I have struggled with some fashion of addiction since I was 13. It started with an eating disorder. I was anorexic and then later on, bulimic. I struggled privately with that for a number of years. I started drinking in high school as a way to fit in. I never felt comfortable in my skin, as if I didn’t know who I was. It was like there was somebody I was seeking, so that was my identity for a long time. My brother took his own life when I was 10. He was 14. That was difficult; it’s still difficult. I think that was a catalyst for things. I think my struggle with addiction would have happened eventually anyway but I think that’s how the battle began.
I drank a little bit in high school and my drinking really took off my senior year. I went to college and continued my drinking spree. I managed to do well academically, but I just couldn’t quite handle everyday life. I suffered from anxiety and depression, but I didn’t know that because I’d never sought any help. As the years progressed, my drinking and eating disorder got worse, never better. I began drinking every night. I waited tables in the evenings and would then go to the bars afterwards; wake up; go to school; go to work, and then go out again. I was burning the candle at both ends. This continued on in some fashion for many years.
I desperately wanted and needed treatment for my eating disorder, so I went when I was 26. My father had taken his life a few months prior. This was a big catalyst and I hit a rock bottom of sorts, but I didn’t see the issue as also being addicted to alcohol. On my intake eval form at the treatment center, they asked me about substance abuse issues. All the questions they asked, I identified with, but drinking was my last safeguard and I was certainly not going to give that up.
While in treatment, I vowed to myself that when I returned home I wouldn’t drink. This declaration was to the satisfaction of my family who frequently showed concern about my drinking, which was highly insulting to me. I didn’t realize how obvious my problem had become to everyone else but me.
My dad had a lot of mental health issues and never sought any help, which was a big factor in my decision to do so and then to focus on recovery. It was important to me because it wasn’t something he did. Admitting he (or I later on) needed help felt taboo and had a certain stigma attached. When I finally chose to admit I couldn’t do this on my own, I could see how different his life could have been if he had asked for help.
I desperately wanted to have a happy life. The only way I could get remotely close to it was by chasing it through addiction and over time even that couldn’t bring relief. But, there was just a small glimpse of hope I held on to. It was a feeling of joy, true happiness, and that all the heaviness could be lifted. I didn’t know how I could ever possibly get to it, but I knew it was out there somewhere.
After going to treatment, I got into a relationship with a recovering alcoholic. I still didn’t think I had a drinking problem. We lived together for a while. I didn’t have a job, so I just starting drinking and smoking cigarettes all day. I would try and sober up by the time he got home. I managed to do that for about six months or so and then things gradually got worse. I started hiding alcohol around the house and started drinking 24 hours a day. I would go through a liter of vodka every day or so. I would just mix it in with Gatorade to keep a constant “drunk” throughout the day.
Eventually, I was admitted to the hospital to detox, and then took a trip to the psychiatric unit. I felt pretty hopeless. I didn’t want to live anymore. I wasn’t necessarily suicidal; I was just hopeless. Living just felt like too much effort and trouble. To help remedy my despair, I attended the Recovery Center of Missoula and it was a really good experience but I still wasn’t mentally in a place where I had fully accepted the entire realm of recovery.
After my second round of treatment, I stayed sober for about a month before relapsing. I drank all day and then really went off the deep end and felt I really was hopeless. So, I started to cut my forearms and passed out. In the meantime, I had been talking to my sister on the phone and told her I was going to “end it.” No one knew my exact location and the worry and horror I put so many through that night is still difficult for me to fathom. At the time, I felt as though they weren’t the ones with the problem, so how could they possibly understand? I really hurt my family and I had no idea the extent to which they felt shattered until I began my recovery.
After my relapse, I was again admitted to a psychiatric ward. I’d burnt all my bridges, but my mother had allowed me to come back once I was released. I ended up in a hotel room down in Missoula. I hid out there until they found me and once again dropped me off at the Recovery Center of Missoula. And that time, getting help stuck. It was then that I could finally connect with that glimpse of happiness that I had sought for so long, and I have continued to build upon that glimpse of a good life since my sobriety date of April 7, 2014.
After my last round at treatment, I landed in the Hands of Hope house and living with other newly sober people truly helped save my life. They directly and indirectly helped me build a foundation for my recovery. Also, being active in a 12-step program has been instrumental in my survival. I have seen others that struggled addiction and other mental health issues lose those battles. Hearing the detriments of relapsing again and witnessing others was/is difficult to watch. However, being witness to both successful and unsuccessful sobriety helps keep me sober.
There have been a lot of challenges in recovery. I had to file for bankruptcy. I had to foreclose on my house. Someone I dated took his life shortly after I broke it off. I really took that personally-like it was my fault. Drinking to overcome the shame and guilt was enticing. Through the network of support I had built, I knew numbing my fears and emotions wouldn’t help. That, in fact, there was a chance I wouldn’t survive.
There was also a period in sobriety when I allowed all the important aspects of my recovery to fade away. Because I was slowly allowing this disease to win, I lost sight of how important following a 12-step program, attending the Recovery Center, and asking for help were. One of my flaws is that I can get bored. Or, I can feel like life is almost too good so that I self-sabotage. So, identifying my triggers and using tools that I have learned in recovery is detrimental. Maintaining a solution that works for me, finding connectivity in friendship and in my surroundings, and being the luckiest dog mom in the world helps keep me sober.
I now give myself permission to be happy. I give myself permission to go out and enjoy the day. I give myself permission to go swimming, to take my dog for walks, and I give myself permission to be myself in front of other people and to feel comfortable doing that. I now understand I’m the only one that can ultimately give myself permission. And, I’m the only one who, by isolating myself from the important things in life, can take that permission away.
Over time, life gets better. It’s difficult sometimes to see where I was and where I am now. I know life isn’t perfect. It won’t always be easy. It’s just so much better.