Tag Archives: Trauma

In Recovery:  Part 5 – Jamaica Plain

From jail, to the end of my treatment in 3 different V.A. Treatment Centers, this part of My Story uncovers the journey of my recovery. I vividly, and candidly chronicled my day to day struggles with recovery, mental health, amends, and dealing with the V.A. empire on my blog from October of 2016, to the end of 2017. You can find these musings in the Archives. However, in the coming weeks, I look back at those experiences and give you a more coherent story of my life In Recovery. I look back on that year with more insight as to what was happening, and share with you the principles and actions that built the foundation for my ongoing recovery.

Before RecoveryPart 1: A ProblemPart 2: Jail TimePart 3: Reality CheckPart 4: VA Program
Two Sides of a Coin
VA Treatment Jamaica Plain

I was in the recovery program at the VA in Jamaica Plain Massachusetts from the time I got out of jail (10/7/16) until December 16th, 2016. Up until that point, the only formal treatment I ever received for my alcoholism was a stint in Rehab back in October of 2011. I was unused to going to Group Therapy.

I had tremendous difficulties acclimating to my new surroundings. This was partly because about 15 men were crammed into a double-wide trailer home. It felt like everyone was on top of one another all the time. I also found it very difficult to share in the groups.

A Blog Is Born
Smoking Area Sarrtp Trailer

So, I decided to create this blog, determined to chronicle my life before, and in recovery. I decided early on that I had to be brutally honest. As the days wore on in the program, I devoted myself intensely to sharing my thoughts and feelings. I also began writing poetry after a long absence from it, and shared my poems as well. During my time at Sarrtp, I never took one pass or met anyone outside the Veterans and Staff; I had no family in the area and my so-called ‘friends’ were nowhere to be found.

Also, shortly after creating my blog, I engaged in a tumultuous online relationship that took its toll on me emotionally for a couple of months. Romanticizing a relationship with a woman with serious CPTSD, who had been commenting on my poetry wasn’t helping. My emotions went haywire when, after about three weeks of mutual engagement, this woman suddenly freaked out and broke off contact. I was crushed. It dramatically affected my day to day functioning and I realized that I had serious emotional issues and needed help.

The Program Grind

Many of the Mental Health Records I have access to via the VA’s My HealthEVet (which would prove extremely valuable to me as I will share down the road) website, spoke not only to those difficulties, but also the difficulties I had practicing my social skills. Well, that’s because I essentially had none.

Without booze to fuel my comedy and aggressiveness, I was painfully self-conscious and shy! Now that’s not a word anyone would use to describe me before. I was considered abrasive when I talked, a loner when I didn’t share in the zeal of reliving my drinking days with the residents in the evening. Moving right along…

SARRTP (Substance Abuse Recovery and Rehabilitation Program) was pretty much Group Therapy from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.. There were several beneficial groups, but I have to admit: listening to some of my fellow Veterans drone on was taking its toll. We also had Discharge Planning sessions, bi-weekly meetings with our treatment teams, medical appointments. Looking back, I realize it was the best possible arrangement. I was ill-prepared for sobriety outside the walls of jail. I needed this kind of structure just to make it through the day.

The following is the schedule we had, as best as I can remember:

Time v & Day >MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFriday
8:15 – 8:45House MeetingHouse MeetingHouse MeetingHouse MeetingHouse Meeting
9:00-10:45Relapse PreventionMindfulnessRelapse PreventionMindfulnessRelapse Prevention
11:00 – 11:45AcceptanceLife SkillsAcceptanceLife SkillsAcceptance
11:45 – 12:45 LunchLunchLunchLunchLunch
1:00 – 2:45CBTSeeking SafetyCBT12 StepCBT
3:00 – 4:00RelationshipsWorking in RecoverySpiritualitySleep EdWrap Up

As you can see, they kept us busy. We even had two meditation sessions per weekend. Not to mention the countless homework assignments that were due on a constant basis. Yup, the VA was going to get their money’s worth out of me, and mine out of it. The programs were mostly very appealing. However, my recovery would not have suffered if I did not have to attend the Spirituality and Sleep Education Groups. I think those were really just filler for the end of the day, when they probably sensed most of us were tapped out from the heavy duty classes that came before.

