I've got my head stuck in a cycle
I look off and I stare
It’s like that I’ve stopped breathing
But completely aware
-Lady Gaga ‘Million Reasons’
It’s another late night in March. I just finished my second bottle of wine in less than 2 hours. I’m not drunk enough. I’m putting my shoes and coat on to get a six-pack of beer. It’s almost midnight but thank God alcohol is available 24/7 in New York City. I’m in the middle of another 100-hour workweek. I have a major 7am deadline and don’t think I can make it without alcohol. There’s too much pressure on the line with this project and I can’t work with all this anxiety I’m feeling. No one at work seems to care that I’m burnt out and losing it. I guess that’s what’s to be expected in New York City advertising. People don’t call us Mad Men without reason.
As I head out for beer, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I see a pathetic loser. I’m 50 pounds heavier than I used to be. I can barely make it up to my 5th floor walk up without passing out. I’m constantly depressed and anxious. My heart feels like it’s going to fail. In fact, I can feel it skipping beats. Nothing is working anymore, not even alcohol. Life has become unbearable. 16-hour work days, 2 bottles of wine, Adderall, Cymbalta, Wellbutrin, greasy food, Diet Coke. I’ve been doing this for two years straight. Wash, cycle, repeat. What has become of life? It’s become so small, it’s not even worth living. I’m only 36 years old but I can feel my body failing.
I can’t work up the courage to kill myself but I also don’t want to go on living. I don’t believe in God, but I’m desperate. Every night I pray to God to kill me while I sleep. Just put me out of my misery already. I can feel my heart skipping beats while I sleep. And that gives me hope – my heart will fail when I sleep. Will be painless. Will be quick. No one will even know I’m gone.
Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found
-Dear Evan Hansen
This scene went on every day for a couple more months and got worse and worse. I was physically and mentally breaking down. I asked my boss for an urgent 3 days off. It was the first time in a couple years I took a day off. I had to time to breathe. I looked at my mess of apartment and myself and said “I can’t do this anymore.” But this time, I wasn’t looking to kill myself. I was looking for a change. Something began to come over me. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I didn’t question it. I knew I had to go to rehab.
I worked up the courage to do something I never do - I asked for help. I reached out to a co-worker who is also a friend. She has a similar marketing role but is looking to get into HR. I told her “I have something going on I need to address and feel like I need to take time off work to do so. But I’m scared. I don’t want to lose my job."
Within 30 minutes I heard back from her. In my personal email I a .pdf of pages from the employee handbook. She highlighted sections and made notes. She explained we had a leave policy. I started crying. I had never asked for help before and never felt such love. She took so many of my fears away. I felt like I could actually go to rehab.
I entered outpatient rehab within a couple days. It’s a cliché but I was sick and tired of being sick and tired and I could not wait to be done with alcohol. I was called into my rehab counselors office. My counselor introduced herself. She was much younger than me, grinning from ear to ear. I could feel her energy – she had such optimism, compassion, and strength. She said “I am so excited for you. This is going to be the best day of your life.” And I let out a sigh. I was safe. I never knew what safe felt like, but I knew in that moment. Her last name was Tyrangel. All my eyes could see on her business card was “Angel”.
She asked what I wanted from rehab. I said “I want to detox from alcohol safely. But I also want to understand what happened. Alcohol has only been a problem for a couple years. But before that were unhealthy relationships with TV, food, exercise, and more. I’ve always had an addiction. I’m afraid once I’m done with alcohol, it could be something else. I want to make sure this never happens again.”
We started to go back and do the digging. In rehab, you have to answer all these questions for intake and government forms. And you have to answer these forms multiple times. In doing so, I started to become aware of something I had never been aware of. That my childhood was severely traumatic and I had worked for years to bury pain.
Whenever I discussed my childhood with people, I either didn’t get a response or the response was “Well everyone has a dysfunctional family. That’s how it is.” I now believe that’s one of the most dangerous responses someone can give. Everyone has a story that needs to be heard.
As I did more digging, I kept feeling better. It’s as if all this trauma I had been carrying around since I was a child was being acknowledged and released. It literally felt like a steel cape was removed from my back. I began to connect the dots. The reason why I had low self worth is because many people told me I was unworthy. I was over working myself not because I loved it, but because I had an extreme need for validation. And I wasn’t just drinking because of family genetics. It was because I wanted to numb the pain and emotion of everything I ever felt.
I started making huge progress in just 2 weeks. My counselor suggested I worked with a therapist beyond rehab that specializes in PTSD and uses cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR. She felt I had trauma trapped in the body and needed a specialist to take my rehab to the next level. I immediately found a specialist and booked an appointment.
