Self, Health And Wellness

If You Or A Loved One Are Battling Alcohol Addiction, You Need To Read This

Photo: Getty 
Mental Health Awareness Month-How To Beat Alcoholism, Alcohol Addiction & Abuse

In honor of Mental Health Month 2019, we’re getting real about it all—depression, anxiety, addiction, co-occurring disorders—you name it.

Mental health and alcohol addiction aren’t easy topics. But the conversation has started—and we need to keep it going.

We need to keep having it over and over and over again until the stigma is gone and getting help for substance abuse problems isn’t a privilege but a universal right.

No shame, no blame, just resources and recovery.  

The following is an excerpt from Breaking Through! Stories of Hope & Recovery by Dr. Mark Stahlhuth and Dr. Nancy Irwin of Seasons in Malibu, a CARF-accredited, dual-diagnosis mental health and addiction treatment center, in Malibu, CA. Each story in this book is based on a real client and actual events but the names, ages and certain details have been changed to protect the privacy of each individual.

RELATED: Why Labeling People 'Alcoholics' Is Just Another Form Of Victim Blaming

Breaking Through! is a collection of powerful, inspirational stories about addiction, co-dual-diagnosis and recovery.

In this story, we’ll learn about Jenevieve—her struggles with alcoholism and addiction, her tough road to recovery and the treatment that changed her life.

What alcohol abuse looks like

When Jenevieve woke up at three in the morning, lying in her own vomit on the floor of her bedroom suite, it wasn’t the first time this sixty-three-year-old senior Silicon Valley executive had blacked out from drinking.

It wasn’t the first time she had reached for the vodka bottle nearby and put it to her lips, desperate to rid herself of the pain. She recalled feeling a panic like she had never felt before. “I honestly thought I was going to die right there on the floor of my bedroom.”

Not only did she believe she was dying, Jenevieve believed she was powerless to do anything about it. That was her last recollection.

Jenevieve didn’t recall the paramedics in her condominium. She did remember waking up in the emergency room with her son, a medical intern, on one side and her family physician on the other. She did remember the physician leaning over her bed, his face within inches of hers.

“You will be dead in six months, Jen, maybe sooner, if you don’t stop.” She remembered her son’s sobbing. She remembered her family physician telling her that she may have already caused irreparable damage to her brain and nervous system.

How does a woman who climbed up from her working-class background to the top of corporate America find herself at death’s door due to her inability to stop drinking? Jenevieve had no answer. “I thought I did everything right,” she said during her first consultation with Seasons in Malibu staff.

“I wanted to make everyone proud of me,” she offered. “Now look at me. I could be dying from this and I don’t even know how it happened.”

Jenevieve (North California Alcohol Dependence with Damaging Neurological Effects)

Jenevieve was a sixty–three-year-old executive living the American dream. The message from her parents, her dad especially, was constant: If you work really hard, your dreams can come true. She did.

Jenevieve entered Information Technology as a young woman and climbed the ladder until she became CEO of a prominent Silicon Valley company where she remained for fourteen years.

Six months before her Seasons admission, Jenevieve entered the monthly board meeting where the board of directors asked her to step down from her CEO duties. She was stunned, the request devastating. Since her youth, Jen’s identity was intertwined with her professional status.

She worked harder than anyone she knew and had sacrificed much to reach the top of corporate America. With the exception of her son, an MD/intern at the time of her Seasons admission, Jenevieve had no close relationships. Her only friends were connected to her work circle.

Married once for five years, she admitted that her husband left because “He said I’m difficult and condescending. You don’t get to where I’ve gone by winning popularity contests.”

Even though Jenevieve was severely malnourished during the admission process, shaking visibly and suffering from severe withdraw, her tone of voice reflected her ex-husband’s impression.

RELATED: 9 Revealing Signs Your Drinking Is Destroying Your Family

Seasons in Malibu admissions for addiction

Jenevieve had little recall of her daily life six months prior to her Seasons’ admission. She had no recall of her admission into a local hospital after she called 911 that day because she feared she was dying.

She remained in the hospital for several days. A battery of tests was performed to assess neurological damage done by acute alcohol poisoning.

