BLOOMING CONFIDENCE. WE MEET KRISTIN.

BLOOMING CONFIDENCE. WE MEET KRISTIN. Reading Time Approx: 19 minutes

So you’re in recovery, right?

That’s great.

But what are you in recovery from?

Today we meet Kristin, who talks frankly about her journey in recovery from alcohol and benzos. But there’s more to Kristin’s recovery than meets the eye.

We’re so grateful to Kristin for taking the time to share her story with us.

It’s been a blast, thank you Kristin!

*****

Kristin, hi… let’s start with finding out a little bit about you…

I’m a mom of two and “graphics goddess” in the trade show industry by day, and I enjoy moonlighting as (what I like to call) a convalescent crusader and recovery raconteuse. By that, I mean I enjoy exploring, writing about, and conversing with others about sobriety and life in recovery; specifically, life after the pink cloud. Honestly, even after 2+ years of sobriety, I’m still trying to find out who I am, all societal and professional titles stripped, which is something I never took the time to do before I dedicated (almost) every free second to booze, boys and the occasional benzo.

© Kristin Fowler 2019

So what brought you here? I mean, you must have some kind of “drinking/ drugging/ addiction story”… care to elaborate?

Oh, man. Where to start?! My main DOC (drug of choice) was alcohol, but I was sure a fiend for the attention and affection of any and all boys that would pay me the time of day, and several times along my drinking career, I thought intermittently adding Xanax into the mix was a great idea. I didn’t have my first taste of alcohol until I was 18, and it didn’t totally become problematic until I was 20-21. I was raised in a fairly strict household, was terrified of getting in trouble or upsetting or disappointing my father, and I’ve had a competitive nature for as long as I can remember. I enjoyed making good grades and having extracurricular activities, specifically art. That being said, I was permitted to move into the dorms at the college I was attending when I was 19, and I think I was on a mission to undo the past 18+ years of good behaviours.

My drinking was typical for a college student, as in much binging but my issue later on was that I continued to drink (and act) like a college kid, but it was the winter of 2004/2005 I was admitted into my first IOP (intensive outpatient program). I had gone through a painful breakup a few months earlier and completely unraveled afterwards. So much, I decided I was done taking my bipolar and anti-anxiety medications, that I quit them cold turkey.

Not my best idea.

I suffered a total breakdown, and ultimately wound up in the local mental hospital for treatment. Fast-forward a bit, and a lot more irresponsible choices later, I turned 21 in January 2006 and would find myself hospitalised for an overdose and pregnant (respectively) a year and a half later. After I turned 21, I began spending every free moment drinking, chasing boys, and living in my own “NYC Art Kid Wannabe” fairytale.

I longed to be a manic pixie dream girl; I wanted to “save” a boy, and spend our days drinking or getting stoned, making art, listening to music, and being in love. I got some of what I wished for. I didn’t necessarily save the boy, but I did end up spending a lot of days getting drunk and/or stoned with him, listening to music, and being in love.

The spring of 2007, I was barely 22, and I’d gone to a Bright Eyes concert – none of which I remember. I’d been drinking and smoking beforehand, popping a Xanax every so often, until I decided I wasn’t feeling good/great/better/best fast enough, and began bartering Xanax for shots from the bartenders on staff. I was found unresponsive later that night in the venue, and was rushed to the emergency room, where the medical staff was very surprised I survived.

A few months later, in the summer of 2007, I’d take up day drinking so much, I’d forget to pick up my birth control… forget to tell my boyfriend… and when I went to the doctor for what I thought was (nightly gallons of wine induced) acid reflux, I was informed I was pregnant.

That’s more or less the beginning of my drinking career. The latter half mostly consisted of me getting buzzed/tipsy/drunk each evening after my daughter went to bed. I kept my drinking in check though and managed to graduate from college with my B.A. in Advertising (which I enrolled full-time to finish my college career as quickly as possible, AND worked full-time, AND still found any and every way to be present for my daughter).

I started dancing with the devil again a few years later; the nightly binge drinking resumed, though I convinced myself it was “okay” since I would typically wait until after my daughter went to bed, and my behaviours were further rationalised by reminding myself my nightly drinking was “what most people my age did.”

Except most people my age didn’t have kids, at least none that I knew.

