I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. I can trace it back to 4th grade, when my family moved and I had to switch schools. It was difficult for me and I became a “nervous child”. I was also called a worrywart. I was the oldest of seven children and I felt like I always had to watch over my little brothers, to keep them safe. I also tried too hard to please my parents, and I often felt negative energy coming from them and I believed if I behaved, that bad energy would go away. I felt things deeply, but had to hide those feelings.I learned this at an early age and things just piled up inside as I got older, manifesting as anxiety.
I had been taking Alprazolam (Xanax) in various doses on and off for the last twenty years, and consistently for the past ten years.
I was first given this medication when I went to rehab to quit drinking. Because I was given it in rehab, by a psychiatrist, I figured it was okay. Originally it was a much larger dose. The longer I was sober, the lower my dosage became, with me eventually quitting. However I’d pick it up every now and then when things became too much for me.
I was completely off of it in 2008, and had been for a few years, when my sister-in-law (brother’s wife) was killed by a hit and run drunk driver. This devastated our family and I went to my doctor to be put back on a small dose (one .25 mg tablet per day) of Alprazolam. For ten years this very small dose was enough. I never felt high, or tired, just “normal”. My husband jokes that my idle runs higher than most, and taking this medication seemed to give me exactly what I needed. Again, because my doctor prescribed it (and continued to keep prescribing it) I felt it was ok. It never occurred to me that I was never really sober.
Over the years I titrated down on my own, to ¼ of .25 mg table, taking it only at night to sleep. It was my intention to be free of the drug by the end of the year. I felt confident I could do this. Yet each time I tried I would panic and not be able to get off. A few doctors assured me I could quit cold turkey and not have any side-effects, but every time I skipped a day my anxiety would come roaring back. I decided not to try to quit, and just stay on this very low dose. My doctor seemed okay with my decision. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew this was a bad idea, but I was not willing or able to deal with it at this point.
In June of 2018 I had my hip replaced after a fall I suffered the year before. I had broken my ankle and once I was up and walking again I noticed a pain in my hip that I didn’t have before. I tried all sorts of alternative therapies and while they helped a bit with the pain, they never really took it away.
I’ve never been good with pain or illness. It scares me and so I began taking more Xanax to help me deal with the pain in my body. This went on for about a year and a half and I felt it helped me with the anxiety I had about my body. I asked my doctor to increase the amount of pills I received each month.
I thought that someday after my surgery I’d go back to a lower dosage and eventually quit. That never happened. What did happen was that it felt like the drugs were no longer working. I needed more and more and they still didn’t calm me down. My anxiety was higher than it had ever been and it affected my breathing. Because of this I couldn’t sleep, no matter how much of the drugs I took.
Nothing seemed normal any longer. I felt my body had betrayed me and I had many sleepless nights. On the nights I couldn’t sleep I took more Xanax and the day after a sleepless night my anxiety skyrocketed so I took even more Xanax. I realized I was going to run out and so I asked my doctor for more. She refused. I had a new primary care provider and asked her for a prescription and she also refused. I realized I was going to have to do something, as I was running low, so I asked for a nighttime sleep aid, so I wouldn’t have to take as much of the Xanax, thus allowing me to have more for the daytime. It never occurred to me to quit.I was too far in.
This went on for a few months and then it was the holidays. I had family come out and while it was great to see them, it was very stressful. I was working and entertaining them with little to no sleep. I was taking a sleeping pill almost every night and the increased dose of Xanax during the day. I was having trouble breathing, stomach problems, and the anxiety continued despite the drugs.
One morning I was meditating and asked God to help me with this addiction. Later in the day I was driving home from the gym and I heard “Alternative to Meds” drop into my head.I remembered it was a place a friend of a friend had looked into years ago. It was one of those “divine guidance” moments that I knew I couldn’t ignore. I went home and began Googling and less then a week later I checked into ATMC. I’m so glad I did!
I’ve never been inpatient in any type of facility and I had no idea what to expect. The fact that it was just down the road made it so easy! My husband drove me and sat with me through the intake process. From the first phone call, and throughout the intake everyone was so kind, compassionate and professional. They wanted to help me! I was at the point where I was ready to surrender and accept that help. It was a relief to not have to deal with the mess my life had turned into.
The facility is a private home, in a nice neighborhood, with lovely red rock views. There is plenty of outdoor space, with fountains, a swimming pool, hot tub and a few private, sunny nooks with comfy chairs. Inside is just as nice. It has all the things that make for a comfortable stay: cozy beds and bedding, a good shower head and delicious, healthy food served three times a day. A salad bar is open 24/7. You will never go hungry here!
ATMC uses a multi-pronged approach to recovery: Detox, Supplements, Therapy, Education and Nutrition. It’s so complete and it makes so much sense and I wonder why there are not more places like it. It is such a humane approach! I was told that it’s like tearing down an old house and rebuilding a new one, and that’s exactly right.
