Teaching in Silence, Healing Out Loud: Jessica Dueñas' Road to Alcohol Freedom

Episode 136 October 18, 2023 00:50:47
Teaching in Silence, Healing Out Loud: Jessica Dueñas' Road to Alcohol Freedom
Alcohol Tipping Point
Teaching in Silence, Healing Out Loud: Jessica Dueñas' Road to Alcohol Freedom

Oct 18 2023 | 00:50:47


Hosted By

Deb Masner

Show Notes

I am honored to have on the show today, Jessica Dueñas. Jessica is the founder of Bottomless to Sober and was named the 2019 Kentucky State Teacher of the Year. In this candid conversation, she shares her journey as a teacher who grappled with a hidden drinking problem and personal struggles, emerging on the other side.  

Jessica’s mission is to help others transform their relationship with alcohol. Her focus extends to educators and teachers who face immense pressure to maintain an image of perfection in the public eye. She has been featured on Red Table Talk, NPR, CBS Evening News, and PBS. 

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:01] Speaker A: Welcome to the alcohol tipping point, podcast. I'm your host deb Maisner. I'm a registered nurse, health coach, and alcohol free badass. I have found that there's more than one way to address drinking. If you've ever asked yourself if drinking is taking more than it's giving or if you've found that you're drinking more than usual, you may have reached your. [00:00:20] Speaker B: Own alcohol tipping point. [00:00:22] Speaker A: The Alcoholiday Tipping Point is a podcast for you to find tips, tools, and. [00:00:26] Speaker B: Thoughts to change your drinking. [00:00:28] Speaker A: Whether you're ready to quit forever or a week, this is the place for you. You are not stuck and you can change. [00:00:35] Speaker B: Let's get started. [00:00:40] Speaker A: Welcome back to this episode of the Alcohol Tipping Point podcast. I am honored to have on the show today Jessica Dueness. Jessica is the founder of Bottomless to Sober. She's also the 2019 Kentucky State Teacher of the Year. So she shares her story of being an educator, a teacher who was hiding her secret of drinking and her struggles, and now she is a life coach. She's the founder of Bottomless to Sober. She has a podcast out. She helps other people change their drinking, and she has a special focus on helping educators and teachers who have so much writing on them and so much pressure just to be perfect in the public eye. So I really appreciate Jessica coming on here and sharing her story. I think you're going to find it really helpful. Thank you so much for listening. [00:01:37] Speaker B: Welcome to the show, Jessica. I am delighted to have you on. I have teachers in my life. My niece just graduated from Boise State University. She's now a high school math teacher. And then I have teenage daughters. I work for a wellness department at our local hospital. I'm a nurse and a health coach. And one of our contracts is with our Boise school district. Our school district. So I have worked with a lot of teachers, and I just think it's a special population and a population of people that maybe struggle and have to keep it hidden a little bit differently than, say, a business owner or a writer or another kind of profession. And so I am so glad you're here to share your story, your experience, and just welcome to the thank you. [00:02:35] Speaker C: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. Deb, you're absolutely right. Teaching is one of those professions where, I mean, A, we as educators hold ourselves to a standard, but I think it's also because society holds us to the standard where we are teachers first and humans later. And because of that, I feel like we don't give ourselves the grace to be imperfect people. [00:02:57] Speaker B: Right. [00:02:58] Speaker C: And all people are imperfect, but because of the stigma that is attached to problems with drinking alcohol right. It becomes very easy for a teacher, or at least for me as a teacher, to completely shut down and have kept that hidden for so many years. [00:03:13] Speaker B: Yeah. Well, can you just share a little bit about who you are and what you do now before we get into your story? [00:03:22] Speaker C: For sure. So, hi, everyone who's listening. So, I'm Jessica Duania, and I was the Kentucky State Teacher of the Year in 2019, while struggling with a very heavy and strong addiction to alcohol. I was drinking up to a fifth a day of alcohol. My last year of drinking, I had developed alcoholic liver disease, and thankfully that has healed because I stopped drinking in November of 2020. But for the length of my career that I struggled with my drinking, I kept it a secret. Nobody knew. And I really leaned on being a really good educator and just showing up professionally and checking off all the exterior boxes to make sure that nobody would ever question that there was something deeper going on with me. So really, for me, I didn't finally stop drinking until I finally started talking about my story, which was right after my sobriety date. And that really has helped me break free from the stigma. I feel like the stigma was keeping me silent. The silence was killing me. And since I started sharing my story, I took a break from education. I got certified as a life coach, so I do work as a life coach for people who are changing their relationships with alcohol. And I recently did go also back into education, but this time higher education. So I'm also in a space where I speak openly about my recovery, and I run a recovery community support group on the campus that I work at as well. So I've had the opportunity to kind of rewrite my narrative because for so many years, I felt like if I was going to be an educator, I had to be a silent educator. And that's not healthy, that's not sustainable, and I'm kind of, like, rewriting that whole narrative at this point. [00:04:58] Speaker B: Well, I would love to hear about your story, how you ended up being Kentucky Teacher of the Year while you were at the height of hiding your struggles. Wow. Yeah. [00:05:11] Speaker C: So that basically came from childhood. I learned very quickly, early on, to do well in school. I'm a first generation american. My mom is from Costa Rica, my father is from Cuba. And my parents had really adopted just your classic Western beauty standards, which many of our parents do, whether or not you're, like, from the US. Or, you know, for my parents, they were doing the best that they could with what they had, but for them, it was very important that I was a certain body size. And I'm five