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What We Can Learn from WWE Diva Eva Marie and Her Battle with Alcoholism

Eva Marie has enjoyed considerable professional success – as a professional wrestler, as a featured “Total Diva” for World Wrestling Entertainment, as a fitness model, and most recently, as an actress. But before she HAD it all, almost LOST it all because of the consequences of her alcohol addiction. In her own words, Eva Marie says, “I’m an alcoholic. I have relapsed, destroyed relationships, hurt my family, and disappointed myself numerous times.” Born Natalie Marie Nelson in California, she originally had dreams of being a professional soccer player. She was even a Junior College All-American, but injury and eligibility problems derailed that plan. So after receiving her degree, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting and modeling.

“Get your loved one the help they need. Our substance use disorder program accepts many health insurance plans, this is our residential program.”

Alcohol Abuse Brings Real Consequences

“I served three months in jail for repeated DUIs. I didn’t have a license, I didn’t have a stable job, and I was living in an apartment that I could only afford due to a heavy discount my landlord offered me because a murder had taken place there between the previous tenants.” ~ EM Despite youthful promise, Natalie Nelson was also struggling with an addiction to alcohol, and her drinking led to the kind of chaotic, dysfunctional life that usually accompanies substance abuse. In that regard, she was not alone:

  • Alcohol Use Disorder – According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 4% of female American adults – more than 5 million women – have AUD.
  • Employment Problems – Almost 9% of workers between the ages of 18 and 64 drink heavily at least once a month. This is defined as having 5+ drinks on the same occasion on five or more days during the last month.
  • Drunk Driving – Every year, 4 million American adults drive under the influence of alcohol at least once, creating an average of 112 million instances of alcohol-impaired driving.

A different report says that the average drunk driver will drive under the influence 80 times before they are arrested.

  • Housing Issues—38% of homeless people are alcohol-dependent.
  • Stability—Per a Pennsylvania State University study, problematic drinking can reduce a woman’s earnings by over 9% and her likelihood of marriage by up to 45%.

Everybody Has Their Breaking Point

“… my mind was a mess, my life was a mess, and I’d hit rock bottom.” ~ EM There is an old recovery adage that says that an alcoholic must hit “rock bottom” before they become willing to get help. For Eva Marie, that bottom seems to have been a three-month stint is jail. Rock bottom DOESN’T have to mean losing absolutely everything. It DOES reaching the point where the negative consequences of alcoholism and become unbearable. To be more specific, the drinker becomes willing to do ANYTHING to break free of their addiction. For some people, their personal rock-bottom might be:

  • Separation or divorce
  • Losing custody of one’s children
  • Embarrassment when friends and family find out
  • Guilt or shame over past actions
  • Job loss
  • Health issues
  • Accidents or injuries to one’s self or others
  • Other legal problems, such as Public Intoxication, Assault, Child Abuse, etc.

The First Step in Recovery from Alcoholism Is Asking for Help

“Yet the road to my recovery did start with a very simple admission: I am an alcoholic. And admitting that truth saved my life.” ~ EM By making this simple confession – that she is an alcoholic – Eva Marie took the first life-saving step of recovery. You see, it is not enough to be so sick of an addiction-driven life that you WANT to change, you also have to start DOING things to make that desire a reality. Even when excessive drinking causes bad things to happen and the problem with alcohol is blatantly obvious, the alcoholic must still admit that their drinking has gone beyond their control and that their entire life has become completely unmanageable. Why is this admission so important? Denial helps alcoholism grow. It is part of the complicated disease process:

  • Deny – “I don’t have a problem.”
  • Justify – “I work hard. I deserve to blow off some steam.”
  • Rationalize – “What’s the big deal? Drinking is legal.”
  • Avoid – “I don’t want to talk about this right now.”
  • Blame – “You’re always nagging. It’s your fault that I drink.”
  • Compare – “I know a lot of people who do a lot worse. At least I’m not using drugs.”
  • Manipulate – “If you keep complaining about my drinking, I’ll leave.”