The Detox Shop was my absolute favorite! Every day we went there from 9-1 where we were able to partake in many modalities: sauna, footbaths, facials, glutathione intake, castor oil packs, Reiki, massage, acupuncture and a few other things. I did as many of these as possible but my favorite was the sauna. If you told me I would love sitting in a 200 degree sauna for two hours a day, I would have laughed. But I did! I loved it! While at times it could be hard to do, my body felt so good afterwards – refreshed, renewed, light and healthy – like after a good workout.
Sitting in the sauna was quite a meditative experience for me. Many days I was alone and sitting in that hot silence brought many new thoughts and ideas to the surface. It was quite Zen. On the days when another resident joined me, we would talk and I would get to know them on a much deeper level. One resident joked that he was going to write a book called “Confessions from the Sauna”, as we are so vulnerable in that space and shared so openly and from the heart.
I also loved the facials and footbaths. I did this every day, Monday through Friday, and it felt so good to be so pampered, which is something the ATMC the staff excels at.The love is real here! I will miss this so very much.
Supplements are a big deal here and while at first I was overwhelmed with the sheer volume of supplements offered, I came to understand how they aid our body, giving us the nutrients we are lacking and helping us to rebuild. While I was being weaned off the Xanax, the sauna and supplements allowed me to feel relatively few physical side-effects.
For the mental and emotional side-effects I had education classes and therapy. It helped me to better understand what I was experiencing, with classes on supplements and other subjects pertinent to what I was going through. Group and individual therapy allowed me to vent and explore my feelings. It also gave me an opportunity to see things from a different perspective when other residents shared their feelings. This was much needed and very helpful.
I had many “Aha” moments and discovered many new things about myself. What is interesting is that many of these big new ideas came not from therapy, but when I least expected it. Something someone said, or something I observed, became very profound revelations.
I learned that I am motivated by my feelings, not so much by my thoughts, and that my feelings are very strong. Without the buffer effect of the Xanax, I felt raw and exposed. I am learning how to feel these feelings, and I also that I need time to process them, instead of reacting. This is not a new idea for me but something I began to feel at a much deeper level. I had a few occasions where I did react with strong emotions, but I also had a few occasions where I was able to take a step back, wait, and then respond, with kindness and conviction.
I discovered a new voice within myself. While I’ve never been shy about expressing my feelings, I never did it with any sort of grace. I grew up in a household where yelling was the norm and I became very comfortable with anger. In my short time here, I’ve learned how to speak my truth, without yelling. I was told at my graduation that I had a soft and soothing voice. I believe this is the real me; this kinder, gentler person that has been locked away inside, muted by drugs. I like that it is possible to ask for what I need in a more thoughtful and gentle way. It makes me feel so much better. I’m sure the person on the other end does as well. Win/win.
I learned that my anxiety will never go away. For some reason I thought I’d leave here anxiety free. There is no such thing, not for me at least. But I now understand that I can change my behavior. I can recognize when the anxiety starts and instead of freaking out, rushing to take a pill, or going into a rage, I can take a moment, catch my breath, and know that I will be okay. I can choose to be in the flow of it, rather than let it take over. I can change those neuro-pathways, one breath at a time.
I was able to open myself up on a whole new level to relationships. I came here to get better so I allowed myself to be vulnerable with my fellow residents. We were all in the same boat, in this together, so why not? It proved to be something I missed and sorely needed. I bonded with my roommate in ways I didn’t think was possible for me anymore. I hadn’t made a new female friend in so many years I thought that was lost to me. Now I feel I’ve gained a sister. And to think I didn’t even want to have a roommate! If I could have afforded it I would have gotten a private room, as I’ve done with other retreats over the years. Now I see what I’ve been missing by doing it; friendship, another perspective, and a safe and loving space to share our experiences here. It helped tremendously.
These are just a few of the many, many things I’ve learned in my time here at ATMC. It has been quite a humbling experience. It is also the hardest and best thing I’ve done in my life. I feel like I’ve been given a second chance and I know I will continue with the supplements, exercise, healthy eating, detox and therapy when I leave here. My body needs it; my mind needs it; my soul needs it. I’m so grateful to have been able to come to ATMC. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
None of this would have been possible without the caring, compassionate staff at ATMC. Everyone here has such a big heart and wants to help. From the care providers to the nurses, care managers, program director, the detox center and admin staff, everyone, they are all here to help us with whatever we need. They do their best to meet us where we are at and they are committed to our recovery, just as much as we are. It truly is a team effort.
In closing, I’d like to give some advice to those new residents or those folks who are thinking of coming to ATMC. It’s the best program of its kind and it works, if you work it. Please work it. The first two weeks especially, do everything available to you! Jump in 100%. Participate in groups, classes, and as many modalities as you can at the Detox Shoppe., even if you don’t feel like it, especially then! You are here to change and save your life. Don’t skimp! Also, do what they tell you. Don’t think. Listen instead. Humble yourself. When you start to get angry, or judgy, stop! It’s YOU. It’s your resistance and your ego. Please trust this! Just keep doing the next best thing. Around week three you will come out of your fog and understand that they know what they are doing here. Really. Trust this. Good luck and God bless you!