© Kristin Fowler 2019

The nightly drinking began trickling into the occasional daytime drinking on the weekends, my tolerance continued to grow higher, and my desires to be anything or anyone other than who I was followed suit. I began “outsourcing” the attention I wanted from guys I’d met online, and they made me feel special – or I believed it to be special. From ages 23-29, we’ll just say (for time’s sake) that I had a very colourful relationship with alcohol, and though I began to understand I had a problem with it, I drowned out that notable observation just like I did with any other problems in my life, and I lost a lot of friends and any shred of individuality I might have had; it was easier to numb and escape than it was to sit with my feelings or problem solve in the areas I was unhappy in.

In 2015, shortly after I turned 30, my (common law) husband and I became pregnant again, he’s the same man that fathered my daughter, and this pregnancy was planned because I felt I was “ready” this go-round. I gave birth to my son in December 2015, a few weeks later we attended my grandparents annual Christmas Eve party, where I showed up drunk, then proceeded to try and nurse my newborn son, luckily somebody walked in as I was about to pass out with him in my arms.

A couple of months later, I noticed I was experiencing post-partum anxiety, so I dutifully sought help and received medication for that, but oh by the way, I totally ignored the “do not take with alcohol” warning on the prescription bottle. The best way to describe December 2015 – September 2016, is that I went from 0-100 and didn’t care who, what or where was in my way. I spent the last month or so leading up to my “wake the f*ck up” call in a perpetual blackout state, and had somehow managed to get an additional prescription for Klonopin, and began abusing that as well.

My spiritual “wake the f*ck up” call happened in the middle of the afternoon, on Tuesday, September 6, 2016. I was arrested for a DWI with child under 15 in my vehicle, and would later find out my BAC was .22 – that next day, when I’d finally come to, I looked down at myself, the stiff, oversized orange jumpsuit I was wearing and took a good look in the “mirror” (a dull piece of aluminium) and that was it.

There was no going back for me, it was either I got my life and myself together, or continue my destructive behaviours and lose everyone and everything closest to me.

Do you see yourself as being in recovery… If so, how? What do these words mean to you? If not… how so?

Absolutely. I’ll be in recovery everyday of my life, but only if I take it one day at a time. That whole “you can’t drink for the rest of your life” mentality is overwhelming and suffocating at the same time, and so once I accepted my battles can and will only take place with each passing day, I refused to look at the “vacuum of time” or “the rest of my life” because all we get is the present, and you can’t really look any further than that, or you miss the point entirely.

I’m not just in recovery for alcohol/substance abuse though, I’m in recovery from the 10+ years I lost to my substance abuse, and everything that should’ve organically, naturally and maturely taken place but didn’t because I stunted myself by shrinking my existence and exacerbating my mental illnesses by essentially lighting myself on fire each night, in the form of drinking, as opposed to getting to know *who* I am/was.

© Kristin Fowler 2019

So, you stopped/ changed your lifestyle (congratulations!)… how did you do that? How did you manage after you stopped? What did you do to motivate and maintain your abstinence? Any hints or tips, sources of inspiration for people seeking to do the same?

I stopped drinking, emotionally cheating on my husband, and popping ‘benzos’ immediately. There are no words to describe or articulate everything that coursed though my mind or heart during the 16 hours I was in a holding cell, and for me, that was enough to know I didn’t have a choice but to get my sh*t together.

I didn’t experience any feelings of longing or jealousy towards those that can/could drink, because I knew I’d never be able to drink like a “normie” and for the first time in my life, I didn’t want to test my limits or try moderation, or anything like that. The day I decided enough was enough, was all it took for me. To motivate and maintain abstinence, in the beginning, I consistently attended counsellor meetings through an intensive outpatient program at a local substance abuse/addiction/mental health rehabilitation facility.

I saw my counsellor 1-2x/week, and never missed an appointment. I was assigned homework, journaling, self-exploration, and practiced various coping mechanisms for times of distress, but all the while maintaining the fact that no matter how bad or how good things would or could get – drinking was NEVER going to help, nor had it ever helped.

My personal mantra became “The only way to make a sh*tty day sh*ttier, is by getting sh*tfaced” and if that’s not truth, I’m not sure what is. Outside of that mantra, the only thing I can offer to others is my favourite quote from Anaïs Nin:

“You cannot save people, you can only love them.”

