Ken’s Story of Recovery
I’m a Kolmac alum, now long-time sober. I learned a lot about recovery at Kolmac and a lot of healthy habits too. Eventually I even learned to enjoy recovery work, including the groups I once tried so hard to avoid.
But that wasn’t where I started. Before Kolmac, I did a series of inpatient rehabs – 30-day hospitalizations. They had excellent reputations and were obviously well run. I liked the staff and the fellow patients. I liked the groups, the lectures, the films, even the meetings. I felt safe as an inpatient, and my confidence improved daily. Of course, as our 30 days wound down, we’d be warned of the downside of leaving the safe haven. There were stories of people whose first act on discharge was to find a liquor store. That didn’t happen to me. My first act was to find a meeting. In fact I went to a whole lot of meetings.
But my successes were sadly temporary. After each hospitalization, I stayed sober only 3 to 6 months. I never truly understood my relapses; I would think I was doing pretty well, then suddenly find myself sabotaging my own hopes and plans. These repeated setbacks left me ashamed and discouraged. I assumed the problem was some deep failing within myself.
But eventually I had a piece of good luck. I happened to share my story with a psychiatric nurse with a fresh perspective. She thought the inpatient environment might be too safe and secluded. Part of the idea of treatment is learning better ways of spotting and dealing with everyday stressors and conflicts. A place cut off from problems might be less than ideal for practicing what we were learning. She also thought 30-day programs were too quick.
She said there was a place in Silver Spring that was trying to do something different. It turned out to be Kolmac. Their outpatient program was called “intensive” because it concentrated the treatment into a 3-hour period each evening.
This let us keep our jobs and continue to live at home – a huge advantage to all of the patients. But it also helped the treatment: Outpatients aren’t cut off from life, but in the thick of it. We could apply the methods we were learning to the daily problems we were still having at work and at home. We were not in an ivory tower!
Surprisingly, Kolmac also outdid my hospitals medically. All my hospital rehabs treated me for addiction. Only one of them noticed I also had a depressive disorder, and they weren’t able to follow up. Kolmac understood patients often had other problems with their addiction, and they spotted mine on my first day. They followed up with treatment in Kolmac groups, prescription medications, and an inspired long-term therapy referral. I owe much of my long-term recovery to their remarkably strong response to an unexpected 2nd diagnosis.
Of course, outpatient treatment is also far more cost effective. Many of my fellow patients were extending their treatment well beyond the intensive stage. Realizing treatment was truly helping; they were choosing to stay for a year or more afterward, mostly at a low level of one evening a week. But some did more, or stayed 2 or 3 years. Even I could see this was helping. I ended up staying 3 years, and my relapses stopped for good! It had been a question of enough of the right kind of treatment.
Cost effectiveness may sound like a humdrum virtue, not very sexy, but it meant we weren’t as tempted to end treatment too soon. To me, this was Kolmac’s biggest single gift, making quality treatment sustainable for long enough.
Jeff’s Story of Recovery
Before I came to Kolmac, I thought drug abuse treatment would require me to leave my family, friends, and job and live for a month like a monk in a place hundreds of miles from home. Fortunately, Kolmac has demonstrated that a well-managed and intensive outpatient treatment program can work well for virtually everyone who wants help. It is less costly and more convenient than inpatient treatment, and just as effective. Kolmac gave me the tools I needed to stay sober in the temptation- and stress-filled real world that’s right outside the clinic walls.
With the right mix of lectures, counseling, medication, and group discussions, the Kolmac outpatient program has proven results based on decades of experience. After years of rationalizations, crazy thinking, and an inability to control my drinking, Kolmac helped me identify the triggers, relapse symptoms, and root causes of my alcohol abuse. Their straight thinking approach and long-term follow-up services held me accountable for my behavior and put me on a recovery path that has lasted for years.
Kolmac’s outpatient services provide the tools and support needed for long-term success in recovery. Kolmac offers practical treatment approaches, day and night, at multiple convenient locations. I learned about the basics of alcohol addiction and abuse and how to change my own distorted thinking and behavior. Kolmac offered helpful referrals for sobriety maintenance after treatment. Through weekly group sessions, Kolmac also involved my spouse in the treatment process, an involvement that improved our relationship.
MacNeill’s Story of Recovery
One evening the bright young lawyer showed up at our after-care group, excited about a book he had read that promised a recovery program based on a series of principles. If the alcoholic followed and applied the principles, the idea went, recovery would follow. The lawyer animatedly described the program, then asked Dr. Kolodner what he thought. After a brief silence, George said, in his calm, authoritative way, “We don’t have enough data to know whether the program described in the book is effective. We do believe, though, that ideas don’t get people sober. People do.”
