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10 Ways to Support a Friend Whose Loved One Struggles With Addiction

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The best way to describe how it feels to have a loved one battling addiction is isolating. It’s lonely. It can be hard to relate to other people.

It’s hard to make commitments, like volunteering for church activities or children’s school trips because you might be overwhelmed and never know what will happen from day to day. Going to work can be good if you get yourself motivated to go, but some days, it’s too much to handle. Inviting friends over for coffee is generally out of the question because you never know what environment your home will be in that day. To be honest, it’s easier to withdraw than reach out.

If you’re the wife of someone with an addiction, then being around other couples is almost unbearable, especially at church. It’s hard to make conversation with other wives or mothers.

My friend doesn’t talk about her loved one’s addiction. What’s she feeling?

It’s tough to fully explain how it feels to be caught up in a loved one’s web of addiction, but I’m going to try and verbalize it so you can understand what your friend or family member is really dealing with.

Whether in a crisis or recovery phase, the emotions are still very much the same. When a loved one goes into recovery, the insecurities are still there. The boundaries still need to be in place. Recovery from addiction is one of the “long narrow roads,” Jesus talked about leading to life.

Sadly, there’s also a growing mortality rate among substance abuse users. So if that’s the addiction your friend is dealing with, then she’s carrying that fear around too. Deaths due to drug overdoses have climbed significantly in recent years, jumping 102 percent between 1999 and 2010 alone to make it the leading cause of injury death in America, ahead of traffic accidents and gun-related incidents.

Although there are many of different types of addictions, generally speaking, most compulsive behaviors leave family members feeling the same way. I hope this helps give some insight into what your friend or family member might be feeling. I know it may sound mostly negative but don’t despair! Recovery does happen. Treatment can work. I believe God does heal.

Here are 10 ways to help your friend or family member feel supported.

1. Ask her if she wants to talk about it.

We need to talk. We want to talk. This isn’t a topic that’s difficult for us to discuss. If we seem hesitant to talk, then it’s because we aren’t sure what you can handle hearing. The darkness can be deep. We don’t want to be judged, just heard. If we cry, then it’s not because what you said was hurtful, but because we’ve been holding it in. If we didn’t want to talk that day, then ask again later. If we’re complaining too often, then take us out to vent, have dinner, get it off our chest and then tell us gently, we need to stop talking about it now. You’re protecting us from ourselves because constantly complaining only makes us feel worse.

2. Don’t make us feel guilty.

Mothers feel guilty for not seeing the warning signs and being unable to protect their children from harm. Wives feel guilty for taking on the “head of household” role and not being loving enough. Siblings feel ignored.

We need to know you support us. You may not agree with everything we say but as our friends, trust us and have our backs.

3. If she has kids, then babysit for a day.

Take our children to the movies or to the park. Pick them up from school for us. Take them anywhere. We might be able to pay for it. It takes so much effort to be a loving, caring mother and we’re exhausted. A small break goes a long way in helping us stay peaceful amidst our storm.

4. Give her a small token to show you’re thinking of her.

Flowers, a card, a pretty scarf, cupcakes — it’s the thought that counts. We spend most of, if not all our time, pouring into others and ignoring ourselves. Showing us you’re thinking about us with a small gift does two things: It reminds us we’re valued and treats us to something we wouldn’t do for ourselves. A little goes a long way!

5. Be on the lookout for an opportunity to help her environment.

Have we been griping about not having time to paint that one bathroom? Has our flowerbed been poorly neglected? Is our couch old and peeling into shreds? Do our windows need cleaning? Anything you can do to help our physical environment will help us feel better on the inside. Your investment into our lives will have a long-lasting effect on our overall health and daily life.

6. Bring her a casserole.

I say it all the time, but nobody brings you a casserole when your husband goes to rehab. (There may or may not be a book in the making! Winky face.) I’m not sure why this is such a big thing to me, but it is. It could be because I personally don’t want to cook when I’m upset but eating a healthy, wholesome meal does wonders for the soul. If your friend or family member has children, then you won’t only be blessing her, but you’ll be blessing the entire family.

7. Sincerely ask how she is doing.

People often ask, “How’s it going?” or “How are things?” and we obligingly say, “Fine. Good. I’m fine. The kids are good.” What we really want to say is, “Things are not good. I am not OK. The kids are having a tough time,” but often people don’t really want the truth. They ask because it’s polite. Ask us with sincerity how we really are and we’ll be ever thankful you cared enough to ask.

