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Heartbreak in Recovery


Even broken, it still beats Photo via

By Rachael Brownell


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(page 2)

From the outside, how petty and ridiculous it must have looked. I had not lost a child or been through war or endured half of what the majority of the world suffered every day. Was I this weak and broken over a mere relationship ending? Was I really this alone?

“Yes,” I said, as I swallowed the pills. “Yes,” I said, as the ambulance carried me away. “Yes,” I said again as they checked me into the psych ward. Write a gratitude list every day, my sponsor counseled. Try and sponsor more women, call me if you need me. Call me. Call other women. 

The first day on the psych unit, they took my computer and cell phone. They assigned me a caseworker and showed me to a grim little blank room overlooking a grey roof. “How long will I have to stay?” I asked. “Here,” the nurse said. “Take this journal and write in it.”

“Do you know that what you’re going through is acute grief?” my caseworker asked later that first day. I shook my head. No. “This is a chart of the grieving process.” she said, walking me through an old, hard-to-read Xerox copy. “This is you,” she said, pointing to the “shock and denial” part of the line. “This is you grieving,” she said, placing a hand on my knee. She held my hand and told me she was going to find me a good therapist when I was discharged—and a good psychiatrist. She never asked me to write a gratitude list or call other women in the program or wash dishes. There at the bottom of the pool, where I touched the darkness, I found neither Higher Power nor succor from the program upon which I had depended for years. I found a Xeroxed map of what was wrong with me. And it saved my life. 

It’s been nine months since then and I have a new sponsor. She tells me the pills were a relapse and I choose to believe she’s right. Next month, I would have had five years; instead it’s 10 months. In meetings, I’m quiet and I listen, on the lookout for other lost souls. I have my health and my daughters. I have a home that I love and a few friends who understand but the program has lost its luster and the magic bubble has popped. Maybe this is surrender. I don’t honestly know. 

“Keep coming back,” they say to me on the rare occasions I share. And so I do.

Rachael Brownell is a frequent contributor to The Fix and the author of the book Mommy Doesn't Drink Here Anymore. She has written about the importance of humor in sobriety and natural highs, among many other topics.

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