foot nine. I'm big and solidly built, and I was like that since I was little, so there was a lot of fat shaming that I grew up with. And what I very quickly learned in school was that my size didn't matter to my teachers as long as I did well in school. And I also noticed very quickly that my parents, they would let me breathe about my food intake if I brought in good grades, right? If I got that praise from them. So I rapidly latched onto education, and I latched on to being the best at something to kind of make up for the fact that I had really bad self esteem about my appearance and my body, right? And so as I grew into a young woman, my excellence in school just transferred to my excellence as an employee and as a professional. And so once I got to college and I got exposed to alcohol, I started drinking more. I started drinking more problematically, but nobody would notice because, of course, in college, the binge drinking blends in with everyone's else's binge drinking. And then as an educator, teachers drink a lot. So when we would all go to happy hour, when I first started teaching in Know, I taught in Brooklyn, and that know, across the street from the school were, like, hip, cute bars and things like that. So we drank a lot. And my relationship with Know, it's always like this weird gray scale. Like, you never know exactly when it's a problem. But one of my red flags I'll always remember was at a happy hour, a coworker was like, whoa, Jess, aren't you drinking too fast? Because I probably had, like, three drinks in maybe an hour or so. And I remember that shame at the moment that that colleague called me out. It took me right back to being a kid. When my mom would get on me for getting a second serving of, you know, as a kid, I would hide my food, I would steal food, all sorts of things like that. And as an adult, that was the beginning of me starting to mimic those behaviors, going from food to alcohol. And so after that, I was like, well, no one's ever going to catch me drinking too much. So I always made sure to match what other people were doing when I was in social situations involving alcohol. And then I always would, like, stop by a store on my way home to kind of finish myself off in a way that I would have preferred. And so as the years went on, your tolerance builds. I mean, it's basic neuroscience. Your brain builds a habit. My habit was getting stronger and stronger, so it would take more and more alcohol for me to feel the effects that I was desiring to feel. So by the time my alcohol consumption was, like, wildly high, I knew I had a problem. I wasn't ready to seek help. I wasn't ready to stop. And so what I did do was I dove into my career even more to make up for the fact that I felt like I was less than. Again, the stigma in my family and our family's culture, people who drank too much were called Bagos, lazy, borachos drunks. [00:08:26] Speaker A: Right. [00:08:26] Speaker C: Like all this really strong charged language made me feel terrified to connect and identify as having a problem. So I'm going to do everything to show that I'm not lazy, that I'm not a drunk, that I'm not all these things. But at the end of the day, I was absolutely struggling with the addiction. So when I won Teacher of the Year, at that point, my alcohol consumption had gotten to the point where it was a fifth of day and I had divorced like, the year before. So there were so many complex issues going on where I felt like I had to prove myself right. Because of a failed marriage. I felt like, well, after this I have to have this great comeback. So my career did this amazing comeback and it felt really rewarding because it felt really good to take care of other people's kids who struggled so much to learn. These are special education students. So I really felt like I was making up for this internalized deficit that I had made in my mind because I drank. So, yeah, I mean, I did an excellent job as a teacher and I drank a whole lot. People always ask, did you ever go to school drunk? No. I was always really hungover, though. Basically, my alcoholiday consumption would start like at 03:00 p.m., probably by seven or 08:00. I was like passed out, blacked out. I'd sleep for a couple of hours, probably at about two or three in the morning. I'd finally come to and at those hours of the night, that is when I would start digging into my lesson plans, my grades and things like that. So essentially, my career was my escape. It was like I was escaping with alcohol from the after work hours and then during work hours, I would just dive into that classroom and give it my all so I could forget about the fact that I felt that I was down because I had gotten divorced, that I didn't have kids. I was just holding every societal expectation to heart and feeling like a failure because I wasn't meeting that whole list of all these expectations we have on ourselves. [00:10:27] Speaker B: Wow. I want to go back to so growing up and being did your parents grow up in Costa Rica and Cuba? [00:10:39] Speaker C: They did, yes. So my father, they both were adults when they had come to the US. And they met in Brooklyn. They both worked at the same store, so that's how they met. But yeah, they had each come as fully grown adults to the United States. [00:10:52] Speaker B: Oh, wow. And so you were mentioning they were adopting American Beauty ideals and standards and so put that upon you. Like you needed to look a specific. [00:11:04] Speaker C: Yeah, yeah, I would say that had a lot to do in my you go if you go to Latin America and you watch the news anchors right and you watch, like, the telenovelas and things like that, the people who are portrayed are often not what the people look like. So typically, they're wider looking. They have the long, straight hair, they're thin, et cetera. My father was an Afro Cuban, and my mom I mean, she's Costa Rican of probably a mixture of probably, like, European indigenous descent. But out of my sister and I, I came out with a darker skin. I came out with the curlier hair. I came out with a larger frame. And so I feel like my parents were constantly trying to mold my appearance so I could look like a whiter, lighter Latina, right? And so I had my hair chemically straightened when I was, like, eight years old. All sorts of things that I didn't understand what was going on at the time, but all of these constant attempts at changing my appearance, the messaging to me without realizing was, there's something wrong with how you look. [00:12:16] Speaker A: Right? [00:12:17] Speaker