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Danielle

Danielle | September 16, 2019

Danielle

You say you identify yourself as an alcoholic--what does that mean for you?
What that means for me is that once I start drinking, I can't stop.

I started drinking at a normal age, at 21. It was fun. As it progressed, I couldn't make it till lunch time without a drink. Then as it progressed more, I couldn't make it past getting out of bed to brush my teeth in the morning without a drink. It just got heavier, and heavier, and heavier.

I had my social drinking and then my closeted drinking. In my mind, the closeted drinking didn't count. I needed that to be normal, to be like everyone else. I always thought, "Oh, well, tomorrow will get better. Tomorrow I'll just drink water, no alcohol." Tomorrow would come, and I'd be drinking again before I knew it.

How does addiction hide in plain sight?
I had a lot going for me. I had a really exciting life in New York City. I got to work in the fashion industry, travel the world and be on the cover of magazines. I was able to get away with a lot, but in reality it was just putting me in more harm’s way. I was able to cover up a lot of the pain and secrets because I knew how to present myself [in a way that hid my addiction].

When it was pointed out to me that perhaps I had a problem with alcohol, I did not believe it. I thought an alcoholic was a man under a bridge, scruffy, not me. Not a young model who was thriving in her industry making great money, had a ring on my finger, a cute little Yorkie, a beautiful brownstone in Brooklyn. That was not an alcoholic.

What did it feel like when you were keeping your alcohol abuse a secret?
It felt like survival. To me, I equated my drinking and using with love. I came from a wonderful family, surrounded by so much love, but there was a void inside of me. The feeling that alcohol brought on and the feeling that drugs brought on felt like love to me. Once I felt that, it felt like it would be impossible to ever replace. I continued to chase that feeling.

And I was just so confused about what had happened to my life. It was like someone took the carpet out from under me and ripped it out overnight. I was scared, angry. I was so angry.

Why was it important you received professional help?
It was so hard trying to be sober when I didn't know how to.

The experience I had trying to get sober on my own, the trauma I experienced from those consequences of me trying to do it my way, was horrific. It took me places that I never could dream up if I tried.

Trying to get sober without help, I wound up with severe pancreatitis. I was in the hospital for seven weeks. During that time, pain medication became my solution to my drinking. So, I resorted to drugs. I did whatever it took to get those drugs. I knew how to drink and get myself sick enough to a point where they would admit me. Once I was admitted, I knew I would get hooked up to the pain medication.

Did you have a moment when you knew it was time to reach out for help?
The insanity of my using and drinking was endless. There wasn't a consequence great enough to keep me from stopping. It was just a tireless, vicious cycle.

By the time I first got to Caron, it was not my choice. I had friends and family intervene. The night they brought me to Caron, I was barely alive.

How did relapse play a role in your recovery, and what brought you back to Caron?
I was very isolated in that first year [after I left Caron]. I lived by myself. My idea of staying connected was minimal. Eventually the isolation caused me to slip back into my old ways of thinking. I started to feel that heaviness, the anxiety, the depression again, and needed to find relief from it. I had forgotten how to do it the right way, which would have been asking for help, going to my therapist, calling someone up at Caron.

The last day of my first time through treatment, my Caron counselor hugged me in the hallway. He brought me to the car that was picking me up, gave me a hug, and genuinely said, "If there's anything you ever need, don't hesitate to call." In that moment I felt loved. I felt like I belonged.

I did use that lifeline, that invitation to call up the Caron counselor. I did need more help. I knew I could call him, and I did. I told him what had happened, that I had relapsed. He said, "You’ve got to get your ass back here." That's when we started to put into works my second time through Caron.

How has your relationship with your family evolved after going to Caron?
The night that I got whisked away to Caron by friends, I remember seeing my dad's face. He was in agony, tears. He was exhausted, absolutely exhausted. When I got to Caron, I called him and asked him to pick me up. He said no, and I got angry. "You don't love me. I'm your daughter. How dare you." But I'm so grateful that he did set that boundary because not only did it protect himself but it gave me a chance to get my act together for a little bit and become mentally stable again.

My dad came to visit me at Caron every single Sunday. He continued to encourage me. He just continued to love me. He continued to seek help of his own. By him doing so, that really gave me a lot of room to focus on the fact that if I was to get sober, I was having to do it for me.

What was treatment like at Caron?
First I thought Caron was rehab, which is it is, but I've learned that language in recovery is super important. What Caron is, is treatment. I got treated there. I got treated like a human being. I got treated for my disease by the best clinicians, people who took time to properly diagnose me for mental health issues.

How did Caron help you rebuild how you approach relationships?
One of the most significant things I learned while at Caron was that I was so disillusioned by what intimacy was. Intimacy to me was uncomfortable, too up close and personal. When I was at Caron, I learned that there's such a thing as healthy intimacy.

Healthy intimacy is forming a connection with other women. Healthy intimacy is forming a connection with the opposite sex. Healthy intimacy is sitting around and talking about feelings and emotions, and getting vulnerable, and feeling safe getting vulnerable. The time I got to spend at Caron, I got to learn that I could do those things and feel comfortable. Each time I have a new experience, I grow.

What does sobriety look like for you today?
When the idea was first presented to me that I would have to live life without a drink, without a substance, without drugs, I thought that that was ludicrous. If I was to live like that, my life would be mediocre at best.

My life today in recovery, it's breathtaking really. It really, truly is. I have so much fun. You can live your life without alcohol, and it doesn't suck. It's not mediocre. I'm not in pain. I'm not hiding my anxiety. I'm relieved. I'm free. My pathway was through going to Caron and utilizing their help, letting them help me. I'm so grateful that I did. My family is so grateful that I did. Caron has given me friends, family, a life that I'm proud of. It's that connection.

I'm connected. I'm connected to life.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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