A Snapshot of VA Treatment

Listed below are most of the groups I participated in almost from the very first day I was brought to Sarrtp. The descriptives are from my MyHealthEVet records.

Mindfulness

Relapse Prevention: Veteran will identify personal relapse triggers and develop skills to prevent relapse.

Mindfulness Group: Veteran will use mindfulness skills such as: Please Skills, ABC Skills, Three Minds, Distress Tolerance, and Emotional Regulation to maintain sobriety.

Acceptance & Recovery: Veteran will explore thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that are related to internal conflicts and external stressors and their impact on substance abuse and recovery. (The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Steven C. Hayes, Ph.d and The Language of Letting Go by Melodie Beattie- treatment protocol).

Life Skills: Anger Management. Establishing good social supports. Establishing good supportive relationships. Handling Stressors. Money Management

Seeking Safety: Veteran will be able to use specific strategies to effectively reduce or regulate uncomfortable emotions.

Relationships in Recovery: Veteran will explore thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that are related to interpersonal relationships, interpersonal difficulties, and their impact on substance abuse and recovery with the Relationships in Recovery (Green, unpublished manual) treatment protocol.

12 Step Group: This continuing group is designed to facilitate participation in Alcoholics Anonymous or other Twelve Step groups such as Narcotics Anonymous or Cocaine Anonymous in order to maintain sobriety. Group members will explore and discuss various aspects of the Twelve Step process such as Spirituality, Principles, Not Personalities, Sponsorship and Living Sober.

CBT

CBT Group: Veteran will increase his awareness of his cognitive styles and their influence on his emotions and behaviors. Veteran will learn strategies for restructuring his cognitions to reduce relapse risk and improve his mood.

Working In Recovery: This group focuses on what intrinsic benefits of returning to work are, Vocational Rehabilitation Compensated Work Therapy programs (Transitional Work Experience and Supported Employment), and the barriers faced with trying to obtain and maintain employment while in recovery.

Spirituality: Veterans will learn ways to expand their capacity to understand themselves, others and life from a spiritual perspective in order to become more equipped to prevent relapse.

Therapeutic Work

In addition to all the groups, I also had lots of health appointments, therapy sessions with VA Psychiatrists (who were assembling various diagnoses), and individual therapy with Molly, my therapist. As far as therapists go Molly is at the top. I have been in and out of therapy since my early teens. I used to joke that I was a professional patient. Molly had a way of cutting through the veil and identifying the true issues at hand, to startling effect.

Me at VA Jamaica Plain
October 2016

In 2013, when I first came to the VA for medications, I did get assigned a therapist by the name of Dr. Anna Ticlea. Up until I met Molly, Dr. Ticlea had been tops. She was the first mental health professional to diagnose me with Bipolar I Disorder…but that’s another story. However, Dr. Ticlea was primarily my psychiatrist responsible for overseeing my medications. Molly was a Board Certified Psychologist.

Well, let me just say that, by the end of our first session I was reeling with concepts of myself that I wasn’t too sure I wanted to pursue. But Molly had opened up a Pandora’s Box of sorts, and I was left thinking about them just days before my move to a new VA Treatment Program called REACH, in Brockton, Ma.

Of particular note: my self-concept was challenged, and my approach to relationships may have been grounded in a deep fear of abandonment. There will be much more about my sessions with Molly in future posts. You can count on it!

Because of the facts that I had no money, nowhere to live, and nobody I could rely upon to help me, I decided to take advantage of another VA treatment program. Called REACH, this program focuses on group therapies, but also adds a work component called CWT (Compensated Work Therapy). CWT enables Veterans in early recovery to work for minimum wage. The program is also heavily geared towards enabling Veterans to transition safely out of a domiciliary program. I was excited to have an opportunity to earn some money, for I had none for the duration of my treatment at Jamaica Plain.