C: Like, we have to straighten your hair. The doctor putting me on a diet at, like, I don't even know what ridiculously young age, but there were just so many ways in which I basically internalized the idea that there was something wrong with me, and I didn't understand it. So as I got older, I mean, it's been a lot of work that I've had to do now because I feel like you quit drinking, and that's when the work actually starts. Right. And I've had to really evaluate so many things that I thought that I wanted, because once I stopped drinking, I had to really dive into the clarity of mind of, wait, do I really want this? Or is this something that I've just been told that I should have? [00:12:58] Speaker A: Right. [00:12:58] Speaker C: Like, things like that have been very interesting since the recovery journey. But yes, when I was a kid and I saw it in my cousin's homes, I saw it a lot. Culturally speaking, there's a certain look that is ideal, and it's not me. [00:13:16] Speaker A: Right. [00:13:16] Speaker C: And so that was always kind of like a challenge that my parents were dealing with in terms of trying to adjust my appearance constantly. [00:13:23] Speaker B: Yeah, that must have been hard. And then you mentioned in the Latin American culture that people who struggle with drinking are looked upon as I think you said, lazy, and you had some other terms for it. Can you just speak a little bit about that culture and how they handle drinking? [00:13:46] Speaker C: You know, like, the first thing that I'll point out is that the way that in the US. We have saved tons of treatment facilities. [00:13:52] Speaker A: Right. [00:13:53] Speaker C: You don't really see that in Latin America. [00:13:56] Speaker B: Right. [00:13:56] Speaker C: And so that's, like, the first thing that I'll point out. But then secondly, yeah, it's almost, like, become a moral standing. So Costa Rica is legally, like it's officially a Catholic country. [00:14:06] Speaker A: Right. [00:14:06] Speaker C: And so when you're talking about, say, the church dictating what is right or wrong, it can become very simple to just say, well, if you have a problem with alcohol, you're like a sinner. And it's that simple. [00:14:18] Speaker A: Right. [00:14:18] Speaker C: But it permeates everyone's mindset. So even people who may be like a younger generation, they're not necessarily religious, but that's already been transferred generation to generation, like that belief that, okay, well, if someone drinks too much, there's something wrong with them, rather than examining what is wrong with the substance that they're drinking. [00:14:37] Speaker B: Right. [00:14:38] Speaker C: And I think that's the cultural thing that happens, say, in Costa Rica, Cuba my family in Cuba, I've had more distance from them because it's so complex and hard to go to Cuba. So when I speak about, say, my childhood experiences, I spent a lot of my childhood in Costa Rica when my grandmother was alive, but that's what I would see. And now that I reflect on it, that's essentially what I just see. It's just a very oversimplification of what happens when alcohol hits a person's body, and if the person gets addicted, there's something wrong with the person. Not that there's something wrong with the think. And I know that that conversation happens enough here in the United States, too. I know now there's been more of a change, and I feel like the sober, curious movement has definitely put a lot of data, a lot of facts out there in terms of how harmful alcoholiday can be. But I'll be honest. That is not a conversation of any kind that is happening in, like, at this point, the family members of mine who have started to maybe quit drinking themselves, it's been more because their partners have threatened to leave them than because they're worried about their health. [00:15:41] Speaker A: Right? [00:15:41] Speaker C: Again, the conversation about health isn't really happening. It's more like, if you don't get it together, I'm leaving you. And again, in a country that does not like divorce, in a country that's a Catholic country, let's try to keep these family units together. So, okay, let's stop drinking. But again, there isn't that conversation about what the alcohol is and how addictive it is. And it reminds me of I remember my mind being blown when it's funny. I read a ton of books. I'm not really a quit reader, but I did read Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker, and she actually talks about Latin America and how a lot of big alcohol companies send tons of alcohol to Latin America. And what's great about it for them, right, is that if you become addicted to alcohol in Latin America, it's really hard to find a place to go to detox. So technically, it's safer to continue drinking at that point than to abruptly stop drinking and risk death by detox right. From it's. Really, it's complicated, which it always is. It doesn't matter where you are in the know. But it's very interesting to see it in Costa Rica when I go back. [00:16:50] Speaker B: Yeah, it's super interesting. And I think, you know, some of the more religious cultures, too, is if you want help, it's something you pray about or you get help from God. You don't seek help outside of the family or the church. Would you agree with that? [00:17:08] Speaker C: Yeah, I mean, that I've definitely heard. [00:17:11] Speaker A: Right. [00:17:11] Speaker C: And I think we hear that whether it's addiction, whether it's mental health issues, right. Any problem that you're supposed to pray about it. And I have absolutely no problem with the power of prayer. [00:17:22] Speaker A: Right. [00:17:23] Speaker C: There is a lot of energy that can go into that and that can really help motivate a person. But I also am a firm believer in action, right. And I also believe if you just say words, but then there's no action happening to follow up with those words, nothing is going to happen. So if you are praying for help, right? Then let's find the facility where this help can actually become made manifest. And I think that's the tricky part because if I am drinking a fifth of alcohol a day and I'm just sitting here and praying, but my body is physically dependent on this fifth of alcohol, and if I abruptly stop, I'm going to go into seizures and potentially die. It's going to need a little bit more than just a prayer to adjust, right. Obviously the prayer is so important because I do feel that recovery is a holistic space, right. Like, you have to take care of your mind, you have to