30 Days Sober, Now What? One Guest’s Story of What He Did Next
“It’s not like baking a cake. You put it in the oven for a certain amount of time at a certain temperature, and you pull it out and the cake’s done. That’s not the way [recovery] works,” says Dr. Jan A. Mayer, a Nashville-based psychiatrist and expert on addiction. “Recovery is a lifelong process.”
Sixty-one percent of Discovery Place alumni report they have maintained sobriety in their first year following a 30-day residential or long-term recovery care. But that’s not the norm. With national relapse rates ranging from 40% to 60% for individuals in their first year following treatment, those early days and months are critical to a person’s sobriety. The skills and habits formed during that time can mean the difference between life and death. At Discovery Place, the plan for what comes next is just as important as the first 30-days in residence.
Mike, a recovering alcoholic, had a lot of big ideas about what he would do and where he would go after his 30 days at Discovery Place. Fortunately for him, a different plan would unfold.
Finding a talent for drinking
Raised in a military family, Mike, 41, got used to moving around as a child. With his father frequently gone, his mother was left to tend to three children. Positioned between an older brother and a younger sister, Mike felt like the odd man out. His brother was a great athlete and a straight A student. His sister was a talented artist.
“I felt very separate from them because I wasn’t exceptional at anything,” says Mike. Short, overweight, and the perennial new kid on the block, Mike struggled to find his place. But at his thirteenth birthday party everything changed.
After sneaking into his family’s liquor cabinet, Mike and his buddies started drinking. As his friends got more and more drunk, Mike noticed he felt fine. In fact, he felt more than fine. He felt he had finally arrived.
“When my friends looked at me and realized that I could drink, they thought I was cool,” he recalls. “I realized that I had a talent for drinking. It was something I was finally good at. That was a spiritual experience for me.”
Mike would chase that feeling for the next two decades.
It wasn’t until he was in graduate school, living in Atlanta, that he really noticed how his drinking had progressed.
Now married and in his late twenties, beer and wine on weekends had turned into daily drinking. “I had six liquor stores in the area, and they were my Monday liquor store, my Tuesday liquor store, my Wednesday liquor store,” he says. “I didn’t want anyone to think I had a drinking problem. It should have been a sign that I had a drinking problem if I didn’t want people to think I had a drinking problem.”
Mike’s first child was born in September 2008, the day before his own birthday. While his wife and his newborn daughter were in the hospital, he went out and got drunk. “Things just got worse and worse from there.”
Letting go of the plan
Following a suggestion from his therapist, Mike attended his first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in January 2009. There, he met a man who talked about his drinking in a way that felt very familiar to Mike. Before, people had prayed over him, even anointed his hands, to take away his drinking problem, but no one had ever so openly and honestly shared about the disease of alcoholism.
Mike and his family had moved to Nashville by this time, and his marriage was in trouble. “I still didn’t believe I was an alcoholic. I was doing the CliffsNotes for AA. Just doing the basics,” he says. Mike stayed sober five months before drinking again. A DUI, one outpatient treatment center, and several relapses later, Mike was served divorce papers. “Then I stayed sober on anger. I did everything I could but work ‘the Steps.’”
In March 2011, after an argument with his soon-to-be ex-wife, Mike got drunk, committed several crimes, was arrested and spent the night in jail. The next morning, furious and convinced AA did not work, he arrived at Discovery Place.
“I thought I didn’t need to be here. I could do it my way. I thought, ‘I know everything. I’ve been through the 164 pages [of Alcoholics Anonymous]. I’ve read all the stories. I can quote you stuff out of the ‘Big Book,’” recalls Mike. “What I didn’t realize at the time was that was just knowledge, it wasn’t experience. It wasn’t belief. It wasn’t surrender.”
While at Discovery Place, Mike was served papers prohibiting him from seeing his daughter. In jeopardy of losing custody of her permanently, Mike was determined to leave so that he could fight to get his daughter back. But he knew there was no one who would come get him. Everyone was either done with him or certain he was right where he needed to be. So he stayed.
And then he prayed.
“I got down on my knees and started ugly crying. I said, ‘Ok, God, I just don’t want to drink anymore. Wherever you lead me, I’ll go. I just don’t want to drink anymore.’ I finally let go of all that stuff I was holding onto.”
From that moment forward, Mike’s experience at Discovery Place started to change. His attitude shifted. He began participating in recovery. He made friends.
