Nurse waiting for subway reading book

It’s the first day of placement. Student nurses stand in the lobby of the hospital not knowing what stands ahead of them. The students have studied the normal findings for a healthy human being but still rely heavily on subjective data.

Today, the students have been assigned their first patient. The patient is unable to respond, move or take care of themselves. Yet there they are, lying in bed in a wet attends, with one cold and not-so-comfortable blanket. As in most hospital settings, there are also minimal windows, making it hard even for the coherent nurses to orientate themselves. They now have to rehabilitate this perfect stranger back to optimal health. I have been this student nurse, twice now.

To an individual who is not a nurse, this might seem like an extreme portrayal of a hospital setting, but unfortunately it is very common. Although this is common and the nurse’s goal is to prevent this scene from occurring, it does happen and too often. The patient needs an advocate, a voice, someone to protect them and maintain their Bill of Rights. This is where the student nurse comes into action.

Although I am now the student nurse I spoke of, I was once the patient as well.

I was admitted to ICU after a gran maul seizure caused by alcohol withdrawals. I am a recovering alcoholic with two plus years of sobriety, but getting to where I am not was not an easy task. It took time and commitment, not only from myself but from my healthcare team and my family.

When I woke up in the hospital that winter night, after the removal of my ventilator, I still could not speak nor was I able to move any part on the right side of my body. I had every member of the interdisciplinary team enter my room, but there is only one I remember by name, and she was my nurse.

When the social worker was asking me about my alcohol use and why I have not stopped drinking, my nurse listened and spoke for me. When the physiotherapist and occupational therapist were moving my body parts around and making their assessments, my nurse maintained my privacy, reserving the little dignity I had left.

When the dietary aide brought around food trays, my nurse collected mine, disposed of the items she knew I was unable to chew or swallow, and with her knowledge she ensured I maintained adequate nutrition without feeling anymore ashamed.

When the physician sat down to inform me of my near-death experience, my nurse held my hand, wiped my tears and then gained consent to contact my parents.

When my parents arrived in a panic, torn and distraught over being so close to losing their first born child, my nurse sat them down, held my mother’s hand and told her and my father how I was doing, instead of every test result that had been run.

My nurse watched over me, feeding me, changing my attends when I defecated, provided catheter care, medication to keep me comfortable, fluids to keep me hydrated and range of motion to help me feel like myself again.

She protected me from my fears and guided me back to health. She continued to save my life after I was discharged by providing me with numerous resources and treatment center options that I did use and continue to use to help me with my underlying, unresolved and unspoken-of issues.

After leaving the nursing program five years ago due to my alcoholism, I had no intention of ever feeling like I could be accepted in the profession again. My nurse being the advocate that she was, is ultimately the main reason I came back, so I can be the one nurse who just one patient remembers.

I want to be a nurse so I can obtain the privilege to speak for the unspoken, confidently answer questions within my scope of practice, clear judgment of the unknown and never allow a patient to feel as though they are just a number or a mere statistic. I want to be a nurse so just one patient does not feel like they are someone who is taking up a hospital bed that could be used for someone in a more critical condition.

I want our youth to want to make changes in our world. I feel as though I have been given such a special opportunity to become a nurse and gain the privilege to speak up for those who physically cannot or who have not been given the same opportunities as I have been given.

I pray the world will come to understand that nursing is not for the faint of heart; it takes courage to be a voice for a complete stranger. And I share this story because I want those who struggle with substance abuse to seek the help they need and not to be ashamed of their illness because it is exactly that, an illness. One that can be treated and one that should never stop you from achieving your dreams.

Join Mental Health America during Mental Health Month in increasing awareness of risky behaviors and potential ties to mental health conditions. Download the complete toolkit, featuring facts sheets with infographics, social media images, and more here#riskybusiness #MHM2017.

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St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday that celebrates Irish heritage.

But it’s also a holiday — like many modernized holidays — that presents an opportunity to drink. And for those who are recovering from alcoholism, stay sober for medical reasons or just simply don’t like to drink, participating in these festivities can be a challenge. And it’s not necessarily the temptation to drink that’s challenging — it’s sometimes how people treat those who don’t drink that make these “drinking holidays” hard.

