To All the Rock Bottoms I Have Yet to Hit

My favorite thing about getting a new doctor is when they ask me about my drug history. No, seriously. It’s my favorite because I get to rattle off a seemingly endless list of narcotics that I’ve tossed into the chemical dumpster that is my body. Granted, just talking about drugs and alcohol and my relationship with them was really uncomfortable in early sobriety. Confessing my chemical sins to a doctor was humiliating but 10 years of sobriety later, I really enjoy it. “Yes but not in 10 years” was what I answered to nearly every substance my new physician dove into the drug topic.

“Alcohol?” she asked.

“Yes but not in 10 years.”


“Yes but not in 10 years.”


“Uh hell yes but not in 10 years.”

I really hope my doctor was playing a game of drug bingo with her medical pals because I’m pretty sure I helped her win. When you put my drug and alcohol use into the context of time—from age 14 to age 36—there’s no wonder I had a lot of time to check a lot of boxes. Twenty-two years in the biz meant I had years to make lots of things really unmanageable. It was also the perfect time to retire, as it were. With every substance known to man put in nearly every orifice I have, you would think that I wouldn’t feel the urge to explore new drunken, drugged out avenues after 10 years of sobriety. But you would be wrong.

Listen, I’m not saying I’m “planning a relapse” or even in danger of slipping (which is, let’s face it kind of a cute word for something really devastating). I’m just saying I have the brain of an addict and sometimes that brain gets really loud and says stuff like, “Maybe you should try smoking crack again? I don’t feel like we ever gave crack a fair chance! Maybe crack would work out for us!”

The truth is even though I’ve tried as many drugs as most people with the last name Sheen, there are still a list of “yets” that are a mile long. For example, I got sober before “Rosé All Day” was a thing. This is a real tragedy for a gay man like myself who loves the color pink and getting shithoused on wine during the day. Back in my era, pink wine usually only came from the fine folks at Franzia and it was served out of a box. But now the kids are all about it and I, alas, am not of one the kids, in more ways than one.

I also completely missed crafts beers, boozy seltzer waters and Moscow mules. I also never had a moment with opioids which is odd considering I’m an accomplished drug addict who loves to do things that are popular. I mean it’s an epidemic so I shouldn’t feel FOMO for not being effected by an epidemic. But that’s just how I’m wired. Like I was horrified a few years ago when I heard people were shooting up elephant tranquilizers. Horrified but also had a moment of thinking, “Ooh. I wonder what that’s like!” And don’t get it twisted, even though I never, ever shot up when I was actively using, there’s still a part of my mind that can go there and think that’s a good idea to try some day. Just the other day, someone at the hospital where I work was brought in because they had overdosed on something called “nope.” From what I gathered it’s this mega remixed drug featuring your favorite artists like meth, heroin and ecstasy. Sounds pretty dangerous and let’s be honest something I would have tried with zero hesitation in a different time and place.

The important word in all of this is “yet.” Like: I haven’t tried all of those things yet, I haven’t had my life devastated by them—yet. I haven’t relapsed yet. Beyond the substance I haven’t tried there’s the darker yets that haven’t happened too. Like I haven’t served time in jail for drugs and alcohol—yet. I haven’t wound up in a mental hospital—yet. I haven’t gotten a DUI or attempted suicide or wound up living on the streets—yet. Because what I know about my own journey with drugs and alcohol is that there’s nowhere left to go but even further down. There isn’t a right combination of vaping weed (something else I haven’t ever done yet) and Negroni in existence that will make me a functional and successful drug addict. I’m not going start drinking rosé next week and magically become this normal person who can handle his booze. Knowing this 100% is an incredible gift and one I don’t take lightly. The only places left are even more awful than the garbage rock bottom I already hit in 2009.

“Jails, institutions and death” are the yets that 12-step programs tell us are the inevitable end if people like us continue to drink and use. Sounds dramatic but just from my own Irish and Swedish family, I can confirm this. Recently, I was lucky enough to work with a patient who celebrated 30 days clean and sober. After multiple stints in the hospital, this patient had nearly died during his last stay. His body was no longer able to keep up with his addiction. It was an intense reality: either keep using or die. The room for negotiating on possible ways to make addiction work for him was closed. Remarkably, he got the message, which is why that month sober really meant something to him. I say “remarkably” because I see tons of jaw dropping cases of addiction at their absolute worst—people who should not under any circumstance go back to using but somehow do. It’s the nature of the beast.

The romance of the new highs and even lower lows quickly passes for me these days. It’s a thought. It’s a blip on my radar. It’s a minute and then it passes. I know that whatever is out there in the world of active drinking and using can stay out there. I’m just happy that I haven’t felt the real urge to go find out (yet).

3 Questions for People in Rehab to Ask Themselves (AKA Hard-Learned Lessons from my Relapses)

Twelve days after getting out of my second stint in a 30-day inpatient rehab facility, I woke up on the concrete floor in a jail cell.  With echoes of screams and cries from the back seat of the car still ringing in my ears, I sat there trying to piece together that DUI debacle—how I picked my daughter up from preschool in a blackout, how I pulled the car over to “rest” a minute, how I tried desperately to come out of that alcoholic fog and make everything go back to being okay. But mainly I just couldn’t understand why in the hell I decided to drink again. Jesus, I had just crawled my way out of that nightmare and now there I was again…only worse.

