Until I was thirteen, my life was like a fairytale. I had a stable family and my parents were seemingly in love. I was a happy kid and I didn’t have any conception of what stress meant. At thirteen, my life completely changed. Out of left field, my parents told us they were getting divorced. I started to take on all this emotional baggage. I wanted to solve my mom’s problems and I wanted to fix the stress in her life. My father would always lead me to believe that I wasn’t good enough; I needed to work harder and I was always sub par. That created a complex inside of me that manifested in a way that was out of control. I became an insane perfectionist. I obsessed over perfection and needed to be the best at everything. It complicated my life from that time forward.
When I entered High School, I was naturally timid and awkward. Mentally and emotionally, I was driven by anxiety. My thinking was very chaotic. I had racing and obsessive thoughts. I was very tough on myself. If I didn’t do something right, my response was self-sabotaging: How can I beat myself up so I never mess up again? At the same time, I started getting noticed by males. This created another complex in me which was ruled by my ego. I started to love the attention; it was validation that I wasn’t getting at home. I latched onto it.
My home life was broken and unstable, so I learned that in order to find love and support, I shouldn’t go home. I needed to find it elsewhere. This paved the perfect road to alcoholism. All these factors were in play when I took my first drink. I didn’t mention alcohol until this point because it’s not about alcohol for me, it’s about my mental state.
When I took my first drink, I was at a keg party with my brother’s friends. My brother’s friends were like my brothers. They were Seniors when I was a Freshman. I took a lot of pride in that because I felt like I had purpose and I had a place in school. I connected the sensation of euphoria with drinking and the anxiety in my head was completely absent whenever I drank. I became a person who could communicate with others on a whole new level. The substance stopped my anxious thoughts.
Something else happened around this time. It involved a guy who was giving me validation and attention and this other girl who was absolutely infatuated with him. She noticed that he took an interest in me and she hated me because of it. She made my life a living hell. She stripped me of all of my innocence and everything that was somewhat stable. She bullied me at school every single day and created a posse to abuse me verbally, emotionally, and sometimes physically. The more she bullied me, the less I wanted to bother fighting back.
I decided that it was okay that I didn’t fight back as long as I was perfect at other things. The more she tore at my image, the more I started staying up all night studying and drinking lots of espresso. My outlet was partying on weekends. I was getting straight A’s, but I noticed that whenever I would leave class I was shaking. I knew that when I walked out the door, I didn’t have the safety of a classroom anymore. I knew that I was going to be a vulnerable target. I started avoiding places and isolating – anything I could do to turn it inward. I also went to a psychiatrist, faked ADHD, and got Adderall. I heard it made you study more efficiently. The psychiatrist also prescribed Ativan for my anxiety. Naturally, I climbed up the benzodiazepine scale. I constantly had these pills at my disposal and I used them as a crutch to get through the day at school. I was a little bit of a zombie but I was still riddled with fear.
Toward the end of High School, I started skipping school and having break downs. The bullying was really getting to me and I was partying a lot more. I realized I liked drinking more than my friends. I ended up graduating early. I was so distraught that I couldn’t walk into the building without shaking. I didn’t go to Prom or on the Senior trip. I absolutely hated people. All I knew was that people were going to hurt me and that I couldn’t trust anyone…but I could trust alcohol. When I was alone and drinking, I felt a sense of peace.
I went to college right after High School but I was in the worst shape of my life. I had a boyfriend who introduced me to Percocet and Oxycontin. I still loved drinking more. It was my god and my best friend. It was like a religious thing in my life. It was another dimension I entered and it gave me peace and comfort when no one else would. But it had conditions. I had to make sure I had enough on hand to maintain and, the more I would escape into this dimension, the more difficult it was to get out and get back to reality. In fact, reality wasn’t really reality anymore. Whenever I tried to get back, the foggier and blurrier it started to get. At a certain point, I didn’t know which was reality and which was the dimension of drinking. I became very delusional and paranoid: everyone was judging me, everyone was out to get me, and everyone had good reason to believe that I was a shameful person. This feeling of shame was so intense and vivid, I carried it around with me wherever I went.
I became agoraphobic and I didn’t want to leave the comfort of wherever my home was at the time. Every single thing I did was well thought out because I had to figure out the potential amount of fear and danger that came with every action and balance that out with the consequence of not doing it. I was living in a constant state of hyper-vigilance. I let substances control me because I wanted nothing to do with living in my own body. All I cared about was what strangers thought of me. In some twisted way, that’s what kept me going.
I had my first experience with recovery because I couldn’t physically go on any further. I was having convulsions. My heart rate was one hundred and fifty beats per minute, resting. I was pushed to the threshold. I had no choice but to get help. There was no spiritual or emotional threshold that I could reach, but physically there was only so much my body could withstand.
