Sara’s Journey to Recovery: Part 3
After struggling with drinking her entire adult life, Sara had an “aha!” moment at Avalon.
So far in her recovery, she had tried to sidestep her alcohol use by pinning it on other problems like anxiety or trauma, but she would soon come to realize how closely entwined these issues are and understand that you can’t overcome one without treating the other.
This is known as a dual diagnosis, and it affects a surprising amount of people in recovery. According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly 40% of adults with a mental health condition report using drugs or alcohol to cope.
“I remember Ronnie, one of the counselors, sitting me down and encouraging me to examine why I was drinking,” she recalls. “He sat me down and gave me a big book. And he told me to write today’s date in it, and that’s my sobriety date. It will be a year on October 7.”
However, like most people, Sara’s breakthrough didn’t happen right away.
“It took a month at Avalon for me to finally admit that I was an alcoholic,” she says. “But my therapist was very patient. She didn’t push me. She wanted to make sure that I was comfortable. And that I would admit it on my own, when I felt that it was OK for me.”
Unfortunately, the impetus behind Sara’s turning point was the loss of her grandfather, one of the most important people in her life. So not long after she arrived in California, she flew back to the East Coast to be with her family and put him to rest.
“When it came time for me to go, I was asked again if I wanted a sober companion to come with me,” she echoes. But just like before, she declined.
“I said, ‘No, no, no, I think I can do this.’”
And this time, the experience felt different.
“Something clicked,” she says.
About a month into her stay at Avalon, Sara was presented with a challenge that most people don’t have to cope with this early into their recovery: her grandfather passed away. The loss hit her hard, and it happened at a time when she was barely 30 days sober.
“Suddenly, I had to leave for a week to deal with that,” she says.
Losing a loved one is hard enough on its own, but the experience can be especially overwhelming when you’re in recovery. Grief can leave you feeling consumed by shock, sadness or anger, and your first impulse may be to numb the pain with drugs or alcohol.
It can really become a test of your treatment program.
And so far, Sara’s grasp on sobriety could be considered tenuous, but her flight back home changed everything. She made it to the East Coast without drinking and even endured other obstacles and setbacks along the way without faltering.
“I was so nervous, but I made it,” she beams. “Then, I made it through the funeral, being with my family, missing a flight… and just being back on my own.” At one point, she was even sitting in a too-brightly-lit airport bar surrounded by glittering bottles of alcohol that dotted the walls and wasn’t tempted to order a drink.
Before, loss triggered her drinking, but this time, it helped her come to terms with it. And she felt the change in her attitude toward her recovery almost immediately.
She was also able to recover something — or rather, a few precious, furry someones — to bring back with her. During her trip, she stopped by her old apartment and put things in order, and in the process, picked up her two dogs, who were overjoyed to see her.
“Aaron made a deal with me — if I stayed sober the whole time, I could fly my dogs out with me. I don’t know if that helped keep me sober, but it probably did,” she laughs.
When she got back to Avalon, Sara felt ready to dive into the program. Before that, she was physically attending groups and therapy sessions but wasn’t mentally engaged in the process. Now, she started to lean into it and immerse herself in the recovery process.
“I finally admitted to my therapist and to myself that I was an alcoholic,” she says. “And that’s when the true magic happened. I was more involved in group. I was doing the work. And I started to actually take it seriously and embrace everything they had to offer.”
A Profound Change
One of the things that had the most profound impact on Sara was breathwork, a therapeutic practice that involves the use of breathing exercises to reduce stress, improve mood and tap into the body-mind connection. Building awareness of your breath and learning how to regulate it also gives you something to come back to during difficult moments.
“I didn’t know something as simple as your breath can hold so much and change so much,” she reflects. “I did breathwork for the first time when I was at Avalon, and the person who teaches it… along with my primary therapist and Ronnie… really helped to change my life.”
As a holistic mental health and addiction treatment center that provides a nurturing, luxury environment in which to heal, Avalon offers a number of evidence-based therapies, experiential methodologies and expressive arts to promote lasting recovery.
And since no two people heal in the exact same way, providing a variety of therapeutic options helps to ensure that everyone can find an approach that works for them. Once Sara hit her stride, she was able to figure out which treatment options resonated with her.
“I’ve learned how to meditate and use breathwork and breathing as a technique,” she says. “That has profoundly changed my life. And I also learned that feelings and emotions are fleeting, so you can ride them out. You will survive. You will come out alive. It will be OK.”
“And I was really able to work through my pain and trauma,” she adds. “Avalon helped it make more sense. As a result, I was able to focus on the root of my problems.”
Sara also noticed a change in her body as she progressed in her recovery. While in treatment, she suffered an injury, and the pain wouldn’t go away no matter what she tried. It lingered for months, but doctors couldn’t find anything wrong despite an MRI and CT scan.
“I twisted something, but that pain came and went. Later on, I found out that my injury was my actual stress and anxiety manifesting itself physically. Because as soon as I started to work on my feelings and everything, it dissipated,” she explains.
She also found that she had to rely on medications less to feel her best.
“I came into Avalon on a lot of meds,” she says, “but the more time I have in sobriety, the less I find myself needing to be on them at all.”
Exploring a New Path
These days, Sara’s idea of a good time is going to a meeting, practicing yoga and getting back in touch with nature — things that help her stay sober. “Whether it’s hiking or going to the beach… I forgot that I actually like to do that stuff,” she admits.
No matter what, she puts her recovery first, but she’s also working on improving her health on all fronts. That includes eating healthy, staying active and living in a sober environment. “Right now, my number one job and priority is taking care of myself and my sobriety.”
Since going to Avalon, her life has also opened up in ways she could never have imagined, and it has her thinking about the future and what her next move is. She’s even considered going back to law school and sitting for the bar exam.
“For me, the point of getting sober was so that I can show up for my life and enjoy my life,” she says. “It’s funny, because I do have graduate degrees and I did work in a field for many years… but I don’t know if that’s where my heart really lies anymore.”
Her experience at Avalon had such an impact on her, she is now thinking about working in the recovery field. She saw how the right professionals could help inspire a positive change in someone’s life and thinks she might like to be a part of something like that.
“I‘ve always wanted to make a difference in the world,” she reflects. “Maybe this is the universe showing me that this is one way to do it.”
Sara doesn’t know what will happen next, but she’s excited to face it sober.
“I’ve worked so hard to be happy, and I want to do something that makes me happy. And there are just so many other things out there that could make me happy,” she points out.
“So maybe it’s time to get out there and try some of them!”