Four Years of Sobriety

My date is 1/1/17. I am a couple days late on this, since I am writing this post on 1/3/21.

How did I get to four years of sobriety?

  • Lots of hard work. I’ve been stressed and sad, and even had some thoughts of drinking, but I know what would happen if I did. My life would completely fall apart. I’ve come pretty far in the last four years and one drink would lead to more. That’s where things would go bad, and do so quickly. In the beginning of 2020, I almost relapsed. I was in a bad spot- I hated my job, which worsened the depression I was in. I didn’t want to get out of bed most days. I went back to therapy and got on meds. It took a couple of tries to get things right, but my meds work and I actually like getting out of bed. I know what my triggers are, and suprisingly, being around someone who is drinking isn’t one. It was for a couple of years, but give me a Cherry Coke and I am fine. I have plenty of friends who still drink, but they respect my choice not to. In fact, one of of my best friends decided to stop drinking not long ago and I am so proud of him.
  • Taking care of myself: I don’t have the option NOT to do this. I have two chronic illnesses- Rheumatoid Arthritis and Migraines (see Facts on Facts About RA: How it Affects My Life Chronic Conditions and Mommimg) so to be able to function, I have to take medications and see my specialists when I need to. At the moment, I have rheumatology appointments every two months and blood work is always involved. This is because my rheumatologist needs to be able to see if my meds are working and to watch certain things, like my liver. Clearly it has been through a few things. She is also watching my red blood cells super closely and has sent me to a hematologist. It also includes a ton of dental work, including having a wisdom tooth pulled and a small gynacological procedure in February. I can’t wait, because it means the end of having a period. Some women may be saddened, but I am ready to never have one again.
  • Therapy. Lots of therapy. This round is obviously a lot easier on me because I am not grieving and dealing with immense anger. I try my best to be a decent person but sometimes I’m tested. Sometimes I don’t even realize I am thinking something until I talk about it in therapy. I’m not sure I could have gotten through this pandemic without therapy. It will be a while before I go back to the office- my therapist is pregnant and is now doing telehealth exclusively.
  • Support. I have great friends and family support. This is so important to have- feeing alone in any circumstance is hard, but going through recovery alone? It doesn’t work like that.
  • Writing. I didn’t really expect to get this deep into writing but over four years, I have been able to expand my writing beyond this blog. That has been fun. It’s helped me grow as a writer.

I suppose this is my formula in staying sober- what is yours?

A Year-End Reflection

2020 has been a complete dumpster fire.

In this house, we have gone through quarantine, saying goodbye to Tails very unexpectedly and then getting Shadow, online school and the joys of Lily starting puberty.

That’s just a short list.

2021 looks a bit better, starting with Cameron turning 16. I do not know where these years have gone, but in two years, my oldest kid will be grown and I really don’t know how I feel about that. Part of me is happy, part of me is sad. Cameron has been so much fun to raise, especially after he figured out how to sleep. SVT hasn’t stopped him much, which was the idea.

The idea of him driving is scary. He’s a young black kid, whether he looks like it or not. I can’t even think of him being pulled over, which is almost worse to think about than an accident. I just think about the other young black kids getting shot by police senselessly. In the end, I want him to come home safely. We have already talked to him about what to do if he does get pulled over. It’s not a talk I wanted to have, but one that was necessary.

But first, he has to get his grades up! Online school isn’t for every student. Cameron is one of those kids that hasn’t done well, even though he is fully capable of doing the work. I’m hoping they go back to school in January, but whenever they do, Sara and I are going to feast on wings.

I don’t like looking into the future much, but it does give me hope.

I’m having a procedure to stop my periods in February and I am excited. I’ve been done with my issues and cannot wait to never have a period again. I mean, who wants to have a period? I don’t know one woman who does.

My cousin Julia, one of my favorite people on the planet, is getting married in the Keys on 4/3/21 and I am her matron of honor. I am so happy for her and Jenna, plus the Keys sounds fantastic.

On 1/1/21, I will have four years of sobriety. This is fantastic- I’ve stayed sober through a pandemic! Thanks to therapy, meds and a great support system, I am okay most of the time. I still crack jokes about drinking, but everyone around me knows it’s just jokes. This time last year, I almost relapsed, so I am super proud of myself.