By that I mean, you cannot make anyone do or quit anything if they don’t want to or aren’t ready to – most addicts can attest to this, myself included. You can solicit all the inspirational advice you want, but it’s what the person you give advice to does, after that conversation ends, that ultimately matters.

Not drinking alcohol (for example) can be a very stigmatising thing… were you prepared for that? How did you deal with it? How did others around you deal with it?

Alcohol consumption is HEAVILY promoted, encouraged, advertised, welcomed and accepted in today’s society, that it 110% has triggered a negative connotation associated with sobriety. It’s funny, because I was just talking about this the other day with a friend, about how misunderstood (misrepresented?) the stigma surrounding sobriety is. This is something I’ve pushed back against since day one: the stigma.

I voluntarily put my face and my story out there to show the world that an alcoholic does not always look like the homeless man on the street, or the incoherent bumbling lady lighting her cigarettes from the wrong end, or whatever it is most people perceive an alcoholic to look like – WE ARE EVERYWHERE.

We are the middle-class mom of two, who attends all her kids’ extra-curricular activities and volunteers for the PTA, who’s also a college graduate and working professional, but somewhere along the way became artfully skilled at living a double life without skipping a beat on giving the optimal illusion of somebody who “has their life together.” Additionally, because of this preconceived notion that unless you hit a rock bottom (or in some people’s cases, several rock bottoms) you don’t have an alcohol or substance abuse problem, it perpetuates false ideas and keeps people in denial.

I can’t tell you how many times I would think, “Well, I haven’t done X,Y, or Z yet, so I don’t really have a problem” – it’s not a problem until it is, and by the time you realise it is a problem, it may very well be too late.

I deal with this stigma by recovering out loud, and to show others that we can and do heal, with time, patience, and a lot of hard work.

Others around me deal with it differently. Some have confessed to me that they themselves have a problem and identify with a lot of ways I used to live my life, yet because they haven’t hit their rock bottom yet, they keep living life in a way they know is problematic. Others flat-out don’t understand, because they believe addiction, much like mental illness, is something you can “mind over matter” and literally cannot comprehend the neurological, psychological and/or physiological scientific research behind substance abuse and mental disorders, because they firmly think people are being selfish, or lazy, etc. To these people, I politely educate them, but not all of them (want to) listen, which is fine.

To tie it all back together though, much of the stigma attached to the label of addict or alcohol, is due to so many people that are either miseducated, uneducated, misinformed, uninformed, and willingly and/or unwillingly blind, deaf and dumb to the addiction epidemic at hand.

Alcohol specifically though, because… consumption is HEAVILY promoted, encouraged, advertised, welcomed and accepted in today’s society.

© Kristin Fowler 2019

Were you successful from day one? Any relapses (etc)? How did you cope, emotionally with all this?

I have been successful since day one. I have worked too hard and come too far, to only come this far.

It has been FAR from easy, but it’s so much easier to manage than the way I used to live my life. My coping mechanisms vary from day to day, and problem to problem. Sometimes I read, sometimes I write, sometimes I sleep, sometimes I go outside – no matter the circumstance though, I no longer run from myself or my feelings; I welcome these times of discomfort because it allows an opportunity for growth, reflection, and understanding.

You’ve been sober/for over two years now, are there any manifest benefits in your life that not drinking/ using has afforded? What are they? Any advice for people reading this… heh, can we learn from any of your mistakes?

I’ve been sober since September 6, 2016 – which makes 827 days today (December 12, 2018). I like to count my days, because it’s a mental gold star to me, and it’s something I take great pride in. My whole life is now one giant benefit as a result of not drinking – I get to LIVE now, not just merely exist; I’m no longer a spectator, I get to claim ownership of my life and truly treasure the present, even when things gets hard and I feel like throwing in the towel.

The only sound advice I feel like I’m permitted to offer is that there is no right or wrong way to recover. Sobriety should be considered the easy part, it’s the coming face-to-face with your demons, engaging with them, getting to know yourself, and not fleeing into the (temporary) comfort and instant gratification you once found in whatever your former DOC was. How you get sober and stay sober is entirely up to you, and that’s a beautiful, LIBERATING thing.