By using these maladaptive techniques successfully, the alcoholic gets to keep drinking, and their addiction only grows worse. Because if they can completely deny, disguise, and deflect the notion that they have an AUD, then they are not responsible for seeking treatment. An admission of need clears all of this away and forces their hand. Once the drinker ADMITS that they have a problem that is beyond their control, they can no longer refuse outside help.

“We treat both addiction and co-occurring disorders and accept many health insurance plans. Take a look at our inpatient program.”

The Truth about Alcoholism

“Alcoholism is a disease. People will debate whether it is a disease of the mind, of genetics, or of circumstances. I don’t have the answer to that debate, and frankly I don’t care…Because regardless of the cause, I have the disease, and I am ultimately the only one responsible for seeking help.” ~ EM Eva Marie has the exact mindset for someone with an addictive disorder. Since she knows that alcohol addiction is a disease, then she also knows that there are medical solutions that can help her. As the patient, she does not have to get bogged down in the discussion of whether the factors contributing to her condition are mental, genetic, or circumstantial. Her ONLY responsibilities are to seek treatment, diligently work her prescribed plan of recovery, and get better. For hundreds of years, alcoholism was thought to result in a moral weakness. The fallacy was that because alcohol abuse was believed to be merely a “bad choice”, a person should be able to stop drinking with willpower alone. Alcoholics were harshly criticized and stigmatized:

  • “You could quit if you wanted it bad enough.”
  • “All you need is willpower – just make up your mind!”
  • “If you loved me, you’d stop drinking.”

But that belief is grounded in an incomplete idea of how chronic substance abuse profoundly affects the user’s brain. Alcohol and other intoxicating substances of abuse directly impact the regions of the brain associated with pleasure, reward, learning, and motivation. Here’s how it works:

  • Taking a drink rewards the person with pleasurable feelings of well-being.
  • Over time, the person’s brain learns to associate the action – drinking – with the reward.
  • The brain adjusts the production of pleasure-producing neurotransmitters to motivate the person to drink again. “Choice” soon becomes irrelevant.

The brain begins to change from the very first drink.

Honesty about What an Alcoholic Is

“…it doesn’t mean that I had a drinking phase in my 20s, and it doesn’t mean that I can have a few drinks now and again or just drink in moderation. There are no shades of gray when it comes to alcoholism—it’s black and white. Either I am an alcoholic or I am not.” ~ EM Eva Marie makes the candid admission that because she is an alcoholic, she is unable to drink “like other people” – once in a while, just a few, etc. She knows that foolishly trying to control her disease would only lead back to the OUT-of-control drinking that nearly wrecked her life. Alcohol Use Disorder is a legitimate medical condition. One of the symptoms of AUD is an inability to cut down or stop drinking. Every person who has ever had a drinking problem has unsuccessfully tried to set limits:

  • Drinking only on the weekends
  • Switching from hard liquor to wine or beer.
  • Not keeping alcohol at home and drinking only in bars.
  • DEFINITELY going to stop drinking – this time, they mean it!

The list goes on and on… Because the alcohol-dependent brain’s reward centers are malfunctioning, moderate “social” has ceased to be an option. A person with an AUD does not want just one…two…or even a few drinks. Their controllable disease compels them, and they crave more and more alcohol. Just ONE drink will provide their impaired brain an inroad leading to many drinks.

This is the reason for an Alcoholics Anonymous slogan –

“It’s the first drink that causes the problem.”

Relapse Can Be a Reality

This is my second go-round with recovery. So, I first got sober at 23, had about three years of time, relapsed, and then this is my second time. So when I got into WWE, I was already sober, so I’m working on five years now.” ~ EM Eva Marie admits that she was unsuccessful with earlier attempts at recovery. Even after a significant period of abstinence – three years – she relapsed and went straight back to drinking. Fortunately for her, she was able to resume her sober journey. There is an often-repeated (and acting) recovery motto that states, “Relapse is part of recovery.” This does not mean that every alcoholic trying to get sober will definitely start drinking again at some point, but what it DOES mean is that relapse is a very real possibility. How does the rate of non-adherence/relapse for alcoholism compare to other incurable, recurring diseases?