The Fun Challenge

2020 has been all about keeping busy.

During the pandemic and social distancing, I have actually improved my cooking skills. I’ve joked for years about my cooking and the smoke alarm near the kitchen, but I haven’t burnt anything in a while. We even got an air fryer, which everyone has enjoyed. It’s pretty simple to use.

Thanks to Lily working with a dietician, we learned a few things to help her eat healthier and work on losing weight. I wouldn’t have pushed this idea, but her pediatrician was worried, so here we are. She’s lost about 10 lbs, and her weight gain has slowed, which is great. I’ve been making snacks and other foods from scratch, and weirdly enough, it helps my stress.

I’ve gotten back into crafts, worked on organization and of course, lots of coloring, reading and podcasts have been involved. Working has really helped because I actually get out of the house. The kids and I have almost daily Uno games and I’ve bought another card game and two board games as Christmas presents. Online school has been a bust, but we are trying. That’s all we can do, right?

Making chicken pot pies and flower pens

I have been able to look back and think about where I have been and where I want to go next. I’m still not 100% sure on school, but never mind the MPH. Public Health workers have been ignored and not taken seriously during a pandemic, so why on Earth would I dedicate my work to that field? I have no interest in epidemiology but as a whole, the field is looked down upon. I’ve decided that I’d rather go for a MA in Clinical Psychology. I can still do what I want to do and I think it may better suit me in general.

Writing is still a priority for me. I have joined up with a new local parenting website, so I will be adding those links to my “Where to Find Me” page. It’s been pretty cool so far. I will probably keep my writing to this blog and a couple of side projects but that’s it.

It’s a good thing I am so funny and try to see the humor in everything because this year has tested everyone. I’ll end this with some memes because who doesn’t want to laugh?

The Shattering and Rebuilding of My Life

Everyone has a day that defines their life- marriage, the birth of children, and even the death of someone close to them.One of those days for me was September 1, 2015. There was a moment in which I felt everything in my life shatter and at that time, nothing could fix it.If you’ve read my blog from the beginning, you’ll be able to understand how much Jake meant to me.

If not, here’s some older posts:Love Through Bipolar

The Day AfterNobody close to him, including myself, saw his death coming. I’m not sure that Jake saw his death coming. I just know that the aftermath has changed me forever. I barely made it through the visitation and funeral. I just wanted to hear his voice and see his beautiful blue eyes again, even though I knew I couldn’t.

I drank my way through my sadness and anger. The pain was unlike anything I had been through before. Everyone tried their best to support me but yet, I kept drinking. I kept falling into this black hole of grief.

This is from “Hoax” by Taylor Swift. Basically, she didn’t want to look in another set of blue eyes but the man she cares about. There’s no other way to be sad about leaving or losing him than how she feels.I feel that so deeply.

About a month later, I started therapy. I couldn’t sort out anything in my mind and I had become someone I didn’t know or like.Over time, the darkness lifted. I even got sober in January 2017. I still have bad days and I’m on Prozac, but there’s other factors involved in those issues.I was able to decide what to do with my then-crumbling marriage- I wanted to work on things and Matthew didn’t want a divorce.

This has not been easy but we’ve been able to fix our issues.In fact, our 15 year wedding anniversary is on 9/10, nine days after this post is out. There’s not a single book on being married during a global pandemic but everyone is still in one piece.

It was a year before I truly felt like I was living again – I lost my grandfather a few months after Jake’s death. He was one of my favorite people and I was heartbroken.Over time, I worked on my self-worth and self-esteem. I’m well worth the work. I know what triggers me to drink and I try my best to avoid those things. I sorted through my feelings about being an awful mom and right now, what I can do to be a better mom to Lily. I finally feel like I can meet her where she is, now that I know what’s going on.I made two promises to myself five years ago- to finish the work Jake started and to live the life he made me strong enough to live. I’m doing both.

It can be hard, but not keeping those promises would be giving up on myself. I’m an entirely different person than I was before his death and I’m happy with who I am now.I need a few things to stay stable- a great job, my meds and a support system. I have all three and I am so grateful for this. I just wish I didn’t have to live without Jake in my life, but since I have no choice, I’m going to make the best of it.