However, I almost didn’t get to go there because of another Veteran named Bill. I’m not going to get into all the details here, the posts about that whole incident can be found in my Flipbook below. Suffice it to say, I dodged a bullet that never should have been shot at me in the first place. The incident drew many of my fellow Veterans away from me, unfairly I might add, and served to isolate me further from them.

Read About My Recovery As I Lived It

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Onwards and Upwards

I was ready to move beyond VA treatment at the Jamaica Plain campus. The close quarters, the rigorous schedule, and the treatment by some of my fellow Veterans was wearing me thin. The two months at Sarrtp gave me a great foundation for my recovery.

Time For Brockton Reach Program!

I had endured some gut-wrenching sessions in group therapy, as well as with my private sessions with Molly. What I wasn’t prepared for, was that my emotions would continue to wreak havoc on me in the coming months at REACH, the VA treatment program in Brockton Ma: the city where I lived with my psychotic ex.

Part 6: Brockton Reach

My Recovery:  53 Months Clean

When I started this blog in October of 2016, after a 5 month stay in jail, I had no inkling of where my sobriety would take me. Fast forward to My Recovery: 53 months, still clean and sober! See one of my earliest posts about self-condemnation, just 15 days into my treatment at the VA.

My Recovery 53 Months Clean

From October of 2016, until November of 2017, I learned about recovery through multiple VA treatment programs for Veterans. The principles I learned helped keep me strong, when I finally went back on my own. I even developed an acronym for the 5 pillars of my recovery.

The 5 Pillars of My Recovery

The acronym, S.N.A.G.M., stands for SPIRITUALITY, living in the NOW, ACCEPTANCE, GRATITUDE, and MINDFULNESS. I actually dedicated a blog page about S.N.A.G.M. here!

These 5 principles, along with the lessons I learned in therapy, courses like Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy, have served me well in my recovery journey; I have not relapsed once since I was basically forced into sobriety by jail, on May 12, 2016.

In Recovery:  Part 4 – VA Program

From jail, to the end of my treatment in 3 different V.A. Treatment Centers, this part of My Story uncovers the journey of my recovery. I vividly, and candidly chronicled my day to day struggles with recovery, mental health, amends, and dealing with the V.A. empire on my blog from October of 2016, to the end of 2017. You can find these musings in the Archives. However, in the coming weeks, I look back at those experiences and give you a more coherent story of my life In Recovery. I look back on that year with more insight as to what was happening, and share with you the principles and actions that built the foundation for my ongoing recovery.

Before RecoveryPart 1: A ProblemPart 2: Jail TimePart 3: Reality Check
Jamaica Plain VA Medical Center, across from the VA Treatment Program
Jamaica Plain VA

VA Treatment Begins

On October 17th 2016, I was released from jail and brought directly to a VA Treatment Program called Sarrtp. It stands for Substance Abuse Recovery and Rehabilitation Program, in Jamaica Plain Massachusetts. SARRTP is just one of the many Mental Health Recovery and Rehabilitation Programs the VA offers. It is the first time that I had entered any real recovery program of substance in my entire life.

SARRTP set up in a double-wide trailer across from the VA hospital you see in the above picture. It was intimidating to me; the tight quarters were uncomfortable to me. Spending time in my room was really the only solace I had early on in this program.

Me – November 2016

I’ve always been kind of a loner, contrary to the drunk Rob who is loud and aggressive. I certainly am not accustomed to this type of fairly restrictive environment as it seemed like many of the residents were. The program requires that you stay on the campus for the first 30 days, and then you are only allowed to venture off campus on a few hours pass.

The Rigors of Group Therapy

The rigors of this group-intensive program were apparent from the jump. There would be no hiding in the corner, no one-sentence responses; they expected you to participate early and often. Our days were chock-full of classes, health appointments–as many of you who were addicts of one substance or another can attest, our health is usually ignored for long periods of time–meetings with social workers and therapists, and the like.

