By: Olivia Pennelle
Editor Remarks: Check out Olivia’s Amazing Project: Liv’s Recovery Kitchen
The first 30 days
Paul Silva, of Buzzkill Pod, reached out to us all in the recovery community, asking us to share of our experience of the first 30 days of recovery. I’ve talked about my story of addiction and my story of recovery, but want to address this period specifically because, frankly, it spoke to be the loudest.
In short, I recall immense pain and discomfort; physically, emotionally and mentally. Even now, four years later, I shudder at the thought. I don’t think I could ever go through that again. Physically, I was a shell of woman, encased in a bloated, pained, bruised and ravaged body. Emotionally, I was utterly broken. Mentally, I was defeated. This is what is looked like…
“Despite there being a strong feeling of haze surrounding that time, I have quite vivid recollections of the first month. It was like I couldn’t comprehend my existence, but there I was, having chosen life.”
I recall entering recovery with a bang. I had just come out of a monumental binge landing me in a heap on the bathroom floor. At that time I didn’t know I was in recovery – I couldn’t think that far… I only had the mental capacity, and physical energy to spend the first few days either on the bathroom floor, or in my bed. I was physically very sick. Mentally I had such a brain fog that I couldn’t see beyond the immediate need of getting through the next 24 hours. But something had changed, this time, I had truly had enough. To the very core of my being, I was done. Broken. I believe they call that surrender.
Despite there being a strong feeling of haze surrounding that time, I have quite vivid recollections of the first month. It was like I couldn’t comprehend my existence, but there I was, having chosen life. And it was an experience full of paradox. I felt disconnected but supercharged – reacting to everything in a heightened state: It was like someone had turned the lights on bright, and the volume was on full blast.
Physically, I was able to recovery quite quickly. Whilst my liver function tests revealed scarring on my liver, remarkably it regenerated within 6 weeks. The bloatedness eased and the brain fog started to clear. I thought that to the outside world I looked well – I thought that I presented a vision of togetherness. I laugh at that thought now.
Little did I know that I was masking my overwhelming fear of life, of feeling, with a veil of makeup and a forced smile and few fancy clothes. At that time I didn’t even know that fear was an issue for me. I was numb to my emotional and physical self. My only experience was one of a pendulum forcefully swinging between mania and a dark depression.
The one overwhelming feeling I recall the most was exhaustion. I was bone-achingly tired and weary. I wanted to sleep and sleep and then get some more sleep.
I took time out…
I was fortunate to have just left a job and had the ability to take a few weeks off work. I spent a lot of that time sleeping. At any given opportunity, I would be napping. By napping, I mean 3, 4, 5 hour-long naps. And then sleeping for up to 12 hours per night. I could not get enough. I am a little frustrated at some people, who meant well, who would forcefully encourage me to keep going in spite of that tiredness. My advice now to any newcomer is to ensure that you do a meeting, or at least check-in daily, but if you need to sleep: do it. Take as much rest as you can. Your body is telling you something, so listen.
I found my tribe…
“Step-by-step, I learned to open up. What I found was warmth, comfort and love. And so much more: there is such potent energy in the words me too. With a disease of isolation and disconnection, that energy is everything.”
The next vivid recollection I have was of my immersion in a program of recovery and finding my tribe. I asked for help. I attended many, many meetings. Sometimes two or three a day. Whilst I now think that is a little excessive, I did relish and hugely benefit from that structure. It was an immediate group of friends, of community, of fellowship. And to this day, I still have that. The power in my recovery is that collective empathy and connection.
I was encouraged to have the coffee before and after the meeting – because its so easy to hide in meetings and not actually speak with anyone. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. Speaking on an intimate level with another human being was a concept which was alien to me. Another paradox: I was able to communicate on a professional level – at that point my job had been writing legal documentation – but on a human level, I was crippled. An emotional handicap. I had no idea how to interact. I couldn’t identify my own needs, so how could I communicate them, or empathize with others?!
But, step-by-step, I did. I learned to open up. What I found was warmth, comfort and love. An so much more: there is such potent energy in the words me too. With a disease of isolation and disconnection, that energy is everything.
I processed my shit
“There is a reason that I drank, there were many. It masked my underlying issues. If I wanted to recover, then I needed to delve into the underbelly of what made Olivia tick – what I was trying so desperately to avoid.”
They say that meetings can get you sober, but the steps will get you well. Whilst I am not one for those recovery cliches, I do think that there is an important message here: that you cannot just stop drinking – you need to do some work on yourself. Speaking from my own experience, I have found that to be true. There is a reason that I drank, there were many. It masked my underlying issues. If I wanted to recover, then I needed to delve into the underbelly of what made Olivia tick – what I was trying so desperately to avoid. I did that mostly with step work. They say that steps 1-3 are your defense against the next drink or drug. I undertook that work in my first 30 days.
The work, or the processing as I like to call it also took the shape of writing. Whilst I initially balked at the suggestion – because my head was so far up my ass – I did, I wrote twice a day. My morning writing included my plan for the day, a note of how I felt and connected me to my mind and body. At the end of the day, I wrote about my experience that day – what I had encountered, any thoughts, feelings and lessons. This writing cemented my day – it grounded me. It is paramount to my recovery.
What I found was that I suppressed myself for so many years; emotionally, physically and mentally. For whatever reason, I was completely incapable of expressing my feelings and emotions and would instead turn them inward. What eventually oozed out was a dark depression, excessive use of drugs to mask those feelings and a constant and overwhelming desire to escape myself. We are all hiding something, the key is to learn how to express them. What you find is that it is never as dark or as twisted as you think it is, because there is always someone who has experienced far worse.
So, in short, my first 30 days were spent head down and ass up. I put one foot in front of the other, and I worked my ass off like my life depended on it. Because, frankly, it did. And I would encourage anyone out there to find their tribe, ask for help and process their shit. We are worth it.