take care of your body, you have to take care of your soul. But it has to be everything. It can't be just one aspect that's going to take care of everything else. [00:18:23] Speaker B: Yeah, absolutely. Well, you hit your rock bottom and can you describe that and then how you got out of it? [00:18:33] Speaker C: Yeah, so it's interesting. I would say I hit two bottoms. So my first bottom came in September of 2019, and then I hit a lower bottom in the spring of 2020. So September 2019, like I mentioned, I had the alcoholic liver disease diagnosis. I had not stopped drinking. But then in September of that year, what started happening was my symptoms of alcohol use disorder escalated to now also panic and this anxiety that was crippling to the point where I could not get into my vehicle and drive to school. So it was like, whoa, now you're threatening my job? Like alcohol? Hold on. Now I need to actually get help. Because I was divorced for about a year. I was my primary caretaker, so I couldn't risk losing my job. So that was the first time I went into treatment. September of 2019, I told everybody I had the flu and I secretly went into treatment and detox safely. At that point, I maintained some sobriety for a few months. I fell again and had a rough stumble during the holiday season of that year. So the holidays of 2019 into 2020, I also spent them in a treatment facility and then I felt that I had been steady, right? 2020 starts, I'm feeling good. And one big, I'm not going to say it's a mistake, it's a learning experience that I had. And I hope if you're listening that you take this as a huge learning experience if you're thinking about dating and early recovery. Because what I started doing after that treatment facility visit and stay of the holiday season was that I started dating a fellow patient who was in treatment with me in 2020 that winter season. And of course I went against everybody's guidance at that time I was attending AA and my sponsor was like, you shouldn't do that. Bad idea. His sponsor told him the same thing. We didn't care, we didn't listen to them. And then the pandemic hit. So when the pandemic hit again for people who were attending only twelve step programs in church basements and stuff like that and we were in Kentucky at the time. Kentucky took the pandemic very seriously and shut everything down. So we had nowhere to go, we had no physical locations to have meetings. And at that know, there were communities that were starting to pop up online but I wasn't aware of them, honestly. So like the Luckiest Club I know started around this time period. No idea that it existed. Now everyone meetings there, right? So after we had no support for probably about a month, we were ticking time bombs for disaster to happen. And tragedy, honestly. And so this is a content warning for any listener because I am going to talk about death. And so if you need to jump off the podcast, please take care of yourself, but I'm going to go ahead and continue. So his drug of choice were opiates and he had a relapse and unfortunately he passed away from his relapse. There was fentanyl mixed in his drugs that he had purchased. So he tragically died on April 20 eigth of 2020. And to kind of obviously like anyone listening, if you are in love or have ever been in love, the idea of that person you're in love with suddenly dying, I'm sure anyone can resonate with how heartbreaking that is. For sure. For me it was also really hard because again, there were certain things that I thought I was having a chance at, right? Like I had gotten divorced and I was like, we're going to get married, I don't have kids. And with him we had started having the conversations about having kids, right? Like all the things that I thought that maybe I had lost, I started to see them again in him. And just like that he vanished. And that broke me also because I was in early recovery dating when I really had no business doing that. So as soon I was there, I was the one who found him. And the police came and then the coroner came. Then his mom came. And when the coroner took his body out of his apartment building, the very first thing I did was go straight to the liquor store. And from that point, it was eight months of me in and out of hospital settings. All kinds, right? Like three day stays, ICU, wrecked car, 35 day treatment, residential treatment facilities. It was a total of about eight hospitalizations from April 20 Eigth of 2020 until my sobriety date, which was November 20 Eigth of 2020. So I would say that my final bottom was just like an eight month period of I didn't know if I was going to make it out alive. And really what turned things around by November of 2020, by my sobriety date, was this incredibly powerful level of exhaustion. I was really tired at that point. I was missing work left and right. I had used up all my sick time. I was a teacher, right? So I had to use family medical leave when I would go into the hospitals and things like that summertime came, so that gave me a break, and I was in the hospital and didn't matter. But I was really tired of tapping into all my resources to try to stay afloat because I was trying to do everything I could to keep my job and do this work as an educator. And I was trying to quit drinking but not tell anybody, and I was trying to manage it but not tell anybody and just keep this as like, miss due to a secret. Like, oh, Ms. Dwaynes is absent again. What's wrong with her? Oh, she's just having a bad day. I was so sick of that bullshit that I finally decided to quit teaching. And I was like, if I don't switch up everything, I'm going to die. And I was like, and clearly I'm not dying because I keep ending up in these Ers, in these emergency rooms, and then I'm okay. And I was like, So I can't keep living in this cycle. This is exhausting. And I'm done. And so I resigned. I wrote my resignation letter while in rehab. And as soon as I got out, I called my principal and I was like, hey, Mr. Gunn, I'm going to have to resign. And so I put in, like, my three weeks notice. I also, while in treatment, was finally consented to talk to a psychiatrist about getting put on medications. Again, I had resisted everything, resisted all the help, and I was under this narrative that I believed at that time that the only pathway was just like a direct twelve step pathway with no outside support. So I had been resistant to medications, and I was like, you know what? Give me the pills. So within a few weeks, the pills started helping. So I had tried to drink and it