And so, I was also not prepared for group therapy. Having been to many therapists over my lifetime, but I had never been involved in such intensive group therapy. And, quite frankly, listening to some of my fellow Veterans in this VA Treatment Program droned on about their woes was sometimes difficult for me to engage in regularly. More than a few seemed to have difficulty expressing just what the hell was going on. I worked on my patience for them as much as I could muster.

I know that sounds terrible, but I am a fish out of water when it comes to close social combat; at getting to know people. In between classes, and in the evening downtime at the trailer, I keep to myself.

With no money and no phone until November, I began justruminating.blog, a blog which I decided early on to be about VA Recovery Treatment, and to feature the poetry I had been writing off and on since 1983.

VA Treatment Is Unsettling
VA Treatment at Jamaica Plain
Jamaica Plain VAMC

As is usual in my life, folks early on passed judgement on me before I had a chance to get comfortable enough to be who I truly am. More than one resident (and staff member) related that I was abrasive and self-centered, and thought I was too good for the group on the whole, just because I didn’t want to hang around the t.v. room all night, sharing war stories and wasting time. Or not.

But, and interestingly, I will note that early on I decided that I would not watch t.v. at all. Except for the Presidential Debate in 2016 and football, I successfully avoided t.v. right up until I actually moved to Colorado in early 2018. Small talk is nothing I hate, and there is no shortage of that in VA treatment. Socializing about the good ole days of drinking was not my bag.

As a result, I made no friends for the entire three months I was there. And I was ok with that. As a matter of fact, I did not make any close friends for the entire time I was in VA Treatment, from October 2016, until November of 2017. Without booze to amplify my attitude, I was fairly inept socially.

Writing To The Rescue

However, in my defense, I was there to work on my recovery, not spend time wasting away in the social milieu that seemed to exist in the halls of recovery at all the VAs. In retrospect, I did a lot of isolating and social distancing before it became the 2020 norm!

Right from day one I started a journal, but only kept at it for about 10 days. That was typical of me: I would begin projects with vim-and-vigor, but usually I would abandon such projects out of boredom, or the fortitude they required to sustain them; however, I did plug into blogging as a way of journaling, so there’s that.

The First Days In VA Treatment

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I started this blog exactly 7 days after I arrived at SARRTP. Here is my very first post on my recovery! I decided very early on that I would chronicle my recovery journey-and the life that led me there-in brutally honest fashion. And I did just that, quite intensely, until around March of 2017.

So, I pretty much walked away from blogging full-time in March, as I had tried to do too much, and my purpose for the blog got inadvertently shifted to being more worried about how many likes and comments I was getting, than my original purpose. Although I wrote a few scattered posts in 2017 and 2018, I would not return to daily writing until September of this year.

VA Treatment Room
VA Treatment Meeting

And the same thing happened after my dedication to fitness, which lasted until the November cold crept it’s way into New England. After that, I wouldn’t work out again, ever. When I finally was able to buy a phone in November, I also got caught up in photography, and I spent countless hours manipulating media and posting the end results on my blog and social media.

Recovery Floodgates Open Wide

I did, however, embrace my new found freedom, and many of the concepts that SARRTP was introducing to me. I realized very early, that to make the most of the opportunity I was given by the VA, I had to take recovery seriously.

Also, I recognized very early, that participating in all the classes and therapy, everyone trying to figure out a proper diagnosis for me, was taking an emotional toll; especially when some of my fellow Veterans in VA treatment, would really go deep on what their issues were, and how they used to overcome tremendous emotional hardships. I had to try everything in my power to make difficult changes to the ways I acted and thought. And I had to immerse myself fully in the experience if I was to stay sober and grow as an individual.

But, dear reader, it ends up being much more difficult than I had ever imagined. For, it was one thing to be sober in jail, and a far different story when interacting with so many different types of folks, and on so many levels so often. My main issues would prove to be my emotions, my impulsivity, and my lack of social awareness. I needed to get my priorities straight if I wanted to “graduate” to the next program that the VA offered. Not only did I want this, I needed it!

