Alcoholism Recovery Story

To honor our confidentiality commitment to our clients, the story below uses the fictional name of “Ann.” “Ann” worked with counselor Catherine Hunter, licensed clinical professional counselor (LCSW, CADC, PMH-C), at Catherine J. Hunter & Associates.

What initiated counseling?
Ann had relapsed from her first Alcoholics Anonymous treatment. In addition to alcoholism, she experienced strong social anxiety, so it was very difficult for her to get up in front of a big group at the AA meetings. She experienced panic attacks just even thinking about going to the meetings. She discussed the issue with her doctor and he recommended counseling with Catherine Hunter.

What did Ann discover?
Ann learned that the basis for her alcoholism was social anxiety. “I would drink before going shopping or anywhere, even to my parents,” said Ann. She was also on pain medication for neuropathy, which amplified her anxiety.

How did the counseling sessions work?
Because of the social anxiety, the first priority was finding treatment recommendations that Ann could actually live with and uphold. Catherine helped Ann learn to listen to herself and they worked together to identify what Ann could manage versus what the treatment professionals thought she could do. This individual focus, combined with daily classes for alcoholism at Alexian Brothers Medical Center, was extremely important for Ann.

“It was much more personalized attention than the first time that I was sober,” explained Ann. “I needed one-on-one support instead of group support…Jenny Craig instead of Weight Watchers. Trust was really important to me and I felt safe with Catherine.”

Catherine and Ann also used a book on social anxiety to help Ann understand what was happening to her and learn different ways to manage it through exercises. They identified techniques to calm her fears and manager her panic attacks. Ann would focus on her favorite place in the world, Hilton Head, imagining the breezes off the ocean and shutting out the rest of the world. “It was a safe place to go. I use it at different times, such as my husband’s family events where they drink Bloody Marys at 9am,” said Ann. “It also helps me with panic attacks, reminding me that I won’t die from them and that calm breathing will help them go away.” EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy was also a key part of the treatment.

Ann felt that Catherine really understood what was going on inside of her. “She taught me how to listen to myself, explained the impact of genetics and alcohol, and showed me how to draw boundaries with my family to give myself space to heal,” said Ann. “She helped me learn how to love myself and how much that God loves me. We used the Book of Job as an example of how to keep coming back after difficulties.”

How did counseling help you with the most difficult changes?
Ann describes her biggest challenges as letting go of alcohol, especially the first 4 months. “Those first months were difficult and there are also ongoing challenges with my family,” said Ann. “For example, we have a huge family reunion in Ireland every few years with a lot of drinking. I can now get through it using what Catherine taught me.”

During the counseling, Ann also had a difficult moment when her beloved cat, Rocky, accidentally drowned. “Catherine helped me see it as a challenge, similar to what Job faced. She encouraged me to cry and to grieve, but not to see it as a moment to drink,” explains Ann.

Any advice?
Ann stresses that therapy is not scary and working with a third party is great. “I was nervous about that first meeting with Catherine, wondering if we would click,” said Ann. “When I saw her big smile and experienced her overwhelmingly nice personality, I was immediately comfortable. I had finally found someone who was a good fit for me.”

How has counseling changed her life?
Ann has been sober for 2 ½ years and describes herself as a better person, more forgiving, and much more laid back. “I don’t view the world as scary now and don’t need a drink to go out in public,” said Ann. “Through Catherine, I learned how to break the family legacy of drinking to save myself and my children. I sent her a Christmas card that read, ‘Thank you for saving my life.’”

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