People have kept me sober for nearly 25 years. I vividly recall the night I first reported to Kolmac, on K Street in downtown DC, to find total strangers sitting on couches, waiting for rounds to begin. From the outset, I sensed that we were in a lifeboat together, bound by our common addictions. Here, it developed over subsequent days and weeks, were real people dealing with real issues. Issues of life. Issues of death.
For many years in my legal career I had talked with and (occasionally) listened to colleagues, clients and friends all day, every day. I thought that the work I did was important, and I’m sure that it served its purposes. But there was a nagging sense that I was missing something, that although I was surrounded by people, I was fundamentally isolated. Getting drunk every night contributed to the feeling of isolation, yet at the same time made it bearable.
The great wisdom of the Kolmac program and its counselors was to steer me into AA meetings. As George would comment, “We don’t know how or why it works, we only know that it does work.” I discovered to my surprise shortly after beginning my sober journey that I was a morning person, and soon discovered a 7:00 am meeting in Georgetown that I began attending six days a week. The regulars at that meeting became my family. They stood by me as I dealt with years of wreckage. They sympathized with my predicaments, they laughed at my pratfalls, and in general they patted me on the head and kicked me in the butt. Over time, as I accumulated years, I began to serve the same function for newcomers.
I have attended the same Saturday morning AA meeting here in Florida for many years. The men attending the meeting offer intense testimony to the issues that confront each of us during our lives. They range from the everyday annoyances of dealing with fools in traffic to the somber grief of losing a spouse or child. I know some of the men at this meeting fairly well, and others hardly at all. But in all cases, we have a community of interest and experience that we simply do not find among civilians. Yes, we have to deal with the picayune issues of daily life. But we are keenly aware that larger issues, serious issues, await us and will pounce if we fail to pay proper respect.
Over the years I have become less interested in the Big Book and the12 Steps, and more interested in what attracted me to sobriety in the first place: people. I remain in the lifeboat with people. I am forever grateful to Kolmac for showing me to a seat.
McNeill Watkins quit his job as a lawyer to begin a new career as a project manager for energy system restructuring projects in the former Soviet Union, living and working in the Caucasus, the Balkans, and Central Asia. He now lives with his wife and teenage sons, none of whom have ever seen him take a drink, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
How I Stay Sober
You ask what I do to sustain my recovery. The answer is longer than I could fit into a note, thus this letter.
- One of the reasons I stay sober, is that I do not want to have to get sober again. Getting sober is a precarious business at best.
- One of the images you gave us years ago was the picture of denial as a form of vegetation that could not be eliminated—only cut back. I got it that I could not control when and in what form my denial system would take when it came back—but that it inevitably would. The way I chose to keep denial at bay was to make a commitment to myself to go to at least one AA meeting a week regardless of how I felt. And, I’ve pretty much done that for over 24 years now. That’s not to say that denial doesn’t kick in; it still does regularly—usually in the form of “Susan, you really were a light case, you know. You could get away with a little drinking—especially with all the work you’ve done on yourself.” So, I go to a meeting and listen for or seek out someone with similar experiences.
- I try to stay “in the middle” of AA which usually involves some sort of service commitment. I learned this to be especially helpful at one point when I was carried through a tough time. My mother died very suddenly and the bottom fell out of my sobriety. I had eighteen years, but suddenly didn’t care. However, I had coffee and jail commitments, a sober knitting group and two women coming over to my house to go over the steps. The connections of this kind helped me through.
- I try to keep in touch with newcomers and sponsor other women. It keeps it green, brings me closer to being able to remember how tough it was and gives me a sense of purpose and community.
- I listen carefully to people who had some time and relapsed. I try to learn from them. I’ve come to realize I will never be completely immune to the possibility of relapse and need to remain ever vigilant.
- I look at AA as my medication. That means I don’t have to like it, I just have to take it. I don’t like the taste of aspirin, but if I have a headache, I will take it. I have alcoholism so I take the medication that has had the best results for long-term sobriety. That’s not to say that I don’t like meetings because I usually do, but that I don’t have to for them to be useful.
- I remember that life is precious and short.
- I try to remain grateful. When I do begin to forget how far I’ve come, I look at old journals or talk to someone who’s known me for a long while. I remind myself that I now have a way of life that is worth protecting. I look at how much bigger my world has become.