didn't do anything for me. And I was like, oh, maybe this is some of that change that starts to happen when you take some of these medications. Again, I'm not saying the names of medications. It's your responsibility as a listener to consult with a medical professional. But what I took really did help me. And at that point, then I was like, I need to cement this. It was like a little glimmer of hope lit up in me when I realized that the medication was doing what it was supposed to do, I was like, Holy shit, maybe I can actually do this sober thing. Maybe I can actually stop drinking. I was like, I need to get this off my chest. I need to free myself. I need to break the chains of this addiction. So I wrote my story. My sobriety date is November 20, eigth of 2020. And by December 3 of 2020, I had submitted an op ed article to the Louisville Courier Journal where I put it all out there. And the title of it is, like, kentucky Teacher of the Year share Story of Addiction and Recovery. And I put it out there. Everything. Like, everything. And then my resignation date was that December 4. So the article came out on the third. My last day of work as a teacher was December 4, and I haven't drank since then, and it has been the most liberating thing ever. And I mean, that article went so viral that I've ended up on red table talk with Jada. Pinkett Smith, NPR CBS Evening News. It's almost like you name the news network. I've had the opportunity to share my story because it is so, like, it's not every day that a teacher openly says everything, but I stopped caring. I stopped caring about what they would think. It's not true, I cared, but I cared more about the freedom that was on the other side of whatever possible hate that I could have gotten. So even though I was scared of being judged, and I was scared of having everyone turn their back on me, because, again, I thought that because of the stigma, everybody would judge me, I knew that this was worth more than that. So I'm so glad that I leaned in on that and it felt like I jumped off a cliff and I had no idea where I was going to land, and I landed exactly where I needed to. [00:27:18] Speaker B: Wow. Yeah. And, I mean, it's clear that this is so important for you to share your story as a teacher, as a Latina, as just a person in recovery. The more we can share, the more we're going to help people. And so congratulations, we're recording at the end of September, so you're almost to your three year sober bursary. What was the response when you came out with that article that went viral? [00:27:51] Speaker C: There was so much love and warmth. Like, seriously, I was amazed at how many people I connected with from all over, all over. Just the emails that poured into my. Inbox were overwhelming. I remember I was responding to emails for days because people were writing such beautiful messages. People who had never known me had written such beautiful messages. The only negative response I had gotten was from a family member who I decided that, oh, the beauty of sobriety is I learned that I don't have to keep people in my life who I don't want to, so they're not in my life anymore. And that's okay. I needed that. They had always been a problematic family member for me, but I had never given myself the freedom to cut them off because I thought that I had to keep them in my life. The freedom of sobriety was learning that, oh, I don't have to prioritize people who hurt me. And so them acting out when I published my story was like, that permission to just say goodbye. And so that was actually really liberating. But aside from that problematic family member, the response has been beautiful. [00:29:02] Speaker B: And I think I'm glad that you share that, because a lot of people are scared to share their stories, and they worry about like, what is the public going to say? What's my friend going to say? What's the people I work with, what are they going to say? And it seems like overwhelmingly the result is supportive and positive and like you said, and freeing for you that secret you were holding onto. So for those whole eight months, you didn't have to tell or disclose anything to the school or the administrators or that was all a secret, is that right? [00:29:46] Speaker C: Mostly. So my administrator, he knew what was going on. So pockets of people knew, but basically you have to keep things a secret. So HR human resources knew that I was in treatment facilities because we had to send in the doctor's note that Jessica's getting locked away for a couple of weeks. Here it is. So HR knew and the principal of a school knows what's happening through HR because they're the principal of the school. But no, like, the student population, the parents, the other teachers that I was working with, they didn't know. [00:30:19] Speaker A: Right. [00:30:19] Speaker C: So the boss had to know. And then HR knew. I don't even know if my boss had to know, but I had a very good principal, so I told him what was going on so that he knew why the hell I was disappearing for weeks at a time. But, yeah, the people who really needed to know just didn't. And for years, my family didn't know. My family didn't know that I was struggling like this until that winter holiday because I completely blew up the holidays for everybody. But before that, because I lived in Kentucky and my family was either outside of the country or in Florida or in New York, they had no idea how bad it was. Because when I would talk to them every day to check in, I would call them on my way home from work and then hang up and then start drinking. [00:31:03] Speaker A: Right. [00:31:04] Speaker C: So I always knew how to play my cards right, so I never was getting caught. [00:31:09] Speaker B: Yeah. Well, what do you think we could do to better support teachers and some of these other professions? I mean, I know nursing is the same way, or healthcare, where it's like, it's hard to come out as someone who needs help. How can we be more supportive? [00:31:29] Speaker C: Yeah. I think a big part is creating spaces for people to share their stories. So one thing that I do, if any of your listeners are educators, I run a support group every two months through my site, Bottomlesstosilber.com, and I always tell folks, you can come have your camera off. You can use an alias when you do zoom, but you can come and talk about how being an educator is affecting you. [00:31:52] Speaker A: Right. [00:31:52] Speaker C: So that's one first step, I think, creating spaces where different helping professionals are