If you or a loved one is battling addiction, please call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.
Growing up is hard enough without adding on the perfect set of circumstances to create an addict. Even living in a house with medical professionals and an addictions specialist, I was the first person in my family to understand I was addicted, and I did so more than 10 years after it started.
There are many things that might lead someone to addiction, including genetics, environmental settings, mental illness, and traumatic experiences. As a child with chronic pain and health issues, I took a variety of medications daily. And as someone who grew up in a household full of self-loathing and body shaming, I also took every opportunity to scrutinize my body and how I treated it. This created the perfect storm that led to disordered eating and overuse of over-the-counter medications. If you’re familiar with how addictions work, then you also know that my situation got worse. I’ve been addicted for more than two-thirds of my life, recovering from one thing only to promptly fall into another, never truly recovering at all.
Addiction may be seen or understood as a solitary burden, but my addiction negatively impacted relationships with the most important people in my life. It also severely damaged my relationship with myself. This burden made me less reliable, less present, and less engaging, making it all the more difficult for me to maintain friendships and jobs.
This continued from fourth grade to my college years with my main source of support and help coming from myself. I was afraid to reach out because I didn’t think people would take me seriously. From all of the media I’d seen that covered addiction, addicts were always portrayed as adults, especially those who had lost a job or a loved one. I was just a young adult that fell down that slippery slope too early in life.
Sure, I had “quit” an addiction on my own, but I now realize that I just moved my addiction from one vice to another. Addiction can show up in countless ways, often being used as a source of control over one’s life. It was easy for me to think “I don’t do this drug, so I’m not an addict…” even though I was just as obsessed and attached to something else. Even when I went through rehabilitation for my eating disorders, I always came out ready to invest those feelings and problems into something else, never dealing with the root issues.
It wasn’t until I had finished graduate school that I knew I needed help, and not just from myself.
It wasn’t this grand moment of hitting rock bottom or a movie-worthy intervention that made me realize this. It was just a regular Tuesday in the middle of November (reminder: learning to seek help happens everyday, not just through grand moments that push one to seek help). As I was winding down from the day and doing my regular evening activities, I noticed that, without any need or rationalization, I was reaching for the vices I craved. It was a relatively small moment, but it shook me to my core to realize that I had no thought in the action, that I was at the mercy of this disease. This was my first step to recovery, practicing honesty to myself through acceptance of my problems.
There are uncountable books, blogs, videos, and other resources that give you instructions and guides for seeking help from an addiction, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy! I spent full days looking through therapists that specialized in recovery, virtual support groups (since the pandemic didn’t allow for in-person meetings), and recommended hobbies and activities to replace time spent on addictive behaviors. By the time December hit, I was sure that I had everything under control and would never fall prey to addiction again. Even though I was convinced that I was on the up-and-up, I still knew in the back of my mind that it was likely I would fail. And I did! I failed more times than I’d like to count, but I was reminded that “failing” is okay and recovery is still possible.
An important thing to know about addiction recovery is that it is most often a non-linear process. With each moment of weakness, I added more support to my struggle. I ended up with a combination of professional help and community support for my recovery process, including:
- An anonymous support group online, eager to share their experiences and empathize or encourage me as I navigate through recovery.
- A medical team that is ready to help me end addictive behaviors and treat my mind and body with the care and compassion I had neglected to give myself.
- Loved ones who regularly check in on me, encourage me, and spend time with me to remind me that I am not alone in this fight and that I am loved.
Another important aspect of addiction recovery is replacing time spent on vices with healthy habits and activities. My recovery has also looked mundane, with small changes to my routine that make big impacts. Recovering is a one-size-fits-all type of deal (even though we all know that one size NEVER fits all, anyway), so I had to be intentional about the expectations I put on myself when learning from the recoveries of others. The road to recovery is unique to each person who journeys through it, so find what works for you. Here are some relatively small changes that have helped me continue pushing through recovery in each moment:
- Consistent and healthy eating has always been difficult for me, especially when I don’t have the peer pressure to eat from social situations. These days, I try to eat my meals or snacks during a work meeting or video call with a friend to help me feel more motivated to fuel my body. It was awkward at first, but now it feels normal!