8. If you know something she doesn’t, then tell her.

Please, don’t hide truths from us. It doesn’t help to keep us in the dark. We need to know what’s really happening so we can react accordingly. This is especially true for wives. Dear friends of our husbands, if you know something, then tell us. We are hurting more than you know. A hard truth doesn’t bring more pain, but it gives freedom. Living in uncertainty makes us bounce back and forth between compassion and asserting boundaries. Without the truth, it’s hard to know the right thing to do. We love them. We will do what is best for them, not what feels good. Trust us that we know what that is. (We probably do. We’ve been riding the roller coaster!)

9. If you see red flags she doesn’t see, then tell her.

Being on the outside looking in, you might be able to see behavior we’ve become accustomed to. Our love for them can be blinding. We hope for the best and want to get to a place of trust so we unintentionally overlook or make excuses. Be fairly warned. We may not receive advice well, but it’ll be stored into our subconscious. We’ll look more closely at our loved ones or our own behavior.

10. Pray for her.

People often brush off comments like “Hey, I’ll pray for you,” as being a “wishy-washy” thing to say, but heartfelt prayer is powerful. I’ve seen it happen!

Here are a few things to avoid saying to your friend:

In your innocence, you may say some things that hurt more than help. I mean this in the kindest way because I understand no one understands addiction until they experience it. So here’s some gentle suggestions of things that are better not to say.

Don’t compare your problems to ours. “My daughter did this once at a party,” or “My husband has problems, too. No one is perfect,” doesn’t help. It only confirms to us that you don’t get it.

Tread lightly when advising a wife to leave her husband for the sake of her kids or telling a mother to no longer allow her child to come home. Those are not small decisions or boundaries. They’re huge. They’ll ignite a river of events our loved ones may or may not be able to survive. It’s OK to say what you see, just be gentle. If you sense resistance, then I wouldn’t push it.

Is addiction hopeless?

No! Nothing is hopeless. I know there’s healing for addiction.

Remember, a friend that will be there for us, cry with us, help us with our daily tasks and get us through the hard days means everything. We’re fighting a battle we never planned on fighting and having you stand behind us gives us strength to keep going. Your support gives us life by reminding us we have a life to live too.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

This post originally appeared on Leah Grey.

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What I've Learned in My 7 Years of Sobriety

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Are you the same person now you were seven years ago? Physically speaking, this is impossible because many cells in your body are changing all of the time. Things even change on a day-to-day basis as our lives are all so fast-paced now. It sometimes feels like I either get with it or fall behind — this is the nature of the world we live in. Seven years ago, I was in a very dark place and today, my life is a thousand percent different. I have learned many things throughout the years as well.

My sobriety date is April 21, 2010 and before this date, my life was a mess. I was addicted to Adderall, alcohol and prescription painkillers. Seven years ago, I was in a drug rehab where I was still getting high. I was miserable and completely broken down both mentally and physically. I thought the world was collapsing in on me and I had no hope for the future. I hit a point when I realized I was absolutely miserable while I was high and when I was sober, I was even more miserable. I knew I had to do something and recovery was my only option.

My first year of sobriety was one of the hardest years of my life. For as long as I could remember, I relied on drugs or alcohol for everything. If I was in pain, I took prescription painkillers. If I couldn’t focus, I took an Adderall. If I needed to relax, I smoked a joint and if I wanted to have a really good time, I got hammered drunk with my friends. I had the perfectly medley for every situation. But in sobriety, I quickly learned no mood-altering substances were allowed in my body.

After the painful withdrawal, it was time to finally do something about my addiction. I started going to AA meetings and abruptly immersed myself in the program. I got a sponsor, started going to a meeting or two meetings every day, started hanging out with sober people and most importantly, got honest for the first time in my life.

The first year of sobriety was a lot of work. I made it my goal to go through all of the 12 steps as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Up until this point in my life, I had never done any character-building work like this before. Now all of a sudden, I had to “make amends to people I had harmed” and “admit when I was wrong,” two things I barely even knew how to do.

As I continued to work through the steps, my attitude and outlook on life changed. The more time I spent without alcohol or drugs, the more happy and content I became. And somewhere in between six and nine months of sobriety, I realized I no longer obsessed about getting high.

It is amazing to be able to make the claim I am recovered from addiction. I say this with the utmost humility. I know I will never be cured from this disease, but I can soundly say I am recovered. Most people don’t know the difference between recovered and cured. Recovered means the disease is in remission, and will remain in remission as long as I continue to go to AA meetings and continuously work on myself. Cured means you are completely relieved from the disease.

