I was a sensitive child who idolized my father. He was a very successful attorney in my home town of Williston, ND. Unfortunately, my father was bipolar and an alcoholic. Although he never touched me in anger, I do remember being scared of him when he would come home drunk and break pictures, dishes, and screamed foul things at my mom. Sometimes he would disappear for days on end. He also verbally abused me, calling me ugly, stupid, and unable to make friends with who he thought I should be friends with. Because of this, I had very low self-esteem and acted out overtly in school.
My grandfather was one of the “town Doctors” and was an upstanding citizen of the small town we lived in. He gave me the attention that I needed from a male role model in my life and I loved him deeply. But, this presented an entirely different problem. Because of the violent and tense situation of my home life, I couldn’t’ understand why my grandparents didn’t rescue us from this situation. It was a dichotomy that I wrestled with well into adulthood. Of course, that was a different time where people didn’t get divorced. Doing so brought shame upon the family. It was an ugly family secret.
In high school, I did have a lot of “popular” friends, but I felt like they took pity on me and had me around as a joke or someone to laugh at. I was tall and quite gangly. My dad called me “slats”. Because of this, I took my first drink at the age of 16 and was a “one and done” alcoholic. I had consequences the first time I drank. I blacked out and had an inappropriate sexual experience with a boy that damaged my reputation. The strange thing about this is that I wanted to do it again as soon as possible. As you hear from most alcoholics, after the first sip of alcohol, my awkwardness was relieved. It felt like I finally found the book that gave me all of the answers to life.
Alcohol was the filler of the hole in my soul left by being a disappointment to my father and family. My feelings of failure in my academic and social life caused a lot of inner turmoil. I felt held to a higher standard, but couldn’t produce. Because of this, it made me not value myself and proceeded to turn to alcohol to deal with these feelings. I couldn’t figure out why I felt like such a failure all of the time, but found out much later in life that if you become an alcoholic at the age of 16, life is going to be pretty messed up until treatment is provided.
Things got worse in my 20’s. As my alcoholism progressed, the consequences became much larger. It seemed I was always searching for something that I couldn’t find. It progressed from never having alcohol in my house and only going out on the weekends, to going out during the week and showing up to my jobs extremely hung over. I then had to have to have boxes of wine in my house. Then came the DUIs (first one when I was 21 years old) and being diagnosed with pancreatitis at the age of 24.
I had met the man that was to become my husband when I was 22 year old. We ended up getting married when I was 26. My father had sought treatment for alcoholism and bipolar disorder many times, but was unable to stay sober. He died when I was 27, at the age of 53. The same age his father died of the same disease.
I felt this strong pull to get married as soon as possible. My only requirement for my husband to be was that he was not my father. This helped cause me to marry a man that I didn’t truly love. He was a musician, which was great for my progressing alcoholism as I could go to his gigs and drink. I was the life of the party, so I thought. He also was gone a lot which left me at home alone with my disease.
I had pursued a nursing degree shortly after getting married. This was a poor choice of careers for me, as with every single patient I took care of I became co-dependent. Taking the job home with me was a regular occurrence, which lead me to drink more. While pursuing my nursing degree, I chose a nursing assistant job at a level one trauma center’s ER. Not understanding my addiction to not only alcohol but to adrenaline, I became depressed and started having nightmares about the things that I saw at work.
I tried to talk to my husband and my family about these things and it was extremely unfair to do that to my loved ones. I would have sessions where I would verbally vomit out things that I saw at work. This was selfish as I felt better after my conversations but left my loved one’s feeling worse. This helped cause me to start hanging out with the people I worked with more and more. This caused me to grow farther away from my husband and family and more towards those that I worked with.
I met my current fiancé at work. I would gather with those nurses, paramedics, cops and residents that could drink like me. One of those was a paramedic. We both were stuck in marriages that weren’t going well. I was advancing fast into my addiction with more and more consequences, one of which was infidelity. We only had an emotional attachment at first as “no one understands what we go through” type of friendship. Then it progressed to indiscretions that were few and far between, always with alcohol involved.
After graduating from nursing school and showing up to work hung over as a graduate nurse, my friends had a mini intervention. They took me to my first AA meeting in 1999. I proceeded to be sober from1999-2006. During this time, I had two kids with my husband and gave all of my energy to making my marriage work and staying together for the kids.
During my sober time, I left emergency medicine and moved hospitals in order to stay away from the man that I had cheated on my husband with. My sponsor made me call him in front of her and end the relationship. But, he kept showing up in situations that neither one of us had control over. I would unexpectedly have to float to the ER and there he would be. Or being in the ICU and he could bring a direct admit on a day that I would be working. We both were committed to trying to make our marriages work, until something happened that would send me over the edge.