During Intake, Jenevieve was hostile. Her hands shook notably. She stated how much she needed a drink, demanding detox medication before the session was complete. A medical staff member assured her she would be put on a comprehensive detox program.

She screamed “When? I want it now!” The Seasons team decided to end the session and admit Jenevieve so she could begin the detox program.

Family history of alcohol abuse

Jenevieve described herself as a social drinker until receiving the news from her board of directors that it was “time to retire.” From that point to her admission into Seasons six months later, her level of drinking, accompanied by severe malnourishment, had damaged her neurological system severely, enough for her family physician to initially diagnose her with “Wet Brain,” a severe Vitamin B-1 deficiency that impairs cognitive functioning.

With the aid of her son, she found Seasons in Malibu. After intensive research and interviewing the facility and talking to several clinical staff members over many hours and days, they decided the fit was a good one.

Seasons’ one-on-one therapeutic attention, highly credentialed staff and holistic approach to treatment appealed to both Jenevieve and her son, though at Intake, she admitted to still being ambivalent about entering treatment.

Jen was the third of three children born into a working-class family. Her Italian immigrant father was a civil engineer in Italy but did not get credentialed in the U.S. Consequently, he worked in the steel mills in Pittsburgh during Jen’s childhood, a job he loathed. To cope, he drank at night. Every night.  

Jenevieve described her mother as timid and fearful of her husband who raged when intoxicated. “His message to us was always the same, ‘Work hard and you can make something of yourself in this country. Don’t do what I did.’” “I don’t think he ever forgave himself for not trying.”

Married only once, Jenevieve had several relationships but none lasting more than five years. Her ex-husband had left the marriage two years prior to admission because she  berated him when she drank, though her drinking was not daily back then.

Losing her job, status, and access to a lifestyle she had worked so hard for sent Jen into a deep depression she treated daily with alcohol, from the time she woke up until she passed out. For those six months following the mandatory retirement, she lost all sense of time.

She didn’t eat. She didn’t socialize. Jen hibernated in her condominium unless she absolutely had to leave. She had food and alcohol delivered, though she rarely ate the food.

Her son had tried several times to get her into counseling. Instead, she talked him out of his concern, mostly because he worked in another state in a career that demanded most of his time.

Detoxing from alcoholism

Jenevieve was placed on a detox protocol of Ativan and Phenobarbital. During this period, she remained hostile and aloof. She refused to say if Seasons’ detox protocol helped, though staff noted less trembling and a gradual increase in her appetite.

Meanwhile, the medical team reviewed the findings sent by her family physician and recommended more tests be done. While Jen was still uncooperative, her primary therapist enlisted the help of her son who, after consulting with Seasons’ medical team, agreed that more thorough testing needed to be done. Finally, Jenevieve agreed.

Breaking through during alcoholism treatment

Jenevieve was averse to twelve-step programs or any recovery groups. “I’m not ‘one of those’ people.” However, she did gravitate to Seasons’ intensive one-on-one therapy, especially the individual work done with the recovery counselor and her individual therapist.

Individual treatment for substance abuse

During the first few weeks of treatment, Jenevieve remained hostile to everyone, including her primary therapist. Often, she spoke about discharging herself against medical advice.

A Seasons psychologist, who was her primary therapist, made the observation that “alienating” as a line of defense worked well for Jen. She consistently walled herself off from feedback delivered by other Seasons clients, preferring to mingle/communicate only with staff.

Seasons clients tended to avoid her, as evidenced by Jen often dining alone. Variations of “You’re doing a great job alienating yourself from other clients who could be helpful to you” were the messages consistently delivered by her primary therapist.

During one session in particular, Jen’s therapist again referenced her condescension toward other clients, saying this: “They went sideways just like you did except now they’re working hard to straighten that road out in their lives.

Maybe you’re afraid you can’t do it?” This message visibly upset Jen. In the next session, Jenevieve brought up her aloofness. “I’ve always been this way and until now, I really didn’t connect it to fear.”

As trust developed, her therapist’s consistent and gentle confrontation encouraged vulnerability.

