Sara’s Journey to Recovery: Part 2
Since quitting drinking, Sara’s had a lot of time to reflect on her journey and what it took to get to where she is today. However, that doesn’t mean it happened quickly or easily. Like most people in recovery, she’s had a few setbacks over the years.
Before Avalon, she tried to stop drinking on her own a few times, and even had some success, but her sobriety never lasted long. Something always caused her to fall back on alcohol, whether it was stress, loss or simply nobody telling her ‘no.’
So when COVID happened, Sara was already in a bad place. She’d been drinking heavily for the past 10 years and had even struggled with opioids. “When push comes to shove,” she says, “I guess I tend to have an addictive personality.”
And like many during the lockdowns, she didn’t have a whole lot else to do besides drink. Career opportunities came to a screeching halt as businesses shut down and more people stayed in to avoid large crowds.
“I spent the majority of COVID, when I wasn’t working, which was the majority of COVID, at a bar,” she recalls. “Or drinking in my apartment. Or putting cocaine up my nose.”
Sara wasn’t alone in this. According to a national survey of U.S. adults, binge drinking increased by 21% during the pandemic. Overdoses also spiked as many turned to substance use as a way to cope with the stress, anxiety or loneliness they felt.
She was also living on the East Coast at the time, which didn’t help things. “It kind of worked to my advantage,” she says, “Because I didn’t have to drive anywhere. If you ask me, that further enabled my drinking more so than if I was living out here, in California.”
By the time August 2021 rolled around, Sara was exhausted emotionally and physically. The drinking and drug use had taken its toll and she knew she needed a change. “I was on the opposite side of where I wanted to be. So I made the decision on my own to get help.”
A First Time for Everything
“I didn’t really know much about what I was getting myself into,” Sara says of her first stint in rehab. She had been encouraged to seek help a few times in the earlier stages of her alcoholism, but she never committed to a serious program. “I was kind of on my own when I did my research, but I found a place in Arizona.”
Right from the start, Sara knew what she was looking for — a spa-like treatment center that would make her feel pampered. “Because if I was doing it, I wanted to go somewhere good and relaxing, because you know, the only reason I was going was to relax,” she jokes.
She thought she was only going for 30 days but ended up staying for more than 6 weeks. After finishing inpatient care, she transitioned into an outpatient program, with the option to live off-site in one of the facility’s nearby apartments. But Sara had never cared much for provided housing, even in college, so she looked for a place of her own instead.
In hindsight, that may not have been the best decision. She moved in with a friend from rehab, and just like that, she was drinking again.
“It took a few days, but yeah,” she says. “I had the freedom and no one said anything. And nothing changed. I had to hide it from more people, but I was still drinking and going to treatment.”
Not the Right Fit
Sara got sober for those first 6 weeks, although she didn’t manage to stay that way. Things quickly unraveled once she was moved into a lower level of care with less supervision and given an opportunity to live off-site.
She had a newfound sense of freedom, but a big part of the problem was that she still couldn’t admit she was an alcoholic. Even though she had enough awareness to seek help, she wasn’t doing the work and being honest with herself.
“In Arizona, I sort of led them to believe I was there for trauma, which is what I thought,” she admits. Because of this, she wasn’t addressing her issues the way she should have been yet, so she never truly entered recovery.
Another part of the problem was that something just felt off.
As Sara continued to drink and go to treatment, she thought that if she was still struggling after weeks in the program, it probably wasn’t working the way it should. “I was back in the races, right where I was before,” she sighs. “Probably not as bad, but pretty bad.”
Except this time, she felt like she was putting herself and others in more danger.
Back on the East Coast, she could walk everywhere or take the subway to get around, but that wasn’t an option in the middle of the desert. After she’d gotten behind the wheel of a car, she realized it was time to check back into treatment.
However, Arizona no longer felt like a good fit. “I was going to put myself back into residential there, but it just wasn’t right for me anymore.”
She needed something different.
Coming to Terms with Her Drinking
After relapsing in Arizona, Sara was looking for something new.
She didn’t quite know where to start, but she still knew what kind of experience she wanted. “I Googled ‘luxury rehabs in Southern California,’ and Avalon came up,” she laughs.
She thought the website looked nice, liked the programs they offered and was thrilled about the location, but this time she recruited her sister to help her decide. “Before my assessment, she’s the one that did the fact-checking, in terms of if it would be a good fit,” she says.
After that, things moved quickly. “I talked on the phone with David, the Admissions Specialist, and within 3 days, I was on a plane out of Arizona and into LAX.”
Even though Avalon would turn out to be exactly what Sara needed, it didn’t necessarily start out that way. Just like before, she wasn’t admitting yet that she was addicted to alcohol, at least not at first. “I wasn’t in any form of recovery when I came to Avalon,” she says. “And you’d think I would be after one treatment center. At least, I thought I’d be.”
Instead of trauma, this time she claimed she was in treatment for anxiety. That her drinking was a problem, but it was under control now. “I was still lying to myself. Because I was a full-blown alcoholic at that point in time. Well, I’ll always be a full-blown alcoholic, really.”
Since Sara was drinking heavily again and bluntly told David that she might not arrive sober, Avalon offered to send someone to fly with her.
“Again, honest to a fault,” she quips.
She declined, but was determined to prove that she could do it. “I ended up getting to Avalon sober. It was the first time that I did not have a drink on a plane. And I still wasn’t admitting I was an alcoholic,” she recalls. “If anything, that made it easier for me to say I wasn’t.”
Eventually, she would come to terms with her addiction, but it would take another flight across the country, a personal tragedy and being reunited with her dogs for it to finally click.
“After that, the true magic happened,” she says.