Written by Lindsey Encinias, Social Detox Alumna
On Sunday, March 15, 2020, I walked through the doors of The Magdalen House for the first time. I woke up that morning in a puddle of shame and a banged-up face as evidence from the previous day. Looking into the big, beautiful brown eyes of my five-year-old son and trying to give him an explanation for the blood and bruises was my rock bottom. I had made some really poor choices in recent years and was spending entirely too much time drinking, blacking out, masking a smile, numbing years’ worth of pain, and not taking care of my business. But I certainly didn’t think I had a drinking problem, and the thought that I was an alcoholic was absolutely ridiculous.
I heard I needed a sponsor, and I assumed that meant someone to recommend me for a stay at Maggie’s. Like going through sorority rush. An individual that could vouch for me that I needed a little R&R and time to take a break from the regular routine of life. Quite obviously, this was my first experience with a recovery program of any kind. I decided this would be my two-week punishment; I would make everyone happy and then return to normal programming. The world was beginning to shut down, due to COVID. My two young children would not be returning to school after Spring Break and bound to our home for the quarantine, so this was an optimal time to slip away and get this drinking situation under control.
Starting at Step One
The Magdalen House is an actual house, in a neighborhood, and has all the elements of a home. After going through the check-in process, I was shown to my sleeping room. This 14-day program has women arriving every day and leaving every day, but when I walked in, it felt like all the current houseguests had known each other for years. It was evident I was the new kid. Someone was cooking dinner, others were watching a movie, and there was also conversation on the couch. I felt intimidated and overwhelmed at first. After unpacking my belongings, I took a deep breath and walked back out into the living room. I needed to be a big girl, introduce myself, and put myself out there. Immediately I was welcomed. One woman asked if I would like something to eat. Another asked if it was my first time at Maggie’s. I had never been with a group of women that loved and accepted me for simply walking through a door. It didn’t matter what my consequences looked like or what kind of a house I lived in, or how much money was in my bank account; they loved me because we shared one sacred thread: alcoholism. They knew the shame and guilt I was feeling. They knew the sense of regret I carried. They understood. It would take me another day or two to claim Step One (I was powerless over alcohol, and my life had become unmanageable) as my truth, but they sat patiently beside me while I worked my way there. I picture God looking at the circumstance like a parent watching a child on Christmas morning with such joy at the complete surprise in their eyes.
It was suggested I begin reading the Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous), and since I didn’t have a whole lot to do, it seemed like a rule-following task I could handle. I was out of my safety zone, I missed my people, and I desperately needed some comfort. I opened this very foreign, very big blue book, hoping for wisdom. I began to read. In the Foreward to Second Edition on page XX, the words “reunited homes” immediately put a big, tangerine-sized lump in my throat. It hit me like a lightning bolt.
Realizing Alcohol Was Controlling Our Home
It was shoveling out anxiety and fear while giving the false sense of stress relief and temporary avoidance and allowing me to live under a fog. I was living in the outer rim of life. I wasn’t fully present in anything I did. It was all from a distance and without clarity.
My kids had not been taken away, thankfully. My husband and I were married and limping through the days, checking the boxes. We were ships passing in the night, and it was anything but united. Reading those words, “reunited homes” stung me right in the heart. Today, it’s in my book highlighted, underlined, and marked with a heart as a precious reminder of where my journey to sobriety began. Reuniting my home became my new goal.
Monday morning arrived, and with my new goal in place and the commitment to making better choices and cleaning up myself, I was ready to take on the day. But I was fearful of the unknown and skeptical. I figured I could take the parts I liked and leave the rest behind. I still wasn’t ready to admit I was an alcoholic, but in my attempt to behave more appropriately, I decided it would be a good idea to go to meetings I was not yet required to attend. I would crush this whole grounding period and keep everyone happy. My dad would call that being in “hot water.” Do whatever it takes to cool it off, smooth it over, and keep plugging along.