able to show up, recognize that they're helping professionals, and recognize how their work can impact their substance use issues. [00:32:06] Speaker A: Right. [00:32:06] Speaker C: I think the other thing, too, which is also it's very idealist and it's very revolutionary. It's like, damn, let's transform the actual professions. But that requires a major overhaul, say, of government budgets and legal statutes and all that. That's beyond our scope of our control in terms of what we can do today. So it's like, I don't have the conversations about how we can fix education in the teaching profession to make it more manageable, because that's not happening today and people are dying today. So in terms of what we can do today, I think that's the first thing. It's the spaces. I think the other thing, too, is for teachers and educators and other helping professions to be aware of the different pathways to recovery. I think mainstream recovery works for many people. Twelve step programs are excellent resources for people who are good fits for them. But we also need to have the narrative out there of what else there is online, because there's so many programs and there's so many communities, and at the end of the day, someone who's struggling just really needs a space to feel seen, a space to feel heard. And so if folks like, if educators can find those spaces, that can make a huge difference. [00:33:17] Speaker B: Yeah, I agree. And you were kind of alluding to the bigger issue, which is, like, the burnout in those professions and all of that support for yeah, that's a tough mean. [00:33:32] Speaker C: I know a lot of organizations, like many school districts, will offer, say, as a part of their EAP benefits. Like, a teacher can go to therapy maybe like three, four, five sessions for free. But then after that, then they have to either find a resource on their own, things like that. So I think that also having group resources are great. Therapy is great. I think it's really good. Whether you're doing therapy, whether you're doing coaching and working with a person one on one, it's great. But one of the big things, like, say, even with people who I coach one on one, I always encourage them to find a community. Because there's just something about the space where there's several people coming together with similar issues and similar experiences that's just really empowering. And it helps a person feel seen and helps a person to not feel alone. When it's just you and your therapist or just you and a coach, you're still probably thinking in your head the backwards thought that I'm the only one who's possibly having this conversation with this person in front of me, which is so not true. So I really think community is so important. And I know that for teachers, they hesitate, say, to go to their local twelve step in person meetings because they're scared of being seen by someone who might recognize them. And I'm like, fair enough. So let's look for your other options. Where else can you go? Maybe you need to go online. [00:34:46] Speaker B: Yeah, I agree. Community and not feeling alone is so key. [00:34:52] Speaker C: Yeah. [00:34:52] Speaker B: So can you share your experience with alcoholic liver disease? Like how you got diagnosed, how you're doing now, that whole thing. Sure. [00:35:02] Speaker C: So, in my last year of drinking, so I would say from 2018 to 2019, I started noticing some changes in my body where my cheeks were getting swollen. I don't know what that animal is that keeps stuff in its cheeks, but I felt like one of those animals, I'm thinking beaver. I don't know, whoever stores nuts in their cheeks for the winter. That's what I felt like. So my cheeks were like, randomly swelling, and then I was losing weight, which again, is not like my body's natural set point is never to be a light thin person. But I was losing weight, but then I was getting like a solid actual belly, and obviously not pregnant. [00:35:36] Speaker A: Right? [00:35:37] Speaker C: So I would notice those things. I started getting like, nausea all the time, throwing up in the morning, throwing up bile. My appetite was next to nothing. Like, I could barely eat, and I had no appetite for food. I would get daily, almost like feverish temperatures that wouldn't go away unless I drank alcohol. I had the weirdest cough that would only go away when I drank alcohol. I would get sick in the middle of the day and have to run to the bathroom, throw up or diarrhea. The shakes eventually became a thing to the point where if I wanted I didn't want my students to see my hands shaking, so I would never offer them anything. The way I'm holding this hand steady, it used to have to be a two hand thing. So I used to drink everything like this. If you're listening, I would hold two hands on a cup or a mug or a can to keep that can steady, to keep the drink from spilling because my hands were shaking so much. I had stopped writing on the board, and I would start having students write on the board for me, and they would feel really special, like, oh, I got a job. But they didn't know that it was because I didn't want to write because my handwriting had gotten so out of control. So those were essentially, I would say, the majority of the symptoms that I was feeling. And so I had a physical in August of 2019, and, yeah, they drew blood work, and all my liver enzymes were all over the place. And the doctor was like, you have to stop drinking. And like I said, I didn't stop drinking until I had that whole panic moment where I couldn't drive. And that made me stop, at least start attempting to stop once I had sustained sobriety. So complete abstinence from drinking, it resolved, I would say probably within about six months. But it was hard for it to resolve from the space of September 2019 to November of 2020 because I kept starting and stopping so much. So I never really gave my liver a break. But once I finally stopped drinking and totally abstained, my liver is completely normal. Like, my liver function, thankfully, has gone back to normal. All my labs are good. I used to take high blood pressure medication. I don't take high blood pressure medication anymore. I took medication to assist me with the transition to sobriety, probably for about a year. And then after that, I worked with my psychiatrist to transition myself off. So I don't even take anything anymore. I take vitamins. Also, if you're listening and you're wondering about do I take meds, do I not take meds, I want to invite you to the idea that nothing that you do