Every day that goes by when I do not get high is a miracle. So, imagine how I feel about having seven years of clean time. When I stopped using drugs, I simply just wanted the pain to go away. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe I would receive such a beautiful life.

Within a couple of years of sobriety, I got everything back I lost. Regaining control of my life wasn’t about getting materialistic things back such as money, cars, phones or clothes. For me, it’s about repairing relationships with not only other people, but myself. Today the most important part of my life is the fact I have great relationships with the people close to me.

Seven years ago, I was in a hopeless state of mind, I was spiritually bankrupt and could barely even muster any sobering thought. Today, I wake up with purpose and meaning. I know people are counting on me to be sober and I take this to heart. My word means something today and I will do anything to keep it. Sobriety is a gift, a gift not everyone receives. I am incredibly lucky.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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When Detox Is About Letting Go

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Eddie takes a drag, exhaling smoke from his nostrils the way a walrus might. Eddie kind of resembles a walrus. Or a bear. I’m leaning against a car beside a handlebar-moustached cane-dependent walrus who chain-smokes Marlboro Reds whilst belaying indomitable wisdom through a wheeze and cough that is loud enough to hear over his oldies coming from the car stereo. What questions do you ask a walrus?

“Have you heard the one about the wolves?”

“Wolves? What do you mean?

“OK. Hang on a second.”

He rotates his torso 45 degrees to lower the volume on his CD changer.

“A boy in a village wakes one morning and feels very strange, both happy and sad at the same time, mixed emotions of war and peace. He walks over to the other side of the village to see the medicine man. ‘Boy, why have you come to see me?’ The Shaman takes a long inhale from his pipe, waiting. ‘Shaman, I feel like I have two wolves inside of me. They are fighting. What does this mean?’ The Shaman exhales, resigning himself to his place of sage integrity within the village. ‘Boy, you have two wolves inside of you, there is no doubting that. One is the wolf of light, the other is the wolf of dark. They are fighting because they are hungry. You have to make a decision on which wolf you feed. If you starve the wolf of dark he’ll continue to gnaw at your insides as his hunger grows, but you’ll allow the wolf of light to grow into a powerful part of your spirit. Feed the wolf.”

7/2/16

My expectations, deterred away from the reality of living in the present — it was all fucked. Fucked. I would wake up in the morning, feeling all kinds of anxious, for seemingly no reason, and immediately seek self-medication as a means of escapism, to dull the anxiety, dull the pain of feeling absolute wretched emotions with the capacity to drag one down into deep, deep oblivion. No. That is not a good place to be. And I know that. With every fiber of my being. And yet, in the throes of abhorrence and avarice the tunnel vision is so deep, so fathomlessly black, that escape is out of the question. “Give up hope, all ye’ who dare to enter.”

~

It has only been three days in the program and I’ve made so many new friends; the family I’m forming here in detox and stabilization has been more than friendly, inviting of all credos, dual diagnoses and mentalities, fully cognizant of the individual crosses we have/had to bear coming into a program such as Michael’s House in the beautiful 100 degree desert heat of Palm Springs, California. Not more than 48 hours ago I was writing in agony (pun intended) and now I’m stepping off a plane in an unfamiliar place, jumping in the Intake Control and welcome wagon off into a different kind of episode, the next great… something. Everything moved fast. Or at least I was moving fast, fast, fast, unable to slow down the processes of an unquiet mind. The desert heat is the most intense I’ve felt since doing service work in Haiti’s arid clime in 2010, very similar to the nightly cool downs of Thailand that I worked in 2015. With that, I arrived at phase one of detox, peed in cups, blew breathalyzers, went through psych evals after psych evals, had dozens of blood vials drawn — once a week for four weeks, for lithium levels, is what they told me, albeit completely unnecessary and recommended testing is every three to six months — answering questions probing about my sordid past of substance abuse, manic episodes, suicide attempts, domestic violence, legal proceedings and brush-ins with the law, and of course, relationships, both successful and failed. Telling the story, my story, has been easier than expected, although anytime I lay down with my thoughts demons surge to the surface. Am I really that bad? Has it really come to this?