So, to get a sense of what people who don’t drink don’t appreciate hearing, we asked people who are staying sober in our mental health community to share one thing they don’t want to hear from friends and family this St. Patrick’s Day.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “’Come on, just have one!’ One could mean several serious side effects from the numerous medications I’m on. I choose not to drink. Please respect that.” — Justine P.

2. “Please don’t tell me that I ‘used to be more fun.’ I need your love and understanding, not hurtful or judgmental words.” — Steph R.

3. “‘You don’t drink? So what do you do for fun?’ A lot of things that doesn’t have to involve drinking.” — Aaron-Phoenix M.

4. “People shouldn’t say, ‘Oh, come on — it’s a special occasion. Don’t be lame.’ People should say, “Can I buy you a soda or get you a water, you don’t have to drink alcohol to have fun.” –Suewanda B.

5.It would be fantastic if the people who know why I’m not drinking simply didn’t mention drinking to me — even well intended comments like, “See, you don’t need to drink to have fun anyway,” draw attention to the fact I’m not drinking! It just brings it to the front of my mind, as well as everyone else’s! — Charlotte O.

6. “‘Just one drink wont hurt you. Don’t be a party pooper.’ One drink can ruin years of discipline and hard work. Offering a friend a non-spirited drink to keep them included isn’t bad. — Leondra J.

7. “I was at a little get together at a friend’s house, and they were all trying to get me to drink, My ‘friend’ even had the nerve to say, “If you love me you’ll drink.” I ended up walking out and going home. Moral of the story… don’t manipulate anyone into drinking, take no as no. You can have fun without drinking!” — Kennedy L.

8. “Stop saying, ‘Drinking will be make everything better and is cheaper than therapy.’ When I say, ‘No, thank you,’ just respond with, ‘OK.’” — Mimi B.

9.‘It’s just one day! Holidays shouldn’t count!’ I haven’t had a drink in over three and a half years and people still say things like that. And as an addict I’m already struggling with my own ways to rationalize using. I don’t need support on bad thoughts from others, too.” — Alissa S.

10. “People definitely should not say, “Oh, come on, it’s only one drink”… cuz for me, there’s no such thing as ‘only one drink’… so no alcohol for me, thanks… club soda with a touch of lime juice suits me just fine.” — Pam M.

11. “If you don’t think you can have fun sober you ought to try it! I hate when people shove drinks in my face. ‘Oh here…drink it…c’mon…you know you want to.’ Um, no. I’m good.” — Jennifer O.

12.Don’t make it a big deal. This is how a simple interaction should go: Person 1: *notices me not drinking alcohol or anything* can I get you a drink? Me: sure but I don’t drink alcohol Person 1: that’s ok, let me get you your favorite beverage, on me. Not so hard, now is it?” — Ariana M.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

Music has been a huge influence in my life, as I’m sure it has been in your life as well. It has meant even more during my sobriety and recovery from alcohol dependence. Music has a way of consuming you and helping, or hindering, you in your life. Depending on the situations you are going through, songs can be interpreted in different ways, negative or positive. I have put together a list of my favorites that have been mainstays throughout my sobriety. I hope you can find a message in these that helps you through the good and bad days.

1. “Rise” by Katy Perry

In this “phoenix from the ashes” anthem, Katy Perry sings about standing tall and persisting with your sobriety, even in the face of adversity. This one will make you want to keep going even when it gets tough.

2. “Sober” by P!NK

The euphoric feeling of being sober is one of the best things in the world. P!NK sings about how happy she is when sober and how surprising it can be.

3. “Step By Step” by Whitney Houston

Taking each day at a time can be a challenge and sometimes we need a little encouragement along the way. Whitney Houston sings about the trials you will surely face in your path through recovery, but she goes further with giving a sound of hope.

4. “The Feel Again (Stay)” by Blue October

Heartbreaking and ethereal are the two words I would use to describe this ballad by Blue October. Seeing a loved one struggle with addiction and being a past addict can be a difficult journey to manage. This song helps people understand the trials of someone with an addiciton.

5. “Move In The Right Direction” by Gossip

This song is all about facing your troubles head on. Taking things head on is the only way to live a life of recovery. You can’t shy away from the tough stuff, or you won’t see the good stuff later.