Real Stories of a (Former) Mental Health Worker

Note: There is this gorgeous law (HIPAA) that prevents me from using real names in this post, and so I will use an asterisk when needed to indicate that names were changed. I will also not use the actual names of the facilities I worked at for similar reasons, because I’m not trying to get sued. I’m a blogger and behavior health technician, not a millionaire.

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. This post is dedicated to my former co-workers (especially my Resource Team friends) and mental health professionals everywhere.

It’s a rough profession and deserves a lot more respect than it gets. It’s also very rewarding, which is one of the many reasons why I am glad that I chose psychology as my field of work.

A Few Definitions

I know not everyone understands these terms, so here are some definitions to help you out a bit:

Mental Health Technician/Mental Health Worker/Mental Health Associate: these are all pretty much the same, depending on where you work. I’ve been called all three.

1:1: a patient that requiring someone is with them at all times, whether they are asleep or not, sometimes both. This can get very tedious, and sometimes you have to stay within arms’ reach of the patient for safety reasons.

Code: this is not the code you see on TV. This code is for physical backup when things get out of hand, mainly when a patient is being aggressive, destructive or a combo. These are called for a variety of reasons, but these are the two most common ones.

Resource Team- an amazing team of people trained to work on every inpatient unit in a mental health facility. They are responsible for knowing everything about all the units, and they catch hell for messing up. It’s a great team to be a part of because they stick together and you never know what will happen next or where you will be. It’s also very stressful.

Checks/Rounds: ensuring patient safety by visualizing patients every 15 minutes.

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(I’ve seen C.Diff, and it’s ugly, especially in non-verbal kids. YIKES)

Let me set up the story for you…

In June 2007, Spalding University granted me a Bachelor of Arts in Clinical Psychology. Many don’t know this unless you ask, see it in my author bio or on my resume.

It took me five years, a change in major (my first major was in apparel design and merchandising- fancy wording for fashion design), school and two kids, but I finally graduated. I also completed a mandatory 100-hour practicum.

I was not prepared for my first job out of college. I had gotten a job as a Mental Health Technician at *Clear Lake Hospital and I was a bit nervous but ready to start my career.

I started the week after I finished classes. (I walked June 2, but still to finish my last class, which was sheer torture.) I did fine in orientation but was not happy when I found out that I was placed on the geriatric unit.

What?

This facility didn’t let you pick what unit you went to, but I had hoped I wasn’t going to get put on a unit I didn’t like.

I was not thrilled about being placed on this unit, known as the *Willow Tree Unit. I wanted to transfer immediately, but there was a policy preventing me from doing so for 6 months. I decided to wait it out.

Two months into that wait, I discovered that I was pregnant with Lily. My OB/GYN told me that I would be better off where I was because the pregnancy was not an easy one from the beginning.

A different unit would be a faster pace and could result in more issues with my pregnancy. I decided to stay put so that Lily would have a better chance of being okay. I ended up liking the *Willow Tree Unit.

The staff was nice- I was the youngest tech on first shift. Once word got around that I was pregnant, the nurses and other techs took care of me.

One afternoon, my shoes became untied and I couldn’t reach them because my belly was huge. I burst into tears and one of my fellow techs tied them for me. She understood the struggle- she’d been in my spot two years before.

I didn’t get to finish out the pregnancy on that unit- I went into preterm labor at 31 weeks (on Cameron’s 3rd birthday, of all days) and my OB/GYN told me that I would have to stop working or go on light duty, basically a desk job.

I chose the desk job because we needed the money. I went to medical records for all of five weeks or so. The ladies there were nice and began a betting pool on when Lily would show up. Lily shares a birthday with one of the ladies in the office, which everyone found hilarious.

Thanks to Kentucky state budget cuts, the *Willow Tree Unit was closed down while I was on light duty, and when I came back from maternity leave, I was sent to an acute care unit. I was better suited for that unit and stayed there until I left in June 2008 for a counseling position in Indiana.