Even after yesterday, the day of my re-birth, I had started off the morning relatively positive, considering taking blood before sunrise, being the most popular newcomer to the detox center, meeting psychiatrists, therapists, med-doctors and nurses-in-training. The crew, my new family, even made me a card that had all the signatures, both staff and surrounding sober sallies sitting in a circle around me, filled with chicken-scratch messages of positivity, well-wishing, love, luck and sobriety for the future. That was the highlight. But the day got longer, as mid-summer days often do, and sometime after an actually halfway decent meal — my first full attempt at eating in two weeks — I crashed. All the attention had given me a retching feeling, which turned to lower realms of isolationism. Tortured. Alone. Loveless.

Am I not supposed to trust love? Or understand caring, compassion? Was it not just impassioned drinking and drugging driven by emotional irregulation, or was it self-medication, the vicious kind, that I’m unable to love myself, as much or more than others in relations, platonic, romantic, strange. A [polar] shift might look like crying or not crying when alone or in the company of said others, wearing the same shorts or same genial non-clothes day-to-day, week-to-week, occasional showering, forgetting to shave in conscious decisiveness, sleeping during the day, or as soon as I wake from dreary slumber late afternoon. What I wanted is for a star in the seventh quadrant of the outer nowhere to explode, wishing hopelessly for a release of some cosmic, dark energy that could bring my angels back to me, back into my arms. It may have not been anything I was doing, except for the actions I was not doing. These things, the letting go of angels, is an extremely frustrating, heart-breaking, maddening and what I would learn later, or might still have yet to learn, is just part of life’s great misdirect. As much as it sucks, falling up or flying down, I won’t kill myself over anyone else. Escape the pain, sure. Just for today. Let’s stop shooting ourselves in the foot; especially the right one “because we came in on the wrong one.”

7/3/16

Last night a (former) heroin addict told me I was the Buddha of Detox; a user of GHB and crystal methamphetamine told me I would change the world; a gap-toothed black woman fed me warm, forceful hugs telling me that I’m a “blessing in disguise.” From learning about alcoholics’ “pocket juice” to reaching a state of embrace, mild forms of acceptance, what some might even call “love” of a different brand, three days in a confined space with other “broken” individuals had given me some strength to stand up again. Music mindfulness, a practice I have been working on for the better part of 22 years relinquished fortitude, resilience in containing and controlling my racing, speed racer thoughts. Yes, I have been taking my meds, and no, I haven’t transcended yet to graduating out of rehab into the real world. Haven’t seen the outside world yet, actually, save for lab visits. But I do have a small fire lit in the belly of this beast, and this will burn those who cast their doubts down to the ground. I’m sure of that, at least. My fire had burnt down to embers, then coals, but at least it’s still burning.

At some determinate point in the future I’ll come to the conclusion that every day I can either grow stronger or weaker; every day the pain diminishes by a sliver, sliding off my subconscious to join the rest of the forgotten ice sheets on the thinning layers of my weeping heart. I was… I am, vulnerable. Perhaps I was careless. Thinking I could open Pandora’s black box of my “angels” and my demons to some beautiful beast of the emotional-affective romantic persuasion. But maybe that’s how it always has been, this way and manner of thinking the entire time. If she, whomever she may be at that moment, does not possess the wherewithal to wade with me into these turgid waters, that only goes to show that she would not have the strength nor tenacity to join me on a lifetime adventure together. Recovering the satellites is a lifelong venture. Mine alone.

The 7 a.m. nature walks help calm me, my moods and my madness ceasing fire just for the briefest of moments before the rosy red sun has yet to bud over the desert’s horizon line. Not too far away from our facility is a park: 30 minutes on the outside, after not leaving for the heavily-enforced 72 hour-requisite confinement, was truly a blessing. The word itself, as my definitions change, is operative and is not to be taken lightly, overthought or ignored. Blessed. Gratitude for the simple things. When was the last time you took yourself out for a walk? All the “angels” that had left me, or were leaving, don’t walk with me. At least for half an hour, each and every step is my own. My thoughts after walking out the front doors were something akin to “so this is what the outside world looks like… yeah, I remember.” The degree of separation invented by this detoxifying commune is a beautiful thing. Petting and feeding a toy pug became a moment of wonder; sitting and swinging on a swing set was a childhood revelation; stopping to smell the chocolate flowers (literally, the genus and species translates to “chocolate flower,” indigenous to the desert flora) was in of itself an act of astonishment. I took my time with every step. Every breath became slower, less hurried, more easy on the lungs without the consistent introduction of nicotine and secondhand menthol I had grown so accustomed to from the smoke pit. It was anything but enough.