Sitting in my very first meeting, page 21 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous was quoted. “Here is the fellow who has been puzzling you, especially in his lack of control. He does absurd, incredible, tragic things while drinking. He is a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He is seldom mildly intoxicated. He is always more or less insanely drunk.” Then it goes on to say, “He is often perfectly sensible and well balanced concerning everything except liquor, but in that respect he is incredibly dishonest and selfish.” And the tears began trickling down my face. I couldn’t breathe, trying to be as discreet as possible. It became undeniably clear that I was exactly where I needed to be. Some areas of my life were not in jeopardy and, by most standards, actually on track. Everyone had nicely pressed clothes and a well-stocked refrigerator of food. We lived in a beautiful home and had many cherished friendships and tons of great fun, living a privileged life. Our family vacations were all smiles and looked perfect on Instagram. It wasn’t all a mess. But I was a mess. My soul was dark, my heart torn in two, my self-worth in the gutter, and I was on the fast track to not seeing another sunrise. My very first meeting at Maggie’s lifted the veil, and I began to heal.
Finding Time to Claim My Truth
Upon my arrival at The Magdalen House, I didn’t know much about the 12 steps. Let me rephrase; I didn’t know anything about the 12 steps. I knew I had alcoholism lurking on both sides of my family. It was a topic rarely discussed. I knew an intervention had been formed for my grandfather years before I was born. After the loss of my dad by suicide, mental illness and alcoholism were often discussed. But to my knowledge, I did not know of any family members that had worked the 12 steps or a recovery program.
As I began to study, listen, pray, meditate and read, the pieces to my puzzle started clicking into place, one by one. Each meeting, I pulled out a family photo and prayed God would open my heart to hear the Holy Spirit so that I may walk in His will and His way. I prayed it over and over and over again. And still pray it every day. The most beautiful gift given to me at Maggie’s was time. I was able to sit still, strip down, turn off the outside noise, learn and focus. I put myself as a priority and began a beautiful spiritual journey. I Windexed the window to God. Instead of tossing around the idea of what I thought an alcoholic was or looked like, I was educated. Over the next few days, I claimed my truth: I was powerless over alcohol, and my life had become unmanageable. I believed God could and would restore me to sanity. And I was learning the solution.
By Friday, I recognized that without claiming and working the 12 steps, alcohol would annihilate everything. If it hadn’t already, it would eventually bring about fierce resentments, disgusted friends, warped lives of blameless children, a sad husband, and parents. It would leave a path of destruction I was unwilling to cater. One week after being at Maggie’s, I had worked through the third step. Let me say that again, in seven days I went from the idea that I was in no way, shape, or form an alcoholic, to getting on my knees and emotionally praying the third step prayer. I had surrendered. I let go of the control and let God. I humbled myself, followed instructions and began to grasp my shortcomings, character defects, and sat still for a hot minute. The most amazing spiritual and personal self-transformation began; I saw that this step work wasn’t about my drinking. I didn’t have a drinking problem; I needed help from the bondage of self.
Asking God to Be in the Drivers Seat
Over the next week at Maggie’s, I did a lot of work on myself. Not as a mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, failure, alcoholic, but purely a woman. I began uncovering what I had been running from. I confronted my fears. I identified my wrongs. I untangled the hurt. I pulled back the bandage that was poorly keeping the wound closed. I formed thoughts, opinions, and ideas because they were true to me. I built a bond with other alcoholic women that will last my lifetime. I picked up wisdom from meeting speakers that looked so full of joy. I wanted what they had. I worked the 12 spiritual steps and asked God to be in the driver’s seat. I was ready to see all the pretty, joy-filled days of this incredible life.
I can look back at the year 2020 and say that I did not see any of the beauty in it coming, but it was one of the greatest blessings of my life. I am free from the chains of alcohol, my life is peaceful and serene, and I awaken each day with clarity. There is order to my life, and I get to live it in high definition. I am one week away from celebrating my one-year day of Grace! My story has been published and read by hundreds of people. I have connected with so many and heard voices and hurts from people that had been too afraid to share. I have given hope to many by continuing to carry the message. It really is true that the more you continue to do and give and share, the more you get back in return. What a beautiful gift!
To those women struggling, please know you are not alone. God’s greatest lessons can see you through the darkest days into the brightest light.
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10.
Read More From The Magdalen House: A Day Inside Social Detox