Did you know?
- Almost 21 million Americans have at least one addiction, yet only 10% of them receive treatment.
- More than 90% of people who have an addiction started to drink alcohol or use drugs before they were 18 years old.
- Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 are most likely to use addictive drugs.
September is Recovery Month! In honor of this month and the brave souls who’ve forged ahead in their journeys toward recovery, we will be featuring anonymous stories from courageous clients who are living life one day at a time in sobriety. To kick off, we have a blog from a young person in recovery.
During graduate school, I completed my Master’s thesis on college student binge drinking and even had my research published in the journal Addictive Behaviors. I’ve taken numerous courses and continuing education credits on substance use disorders. However, I always say that my best teachers have been my clients. What I’ve learned from people in recovery is immeasurable. I can truly say it’s been a privilege to bear witness to this young woman’s amazing transformation and am honored to share part of her story with you:
**Trigger Warning: Drug and Alcohol Use**
My life is so different from how it was six years ago. To be honest, sometimes I forget what it was like. I have grown into a woman so distant from the all-consuming feelings of worthlessness and self-hate that unless somehow prompted into reflection, I forget the unbearable pain of feeling stuck in my own body. By the age of 18 I was so depressed and eager to escape my reality that I subconsciously resigned myself to an early death, if not by accident then by suicide. Just as Alabama Shakes sings, I didn’t think I would make it to 22 years old and I was okay with that.
I grew up in a loving family in a suburb of Philadelphia. As a teenager I thought addiction was a discriminatory disease and had preconceptions towards those who were affected. I was completely unaware that alcoholism and drug addiction had already snuck into my life and was already asking for more. The weekend I turned 15 I was first introduced to cocaine by my older brother, on a Sunday afternoon, in my childhood home. If he was doing it, I might as well give it a shot. I remember feeling so alive and free, having thoughts like, “this is what I’ve been waiting for,” “I can truly be me”. I was above the world and I thought the indescribable bliss I felt was pure. This is relevant to my story as for the next 7 years I went into harrowing depths, putting anything I could access into my body, all to chase that one high.
I was oblivious towards knowing that this quest to feel good would take me down a path that I would be unable to recognize myself. In the next several years, I would succumb myself to a life as an IV user, doing things I never thought I was capable of, emerging myself into a physically violent relationship, losing jobs for showing up to work drunk and high, failing courses, pushing away my friends and family, and watching friends die to overdoses. Every time I made the decision to draw a needle to my skin, my thoughts were “this may kill me, but I’m willing to take that risk.” I would engage in demoralizing behavior, waking up feeling so full of dread and shame. I frequently bargained with God to just help me get through the day without wanting to kill myself and I would stop drinking, but somehow by evening I’d find myself at the liquor store unable to conceptualize the emotions that ran rampant in my head all day. It felt as if once I mentally identified a “solution” or “release”, the phenomenon of craving would hit and all self-awareness was lost over the desire to drink, at least just one more night.
I knew my use had become problematic, but swore off abstinence as an option. I was too young to give up my life. Coincidentally, the same life I was willing to give up daily for another fix. By attempting to implement several harm reduction strategies I realized the hard truth was that I couldn’t continue to live my life with alcohol and I couldn’t live my life without it. I tried absolutely everything in attempts to prove my ability to beat this. Throughout my continuous failed attempts to control my use my powerlessness towards alcohol and drugs became apparent. The last night I had drank I promised my therapist I would only have two glasses of champagne at the wedding I was a part of. I couldn’t do it. I was humbled and I was broken. At this time, I had seen my brother turn his life around in a 12-step program and despite the encouragement from him and my therapist to join one, I felt like my entry into a this program was a lifeless death sentence. As my mother drove my car home from Florida and I laid in the back seat I stumbled upon a quote by Anais Nin “and the day came where the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was more painful the risk it took to blossom.”
In early recovery there was so much discomfort, avoidance and confusion towards my identity that I literally took it day by day- no resolutions, no future-tripping, sometimes needing to take it hour by hour. I was essentially an emotional wreck, everything that I had burdened myself with poured out and for the first time, I had to learn effective ways to deal with things. I held tightly onto the belief that recovery had worked for others and despite my rampaging emotions I became willing to give this thing an honest shot by remaining open-minded and humbled by idea that I don’t know where this would take me.
Recovery forced me to take a hard look at myself. The road to wellness certainly been painful and it has been raw. At times my mental illness became unmanageable and I found myself in several hospitals, triggered to numb my pain. Continued therapy, my strong support network, attendance to 12-step meetings and taking simple suggestions from my sponsor reminded me that there was a softer way. I am honored to share my experience with anyone, especially those who are sick and hurting like I was. Carrying a message of hope and truth, just by being authentic with myself is the greatest gift I was given in this life. My energy towards growth coincides with my thirst to live in the sunlight. What recovery has given me has been mind-blowing, but watching it touch the lives of others is even sweeter. On my best days, I am surrounded by pure light and have found bliss of being immersed in the present moment. To my own surprise, I am happily sharing a life with my husband who is my best friend, attending graduate school and am amazed daily by the love I give and receive from my friends and family. A love I know I am worthy of. I have discovered peace and learned to love myself completely. I have found genuine happiness and freedom in a place I didn’t believe existed, and that is within myself.
Kelly Broadwater is the Executive Director of Chrysalis Center. In addition to eating disorders, she specializes in substance use disorders. She particularly enjoys helping clients with co-occurring eating disorder and drug/alcohol use achieve recovery from both. She is proud of the individuals she works with who are maintaining sobriety, one day at a time and living life on life’s terms.