Part 5: Jamaica Plain

Principles of Purpose:  Trusting Your Gut

Tentatively titled Principles of Purpose: A Guide To Living Wisely, is an ongoing draft of a concept I might one day publish a book on. It’s essentially 30 Principles that I think are essential to living life wisely. Some are principles that I wished I had learned much earlier in life. Many are principles that I only learned in recovery in 2016-2017. Still other principles were ones I had applied off and on during my 56 years.

PrefaceIntroduction
Principles of Purpose Trust Your Gut

“Follow reason, but don’t ignore that gut feeling. We create reasons with our limited knowledge and experience, but gut feelings often come from universal knowledge.”

Debasish Mridha

What does it mean “Trusting Your Gut“? What is your gut instinct? Your gut instinct is known by many names: “instincts”, “fleeting thoughts”, “nagging doubts”, “voice in your head”, “sense of dread’, and so on. How many times have you ignored your gut, with unpleasant results? Trusting your gut can be tricky. Most experts agree, however, that ignoring it usually does not end well.

To make the best choices, it is wise to observe both your sensations and your thoughts, so you can read what your reactions are telling you. Your instincts can reveal themselves on a physical level–an overall chill, nausea, fatigue or loss of energy, a sense of warmth, increased heart rate, rapid breathing. Your instincts can be on an emotional level–feeling of dread, increased anxiety, nervousness, you. Learning to interpret these revelations is crucial, if you are going to get it right…but it can be tricky.

Your Gut and Experience

According to the BBC “Intuition tends to get a bad reputation as something that’s flaky and based upon no evidence. [But is] a careful analysis of all the options…more likely to give us the right answer? Not necessarily.” Our gut instincts are not always as random as they seem. They can be based on a rapid appraisal of the situation. We might not realize it, but the brain is constantly comparing our current situation with our memories of previous situations. So, when a decision feels intuitive, it might in fact be based on years of experience.

The BBC suggests that “the problem with fast thinking (instinct) is…dozens of different cognitive biases…we tend to be over-optimistic; we may prefer simpler solutions; perhaps we notice and remember information that confirms what we already think; and we favour continuing down paths we’ve already invested time or money in.”

So: if your gut instinct feels too good to be true, it probably is. Likewise, trusting your gut, if it feels gut-wrenching, it could be right (yeah, it’s brutal to break-up with your deadbeat partner, but when you look back at that choice in 10 years, you’ll be glad you made it).

Trusting Your Gut Is Easier For Some

Some people are better at making intuitive judgements than others. Studies on this has shown that we are not very good at judging the veracity of our intuitions. According to the Association for Psychological Science, intuitive performance plummets in the midst of anxiety-something especially common before or after one makes a big decision. This explains why it can be harder to hear our intuition during moments of crisis. We’re so obsessed with making “the right choice” that we become overwhelmed with thoughts and options, and are then cut off from our gut instincts. But, according to one source, good leaders also follow gut instincts.

In other words, our intuition is steady and rational, while our responses to it might not be. Important decision making, like debating whether to take a job or call an ex, might also spur anxiety, which can ultimately separate from the calm hum of intuitive thought. In these cases, it might be best to take action and know that intuition will come when and where it needs to.

It is important to learn how to listen to and to trust your gut. It is also important to weigh facts to ensure you consider all the options. The voice in your gut is wise, and it can push you to do something that feels right when another option might yield better results. You need to listen to both your gut and head to calculate your next best move. Here’s what the experts suggest:

Trusting Your Gut
  • Observe sensations as well as thoughts
  • Pay attention to physical reactions
  • Take a deep breath and put your awareness in the center of your body
  • Observe the chatter in your head
  • Ask yourself if you need courage to follow, or minimize the risk for now
  • Ask yourself “What is my gut saying? Does my gut reaction match what I most value, or am I too scared to say or do what my gut is saying?”
  • Explore the context. Are other people telling me what I should do but my gut is rebelling? What social rules are hindering me from listening to my gut?
Counterpoint