Twenty minutes lingering in the back of our merry band of misfits. The sensations are visceral now, forgetting the Lamictal, forgetting whatever else was supplementing my pharmaceutical diet. For those 30 minutes I was only on the walk — not in my head. Not worrying about what I left behind, or what would lay before me on the roads to come. The detox, I am so quickly discovering, is not only defeating the poisons of the mind, or finding a way out — it is an ability, learned, practiced, to let it go. To let it all just go. I felt it. I feel it. I took it back in the van, to the facility and drank it in my tea by the pool writing these words, sweating bullets through the composition of this narrative, dripping toxins onto the pages, smearing ink on my calloused fingertips. Mindfulness. Being present. These things I could do. I was here because I had not yet gained the skill of letting it go — the relationships, the fractured episodes, the Passenger — letting it all go. Without all of that, them, in my head things are clearer, readable, permissible, possessing a greater ability to influence stability on what is a chemically-unstable conscience. I am realizing this now, that I control what things are in my control. Redundant, yes. Stay with me here. Everything else outside of my control is of impractical irrelevance. I cannot do anything about the things outside of my control, that almost always are left unresolved in a conflagration of anxieties, spirals of torturous depressions. That, as I am soon discovering, does not help things one bit. It does not encourage healthy behavior, or do anything for me and my emotions, my psyche. If I am truly to take this rocket up and out of this atmosphere, I have to leave all the dead weight on the ground. It was short of impossible before. Now? I am selfish, rightfully placing a priority on self-importance, and damned proud to be back in the fight. Never give up.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”– Anonymous

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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The Voice Within the Mind of Someone With an Addiction

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Addiction, didn’t know it was a problem until I couldn’t stop.

Addiction, relief entwined with pain that leaves my body in shock.

Addiction, the reality I know must be faced, but feel too scared so ignore.

Addiction, something I want to escape but the experience of which I enjoy.

Addiction, bathes me in shame and guilt yet boldly I participate.

Addiction, stealing my future with each aspect of stability it deteriorates.

Addiction, sending my mind into a cocktail of grief, anxiety and relief.

Addiction, hating its nature but wanting to feel it simultaneously.

Addiction, a reminder of why as a person I never feel strong.

Addiction, opening the doors to the depression, a reminder how I only do wrong.

Addiction, as it laughs at me while I accept failure and disgrace.

Addiction, has me locked away while it dangles the key in my face.

Addiction, feeling so lonely, not knowing who to tell or who will understand.

Addiction, wanting to take control, for my mind to obey the right command.

Addiction, feeling filthy inside, wanting to wash away the vulnerability.

Addiction, feeling ashamed, like shame holds a permanent place within me.

Addiction, knowing what’s wrong conflicted by temptation masquerading as right.

Addiction, trying to find the strength to get up, get clean and fight.

Addiction, fighting a battle to give myself the chance I know I deserve.

Addiction, knowing no matter how I feel I will always have self-worth.

***
No matter what anyone is going through I pray you never give up, because giving up in times of grief and pain is giving up on joy and happiness.

“I can do all things through him that gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:13

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Let's Talk About Self-Medicating

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Let’s talk about a topic that is very taboo and the cause of a lot of guilt and shame in the mental health community: self-medicating. Substance abuse is unfortunately very common, especially among those with an untreated mental illness. This doesn’t make it OK, but we need to acknowledge it happens if we’re actually going to deal with it.

The fact is, many people with a mental illness choose to self-medicate. Sometimes you get to the point where you can’t take the mental, emotional and even physical pain anymore and you reach out for anything that can help. Some choices are more destructive than others. Since mental illness can cause irrational feelings, these decisions can be irrational and can cause significant harm in the long run. This can also lead to or influence destructive and fatal behaviors including self-harm and suicide.

Unfortunately, many healthcare providers make the situation worse by shaming their patients when they open up about this topic. Not only does this not help, it causes further shame and can continue the ruthless cycle of self-medicating, guilt, shame and more self-medicating. Poor reactions can also teach people to hide it, which is something those of us with a mental illness may already struggle with. We need to be more open, not more closed off. We need providers who can have the delicate balance of empathy, understanding and willingness to help someone struggling with self-medication.

On this topic, I can speak from experience. I’ve had providers who weren’t helpful at all. Shame and guilt are horrible motivators. Since I have depression and experience suicidal thoughts, the last thing I need is someone to help me feel even more guilty and shameful. I need help getting out of the destructive spiral, not someone to push me further down into it.

