Read Part 1 of Natalie’s story here.
I came from an alcoholic family, and as most of society now knows, this piece of my heredity is nothing less than an inescapable beacon, warning that I too may suffer from the disease one day. But it’s amazing how we can fool ourselves even when the data is right in front of our face! If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t believe I had the disease of alcoholism until this past year. I thought I merely abused alcohol from time-to-time. Until ANY stress or event in my life was a good enough excuse for me to drink!
I loved how alcohol numbed my pain. But over time I couldn’t fall asleep without being drunk, and I thought that that was totally fine somehow. As my drinking got heavier, what use to ‘do the trick’ before wasn’t cutting it anymore. I went to the LCBO every day. And had some scary black out moments; one being when my ex-boyfriend found me passed out in the hot tub with the water over my mouth. But STILL I thought I wasn’t out of control. I would tell myself, “Lot’s of my friends party and drink”, “We all have such stressful jobs. You would drink too if you saw what I saw.” But waking up with the shakes on a regular basis that could only be relieved by time or another drink started to scare me. The voice of this disease is a powerful thing making alcoholism another facet of my unmanageable mental health. It stopped ‘fixing’ my PTSD and depression problems and eventually made things darker faster and more intensified. What kind of life had I created?
The collateral damage my actions caused were tremendous! In fact, while still a patient in the mental health ICU, I had to sit, nauseated and shaking, in a social workers office while she called the Children’s Aid Society to report me because my 9 year old son had seen me being taken away lifeless by the paramedics and for many months to come I was only allowed supervised visits with him.
That was never supposed to happen! I was the person who called CAS as a paramedic! But looking back now, I am so grateful that they intervened. Along with a near tragedy which happened at home while I was away, and the reality that I was a parent under the watchful eye of CAS, I realized that it was finally time for me to open my eyes and start getting honest. Honest with myself and others. I so desperately needed to crack the shell of illusions I existed behind! I was mentally and physically exhausted from keeping secrets for my whole life and trying to appear happy and like I had it all together. By this point, addiction, depression, and PTSD controlled my daily life. I thought about suicide every day. I was desperate, I was dying, and I was ready to conquer my demons somehow! It was time for me to heal, and that meant it was time for me to talk.
Enter into my story, the Partial Hospitalization Program at Royal Victoria Hospital aka ‘Save My Life School’, Paramedic Nat’s Mental Health Journey, aka my blog, and Homewood Health Centre aka rehab.
The name Save My Life School was created by an old friend, and refers to an amazing program I participated in at Royal Victoria Hospital after my second overdose. This school marked the beginning of great achievements for me. It’s where I began to shake off the layers of stigma I hid behind. It’s where I challenged my ego and where I first realized that I wasn’t alone. It’s where I allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to finally accept help and confess that I had many hidden problems.Five days a week, Save my life school taught me about my emotions, how it was ok to feel them, that they would always pass, and that I shouldn’t give permanent reality to temporary things. It’s where I learned what co-dependency was, and how to heal from it and to see myself and my needs as worthy. I participated in classes about spirituality, wellness and addiction education. I learned how to cope and control anxiety symptoms. I made crisis plans and friends, and more than anything, I got humble. I learned how important it was to ‘play the tape to the end’ to avoid horrible consequences to toxic spontaneous actions. Slowly, one day at a time I started to heal.
At the beginning of Save my life school, I took the advice of two very special people and started a blog documenting my journey. They both knew how much I loved to write and suggested that if I was able to break through the stigma and share my story, it may not only help me, but many others as well. So on October 10th, 2014 I published my first blog and shared with the world that I was battling mental health illnesses. There was no turning back. I felt I had put myself out there for the wolves. But what I soon discovered was that there were no wolves at all. There were only loving and supportive people cheering me on and watching for a new blog every day.
After Save my Life School, I still needed focused treatment for my PTSD and alcoholism, so I attended the rehabilitation centre in Guelph called Homewood for seven weeks. While I was there I formed an intricate web of support, kindness and understanding with my peers. I also accepted that I had the disease of alcoholism and learned a new way of life. It was the least judgmental place on earth! We divulged some unbelievably painful personal information in group and heard about each others deep down, blood curdling pain. We cried with each other until our eyes burned, and encourage perseverance when we could tell the person could barely go any further. Through everything we knew our tears will heal us, and on September 23, 2015 I celebrated one year of being clean and sober.
My recovery has evolved in layers. With each layer presenting its own healing possibilities. I have incorporated activities such as yoga, walking and meditation into my every day life now. As well as the unconditional love and acceptance that spirituality has introduced me to. Not to be confused with religion, spirituality has allowed me to tap into my inner happiness and has taught me to stop fighting the path that is right before my eyes. I listen to my gut now, and accept that not everything in life may have the outcome I expect, but it has the outcome that I need.