6. “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” by Kelly Clarkson

In this anthem, Kelly Clarkson sings about facing your demons head on and using them as a tool for your future. Everything we deal with in life can make us or break us. Taking your bad past and using it to know better a second time around is very important.

7. “Afterlife” by Ingrid Michaelson

Living one day at a time is the most cliche aspects of AA, but Ingrid puts a new spin on an old phrase — living each day as its own is paramount to recovery. Thinking too far ahead will have you forget what today is about.

8. “Light” by San Holo

Although the lyrics are limited in this dance beat, it repeats a very important statement over and over again — seeing the light. Strive to see the light in the darkness instead of letting the darkness consume you.

9. “Warrior” by Hannah Kerr

A warrior stands tall and faces the battle head on. This is just like us living in recovery and facing our demon — addiction. If we don’t face it head on, we can never expect it to correct itself.

10. “Overcomer” by Mandisa

Not letting our trials defeat us is the only way we can expect to live a life in recovery. Overcoming those obstacles in our sobriety makes us stronger as we move forward fighting the good fight, our sobriety.

What do you think of this list? What songs would you share? Please share them below in the comments section. You can also check out my entire recovery playlist on Spotify. I am constantly updating it with new and meaningful songs that relate to recovery.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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I want to know why some of us have brains that know how to stop and others of us do not. I want to know why some of us are “all or nothing,” black and white thinkers, while others of us do not take things to such extremes.

I want to know why I have the mind of an addict. I want to know why alcohol (and granted, other behaviors such as anorexia-related ones) draws me in as much as it does. Maybe it’s time to stop asking why and to start taking action. I’ve started going to AA meetings. I go in phases when I’m able to not drink, but then, I always fall back to it. This time I’m determined not to.

It’s hard dealing with this, no matter where you are in life. In college, I find I’m surrounded by many people who may not realize what’s happening with me is beyond the “normal.” My close friends do, and the silly thing is I still find myself trying to deceive them. I drink when they aren’t looking and ignore their well-intentioned advice.

My alcohol use certainly isn’t helping my bipolar disorder. In fact, part of the reason I drink is because I like the intense manic high it gives me, but I always try to make myself forget about the severe depressive crash. That is, until I’m forced to face it head on.

I feel like without alcohol, without an eating disorder and without self-harming, I’m empty. Even though I ultimately feel better without those things in my life, I think it’s that inherent emptiness that indicates I have the addict’s brain.

I’m doing my best to fight it. I’m starting with finding a community of people who understand me. I’m doing it by telling more people I’m sober so that I can be held accountable. It’s not that I ever drank around the clock, but I know with me, one drink just isn’t possible. It’s always a binge, and it always results in an intense, rapid manic-depressive episode.

This is why I’m, once again, trying for sobriety. In the end, life is better without my addictions.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Seventy-two hours without a drink in my hand and my thoughts are no longer smothered by the pressure to reach for a glass. Instead, they are eagerly hovering over the keys with clarity and ambition, reaching for ways to display their excitement through words. I see expression in myself, my children and my world that I never knew was there.

It’s like I’ve been living with the lights out and ears muffled, stumbling and bumping into things and never quite sure of which direction to take. After making the conscious choice to drink less, the energy around me is palpable and bright. My lungs are expanding with greater capacity, and the crispness of the air refreshes my mind, bringing focus to my little space in the universe.

It’s the moments between each breath where a feathery touch or tinkling laugh make me realize staying present will continue to benefit me in ways I never knew were possible with a drink in my hand. These moments were ones the bottle convinced me to ignore most, draining vibrancy from my life. Though these feelings prove I am worthy of sobriety, my head continues to persuade me I am missing out on good times without a glass of my favorite red. It’s a gentle tug pulling me backward.

I’m hesitant to say I am free because I know I’m not. The days ahead of me will be long and filled with uniquely challenging pressures that I haven’t yet prepared myself for. Yet, I will figure them out, one by one.