Even though he was beginning to experience a change of heart, old habits die hard. Mike still thought, at just 30 days sober, he knew what was best. He was sure he needed to get back to the well-paying job he’d managed to hold onto and his nice apartment in Nashville where he lived alone, accountable to no one. He told everyone at Discovery Place he would not go to Long Term Recovery.
“It’s one of only two times my sponsor ever raised his voice. He said to me, ‘Mike, when are you going to stop doing Mike’s plan?’”
He agreed to one month at a sober living house in nearby Dickson, TN.
Finding a fit in sobriety
“The world hasn’t changed when I get out of Discovery Place. The people in the world haven’t changed when I get out of Discovery Place. But, hopefully, I’ve changed. And I need to be around people who know me as this changed person,” Mike reflects.
“Even though I didn’t want to live in Dickson, I did. I was going to stay a month [in sober living]. I ended up staying thirteen.”
He was laid off from the well-paying job. The nice apartment in Nashville went away. Mike pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and lost custody of his daughter for a year.
But he stayed the course.
Even though he held a master’s degree in information systems, Mike took an hourly job at Discovery Place. It allowed him to stay close to the recovery community during an especially tense time in his sobriety.
“If I had gone back to my apartment [in Nashville] I would not be a sober man today. I would probably be a dead man,” he says. “Being in Dickson and around Discovery Place, I got to see guys come in and go back out. I got to see guys come in and stay sober. My needs were met there.”
What Mike was missing, however, was his daughter. Fiercely devoted to her, even in his drinking, the time came when he needed to return to his old profession to better provide for her financially. Mike landed a job back in information systems at an automobile manufacturer. He moved out of sober living and into another house in Dickson with other sober men from Discovery Place. The community he’d learned to build was never out of reach.
“Sense of belonging, sense of community—it’s everything,” says Dr. Mayer. “Getting plugged in with the recovery community is critical.”
Dr. Mayer urges individuals to find a 12-step meeting to attend the same day they leave treatment. “Thirty days after detox, the rate of relapse starts going up. The brain is not healed yet. That rate of increase keeps going up for six months and then starts trending down, and at the end of a year it’s level. People who stay involved with 12-step recovery, after two years, 60% haven’t used.”
Discovery Place offers guests an additional 60 days of residential recovery through the Long-Term Recovery Program. Guests are introduced to sober living options near the Discovery Place campus.
As part of the Continuing Care Program, each guest is provided ongoing support following commencement from the 30-day residential recovery program. This includes weekly check-in calls for the first 30 days after commencement, monthly calls in months two and three, a phone call between months three and six, and another phone call at the one-year mark. Discovery Place encourages alumni to come back any time to volunteer and offers any former guests struggling in their sobriety to come back for a week, free of charge, through the Renewal Program.
The challenges Mike’s first year of sobriety presented him were balanced out by the recovery and relationships he was cultivating in Dickson. Because he’d moved around so much as a child, he’d never really known true friendship. Through Discovery Place, he made friends and learned he didn’t have to weather life alone. For the kid who always felt out of place, sobriety offered him a perfect fit.
Slow down and staying involved
Mike was reunited with his daughter when she was four years old. It had been nearly two years since he’d left Nashville for Discovery Place when he moved back to begin rebuilding their relationship. Today, he still works for the same company. He’s remarried, and with his wife, they’re raising three children: his daughter, now 9, his wife’s son, 10, and a daughter together, age 2. In March, Mike will celebrate seven years of sobriety.
Looking back, he can see the false sense of urgency to sprint home after 30 days, the need to speed up a process that asks for patience and effort. “Don’t be in a hurry to get back to where you think you should be. We don’t get cured in 30 days. We don’t get cured in 30 years. The tools that you learn are acquired over time, and they’re acquired with trial and error,” says Mike. “Trial and error when I’m living in the halfway house or surrounded by other guys in recovery is a lot less likely to be an error that leads me back to drinking. [At Discovery Place,] people want you to stay and want you to stay involved.”
About Kate Parrish
Kate Parrish helps individuals and organizations uncover and tell their stories. Her work can be found in Teen Vogue, SELF, GOOD, Parade, and more. She’s worked with brands like AXE, Goldfish Crackers, and Hilton Worldwide. She is an MFA candidate at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN and lives in Nashville. Even though they’re all her favorite, her favorite-favorite dog at Discovery Place is Maddie. kateparrish.com