Wednesday, November 17, 2010

over the edge, part two

 1. Conquer a fear - DONE!!!!!!!!

So recently I was invited to go down to Silo Point for a planning meeting with the folks from Gaudenzia.  They wanted to get rolling on their fundraiser for next year and wanted the input of some of the people who had taken part in the event.  I was lucky that they asked me to come along, and of course I said yes.

The meeting obviously had a purpose--planning next year's event; however I'm not going to divulge any of that information just yet, as I've been sworn to secrecy.  Well, not really, but it's not my news to tell and it's in the very first few baby stages of planning, so there's lots of work left for Rene to do. ;)

The trip down did, however, give me the opportunity to revisit the spot where I cried like a little baby and faced my fear.  I'm not gonna lie, when Rene and I turned the corner and I saw all 23 stories of Silo Point standing there, I felt my PTSD kick in juuuust a little bit.  My pulse quickened and I found myself looking up higher and higher...and remembering that just two months ago I was hanging by a rope off the side of that building.


The meeting was held in the beautiful Sky Lounge on the 19th floor.  My prize for being the top fundraiser is exclusive use of the Sky Lounge for up to 6 hours.  I'm thinking birthday party, as it would be a great way to cap off this 30 Before 30 project, but will see...if the Ravens do well in the playoffs, I might just be hosting a Superbowl party!

I mean seriously, how gorgeous is this place?!

Being up there also reminded me of the way I felt on the day of the rappel.  Being around all of the folks from Gaudenzia reminded me of why I chose to participate in this fundraiser in the first place.  I remembered that there was more I wanted to say about my experience, but at the time that I blogged about it the first time, I could only write about the events of the day.  I had to process my thoughts a bit longer to be able to fully explain what I gained from this experience.  I didn't want to do it an injustice and gloss over it, but I also don't want to forget.

And so here we are.

So when I flashback to the beginning of the day, when my mom, Sadira and I were attending the brief presentation about the work Gaudenzia does, I remember Gadi (Rene's boss) speaking about a graduate of the Gaudenzia program.  This particular graduate was there to speak about his experience in recovery.  Apparently he now works as an intake coordinator, and helps others in the same way he was helped when he first came for treatment.

I remember Gadi specifically saying, "he understands the fear our incoming patients feel in starting a treatment program, because he's been there himself.  He knows what to say to our patients when they first arrive, scared and unsure of themselves."

As I stood there, in fear of the rappel, scared and unsure of myself, I thought about how entering recovery really is a form of conquering a fear.  For addicts, the very thing that can save their life can be the most terrifying.

That's when I heard those words for Gaudenzia's philosophy..."We are here because there is no refuge, finally, from ourselves..." I tried to hold on to them, to etch them into my brain, because somehow I knew they'd come back to help me later in the day.

As we arrived to the top, and prepared to take that fateful step over the edge, I remember thinking, "there is no way I can do this.  I came, I saw, I will not conquer.  I raised $2,235.00, that's good enough. Why do I need to conquer a fear?  Why do I need to rappel down this building?" 

The answer, of course, is because I promised myself I would.  And now I have a team of people who love me cheering me on from the ground.  And countless friends and family who contributed to help me achieve this goal.  And all the well wishes from friends saying, "good luck! I know you can do this!"

And then I had Nick, hanging on the side of the building with me.

And then I had Caleb with the green eyes, telling me he knows I'm scared but he will walk me through this.  I can do this, I just need to listen to him.

And all of a sudden I thought...this must be one tiny shred of what it feels like to take the first step into recovery.  To have a demon you want to slay--something that's holding you back from being the best person that you can be---and having all of the friends and family support, not to mention the professionals there to lend a hand and help you take baby steps when you doubt yourself the most.  To do something that in the very beginning seems absolutely IMPOSSIBLE.

And all of the sudden the title, "Over the Edge for Recovery" had much, much more meaning to me.

And that's when I started channelling my Aunt Gabby.  I will do this for her, because she was unable to do it for herself.  And I will be terrified, but I will be successful.  I will not let fear get the best of me.

As I first started down the building, I felt out of control of my body. Standing on the side of that building and then leaning back from 23 stories up in the air, trusting only on the ropes to support me, I couldn't control myself.  The shaking, the tears, the shortness of breath--I couldn't stop it...but I also couldn't let it stop me.  I had no idea what I was doing, and with the exception of Nick, my family and friends were far, far below me.  I was alone in this, and the only thing I could do was to trust the professionals.  To put all of my faith in Caleb and believe him when he told me that he would help me get through this. 