The Real Fun Begins

In late 2010, I was ready for a new and closer to home position. I found another Mental Health Worker position at *MidRiver Regional Hospital. This time, I was able to pick where I wanted to go, because it was in the application. I would be on the Resource Team. It sounded very interesting and kind of fun.

I was absolutely right. Orientation was a bit boring- but that’s where I met Josh (Jake’s older brother) so I call that a win. I had to shadow for a couple of weeks on each unit- a couple of days with another worker, and then I was unleashed.

The very first day was a day that is forever etched in my mind- I was on *2West, a unit that was then used for kids from 12-18 with autism and other developmental disabilities. It was super loud, wild and some of the kids were way bigger than me.

What did I sign up for?

I took a huge deep breath, looked at my assignment sheet and kept going.

I spent two years on the Resource Team. It was a lot of fun- full of laughs, friends, and a few mishaps. I’ve run after people that eloped, including one that I chased across a busy street along with another worker. The kid ran off at a hospital and we did catch her. I’ve been punched in the head. I even caught a stereo cord to the face.

I was with a 1:1 and the patient was very upset about her Justin Beiber CD was repeatedly skipping. I told her that maybe it was time to try a different activity, and tried to unplug the stereo. She picked it up, then dropped it, and when I went to pick it up, she hit me in the face with the cord.

A code was immediately called and I was taken off the floor. I was taken to the main nursing office to get my face looked at.

I called Matthew to get me from work, and he took me to a nearby hospital- I ended up with three liquid stitches. You can barely see the scar today. I took the next day off because my eye was so swollen that I had a hard time seeing out of it, and let me tell you, tetanus shots are not fun.

As for the patient, she was so upset when she found out what happened to me, she became hysterical. I was one of her favorite staff members. She had to be medicated to calm down. She apologized the next time she saw me.

While I was working at this facility, things were not that great at home. Julian wasn’t diagnosed until late 2011. I was struggling a lot internally with both anxiety and depression. You can read about those events in A Letter to my Anxiety and Depression and Looking At the Bright Side

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I was able to lose myself in my work. I loved being able to help others and work with great people. We had a lot of fun on the good days and on the not so good days, pull together and make things work. That, to me, is the definition of teamwork.

In March 2013, I had a mini-stroke. My neurologist suggested afterward that I needed to start looking for ways to lessen or eliminate stress in my life. By this point, I was ready to leave the Resource Team- it was getting too stressful for me. Some people leave after months, some people stay the entire time they are at the facility.

I started thinking about which unit would be a good fit. I was pretty much done with adults- that was where the bulk of my work had been, and I needed something different. I had realized that I really enjoyed the kids on *2West and the staff was great.

I’d volunteer to go there when other people didn’t want to go- it was a rough unit. I didn’t really enjoy cleaning poop off walls (who does? I can’t make this up, it really happens) but it had become my favorite unit.

It took a few months of waiting, but a position opened up. By then, I had met Jake, and that was his home unit. I applied, interviewed and got the full-time Mental Health Associate position. My Resource Team friends were sad to see me go (my friend Scott begged me not to go), but they were not surprised to hear where I was going.

It turns out that going to *2West was the best career move I’ve ever made. I loved it.

Those kids were not always the easiest to work with- I’ve been kicked in the eye, had my hair pulled out in clumps, broken my big left toe twice and in the same way. It still doesn’t bend correctly. I’ve seen all kinds of naked kids. I’ve left work scratched and bruised from multiple holds. I’ve gotten sick from these kids- strep throat can go through 20 kids fast.

I also learned a lot- how to sign (some), how to learn about a kid even when they are non-verbal. I learned that some families are worse than you can imagine and even the ones that look great are horrible.

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Autism is not seen as often in girls, but when it is, it tends to be severe. One of my favorite kids was a tall, thin girl named *Michelle. She was a runner and I got lots of exercise running after her in the halls. She was also non-verbal but showed her feelings by squeezing your hands.

She squeezed my hands every day to say “hello” and “goodbye” but if she was angry, she would pull on your arms while squeezing your hands. She was so much fun to work with. When she left, she bent down to hug me goodbye, and both *Claire (her behavior analyst) and I cried. That’s a very unusual thing.