has to be forever and that you can always change your mind, right? If you're working with a professional, you too can make a plan that's going to work for you. The way I look at medication in my journey, it's like if you have a broken leg and you have a crutch and you have the cast, right? You don't keep that cast, and you don't wear the crutches or use the crutches for the rest of your life. You just use them until your leg is strong enough for you to walk on your own again. And that's kind of how I feel medication was for me. [00:38:44] Speaker B: Yeah, thank you for sharing about that. It's just a reminder, like you do heal your liver. Heals. You can get to a point where you develop cirrhosis of the liver, and that is end stage liver disease. That one's not reversible, but for everything else related to your liver, I call it the groot of your organs because it can regenerate, it can heal. It's amazing. So I'm glad that you were able to reverse all of that like you said, you took the meds when you needed it not forever, and it's different for everybody. So look into your options with your own provider. That's great. One of the things that you do now is you teach classes about writing and you use writing to heal. Can you talk about that? [00:39:37] Speaker C: Yeah. So I am a lifelong educator, and one of the things that I do so I work with the Reframe app, and I teach their book club. And I love teaching. I realize I don't care who I'm teaching, as long as we're having conversations and I'm seeing light bulbs light up in humans, it doesn't matter what age group. It's phenomenal, and it makes me so happy. And I love writing. And so what I did, the same way that I used to teach my students how to write, I literally have that same outline in terms of my Writing for Healing program, but obviously modified to write about the hard stories. And also now that I've had so much training from the different support group communities that I work in, creating an environment where we can tell these really hard stories but support each other and nurture one another. And so it's just beautiful because I know what telling my story did for me, and that's kind of like, why I'm so passionate about it, because I know that when I opened my mouth, that saved my life, right? And so I know 100% that for someone to get something off their chest and onto a journal, into a Google Doc, a Word document, it doesn't even have to be that they give it and publicize it. Nobody has to put it in the newspaper like I did. But I just know the act of uttering things that have never been spoken can be so powerfully. Healing, that I love and has been an honor to have that opportunity with folks. So I'm actually starting the fourth round of this. So by the time people are listening to this, we'll be in the mix of starting the fourth round, but I'll do it again in 2024 if anyone is interested. And I always started off with a free workshop so people can kind of see what the work looks like and feels like. So if it's, like, too much for them, they don't need opt in. But then there's always folks who are like, oh, my gosh, yes, let's do this. And it's been a really powerful experience, and I love it because I think that I come off as a safe person, and I think that my background in teaching, say, students with disabilities. Most of the students that I taught had a lot of emotional challenges and kind of had all the odds stacked against them, and I was able to get them to write. And so being able to now work with adults who can easily feel like life has thrown them every shitty hand and seeing them finally write their stories, even if it's just for their own eyes, is just a really beautiful experience. So it's like my little baby project, which I love doing. It like I do the one on one coaching and I love that. But I do really love doing the classes because again, it's the teacher in me. I love doing it. [00:42:03] Speaker B: That's wonderful. Is there a book in you that you're thinking about writing? [00:42:10] Speaker C: There is a book in me that I started and honestly, I need to get back into it. I've written two chapters. It is called shockingly. From bottomless to sober. Bottomless to Sober is like my thing, right? It's called from bottomless to sober. And then I've played around with the subheading. I'm having a vocabulary brain fart right now, but I guess it's like I've written the first two chapters, and I love the first two chapters, and I've kind of just been wondering where to go, because initially I was writing it with the intention of trying to get it picked up by an agent, which I'm starting to find is very difficult. And I'm kind of like, well, maybe I just need to write it for me. Which is what I tell the students all the time in my writing program, write it for you and then the right people will want to read it anyway. So I'm thinking of adjusting it once we get into things. Slow down for me over the holiday season, I think I'm going to dive in to really getting more of that out because basically it's kind of like me just telling my story but in more detail because there's only so much I can ever say on a 30 minutes interview or even a 45 50 minutes interview. [00:43:14] Speaker A: Right. [00:43:15] Speaker C: There's only so much that can come out. But to actually have the luxury to stop and write everything I feel like writing it has been really soothing so far, the first two chapters. [00:43:25] Speaker B: Yeah. Well, I would read it. I know we have a lot of listeners that would read it too, so keep us posted. [00:43:31] Speaker C: Yes, I will. [00:43:33] Speaker B: Well, what are your top tips for someone who is looking to change their drinking? [00:43:39] Speaker C: I would say top tips are be open to doing something you've never done before. I would say be open to examining what is being told to you and seeing if it fits right with your spirit or if it's something that just really doesn't sit right with you. And again, I'll say, for example, for some people, one big conversation that I feel like happens a lot for folks will be, let's say again, the medication conversation. Well, I might hear someone say is, well, I don't feel like I'm sober if I'm using psych meds because those are mind altering substances too. [00:44:17] Speaker B: Right. [00:44:17] Speaker C: And then it's this conversation of like, well, what do you define as sobriety as? [00:44:21] Speaker A: Right? [00:44:22] Speaker C: Like, are you just attaching yourself to a social media version of what sobriety is or what is the life