Tonight, I’ll have a glass of wine because it’s the weekend and because I’m flawed. Maybe tomorrow night I’ll have steamy chamomile tea with a teaspoon of honey instead. For now, I stand here: three days sober, seeing the clear skies ahead.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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The first Christmas I remember drinking my way through, I was 19. I carried an “iced tea” bottle full of Jack Daniels everywhere. No one suspected a thing. I giggled through Christmas Eve service, sending the scent of whiskey floating over heads bowed in prayer. They just thought I was being a brat. That Christmas was when I first realized how easy it was to conceal my constant drinking.

Before I met the tragic, star-crossed love of my life (it’s alcohol!), spending the holidays with my family had been a stressful, miserable and achingly empty experience. I know in my head that everyone is not suddenly perfectly happy just because it’s the holiday season. Doesn’t it feel that way, though? We all put on our happy faces. How can you tell who else is faking? We all talk about fellowship, comfort and joy. Where do those things live? I could never find them. Were they avoiding me? What did I do?

I know in my head I’m never alone in this. So many of us are drowning in depression in the dead of winter, in the thick of presumed Holiday Cheer. It doesn’t matter what I know. It still feels like slipping through the cracks. It still feels like playing hide-and-seek when the seeker forgets to look for you.

Then I found the quick fix. The miracle cure.

God, it’s so easy, isn’t it? A few sips and you’re alive again. You can talk and laugh and dance again. Everything that hurts feels so far away. Everything that scares you feels so quiet. You can play nice again. Everyone loves you. Everyone laughs at your jokes. (I assume. I mean I wasn’t paying attention, but why wouldn’t they?) You smile. You enthusiastically hug all the people who insist on wounding you over and over and over again. It’s warm, it’s safe, and you never want to live anywhere else. Until it wears off.

The Holiday Cheer you find in a bottle is fleeting, but great news! There is always another bottle. Even if you have to overdraw your bank account to get it. When your health bar is low, you drink a potion. Repeat ad infinitum. You will survive. A couple miniature rum bottles up your coat sleeves at church. A tumbler of wine stashed in your brother’s car at the family gathering. You came prepared, and you will survive.

Vomit in your sister’s bathroom. Nurse a hangover in fetal position in the guest bed that used to be yours. Vigilantly scout for empty rooms to duck into and, um, “recharge.” This is surviving. This is happy. This is Holiday Cheer. Isn’t Christmas magical?

I got lucky. I met people who cared about me. As a person. As an individual. Not just as a part of the collection of family members. Not as a missing piece of the obligatory set. Not as a fraction of something else so large and busy and overwhelming I only feel lost inside it but as something whole and independent and worthy of value on its own.

The people who cared about me as a person made me want to be better. For them and for myself, too. They made me want to heal. Really heal. Not just survive. Not just play nice. They made me want to thrive. For them and for me. I am now nine months sober, and this is my first holiday season without alcohol.

Sobriety hasn’t “cured” my depression. Sometimes, it feels like it’s made it worse. When I first got diagnosed with depression and anxiety, my doctor told me, “Be careful not to drink too much. That can worsen your condition.”

I nodded quietly, but inside I laughed. I thought, “Funny. Drinking is the only thing that actually makes my condition better.”

Sobriety hasn’t cured my depression, but it has shut off all the white noise and let me see clearly the work I have to do. I’m healing. Really healing. However, I’ve still only just started, and life is still scary and hard. Once again, the radio plays songs of contentment and anticipation. Once again, I can’t relate. I’m drowning, and I don’t have my handy life preserver. I am drowning, but guess what? I am learning to swim.

So here’s the question. Where do you find this Holiday Cheer if not at the bottom of a snifter? I am looking for it in replying to text messages, making time to see my friends, caring for the lost, confused and lonely ones I meet. I am looking for it in hot cocoa, trees wrapped in lights, small children in comically oversized coats they will have grown out of by April. I am looking for it in stalwart self-protection, unflinching self-honesty and total self-acceptance. I am looking for it in the compilation album of Shania Twain’s greatest hits.

The other afternoon as I walked down the icy Chicago sidewalk underneath a pitch-black 4:30 p.m. sky, stereotypical sobriety cigarette in hand and Shania’s “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!” in my headphones, I noticed a small bounce in my step. A slight smile twitching in the corner of my mouth. No booze necessary. Where did that come from? Look at me, I’m learning to swim!

I’m not just going to survive this holiday season. I’m going to thrive.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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