  • 40%-60% of alcoholics relapse at some point
  • 30%-60% of diabetics are non-compliant with their treatment plan
  • 50%-70% of patients with high blood pressure do not follow their medication/diet instructions
  • 50%-70% of asthmatics do not take their medication properly

It is clear that people with chronic conditions have a high rate of noncompliance, primarily because effective treatment requires extensive lifestyle changes that can be difficult to adjust to. This is important to keep in mind, because a relapse does not have to mean complete failure. Rather, it should mean that the person needs to rededicate themselves to focusing on their existing rehab alcoholic plan, OR they should discuss an alternative plan with their treatment team. At the very least, an alcohol relapse should serve as motivation for renewed efforts. ” column_min_width=”[object Object]” column_spacing=”[object Object]” rule_style=”[object Object]” rule_size=”[object Object]” rule_color=”[object Object]” hide_on_mobile=”[object Object]” class=”[object Object]” id=”[object Object]”][object Object]

The Longer the Better

It is not surprising that extended abstinence from alcohol is an excellent predictor of successful, long-term recovery. An eight-year study of almost 1200 alcoholics discovered:

  • One-third of individuals who abstain from drinking for less than one year will remain abstinent.
  • Among those who achieve at least one year of sobriety, less than half will relapse.
  • At five years of abstinence, the risk of relapse drops to less than 15%.

How can someone new to alcohol recovery maximize their chances of success and minimize their risk of relapse? The answer is simple – stay in rehab. The longer a person stays in alcohol rehab, the better chance they have at maintaining their sobriety.

  • Per the Los Angeles Times, 35% of patients who remain in treatment for less than 90 days relapse during the first year.
  • Only 17% of patients who stay in treatment for more than 90 days resume drinking.
  • In a different study, patients who leave ehab before 90 days relapse comparably to those who only stayed for a day or two.

Having Goals Helps Recovery from Alcohol Addiction

“I am goal-oriented, and my goal is to live a healthy, fulfilling, productive life with long-lasting and meaningful relationships. In order to do that, I focus on the treatment.” ~ EM Eva Marie uses her recovery goals to live the kind of life that she wants. Smartly, she achieves long-term sobriety by focusing daily on her recovery plan. For example, she tries to attend at least three AA meetings every week, works closely with her sponsor, and even tries to help women who are new to the program. Goal-setting is an important part of any sober journey. After all, if you do not know where you want to go, how can you get there? Some people think of their recovery plan as a roadmap that helps them reach sobriety. There is a recovery acronym that guides how to set goals during recovery from alcohol addiction – SMART. This means that goals should be:

  • Specific – A specific goal describes exactly what you hope to achieve, rather than the vague suggestion made in a general goal. For example:
    • I’m going to go to five AA meetings this week.” vs “I’m going to start attending more.”
  • Measurable –This shows if the goal has actually been reached or if more work is needed.
    • I only made it to three meetings last week. I’ll try harder.”
  • Attainable – CAN this goal be achieved?
    • There are 30 local meetings weekly. That gives me plenty of chances.”
  • Realistic – Can this goal be achieved by ME?
    • I originally wanted to hit EVERY meeting, but there was no way I could go to that many.”
  • Time-constrained – This sets a limit on when the goal must be achieved.
    • Every week I check my progress.”

Recovery from Alcoholism is a Lifelong Project

“I will be an alcoholic for the rest of my life. The fact that I have been sober for almost five years doesn’t mean that I am “cured”… But here’s the thing: I am still an alcoholic. This fairytale life is always one drink away from shattering. That’s why I attend 6 a.m. AA meetings multiple times a week and do weekly step work with my sponsor.” ~ EM Eva Marie makes the admission that escapes so many people in recovery – she is STILL an alcoholic, despite five years of sustained and successful sobriety. She understands that taking just one drink risks everything good in her life. Why is this the case? There is no cure for alcoholism. Once a person’s brain has been changed by chronic drinking, they are on forever susceptible to alcohol’s addictive properties. Even one drink can trigger the altered reward pathways of their brain, and their disease will rapidly return in full force. Almost immediately, they pick up their drinking habit right where they left it, regardless of how long they have been sober. To maintain their hard-won sobriety, recovering alcoholics must be constantly vigilant, every single day, for the rest of their lives. This can be overwhelming. This is why newly-sober alcoholics are told to avoid absolute terms, because “forever” and “never” can seem too long:

  • I can NEVER drink again?
  • I have to work this program FOREVER?”
  • What do you mean, I’ll ALWAYS be an alcoholic?”