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In Recovery:  Part 3 – Reality Check

From jail, to the end of my treatment in 3 different V.A. Treatment Centers, this part of My Story uncovers the journey of my recovery. I vividly, and candidly chronicled my day to day struggles with recovery, mental health, amends, and dealing with the V.A. empire on my blog from October of 2016, to the end of 2017. You can find these musings in the Archives. However, in the coming weeks, I look back at those experiences and give you a more coherent story of my life In Recovery. I look back on that year with more insight as to what was happening, and share with you the principles and actions that built the foundation for my ongoing recovery.

Before RecoveryPart 1: A ProblemPart 2: Jail Time
Plymouth County Correctional Facility Accommodations

About 3 months into my incarceration, I learned there was a Veterans Service Officer in the jail; someone who specifically works with Veterans within the facility. It was mid-August, and I had begun to take stock in my situation. Except for a few boxes, all of my belongings were gone. I was no longer employed. I had no savings. I had nowhere to live once I was released from jail. Alcohol had brought me to my knees.

Jamaica Plain VA

I met with the VSO sometime in late August. He told me that there was a program I might be able to transition to at the VA; but I had to be committed to sobriety. I had to also meet with a representative from the VA, in order for them to assess my eligibility. Dare I say that I was, at this point, hopeful? August was a month of reality checks for me. The toughest one? That I had become powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable. It was the first time in my life that I realized that, every time I picked up a drink, it was always followed by many others. I finally accepted that I could no longer drink.

This reality set much deeper inside my world after meeting with the representative from the VA. During that grueling 3 hour ordeal, I told the story of my life. He wanted details. So many details. The walk back to my cell was a dizzying one. I had never had to express so thoroughly, the many traumatic and tragic events of my life to anyone. The VA representative wasn’t even sure that I would be eligible for the program. It took several weeks before I heard back.

In the meantime, jail was starting to take its toll. Although I had taken a job in the kitchen–one of the most brutally challenging jobs I ever had–in order to earn “good time,” the constant noise and boredom was getting to me. Jail is extremely loud all of the time. The word “nigger” is used thousands of times a day, by every race, for every reason. The food is completely atrocious. Let’s just say that gratitude was not on my radar at this point in my so-called ‘recovery.’

I couldn’t even stand to try to watch the miniscule t.v. that was attached to the second floor beam; not only was the incessant yammering bothersome, when I was incarcerated I did not have my glasses with me. Being nearsighted, I could barely see it anyways. So, I spent nearly all of my waking time reading. I read 78 books in 5 months. One of those books, A Million Little Pieces (an account of rehab, by someone who purported to have gone through it. However, later it was discovered that the author had falsified many portions of the book. Still a great book though), I finished the morning of my release.

I talked to one guy there the entire time I was locked up. Walter was his name. We had some laughs. As a matter of fact, he put $60 on my Canteen, helping me to endure the last 2 brutal weeks of my incarceration. It astonishes me that someone could endure years of incarceration; I was barely holding on at 5 months. Earlier this year, I found out he went to prison on drug charges. I looked him up via the prison network. I have been writing him, talking with him on the phone, sending him money every month. His one act of kindness will be returned tenfold, because I know how dismall incarceration without money can be. Anyway, I digress.

Around mid-September I got the news that I would be accepted into a program at the Jamaica Plains VA. It was to be a fairly restrictive in-patient program that would require daily classes, limited movement, regular urine tests. I would have to be directly transported to the facility on the day of my release. I had to agree that any violation of the program’s policies, would result in immediate expulsion from the program. Of course, I did agree. So on October 9th, 2016, I was brought to the Substance Abuse Residential Recovery Treatment Program (SARRTP, by two friends from the car business. It would be the very first time I had ever participated in any such program. It would be the first time my new-found sobriety would be put to the test.

Goodbye Jail
Part 4: VA Program
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