I medically withdrew from the University of New Hampshire and I went to my first treatment center in California. When I went to treatment, it was the first time I learned that there were other people who related to me. I took comfort in that. I was alone for a long time. Treatment was a little hiatus from my destructive life but I couldn’t comprehend the depths I needed to explore in order to break free from the complete destruction I had created. That was beginning – it was the first door opening – but the following years were just a continuation of the destruction. I totaled a car, got a DUI, and attempted suicide. I wanted nothing to do with being sober or drug free. It was way too painful. There was a solution presented to me: If you endure this pain, there’s a way out. I opened my ears enough to know that was feasible, but I didn’t want to try it. So I kept on damaging my body and partying.
I think what ultimately led me to surrender was the depression and the loss of my will to live. The drive inside me to get perfect results started to burn out. I was done. I was so disconnected with reality that I felt like there was a huge well of cement around me. I couldn’t connect with anyone and I couldn’t feel anything. I had been hospitalized, detoxed, and through outpatient programs where my life was on the line, but the only thing that brought me to surrender was living with severe depression. I spent the last day in my apartment with my blinds drawn and my black out drapes blocking out any possible light.
I was always willing to get back up and fight so I checked into Hampstead Hospital again. I met a doctor who wasn’t my normal doctor there. I explained to him that one of my main triggers for relapse was depression and I had tried everything under the sun. He introduced the idea of a non-narcotic anti-depressant. That medicine helped save my life. I am very science oriented and I know that it is simply something that corrects a chemical imbalance in my head.
When I left that hospital, I had a newly instilled beacon of hope in me. A flame started burning in my soul again… but I still had a lot of work to do. I went back and forth with a social worker to figure out what my next step would be. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t necessarily want to go to an inpatient center. That was my M.O.: I would go to an inpatient center, do great, and then when I got home it would be too much of a change and I’d relapse. We finally settled on sober living and outpatient treatment at the Process Recovery Center. It was perfect for me. It was just the amount of structure I needed with just the amount of freedom I needed. The girls I met when I first got to the sober house are still some of my best friends today.
I don’t know what led me to take off and start flying, but it was a combination of surrendering, being willing to do anything, and the lifting of the dark shroud of depression. Things were not so impossible anymore and every day I kept on getting stronger. When I had a therapy session with a counselor, my mantra was Nike’s logo: “Just do it”. I could give you the best excuses but I was sick of them. I thought: “What would happen if I just did what I was supposed to do for once in my life?” When I started to do that and I didn’t die, self destruct, or spontaneously combust, I thrived. Whatever I overcame in the form of a fear became a healthy rush. People started giving me legitimate, authentic approval for doing well in my recovery. I noticed that I wasn’t just looking inside myself anymore. I was helping other people.
I’ve never gone back from that point. I got a job. I took advice in terms of how many meetings to go to, what intensity of outpatient treatment I needed, how much therapy I needed, and stepping outside of my comfort zone. I started getting involved in the gym. Whenever something happened that didn’t sit right with me, I would talk to my sponsor or talk about it in a meeting. Today, I have very close to a year clean and sober.
I noticed that The Process Recovery Center had a unique approach from the start. They were very open, accepting, and loving. There was no facade. They weren’t overly clinical; they were very authentic. I truly felt welcomed by Joey, Chris, and Justin. They took us on a trip to the White Mountains and Justin brought his family. We stayed in a cabin and went to a sober festival. I had the time of my life. I felt safe. I didn’t feel like it was some kind of contrived, robotic activity that they did once a week with their clients. It was a genuine good time with people who had been through the same struggle I had. They genuinely wanted me to see what life was like without drugs and alcohol.
The last time I was in treatment, there were certain things that were critiqued about me that I didn’t want to acknowledge. Little did I know, those things formed the barrier between me and recovery. This time, it was really all about facing fear. Those fears included looking at things that I didn’t want to acknowledge or didn’t believe were true. Even if I felt like something was uncomfortable, I had to address and accept it. This is a life or death situation. I started to realize that there is nothing that can be an exception to examination.
Recovery starts in your thinking. Ask yourself: What is holding me back from living the life I deserve? Is it fear of failure? Is it the fear that life will never be as good as it is getting high? I can promise you that is not true. You have to believe – even in a place where it feels impossible to believe – that life is one hundred and ten percent better when you’re able to move forward without needing to rely on a drug, person, behavior, or material. I promise you that life is exponentially better than the prison you live in when you have to rely on drugs and alcohol every day. It feels like euphoria…but it is an illusion and a delusion.
There is a lack of knowledge and understanding about addiction. From a subjective point of view, you may see people purposefully and selfishly destroying their lives. But what you don’t see is that addicts are scared out of their minds. They are doing the only thing they know to survive. Internally, all they are trying to do is mitigate the floodgates and tame the emotional waters so they are stable enough to face their daily tasks. For those people who are quick to judge, I think a little bit of mindfulness goes a long way in understanding how this disease operates. It’s not a lifestyle that people enjoy. It’s a big task if you’re coming from a place of unawareness about the subject, but search for common ground with addicts. We are human beings… just like you. If you want to understand us, you have to look inside yourself. If you are a human being, you go through struggles and peaks of happiness. You have values, beliefs, goals, and people who care about you. Addicts do, too. Perhaps addicts are envious of you and want to be in your shoes but they just don’t know how. Maybe, instead of judging, you could realize that you may be the connection they need to get to the other side.