Instead, they are taught to focus on more achievable goals. A struggling alcoholic does not have to worry about staying sober for the rest of their life – they only have to stay sober TODAY, and that is perfectly achievable. By breaking down “forever” into one-day-at-a time increments, the rest of their life takes care of itself.

Helping Others to Stay Sober

“It’s also why, at meetings, I’m always on the lookout for women to sponsor myself.” ~ EM Eva Marie now makes a point to reach out to other women new to recovery. This is in accordance with the 12th Step of Recovery. And not only does sponsoring others help them stay sober, it also does the same for her. Science supports the benefits of service. A University of Connecticut study examined over 1700 Alcoholics Anonymous participants who (a) were AA sponsors, (b) completed all 12th Steps, or (c) did neither. Comparing helpers versus non-helpers shows that following three months of alcoholism treatment:

  • 40% of helpers remained alcohol-free for at least 12 months.
  • Just 22% of non-helpers abstained.

Encouragingly, even among those with additional risk factors such as a family history of addiction, a co-occurring mental disorder, physical disability, or learning difficulties, those who helped others still experienced a positive impact. According to a 2010 survey involving approximately 4500 adult volunteers:

  • 77% enjoyed improved emotional health
  • 73% reported that volunteering reduced their stress levels
  • 68% said they experienced better physical health
  • Almost ALL felt happier

Helping others with similar issues engages the same brain circuits that activate when parents take care of their children. Among mammals, triggering these pathways is beneficial in several ways:

  • Less stress
  • A stronger immune system
  • Fewer self-centered behaviors

Importantly, the areas of the brain linked to selfish behavior are the same ones involved in addictive behaviors. When self-centered feelings of entitlement are reduced, the person also experiences fewer alcohol cravings. Research also shows that service prompts an increased release of dopamine, the “feel-good” transmitter. This reinforces altruistic actions in a manner very similar to the reinforcement of substance-seeking behaviors. In other words, a recovering addict suffering from dopamine depletion can feel better through service to others.

Real Recovery from Alcoholism IS Possible and Worth It

“Now, I am married, have multiple thriving businesses, a career in entertainment that I could only have dreamed of, and live in a beautiful home with my husband…It is work, and it is time consuming, but it is the best change I’ve ever made in my life.” ~ EM Today, Eva Marie enjoys a sober and happy life unthinkable during her active drinking days. She recognizes that this achievement is only possible through the investments of hard work, dedicated time, and extensive lifestyle changes. “Lifestyle changes” are a recurring theme during alcoholism recovery. It is not enough to simply stop drinking, because, without change, it is still possible to engage in the same dysfunctional and self-destructive thought patterns and behaviors present during full-blown alcoholism. This is known as a “dry drunk” – at best it leads to a miserable existence, and at worst, it is a harbinger of an impending and disastrous relapse. True recovery involves both physical and emotional sobriety achieved only through making profound changes – not just through abstaining from alcohol, but also through:

  • Rigorous honesty, both with others and one’s self
  • Frequent self-examination of one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors
  • An end to the critical judgment of others
  • Taking personal responsibility
  • Acceptance of reality, rather than unrealistic expectations
  • Deliberate avoidance of toxic people, places, things, actions, and ways of thinking that can trigger a return to active drinking
  • A willingness to ask for and accept help when needed

Successful and enduring recovery sounds like a lot of work – and it IS. But recovery also means the rewards of being the best YOU and enjoying the best LIFE possible, completely freed from the chains of alcoholism. Want proof? Remember, young Natalie Nelson could not become the famous and successful Eva Marie until AFTER she entered recovery for her alcohol addiction.