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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.
In Cherry Street I, I discussed the main three characters who were my main go-to healthcare providers. My relationships with Kurt Z. and Dr. M. were mainly contentious. Those individuals would continue to negatively impact my life during my entire stay at the Cherry Street domicile. The cornerstone of the program was doing the work of Compensated Work Therapy (CWT).
Cherry Street was a program designed to assist Veterans wishing to transition out of VA care and into managing a life on our own. There was a strong emphasis on Vocational Rehabilitation. It involved working a 40 hour work week at various jobs at the VA in Leeds, Massachusetts. The other component of the program was therapy. Group therapy and independent therapy.
We split our time between programs involving other residents, and our own individual therapy programs. Most Veterans stayed between 9 months to a year; the time when the program expired, with the expectation that we were ready to transition to independent living while still receiving outpatient therapy to assist us along the way. I was involved with the program from April 23rd, 2017 to November 7th, 2017.
My CWT Experience
My first CWT job was as a dishwasher in one of the VA Cafeterias. I hated the job. Mainly because it was boring and repetitive. I was placed in this job because my Voc. Rehab. rep couldn’t find a job more suitable to my abilities. I worked as a dishwasher for about a month before I was given a sweet gig as gym monitor.
I worked as a gym monitor for about two months before I was removed from that position because I had left the gym unattended to go to a therapy appointment. I guess some of the resident Veterans of the on campus VA complained that it was locked during open hours.
All I had to do in that job was wipe down the equipment, answer the phone, and trade barbs with some of the older Veterans that frequented the gym. I got to read a lot during my time there. Two days a week I had to go to one of the residences and play the part of activities assistant. I hated that component because there really weren’t that many activities to oversee: many of the Veterans in that particular domicile were fairly catatonic and unresponsive.
In mid-June I got reassigned from my position as gym monitor to Housekeeping. This super-sucked. I now had to get out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to make sure I got a ride onto the VA campus for attendance at 5:45 a.m. I am not a morning person whatsoever, so this was a real burden on me as I also had trouble going to bed early enough so I wasn’t catatonic for the next days shift.
The work was arduous and gross. Each day I would be assigned to a Team Leader and was responsible for cleaning various buildings on the VA campus. Mostly I cleaned disgusting bathrooms, washed windows, vacuumed common areas; all the while sweating my ass off all day. Everyday for 5 months I toiled away at the job and struggled daily to maintain some semblance of a sleep schedule.
My Recovery Work
When I was at the Brockton VA, I was very active in my recovery. I worked tirelessly on my blog for one. This recovery blog was really active during the months of February and March of 2017. By May of 2017 I completely stopped blogging altogether. I was no longer blogging for the purpose of recovery. I was blogging for the number of comments I would receive and chasing the likes. So I quit blogging. Besides, computers weren’t as easily accessible, so there was that.
I was also meditating and reading a lot when I was at Brockton VA. Unfortunately, because of the times I had to work–and because I was often exhausted–I pretty much stopped doing those activities as well. I spent most of my time napping or just lazing around in a daze.
In early June, I would take an aggressive stance against my caseworker, Kurt Z, and his staff for his failure to approve a 10 day absence from the program to be with my girlfriend from Sweden. THAT is also the subject of a separate post of its own coming soon!
As far as therapy, there wasn’t much until I was assigned a Social Worker at the end of June. I disliked her intensely. She was nothing like my old therapist Molly, whom I missed dearly. I did partake in some offerings in Group Therapies, where I learned more about DBT, Anger Management, and subjects like that. But as far as real recovery work, unfortunately that would be derailed during my battle to be able to see my girlfriend, who was planning on flying over here in September.
By the time I transitioned to Cherry Street in April of 2017, Rebecca was pretty much the focal point of my life. For those of you who have been following me, you will know that I met Rebecca through blogging back in December of 2016. In February of 2017, we started messaging pretty much everyday. She was stuck in a bad marriage in Sweden, I was a lonely Veteran who became enamored with her through her Wilderness Life blog. From February on, we were inseparable. Although the time difference was a bitch to deal with.