I thought about patients who first go into treatment, and the physical agony of detox as it had been explained to me by patients I had worked with in the past.  I thought about how alone and scared they probably felt.  I thought about how their bodies were fighting against them in a way much much more agonizing that mine was. I thought about how important it was for them to stick it trust in the professionals who are trying to help them...and to remain committed to this, the most physically painful part of the recovery process.

And so I remained committed.  When all I wanted to do was jump back over to the safety of the balcony, I chose to remain on the ledge.

When I finally started the descent down to the 19th floor landing, I kept listening to Caleb until my own voice in my head took over...reminding me of Gaudenzia's philosophy, and coaching myself even though I was still scared shitless.

I am doing this for a cause bigger than my fear.
Give into the fear, but do not let it stop you.
I am doing this for a cause bigger than my fear.

I'm not gonna lie, when my feet hit the ground on the 19th floor I was flooded with relief.  I remember looking into the Sky Lounge and thinking, "there are elevators in there.  I did the 4 highest I really need to do 19 more?"

Of course this is why they were rushing along to get me suited back up.  Nick was right, if you're gonna go Over the Edge, you have to do the whole thing.  You can't think of the 19th floor as your escape route.

It reminded me of patients I spoke to when I was a care coordinator.  Patients who had just finished their detox and were convinced they were "cured."  There's was no need to continue treatment, the substances were out of their system and in their eyes, they were good to go.  But that's not how recovery works.  Sure you may no longer be chemically dependant, but you haven't learned how to function in a sober world.  Especially when you go right back into the environment where you used to use in the first place.  I remember talking to one particularly patient on the phone, years ago.  He was one of our "frequent fliers" and had gone through detox so many times that I was surprised he was still alive.  I desperately tried to get him to commit to a rehabilitation program, or even an outpatient program, but he would refuse all aftercare time and time again.  He would get clean and then immediately escape the rest of the treatment process, only to show up on my case log again a few weeks or months later.

He escaped the treatment process.  He wouldn't stay committed to the cause.  He took the elevator down from the 19th floor.

The entire treatment process is a tricky one, which is why we never say someone is "cured."   They are "in treatment," "in recovery," or "sober."   Just like a cancer survivor says they are "in remission."  You have to constantly be proactive in sticking to the program, to maintain your health, and to save your own life.

So I couldn't consider this a conquering of my fear if I had only rappelled 4 stories.  There were still 19 stories left to go.  So over the edge I went, again.

As I rappelled down those 19 stories it felt like an eternity.  It felt like I was going as slow as molasses and that I'd never make it to the safety of the ground below.  As I mention in my previous post there came a point where everything around me quieted.  I was no longer being coached on what to do, I was coaching myself.  I was going through the process myself, as frightening as it was.  I took the reins and became an active participant in the process.  I was starting to gain a tiny bit of control.  I coached myself in my head:

Everyone believes in you, just believe in yourself.

I am doing for a cause bigger than my fear.
I am doing this to help those who cannot help themselves.
I am doing this for all of the Gabbys out there.
You can do this.
I am doing this to conquer my fear.
I am doing this for a cause bigger than my fear.

When I got to the point where there was only 50 feet or so left to rappel, I glanced down and saw my family and friends, cheering and waving.  I was so close to making it.  I was in control.  I was in the homestretch, and I KNEW I was going to make it.  I was scared, but I was going to be victorious.  I KNEW I was going to conquer my fear.

My feet hitting the ground was the second best feeling.  Only second to hugging my supporters and crying my eyes out.  In that moment I felt like a champion.  The endorphin rush was insane, and I wanted to hug and hold onto every person I saw.

The parallels between this experience and the recovery process are crazy to me.  While I know committing to recovery is much, much more difficult that rappelling down 23 stories, both are about conquering a goal which was previously thought to be impossible.  I've spoken to so many addicts who are convinced that there is no way treatment and recovery could work for them.  They are hopeless and helpless.  The fear of going through the process is overwhelming, just as my fear of rappelling down that building was overwhelming. 

It's programs like Gaudenzia's that help people down the building, helping them to conquer their fears and live fearlessly in a way they may not think is even possible.

When I look back at the video of the rappel the entire process took about 10 minutes.  TEN MINUTES.  I cannot tell you enough about how conquering this fear has changed my outlook and it happened in TEN MINUTES.  Ten minutes to conquer my fear.  Ten minutes to achieve a goal in my Aunt's honor, when she couldn't take all of the steps down the building to do it for herself.

And now when I drive past that building every day on my way to and from work I no longer feel scared, I feel VICTORIOUS.


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