Healing in Recovery

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hot air balloons over forest at sunrise

I hated myself. I didn’t know that until I went to Mountainside, but for most of my life I passionately hated myself and abused myself regularly. I thought the woman that left Mountainside was full of love and ready to face the world; however, acknowledging your self-hatred is not the same as doing something about it.

I was out of Mountainside for over 18 months before I realized the damage I was doing to myself. Yes, I was sober, but self-loathing was still the first person to greet me in the morning and the last one to speak to me at night. Every. Single. Day. It left a hole in me. A dark, cold, weak hole nothing could fill, and it was eating me alive. My sobriety felt like a punishment — I could no longer drown out her voice. I pushed everyone away to keep them from seeing my pain. I had hit a wall. I was aware of self-loathing, but couldn’t stop her from taking control of my life. I believed the rest of my sober life would feel lonely, empty, and painful. When the trip to Mexico for alumni was announced, I was hopeful. Maybe this was what I needed.

A lot was also happening in my life around that time (this time last year). I had stopped talking to everyone I had partied with, which caused backlash. I divorced the man who had abused me for two decades. I cut off my father who had repeatedly abused and abandoned me my entire life. The man I fell deeply in love with after Mountainside, and had lived with for a year, abandoned me the week before Thanksgiving. I was fired from my job and escorted out of the building by security. My epilepsy was out of control, and I now had no insurance. I spent Christmas day alone. No calls, no texts. I felt like everyone hated me. I was struggling with huge life changes and dealing with immense pain while sober for the first time in my life. I was completely falling apart.

By the time the trip came, I was so paralyzed by depression and self-loathing that I almost couldn’t get out of bed to go to the airport. I felt an overwhelming fear about going. The entire flight, I was thinking of ways to cut the trip short and hoping weather would cancel my connecting flight. I cried silently staring out of the window on the car ride to Teotihuacan. That’s when I realized what I was terrified of: facing myself. I felt lonelier and more afraid than ever. I spent most of my first night lying awake, crying, wondering what on earth I was doing there.

We climbed the Pyramid of the Sun the next morning — something I still have trouble believing I accomplished despite the memories, witnesses, and pictures. I began at the bottom of the steps filled with numbing self-hatred and an empty, yet heavy, burden of unworthiness. My soul was weighed down by the words of my abusers and the guilt of my addiction. I was half way up the pyramid when self-loathing seemed to have won, pushing the last bit of life out of my body. I was about to give up. I stopped, sat on a step, and cried. I searched every part of me for a glimmer of something happy. It was then that I began to feel something: the light, the love, and the courage to keep going. With each step, that light grew brighter and stronger until it completely replaced the darkness. It was at that moment I let go of everything I knew as truth. Everything I believed about the world and believed about myself.

My vision was spotty, I couldn’t breathe, and the pain I had pushed down my entire life came flowing out. I was literally crying and shaking uncontrollably near the top of the pyramid. I couldn’t take another step. I remember people were talking to me, but I couldn’t comprehend what was happening or being said. I felt a million miles away, like I was watching myself on a movie screen, waiting to see what happened next. That’s when I saw a hand come from behind the sun. I looked up and it was Jose. As I took those final steps to the top, I felt an overwhelmingly powerful and energizing warmth; it was the speck of self-love that hadn’t let me give up. I sat in the circle at the peak safely, bathing in this new, almost uncomfortable feeling. I was surrounded by people who didn’t judge me but upheld and supported me. My Mountainside family.

I had a remarkable amount of ‘aha’ moments over the next few days in Teotihuacan that helped me start building new, loving, and supportive agreements with myself. The first agreement I made was to honor myself. The trip ended with a balloon ride over the pyramids at sunrise. I vividly remember the silence of the sky, the warmth of the balloon heat, the mist over the mountains, and not feeling a fear in the world. Then I said to myself “I love you Amy” for the first time in my 43 years of life. I cried happy tears as the sun peeked over the mountains. I had smashed through that brick wall, and my journey had finally begun. The flight home, only five days later, was surreal. I was a new woman.

Since then, self-loathing has tried to return many times. Sometimes, she still convinces me to let the darkness and loneliness in before I catch her. It is a daily practice to make her a thing of the past, and I’ve been making progress. I work hard to process my past, forgive myself, forgive those that hurt me, and live in the moment — not the past and not the future. I can finally look at myself in the mirror and feel love. In fact, I’ve been dating myself. I nurture myself. I listen to myself. I go on vacations with myself. I even Netflix and Chill with myself. We talk, we laugh, and we cry together. I can honestly say I am falling in love with this courageous, strong, complex, brilliant, empathetic, and loving woman. Me. Someday I will be ready for a partner to share all this love with.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that rehab, for me, was the easy part. The hard part was facing the trauma and pain of my past to stop the cycle of self-abuse. My journey of healing and recovery didn’t begin with my last drink; it began in Teotihuacan, Mexico, where I found forgiveness, compassion, self-worth, and best of all, self-love.

In your whole life nobody has ever abused you more than you have abused yourself. And the limit of your self-abuse is exactly the limit that you will tolerate from someone else.” – Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

Of note, a big part of this journey and its success must be credited to the Ruiz brothers, Jessica, Natalie, the MS staff in Teotihuacan, and Little don Jose Ruiz. But that story is for another time.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
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