So… (drum roll) your blog “KristinToTheMax”- what’s THAT all about?

Ha! Okay, so to the max means you do something to the greatest degree possible. Which is what I’m doing now that I’m stripped of my “liquid courage,” surrendered any shred of humility I had, and made the decision to be brutally honest and wholly vulnerable.

I lived so long in this dark and ugly secrecy, and as I’ve mentioned several times before I lost virtually all my friends during my drinking career, that I’ve got nothing left to hide.

That doesn’t mean I share every little thing with the world, it just means I want to live to full capacity, and by me publicly recovering out loud, it’s allowed me to connect with so many others who aren’t unlike myself – and the sobriety and recovery commUNITY has become my safe haven. I’m not ashamed to be this self-proclaimed magical misfit; I’m proud of who I’m becoming, and by sharing painful parts of my past, it allows for me to heal, and reassures others they aren’t alone.

I’ve been accustomed to feeling like a nobody or an outsider, and by making the decision to not be anonymous it’s allowed my confidence to bloom – something I’m still getting used to.

F**k Mommy Drinking Culture” is a very personal reflection (on a big subject for a lot of people) – could you tell us how/why you wrote this?

I wrote that piece to call out the normalisation of mommy drinking culture and dissect the impact and potentially devastating repercussions of a lifestyle that is often associated with being “necessary” to survive motherhood.

F*ck that noise.

There are memes, magazine spreads, message t-shirts, mommy sippy cups – you name it – that glamorise the hell out of being a mother who drinks.

It’s sending this message that in order for you to be the fun, youthful, laid-back, more carefree mom we should all “aspire to be”, a glass (or bottle) of wine will make these dreams a reality. These messages normalise something that in actuality is abnormal, extremely harmful, totally unnecessary and can/will have irreversible consequences, whether you know it or not. It blurs the line between what is acceptable and what isn’t, what’s classified as justifiable consumption, and it makes it so easy for people like me to buy into these hyperbolic ideas and literally hide in plain sight.

Normalised mommy drinking culture, in my opinion, is false advertising and dismisses the underlying issue at hand; it is robbing children of their innocence, teaching mothers (who in turns teach their kids) that this type of behaviour is admissible and normal.

© Kristin Fowler 2019

More broadly, what does writing a blog mean to you as part of your recovery and/ or more widely in terms of the subjects you tackle?

Writing has become vital for my recovery; it helps me to purge my thoughts, connect with others, and express myself without fear, something that was once extremely difficult for me to do.

Do you have any further plans for the blog? For you as a writer?

I would love to be a writer professionally. Creative writing is something I’ve enjoyed doing since I was a little girl, and despite the fact I’m kind of an introvert, writing gives me this sense of comfort and confidence, things that are still consistently difficult for me to do/feel.

If any of our readers are thinking about writing/ starting a blog – what advice would you give them?

Just write whatever flows from your heart to your fingertips.

Just like recovery, there’s no right or wrong way to express yourself. If it allows you peace and you find solace in being creatively cathartic, that should be all that matters.

And finally, after all that – what’s next for you? For Kristin??

I wish I knew. I’ve got a laundry list of intra-personal things I’m working on, accompanied by lofty dreams and feeling like I’m destined for something, but then I feel like I need to tell my ego to chill the f*ck out and I’m just a regular person who happened to be able to conquer their demons enough to work with them, and give them empathy and a voice, but not let them regain their control. A more concrete answer would be that I would love to be find a place (professionally speaking) in the recovery commUNITY somehow and be able to do commissioned paintings on the side. Maybe one day.

*****

About our author, Kristin

To the outside world, Kristin is simply a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a college graduate and a worker bee in the corporate world; an overall productive, contributing member of society. If you dig a little deeper than what the surface presents, you’ll find that she is an empathetic old soul, a deep thinker with the mouth of a sailor, a daydreamer, a passionate creative who has an offbeat sense of humour and collects kitsch, a lady whose penchant for loud clothing and a macabre aesthetic knows no boundaries. She is a firm believer that music can heal almost any ailment.

She’s also in active recovery, (mostly from booze, boys and benzos) while continuously learning to cope with anxiety and depression.

You can read more from Kristin on her blog, Kristin To The Max, or follow her on Instagram.

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