My rock bottom started in 2006. I had been through a horrible health situation which involved my pancreas and gall bladder. My gallbladder was removed in order to try to relieve the pancreatitis that I had been suffering from more and more during my pregnancies. With my first child, I got pancreatitis so bad that I had to be admitted to the hospital with my baby being constantly monitored by a neonatologist and myself being on a Dilaudid drip. This lead to a chronic pain situation for which I was placed on Oxycontin.
I had not had a drink of alcohol for seven years, but was on a very heavy duty narcotic to treat my chronic pain due to my pancreas and botched gallbladder removal. I eventually had my pancreas stented open, I weaned MYSELF off of these drugs, which lead to my addiction lying to me and telling me that, “...if you can get off of all of those drugs yourself, you must not be an alcoholic. Alcoholics are addicted and you were on a boatload of narcotics and never abused them." This lead to a relapse in 2006 at a concert. I had two beers and quit.
My oldest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 2006. He was a huge disruption in class and would have daily notes sent home by the teacher spelling out how disruptive he was in school. This helped cause me to do a shot of vodka before the bus came in order to deal with the constant flow of negative comments from the school. I felt a huge sense of loss because there was something wrong with my child.
My husband and I grew even more apart as my drinking got worse and worse. By 2009, I was drinking every day and had to drink before answering the doorbell, picking up my kids, and even going to work. My pancreatitis returned even worse and I had several hospitalizations. All the while, lying to my doctors that I wasn’t consuming alcohol.
I also resumed contact with the man that I had cheated with. He also was suffering from a progressively worse relationship with his wife. His grandmother was dying and he moved into her house and was taking around the clock care of her. He told me he wasn’t going back home. This was the perfect storm.
I was now addicted to Dilaudid (the pain medication that I took for my pancreatitis). I asked a patient of mine how he shot up Dilaudid. He told me, and I took home insulin syringes from work and began shooting my own pills. My gastroenterologist told me that there was nothing more that he could do for my pancreas and he had done surgery on it multiple times with no success. He suggested a pancreatectomy. I began the work-up for that and was scheduled to have it done January of 2011.
Because I was so scared of withdrawing from alcohol at work, I began diverting Ativan from patients. I would pull it out of an IV bag and sneak into the bathroom and shoot it up in my foot. I then began doing the same thing with the bags of Dilaudid and Fentanyl that kept my ICU patients sedated. One day, I pulled out a dose of Ativan out of one of my patient’s IV bag, went in the bathroom, shot up and the worst thing happened. I shot too much.
I went back to my patient’s room and one of my fellow nurses was concerned about how I was acting. She went to the charge nurse and they brought me to a room down by the ER. Security pulled all of the contents of my pockets out and I was done. They put me in a cab and sent me home. Not only had I lost my career, but I lost my identity all at the same time.
On Halloween on 2010, I had been texting the man that I had an affair with and ended up drunk and passed out. My husband saw the texts on my phone and declared to me the next day that we were getting a divorce. He moved downstairs and we tried to live together for the sake of the kids. This lead to an even deeper spiral downward into drug and alcohol use.
Subsequently my second and third DUI’s took place in very short succession, which landed me in the Hennepin County jail for six days. My husband called my family and told them of my affair and my dismissal from my job and nursing board. I sat in jail during that time realizing that my life was over. I was found out.
Being in jail was cathartic. Because I had a lot of experience working with the jail population, this lead me to be able to survive without getting hurt. I would trade my ability to write a good letter to a judge for an inmate and hence, they would protect me when I slept. I then would go around and get everyone’s story. They all were either addicted or were the kids of parents that were addicted. This kept me going, all the while having a deep anxiety that I would either have a seizure in jail as a result of alcohol withdrawal and being taken to the very ER that I had worked at in an orange jumpsuit.
They finally let me out of jail at 4:00 a.m. on the sixth day. I walked and walked the streets with no money and no one to call. Walking in the dark, there was only one place that I could call from and that was the hospital that I had worked in. What a humbling experience. I called my husband and threatened him that if he didn’t come and pick me up, I was going to call the women that I had met in jail that knew where I could find Heroin. He agreed to come and pick me up.
He took me to the house and gave me 10 minutes to pack. He then took me to a hotel and told me that I had 24 hours to find somewhere to go. I had snuck a bottle of vodka in a pair of boots. So, I proceeded to drink my vodka and try to arrange to go to treatment somewhere. My insurance told me that the only program they covered was Hazelden because of their Health Care Professionals Program. I was floored. Going to Hazelden??? My dad had gone there twice. I really was excited to go to a place that had such a great reputation. I was ready. But first, I needed to get an alcohol evaluation.