I walked into the therapists office and again felt in the presence of peace. She had a warm, energetic, and compassionate presence. I started noticing something. My first call for help to my friend and co-worker led me to an amazing rehab counselor and experience. A referral from my rehab counselor to a therapist again put me in the presence of peace and love. Is there a God? Or at least a loving Universe? Was my cynicism all those years holding me back from feeling a part of something greater?
During our first session, we went through as much history as I could give her. At the end of the session we did a cognitive behavior therapy exercise. She told me to close my eyes and envision a container. And to put all the emotions, worries, traumas, and people we talked about into that container. I did so, sealed the lid, and in my mind’s eye, kicked it into the ocean and watched it drown.
Throughout that week, the most miraculous things started to happen. I kept receiving this package in my mailbox of something I didn't order. So I placed the package outside of the mailbox for return but it kept making its way back in. Finally I opened it. The package was a strong green glass with a votive inside. A note said “It’s real use is to symbolize and generate hope. It’s warm light flickers like we do in everyday life. It is humble in spirit, but not in beauty.”
I couldn’t believe it. Was this package a mistake or is it a message from the universe?
Throughout the week, I started to have more magical experiences. I was drawn to the river. I noticed each time I stood at the pier, clouds broke and the sun shined through. I looked at the water and remembered the container exercise at therapy and smiled. I felt peace and hope around water. I started going to the pier every day and visioned emptying my day’s worries into the water. And it worked.
Everywhere I went I saw a trail of feathers on the ground. I noticed slips of paper in random places with messages such as “honest is being truthful to yourself and others”.
I worked up the courage to go to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. When I got in the room I wasn’t scared. I felt warmth wrapped around me. Like the presence of the God I head read about but never felt. Someone read the AA preamble and I heard Step 2 for the first time “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” and I began to cry. I realized in that moment I didn’t need to be convinced of a benevolent universe. I just needed the right mindset to see it. Within just 2 weeks, I had felt such tremendous healing. And I knew it wasn’t just the physical detox from alcohol. It was a detox from anger, resentment, guilt, and shame. I surrendered my traumas and fears to the universe. In return, I began to feel love.
The next week in therapy I started to explain all these miraculous things that were happening to me. She didn’t look at me as if I was crazy. She explained the concept of synchronicity to me, energetic principles, and spiritual psychology. And when I listened, I didn’t think she was crazy. I was on the edge of my seat. It was as if I wasn’t hearing this information for the first time, but remembering. I felt like I had come home.
When I left her office and walked onto the street, I started looking at people. I didn’t see them as countless, impersonal people all in a rush. I started seeing the Divine in everyone and everything. Something had changed within me. I could no longer go back to the person I was. I began to see and feel the interconnectedness of all beings. I started to extend the compassion and forgiveness I was feeling for myself to others. And I realized I could extend the love and light that was given to me to others. I no longer saw the world as dark and in despair. I saw hope. And I knew that the power of healing extended to me could help heal others and world from their suffering.
As the year went on, I continued to heal myself more and more. I replaced the time I spent drinking and worrying with practices such as prayer, meditation, acupuncture, and energy healing. I went back to work and knew I no longer had the heart or soul to work in the advertising industry. I continued to work in the industry but shifted to a job that has a better work/life balance which helped me maintain self-care practices.
I couldn’t get enough of all things spiritual. I began to read books on the soul, past lives, A Course in Miracles, and the power of prayer. I started taking classes any weekend I could on Reiki, inner child work, and self-healing. I took on service commitments at Alcoholics Anonymous and began to develop relationships with people with long-term sobriety. I felt like my conversations with these people had depth and meaning – something I had been searching for.
Almost everyone around me started commenting on how fast I was healing. Within 6 months I lost 50 pounds and put on an athletic frame. I was smiling more. And I was listening to people’s cares and dreams and reflecting hope back to them.
My therapist introduced the concept of the shamanic journey and the wounded healer archetype. She told me that in ancient cultures, my healing progress would have been noticed and I would have been pulled into healing practices for the town or tribe. I immediately identified with the wounded healer and shaman. Throughout recovery, I started seeing the gifts in my traumatic childhood. Yes – I was someone who endured severe physical and emotional abuse. But those situations gave me incredible survival skills where I am strong and brave, but also extremely empathetic, compassionate and caring for others. Because of what I went through, I never want anyone to feel unloved or unworthy.
I believe my soul came to this earth wanting to experience massive disconnection from spirit, love, and the authentic self. And when the time was right, when I had learned what I needed to learn, I experienced sudden reconnection to love, light, and who I really am. I believe I went through the experience of massive disconnection so I could help others get connected.
It’s an interesting journey – to only begin knowing who you are and loving yourself at the age of 37. But also incredible to feel connected and know the love of spirit is always and has always been with us. If someone told me I could go back in time and choose a different family or live my life in another way, I'd tell them “no way.” I am so grateful for everything I’ve learned and who I’ve become.
And remember, the truth that once was spoken
To love another person is to see the face of God