone else in my life.