From April until the middle of June of 2017, we chatted every day on Google Hangouts. It wasn’t until I accidently hit the video button one rainy day in June, that we actually saw one another. Once that happened, we never missed one day of chatting until we ended up together in January of 2019. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Rebecca was my rock. Perhaps I even relied upon her too much; for I missed her terribly when we couldn’t communicate. Especially while I was at work on the VA Leeds campus; the wifi around those old buildings was terrible and made communicating with her during the day nearly impossible. It was probably around April or May that I realized that I had fallen hard for her.
In late June, we made plans for her to come visit me! We had so much fun making those plans and talking about all the things we wanted to do together during that 2 week or so visit. However, I had to get permission to be absent from the program during that time. What would follow would be a nearly two month ordeal over getting the time I needed to see her. It would nearly derail my recovery and get me kicked out of the Cherry Street CWT program. That is the subject of the next post: Mission Authorized Absences.
Those of you who have been following me for awhile know about my 5 Pillars of Recovery. They are the principles that I established late in 2016, as I journeyed through inpatient treatment at the VA. The acronym for these pillars is S.N.A.G.M.
S.N.A.G.M. stands for Spirituality, Now, Acceptance, Gratitude, and Mindfulness. And it is these principles which have been instrumental in my recovery from alcohol and drugs. As strong as these principles are, they are not the only things I practice to stay sober. Those pillars hold up the structure of my recovery. I’ve also furnished the structure of my recovery with a variety of smaller practices which I employ on a daily basis.
I try to avoid boredom. There is a saying that “Idleness is the devil’s workshop.” And that is particularly true in my case. In the past boredom had always caused havoc and chaos. I would find the need to act on my impulses. I usually found myself taking to drinking heavily, and all bets were off for normalcy on those occasions.
So, I do not allowed myself to become bored, instead choosing to fill my day with a variety of activities. Raising my 11 month old daughter certainly keeps me busy. I also read. I watch shows with my wife during lunch. I fiddle around with my books. I do spend too much time on social media though; that’s something I have to avoid. Which leads me to another of my small practices:
I try to stay out of a rut. For me, redundancy leads to boredom which leads to potential chaos and havoc. Sometimes I find myself too caught up in doing the same activities–like reading social media posts–to the point that I can get into a rut. That’s where discontent resides in me. My tougher days seem to be when I am not being creative enough with the use of my time.
I am merely wasting time doing mindless and trivial things. And doing too much of them. That’s when the “stinkin’ thinkin'”, so often spoken of at AA meetings, begins to take root. When I mix up my day with a variety of activities I’m not in my head. I am usually contented and doing enough different things that I avoid any kind of rut.
I don’t take on too much. Avoiding a rut doesn’t mean I should take on too much. In the past I was always overly ambitious and took on too many projects and responsibilities. And I usually would end up giving up and succumbing to my disease because of the stress involved with juggling too many things at once. It’s not just projects either; this aspect has to do with too many projects and/or too many places to go or too many obligations.
I avoid taking on too much so that I don’t become overwhelmed and stressed out. Two things that threaten my recovery. Essentially, I manage my days and nights much more effectively by breaking them down into chunks of time. Today, I can actually sit contented with not always having to do something or to be somewhere.
I don’t get too cocky. I don’t get too comfortable in my sobriety that is. Although the foundation of my recovery is strong, I am sure to avoid becoming complacent about it. I count each month I am sober. I take part in several recovery groups online. I blog here about my recovery. I carry recovery tokens in my pocket to remind me of where I am at in my recovery.
While I am not exactly hyper-vigilant, I am very aware that my dark passenger would like nothing better than to suck me into the world of my disease, in all of its forms. I am nearing 5 years in recovery, but I avoid being cocky about it. Because I know that the disease of alcoholism is cunning and sly; capable of jumping back into the driver’s seat of my life if I ever get too cocky and comfortable that I’ve “got it licked.”
So there you have it. A few more keys to my recovery. A few more things that I am actively doing to maintain my recovery and live a life worth living; without the chaos, drama, and perils of my disease running the show.