I’m certainly not the smartest person in the room, but I know a thing or two about rehabs. In the course of my sobriety journey, I’ve been to seven of them, ranging from the fancy to the basic, from one side of the country to the other. And now, with a couple years of good quality recovery under my belt, I’m putting the pieces together.

The first time I got sober in 2002, I just walked into a meeting and that was it. I was done. But addiction is progressive and chronic, and soon I slipped into a space filled with 24-hour drinking that was jeopardizing the safety of my children. And I was incapable of figuring out how to stay away from alcohol long enough to even collect a decent number of days. Believe me, I tried every time. The damage I was causing to my family and to myself had grown so out of control that even my recovery community had lost hope in me. I had to get out in order to see what I was even doing.

What have I learned from my experience? Enough to compile these questions for anyone currently in a 12-step-based rehab to ask themselves:

What’s Your Expectation?

I walked into the doors of rehab the first couple times thinking I was going to “find myself” in there. Ha! On my best days, I found the guts to look at what a mess I was and had the courage to be honest about it—to cry about it or get pissed off about it. I had a thousand pounds of bricks built up around me to keep everyone from looking at myself. Hell, we all did. Most of the things we found out about ourselves and each other were the exact same things that sent us running for a drink or a drug.

But rehabs don’t offer cures. Ever. It’s best for everyone involved to keep expectations realistic and that includes the family at home. If you think you’ll walk out with answers to all your problems, trust rebuilt in relationships and a guarantee you’ll never drink or drug again, good luck with that.

What’s Your Goal?

Rehabs are not a quick fix, and good gracious, they are full of distractions. It’s easy to get sucked into the gossip circle-jerk out at the smoking hut or hunt down the most eligible hottie of the opposite sex if you’re desperate enough. It happens everywhere. And even if you’re not participating, you have to sit and listen to the dramatic bullshit that unfolds in the aftermath. Here’s the deal: you are likely not going to meet your lifelong friend circle in rehab, so my recommendation is not to going into it trying to win popularity. At one of my stays, a counselor said to the entire group of us, “Look at the person on your left and introduce yourself. Now do the same to the one on the right. Then say you are sorry. Because only one of you will stay sober.”

Of course, none of us thought it would be us.

So make a goal to set a foundation. Do what you can to remember why you are there. Strange as it sounds, it’s easy to forget some days. Time will drag by slowly but before long, if you’re doing it right, your time will be up. Supposedly, you are ready to go back to the scene of the crime, to walk right back to where you came from…except this time you’re choosing to do it clean and sober. Make sure that rehab has done everything in its power to help you in that transition.

Are You Ready for Anything?

Any good quality rehab is going to tell you that you need more help—that 30 days just isn’t going to cut it. And at that point you will have some choices to make. By the time I got to my seventh rehab, I knew this would be coming, but I still stood out in the parking lot defiantly smoking one last cigarette before half-assing an agreement with my husband that I was willing to do whatever was suggested. I was ready, but I didn’t like it.

I’ve tried different plans upon leaving—I’ve gone home after 30 days with a plan. I’ve stayed at a facility for extended treatment for an extra six weeks, and I’ve gone afterwards to a more intensive treatment across the country for an extra 10 weeks. Every choice was a gut-wrenching, learning experience.

So I say don’t be afraid to make a commitment, but for God’s sake, stick it out. You will probably get incredibly uncomfortable. Any time I saw someone throwing an all-out blood curdling meltdown, I got really excited because I knew they were onto something. It was the bottled-up people-pleasers that scared me—probably because I saw too much of myself.

I used to have a sticker on my mirror that said, “You’re looking at the problem” but my kids didn’t get it so I took it down. Obviously, the ultimate answer here is that I am responsible for my sobriety. No one was pouring the drinks down my throat. But good God, can treatment centers learn anything from people like me? I promise you, I am not the only one who’s had to go back or who’s relapsed after treatment.

Being a mother of four kids put me in a minority at rehabs. I had a breast pump at one of them, so an aftercare program filled with messages of sober living homes was out of the question. I always understood the importance of a 12-step program, but rarely felt anyone was listening when I spoke about the reality of the newborn, the toddler, the preschooler, the daughter in elementary school, and the overworked and exhausted husband all waiting for me to get home. My treatment teams continued to preach nightly AA meetings, counseling sessions, an intensive outpatient program during the weekdays. Oh, and self-care. Meanwhile my poor kids just wanted their mom back and my heartstrings always broke at the sight of them.

Treatment centers can only do so much. They are limited by insurance demands, faculty qualifications, industry standards and patient participation. But if your aftercare advisor is searching Google for a therapist recommendation for you, there’s a problem. If your meds are way out of whack and you can’t see a doctor for a week, there is a problem. And if your small group looks and sounds like an out-of-control dysfunctional family reunion, your counselor sucks.

Not every issue is going to get addressed, but you still have the right to be your own advocate. Make an appointment to talk to the top dog if necessary. I did. But don’t forget that you don’t make the rules (I hated that part).

What a collection of knowledge I got from all that failure. Out of all of it, the one thing I’d pass on above everything else, the best gem I ever got, was from my very last rehab. It was this: No matter what else you do on your first day out, if it’s a 12-step based rehab and they recommend 12-step meetings, just go to a meeting. No exception. Leave your rehab and go straight there. I finally did that, this last time. And I certainly haven’t regretted it.