Trusting someone when I couldn’t trust myself

July 4th, 2019 was a holiday that I spent in residential treatment for an addiction that I had been battling for some time. That is my truth.

I completed a 90 day program. I graduated on October 1st.

90 days. I spent 90 days working on myself with no distractions. No phone, no TV, no music, no nothing. Just me and my thoughts.

I am so incredibly grateful for that experience. How often do we get to say that we spent 3 months just spending time with ourselves? Most people never get that chance.

I will talk more about my experiences from this season in my life in my coming posts. Today though, I want to focus on one of the hardest aspects of the program for me which was 1) learning to be the client and 2) learning to trust that I couldn’t trust myself, and that someone else knew more about what I was going through than I did.

I had been a client before, but this felt so different. This felt like something I should have been able to do on my own. I should have been able to outsmart, outthink, out-therapize, and overcome this addiction. After all, I helped clients do it, right?

Here’s the thing though, I tried to get clean and sober on my own. Many times. I tried all kinds of different ways, with all different kinds of methods. I tried outpatient. I tried going cold turkey. I tried to leave the people, places, & things. I tried I tried and I tried again but my best thinking always got me in the same place… with either a bag or a bottle, or both. My best thinking nearly killed me.

I had to die to myself and to my best thinking.

Going to residential treatment meant learning to trust. It meant learning to trust another clinician with my deepest, darkest hurts. I had to trust that someone knew better than me. and more than me Someone knew more about addiction and recovery and how to achieve it than I did, despite my degrees and the three fancy letters after my name.

So, I did. I learned to trust, and when I did… that’s when the miracle happened for me. I am so glad I didn’t miss the miracle.

It can be so hard being someone who needs help when we are used to being the one who is helping others.

Here are a few things that I took away from this experience:

  1. Take off the hat. As a helping professional, I also put so much pressure on myself to be perfect, to have all the answers, and to rely on my education. In residential treatment, no one gave two craps about my education because at the end of the day… my behavior demonstrated that I was just like everyone else. So, I learned I needed to know when to take off the social worker hat. More than that, I needed to do it.
  2. Take it all in. One of the things that helped me the most was taking in my surroundings and realizing that for once, I didn’t have to have the answers. I could cry. I could yell. I could let down my walls. I could get to know the people around me as PEOPLE. Not clients, as peers. As sisters.
  3. Take it, and change the world. The women in the house who were open with me about their experience, strength, hope, and story are precious to me. I will forever be grateful that I met them. What are the odds that we were all there, as sisters, at one time recovering. We had different walks of life, backgrounds, education levels, even drugs of choice but we shared one common thing: addiction had devastated our lives and we chose to live and fight for a new life, a better one.

Tabula Rasa

“We have got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”
– D. H. Lawrence

I studied psychology in undergrad. Although I eventually chose to pursue social work for my master’s degree, there was one concept that always stuck with me from Psychology that was mentioned in just about every course I took: tabula rasa.

From Latin to English, tabula rasa translates to a “clean slate.” In the moment we enter this world, we are all tabula rasa. We have not yet been jaded. We have not seen things we cannot forget. We have not yet heard hurtful words that keep us up at night. We have not been betrayed. We have not been hurt. We only know safety. We only know the warmth of our mother’s womb.

Lately I have been looking at pictures from my graduation day in May 2016 (for my MSW). Although in the pictures I was smiling, on the inside I was anything but happy. In fact I was incredibly fearful of what was ahead. In the two months prior to my graduation everything that I thought I knew was solid changed and became rocky ground. My living situation, my relationship status, my career plans… all of them, changed.

If I could go back and tell myself what the next three years would be like, it would sound a little bit like this: life will be challenging, complicated, and incredibly bittersweet, but make no mistake that the lessons you will learn, the things you will go through, and the people you will meet will all be directly connected to your purpose.

So, what happened the last three years?

Living situation: I moved back into my childhood home, in my hometown (Milpitas, CA – in Silicon Valley), with my parents. I moved out a couple of times, but each time I made choices that put me back to square one with mom and dad.

Relationship status: Single, never married. After the relationship I was in ended, I searched all over the Bay Area to find someone to fill the void that my previous relationship left. As a result, I ended up developing an addiction, losing friendships, being terminated from a job, and getting myself into many toxic situations.

Career: I ended up looking for work the bay area where I didn’t previously have any connections (nor did I plan having to find any). The first job I got that I thought paid well, I took. I was terminated from that job a year later due to missed work for prioritizing men over my career. I continued to keep looking for work but none of the jobs I took on seemed to fit.

Meanwhile, my addiction was growing. I could easily talk about my mental health, but when it came to drug and alcohol addiction, I stayed silent and I suffered as a result.

I felt nothing but lack of safety the entire time I have been back in the bay area.

In a twist of fate which I will later detail, I ended up moving back to Sacramento this past month. I have been given a tabula rasa, and I plan on taking full advantage of it. Not everyone gets this chance and I am eternally grateful.

I look forward to sharing more about this journey in upcoming posts.