In time, Jen became grateful that she was able to let down her defenses/resistance to viewing the world differently. As a result, Jenevieve became her own personal scientist, hungry to know more about her “pattern of thinking” that triggered her drinking.

Jen’s self-exploration process continued to offer insights into her life that she always described as “blessed,” except historically, her life was fraught with high levels of anxiety she felt compelled to manage with alcohol. In time, Jen realized that despite her denial, she had always used alcohol as an anti-anxiety drug.  

RELATED: No, Your Love Isn't Enough To Get Them To Stop Drinking

Family therapy to address mental health issues

Once her physical health issues were resolved, family therapy sessions offered many breakthrough moments that proved to be key in her recovery. The sessions offering significant insights into her family life came via art therapy and the use of a Family Genogram, a therapeutic tool rooted in family systems that offers visuals and can be helpful to many clients. Jenevieve was one of those clients.

The family Genogram/timeline delivered a portrait of Jen’s childhood that caused her to break down many times in sessions. The woman who adored her father began to recognize his frailties. That knowledge was difficult for Jen to absorb. She kept saying, “This makes so much sense,” as new discoveries were made.

Family therapy and art therapy stirred up images about her childhood. It all “blindsided” her when she was told to retire. Her reaction proved primal: “Who am I now?” Jenevieve was able to see that for her entire adult life, she had followed her dad’s dictate to be successful.

Transformative sessions included her son’s role in their family system. She began to realize that while she adored him, she had always been very hard on him, much as her father had been on her. “It was always for his benefit because I knew he was so smart,” Jenevieve said during a session.

Fortunately, her son was able to take a leave from his hospital duties to attend several family sessions. He was willing to talk about his obsessive-compulsive disorder, which he was finding harder to manage. Jenevieve was able to trace much of its beginnings to very stressful times in his young life.

Often during family therapy, Jenevieve remarked how fortunate she was to receive these gifts of understanding about her family and herself. “My dad must have loathed himself for failing to be what he thought he should have been. How could he pass on anything but that to his kids?”

Meeting treatment goals

After additional testing, the medical team delivered good news. Jen had not permanently damaged her neurological system and once stable, she was expected to make a full mental recovery.

That day proved to be the turning point in Jen’s participation in treatment. At the end of her sixty-day agreed upon stay, she requested an extension. “I’m just beginning to figure me out. I can’t stop now,” she said to her primary therapist.

At discharge

Discharged after ninety days, Jen’s aftercare program included individual therapy sessions twice weekly with a Seasons-recommended psychologist, ongoing recovery worth with a sober coach and a commitment to find and integrate into healthy social groups.

During treatment, Jenevieve expressed interest in helping young people, especially girls. A national wide nonprofit had asked her to join the board soon after she left her company.

“I think I now have something to say to young girls. Make sure you’re kind to yourself. No matter what you accomplish, make sure you take care of yourself first.”

We hope that this story of transformation resonated with you in some way, shape or form.

We can’t stress enough that if you, or a loved one, are struggling with any form of addiction, substance abuse, mental health concerns or any combination thereof, help is there for you when you’re ready.

If you’d like a free insurance check from today’s sponsor, Seasons in Malibu, to see if they’re the right match, you can check here or reach out to them 24/7 at 866-780-8539.

We hope that this story of transformation resonated with you in some way, shape or form.  

RELATED: What's A Functioning Alcoholic? How To Tell The Difference Between Having A Drinking Problem & Staying In Control

This post was introduced and posted by YourTango Editor Shannon Ullman. 
The excerpt from Breaking Through! Stories of Hope & Recovery was written by Dr. Mark Stahlhuth and Dr. Nancy Irwin.

Dr. Nancy Irwin is a licensed clinical psychologist on staff with Seasons in Malibu, a rehab center providing world-class addiction treatment and dual diagnosis care. Dr. Irwin is a trauma expert and treats the underlying cause of addictions. She works with a team of psychiatrists, addiction specialists and therapists at Seasons in Malibu, creating unique, personalized treatment programs for every client. 

-Created in partnership with Seasons in Malibu