Taylor Swift sing-a-longs were a regular thing and so were movie days on the weekends. We tried to make things as fun as we could for the kids. We took them outside and let them play as much as they were able to on the playground. We got the kids out of bed, fed them, got them through their days and back into bed- for some of them, we were more of a family to them than their own.

*Mason was a kid who saw us exactly like that. I met him while doing checks and he was in the shower singing “Baby Got Back”. He was hilarious, and once beatboxed to me about needing toothpaste.

However, he came from a family that didn’t treat him well, which contributed to some of the reasons he came to the facility. Once, I was planning an outing with another associate, and he asked us to take him and the other patients to a strip club. That did not happen, but we laughed hysterically after he left the room.

These kids were so funny, smart in their own way. I couldn’t have asked for better co-workers. Some days entirely sucked, but it was still a fun adventure.

My last day there was September 2, 2015. I left after being told about Jake’s death, and I came back two days later to get my things and leave my nurse manager a note telling her I wouldn’t be back.

I couldn’t write this post without mentioning Jake, Austin, Scott (not the one mentioned earlier), Cisco or Colleen. I lost these co-workers while working with them or after and each loss was a bad one. They left behind families that loved them and patients that they touched. They worked hard (Cisco got electrocuted trying to keep a patient safe) and had a lot of love for their patients.

I’m retired from this line of work- thanks to my RA diagnosis. My rheumatologist would go ballistic. I am left with so many memories and friends. That’s what work and life are all about.

All pics are my personal pics except for one pin on my Pinterest board. Pinterest

Looking At the Bright Side

A Dark Day Brings Light

November 23, 2011, was a dark day at my house, but yet it brought a lot of light to my mind. That is the day Julian was diagnosed with ADHD (combined) and traits of Asperger’s Syndrome. (This was later amended to a full diagnosis and he is now considered to be on the autism spectrum because Asperger’s was removed from the DSM-V.)

Autism meme

It brought tears and peace at the same time. I finally had answers to so many questions. I wasn’t a bad mom, there was actually a reason he was doing all these things.

I finally had tools to help him. I could help him calm himself so he wouldn’t throw toys, hit his siblings or myself. I might even get dinner done on time some nights instead of stopping to deal with Julian’s meltdowns.

Losing Perspective

Somewhere in the middle of trying behavior charts, evaluations and basically bribing Julian to act appropriately, I’d forgotten the good things about him. He did have those, like every other kid.

Don't say sorry

For example, Julian is so intelligent. For the most part, he’s always done well in math and science. He hates reading.

There is a bright side to having a kid with special needs. It changes you in ways you never thought possible. You may have learn a lot about the diagnosis (or more than one), but you’ll be able to spread awareness about it. I’ve become very vocal about ADHD and autism.

You can read my thoughts on the vaccination/autism debate in this post:

The Autism/Vaccine Debate

I’ve walked for a local organization for families of children with autism. I worked with kids with autism for almost five years, and I loved it. It makes it easier for me to deal with the struggles.

I know I’m far from alone because there are many families that have the same day to day issues that I do. This includes some of my friends.
I’ve learned that you have to be a different parent for each kid.

What works for Lily may not work for Julian. Cameron responds a lot differently to things than his siblings. We have had to adjust to Julian’s quirks and needs and become a lot more creative and open-minded. I’ve had to think on my feet a lot and outside the box a lot more.

Learning to Adjust

I never really went through the stage that some parents do in which they grieve what they imagined what their child would be able to do. Julian will still have a full life- he will just have a few bumps along the way.

Swing
We are able to see the world through a different lens with Julian- slightly narrowed thinking, a dry sense of humor, ability to help with or without asking- he loves to help his dad and grandfather do “big guy stuff”. He does show emotions, but we are still working on empathy.

I have become tougher. I don’t see this as a terrible thing. I’ve learned to fight for what Julian needs and I will do that until he can do it on his own. I won’t let him be in the world on his own without knowing how to get help if he needs it and without the skills, he needs to navigate his issues.

We do have bad days as parents, with or without special needs kids. Looking at the bright side can help bring our focus back to the positivity around us- our kids.