that you need to lead so that you are happy and healthy for you and your loved ones who are not on Instagram and not on social media. [00:44:35] Speaker A: Right? [00:44:36] Speaker C: And so one of my biggest conversations that I always have with anyone early on is let's define what does this journey mean for you? Right? If you're using a label, why choose your labels? But why? But really examining the why behind why you're doing it, how you're doing it. Because again, it's sometimes nice to just follow what someone else says. But I think that things are way more meaningful when you have way more agency behind the work that you're doing. And if you read any of the neuroscience around addiction, that's typically one of the markers for success is when people feel agency in what they are doing in terms of their recovery journey. So I really want anybody who's listening to feel empowered in their journey. So if you are fully abstinent good, I hope you feel like a badass. If you are moderating and you are on your way somewhere, I want you to feel like a badass too, because again, you're still making a really big decision about your relationship with alcohol. Same thing. Also, like the whole conversation of, again, I practice abstinence, but I believe in harm reduction too. And so for people who do moderate, again, I work with the reframe app and there's a whole community space in there of folks who do the cutback track, which means that they're drinking less. [00:45:50] Speaker A: Right? [00:45:51] Speaker C: And I want to recognize that that is really powerful too. To actively reduce the harm that you are doing to yourself on a daily basis is a really big deal and a lot of people aren't able to do that. So I think it's really important for people to really connect with themselves and make sure that they're feeling genuine about the decisions that they're making and not doing it to please somebody, to fit in with the norm. I feel like that's like my biggest thing. Really? [00:46:20] Speaker B: Yeah, I agree. And I think, like you said, just applaud people for making a change and just being willing to cut back, I mean, that should be applauded. And if abstinence is your goal, then there's many different ways to get there. And speaking of reframe, I had Kevin on the podcast and he gave this great analogy that has just stuck with me because he said everyone has a specific combination of what will work for them. This relates to you being a teacher, like your old lockers at school where you have a specific combination that will unlock the key for you. And for some that might be medication, that might be AA, that might be reframe, that might be a coach or a therapist or whatever. So just being willing and open to try these different things for what works for you, not what it's supposed to look like, not what society expects it to be, but what works for you. [00:47:22] Speaker C: Yeah. The other thing I would say, actually, and this is something I practice, I say on social media, if any account makes you feel bad about yourself, especially early on, mute it or unfollow it, right? Like, if it's an actual friend that you know and you just need to mute it to avoid drama, fine. Right. That's the beauty that we can mute people now. We don't have to cut ties. But be very careful with your social media consumption because it's very easy to feel less than just like that just from looking at the wrong account, spiraling, doom, scrolling, et cetera. Especially, I've noticed that it used to come up for me earlier on when I would see people with big milestones and me feeling like, Man, I could barely put in a week. And then I'm seeing people with huge milestones or yes, if certain people are proudly touting their specific recovery journey, their specific path, and your path doesn't fit in with that, suddenly that self doubt creeping in. So I would say until you start to feel a little bit stronger, be very wary of what you follow on social media. You don't have to follow everyone. You don't have to follow everyone just because they're sober. You don't have to do anything. So I feel like that's also really important. [00:48:36] Speaker B: Yeah, I mean, that's just good life advice, too, whether you're in the sober world or not. Well, anything else you want to share that we haven't talked about yet today? No. [00:48:49] Speaker C: I mean, I feel like we covered everything. Yeah, just I hope you all reach out. You can follow me on Instagram. Instagram is my first and last name. Jessica dwengus 24. My birthday is February 4, so that's my Instagram. And then my website always has different you can join my email list on my [email protected]. And that's nice because again, I have an email list. I have my free writing workshop. On occasion, I do other things that might be pop up events, so you can just always be on top of anything that you might be interested in. And I have a podcast, which I always forget about it because for me, that's really just like a little outlet for myself. So I don't know how to explain the podcast. I just feel like I like it because I just get to say whatever I feel like and stop recording and then call it a day. But I do have a podcast if anyone cares to listen to my random thoughts. And it's also titled Bottomless to Sober. [00:49:41] Speaker B: Oh, great. I will put all those links in our show notes so that you can connect with Jessica. And I just want to thank you again for sharing your story and just recovering out loud and being so vocal and so helpful. I really appreciate you. Thank you. [00:49:56] Speaker C: Thank you so much for having me. Deb. Yeah. [00:49:59] Speaker B: Thank you. [00:50:02] Speaker A: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Alcoholiday Tipping Point podcast. Please share and review the show so you can help other people too. I want you to know I'm always here for you. So please reach out and talk to me on Instagram at Alcoholiday Tipping Point and check out my website, alcoholtippingpoint.com for. [00:50:20] Speaker B: Free resources and help. [00:50:23] Speaker A: No matter where you are on your drinking journey, I want to encourage you to just keep practicing, keep going. I promise you are not alone and. [00:50:31] Speaker B: You are worth it. [00:50:32] Speaker A: Every day you practice not drinking is. [00:50:35] Speaker B: A day you can learn from. [00:50:36] Speaker A: I hope you can use these tips we talked about for the rest of your week. And until then, talk to you next time.

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