I showed up at the evaluation drunk. The worst thing that could happen to me was for them to decide that I didn’t meet the criteria to get into a residential treatment. So, I wasn’t going to let that happen. Of course, the evaluator knew I was drunk he made me blow into a breathalyzer. He then told me I was accepted into Hazelden to detox and then go into residential treatment. Whew, my plan worked!
I spent 37 days at Hazelden. My family was really angry with me, so I felt really ashamed and alone. My boys who were 9 and 7 at the time came to visit with their father once. It was really hard to see them. Here I had had every intention not to hurt them the way that I did, and it happened. The shame was unbearable.
However, there was a miracle taking place during that time. I entered treatment a diabetic with chronic pancreas pain and looming pancreatectomy surgery. As the treatment for my alcoholism progressed, my blood sugars normalized and the pain that I was feeling was gone. No more was the pancreatectomy looming.
The man that I had an affair with came to visit several times. This caused a ton of problems with my counselors and family. However, it helped me at the moment. He brought me food as I only had 10 dollars in my pocket. My friends in treatment that were from faraway places and had no one to visit them would come with me and it was a nice diversion.
I was extremely concerned that I had nowhere to go after treatment. Again, my family was angry, my husband was done with me, I lost my kids, and I had 10 dollars in my pocket. My counselor realized that I was wasting precious treatment time worrying about this and told me to go back to my room and say the “Third Step Prayer”. I did, all night long, over and over.
The next day, the van driver came to my group and asked me to come with him. I asked “Why?” He told me that he was taking me on a tour of sober houses. Sober houses??? I can’t afford a sober house. I went anyway. The drive from Center City to Saint Paul was a long one. But, we arrived at Fellowship Club in St. Paul in about an hour. Then I was to wait for something that I didn’t understand or expect.
In came a women with her hair all piled on top of her head, removing curlers. She said “Jennifer Bailey, let’s go look at my sober house. Sorry I am pulling out my curlers, I thought you were coming tomorrow, not today!” Her name was Jennifer D., the owner of sober houses in St. Paul. Getting into her car, she started asking my story. I told her. She looked surprised.
We then arrived at the Farrington House. She took me on a tour and we ended up in the basement room, the one that I would move into. She asked me “What are you going to do Jennifer? You are in a bit of a situation. Where are you going to work?” I said “I’ll work in a fabric store if I have to, but I am going to work.” She said “I work at a fabric store!!” What a coincidence.
I then told her I would be honored to move into her sober house, I had no choice!! But, I had no money. She asked me if I had a family. I told her that I did, but they wouldn’t help me, they were too angry. Then she took my mom’s number and between her and my counselor, they secured one month’s rent.
I ended up going full force into the sober living life, the solution of AA, and securing a humbling job at IHOP serving pancakes. With my spiritual life flourishing, the challenges of my own tornado of divorce, family problems, a broken foot while doing my chore, court for my DUI’s and subsequent in house arrest, being without my kids, my relationship with the man I was having an affair with, etc., all seemed to work out. It gave me confidence that God would take care of me.
After 9 months of living at the sober house, the woman that helped secure my bed at Farrington asked me to be the manager. I agreed and stayed another 9 months as the manager. This helped my recovery in an immense way. It gave me the confidence to move out on my own 9 months later, slowly get my kids back, and repair my relationship with my family. I also had enough trust in my Higher Power that he would lead me either toward or against my relationship with the man I had an affair with.
Today, the future is bright. I went through more pancreas problems, but am lucky to have a phenomenal doctor who helped me avoid the pancreatectomy and, through several non-invasive procedures, has fixed the problem for now. I just finished my bachelor’s degree, which has always been a dream of mine! I also was just accepted into the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies in order to complete a Master’s degree in Addiction Studies and Co-Occuring Disorders. This would never be possible if I would’ve stayed in my addiction. At 46, the death of my father is a constant reminder that this disease could kill me in a few short years. This is NOT going to be my legacy. The man I had an affair with is now my fiancé. My kids are learning to trust me again and love living with us.
All of the good things that are happening are due to keeping myself spiritually fit, and daily realizing I am powerless over my addiction. I also am open to hearing God speak to me as to what His will is for me and my family. It’s not always easy as I still have to wrestle with guilt, shame, and a brain that tells me every day to use drugs and alcohol. But, now that I have identified that it’s my addiction talking, I can ignore it. Life is amazing, one day at a time.