- Keeping a “therapy log” in my notes app has been great for me. More often than not, I enter my therapy sessions feeling okay and not remembering what I went through in the past two weeks. Now that I have this “log,” I can keep track of all of the highs and lows between sessions from the perspective of how I felt in those moments.
- Every day, I try to give myself specific positive affirmations. I’ve never been one to talk kindly to myself and believe it, but I am a big believer in faking it ‘til I make it. When I get up to move around, be it in a workout or just to get out of bed, I remind myself that “movement is a gift.” When I eat snacks or meals, I think “I am grateful to myself for choosing to eat.” When it feels impossible to maintain recovery I say “I can do hard things. I CAN DO HARD THINGS!”
- I commit to healthy decisions with someone else in my life, like signing up for an online gym with my partner! This way, healthy decisions feel like a gift instead of a chore and I get the bonus of knowing we’ll always get this time to spend together.
In the same way that addiction impacted my relationships with others, recovery has too! Through practicing vulnerability and admitting I need help, I’ve been able to connect with my friends on a deeper level and let them get to know me as I truly am, no smoke screens or cover stories. Recovery has also helped me be more present in their lives, making the active choice to be there for them over the comfortable distractions addiction provided me.
Recovery has also helped me rebuild my relationship with myself. I won’t sugar coat it or try to make my life and my recovery seem like a perfect, inspirational story; it is still harder than I thought possible to consider myself worthy and deserving of love and comfort. But I’m getting there. I’m working on it. I’m learning to care for my mind and my body after sixteen years of hurting myself. My mind-body connections have been severed almost entirely, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be reconstructed. I also am trying to forgive myself for the years of self-inflicted abuse. The road to forgiveness looks long and unmanageable, but my support system reminds me that every step gets me closer to peace and self-love. It might sound trite, but I’ve only started to think I might be worth something over the last six months or so!
To think that I might forgive myself, care for myself, love myself one day is absolutely mind-boggling. Kindness is learning to forgive yourself, and that is a HARD step for me in my journey, but it’s one worth working towards. Practicing self-care and self-compassion means I have to be vulnerable with myself, with no chances to hide or lie. It meant getting help, something I see as the ultimate step of self-kindness. I know that every day I spend in recovery is another day spent growing. Recovery will be a life-long commitment, meaning also that my personal growth will never end.
Today, I am sober and have been sober for 180 days! I am finding comfort in the growing number of days I have chosen to choose self-compassion. Recovery is just starting and I still have so very long to go, but I know that I go through it with the love and strength from those around me. I have people rooting for me, even those I don’t know. And so do you.
Look, I know what it’s like to go through addiction and be told that people love you every night seems full of loneliness and despair. I know how hard it is to think that there are people that care for you when it seems that you are completely alone. But I’m writing this to let you know that you’re not alone. Whether you can feel it now or not, you have so many people in this world that love you, that care for you, that want to know you are safe. You have people in your corner, ready to watch you succeed and overcome what you’re going through.
If you’re ready for recovery, American Addiction Centers confidentially offers free and confidential guidance to those suffering from addiction. Their hotline number is (866) 501-9732. Reaching out seemed impossible for me, but making that call was easier than I could have expected. I was afraid of losing my job and volunteer positions, but the trained advisors that answered helped me create a recovery plan that included how to have discussions about my recovery with my supervisors.
Additionally, there’s also SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This is a “confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders” that can provide referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Because recovery resources are so often focused on the areas in which they’re located, this call can save you a stressful search of available resources.
The main reason I list these two numbers rather than nonprofits or programs is to remind you that recovery is found through connection, with others and yourself. Like I said earlier, people want to help you and see you succeed, even and especially those who might answer your call.
And above all, please remember these five sentences: You are not the villain in this story. You are not alone. Recovery is possible. You can do hard things. You are so very loved.