The political focus regarding substance abuse is often on the substance itself, but in reality, it is only a symptom of a much deeper issue. If we want to address substance abuse in the mental health community, we need to first deal with the mental health problems that lead to it. Without proper access to mental health services and providers, we are setting people up for failure. I’m very fortunate to have a support system, but many people don’t have that luxury. Just think of how many lives and families could be spared with access to quality help.

If this is a topic all too real for you, I hope you know you’re not alone. Help is available and you don’t have to hide it. There is a better way. Find a doctor and therapist you can trust and tackle the problem head on. We’re all in this together.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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How I Fought the Fear of Sobriety and Won

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The fear. Can you imagine living a life fearing everything and everyone? You fear socializing with people, you’re afraid people won’t accept you, you fear that you will never amount to anything, you fear success, but you also fear failure…

It can be a hard scenario to put yourself into, and it can even be difficult to wrap your brain around, but this is how someone with an active addiction feels. Many people who live with addictions get high because they love the feeling. However, many get high to mask all of the fears listed above. From personal experience, I can say I know what it is like to be handcuffed to my disease and afraid to do anything about it.

Growing up, my number one fear was not being accepted. It was a completely irrational fear, because I always had tons of friends and a loving family who cared for me dearly. However, I never felt good enough for anyone, so I often put on an act. My act of choice? The class clown.

Clowning around was easy. I could always make people laugh, and doing it at other people’s expense made me feel good about myself. I was never serious, and this was the ultimate form of defense. Nobody could ever read me, because the second I was vulnerable, I would crack a joke, put on a fake smile and put on an act. No one could see that on the inside, I was broken, sad and lonely.

Growing up, I felt as if nobody understood me, that everyone around me received a golden textbook to life that explained how to be happy, how to live a normal life, how to maintain friendships and of course how to be a good person. Everyone is born with the ability to decipher between right and wrong, but in my case, I was a maestro in always picking wrong. It felt better than good. In my view, nobody liked the good kid and the bad kid got all of the attention. Again, this was me acting out of fear.

As I matured, I never fully grew out of this class clown/funny guy phase. Instead, I started getting high and I thought that it was the answer to all of my problems. I remember the first time I ever smoked weed. I was at camp with my two best friends at the time. We sat in the middle of woods smoking out of a disgusting bong that one of the kids had made out of a water bottle. Even though I was probably only 13 years old, I felt like I was fully ready for this experience. It seemed like getting high was the single most amazing thing that had ever happened to me. For the first time in my life, I felt my peers truly accepted me, my mind was clear from all fears and I finally felt at ease. I remember promising myself that this was my new way of life.

Unfortunately, my addictions quickly progressed. They went from smoking weed on the weekends to smoking weed every day, to binge drinking and to snorting whatever pill I could get my hands on. When I was intoxicated, my fears disappeared. But in the brief moments I was sober, my fears amplified by 1,000. As times got worse, so did my relationships (or lack thereof). I no longer cared for anyone or anything but myself and my needs. I thought these needs were simple, since the only thing I needed was any substance to make me escape from my own mind.

I finally reached a point in my life where the thing I feared the most was the one thing that was going to save my life: sobriety. Yes, this sounds like an irrational fear, but I think anyone with a drug addiction faced with this ultimatum can understand this fear. If I continued to use, I would most certainly end up in an institution, rehab, jail or worst of all dead. My fast-paced, high-risk, high-reward lifestyle was something I did not want to walk away from but I knew I had to if I wanted to live.

Why does someone fear sobriety? There are so many benefits from staying sober, but so many people who face addiction are unable to do it. Millions of excuses will fly out of an active user’s mouth about why he or she won’t get sober. These excuses include that I can’t afford the cost of rehab, I can’t live without my drugs, I can’t stay sober if all my friends are still using, I get sick when I don’t use, I have tried sobriety and “failed,” or what if I actually stayed sober? The fear of a life without drugs was horrifying to me, simply because it was untraveled territory.

I’ve had all of these fears. There’s also another fear that I didn’t list — I was afraid I’d never have fun again. Drugs and alcohol were my fun, my pastime and all I really did. So, the prospect of learning how to have fun without drugs seemed impossible. I knew that I was kidding myself, though. Getting high wasn’t ultimately fun, but was something I had to do in order to not feel sick. Once I built up a sober support group, it was really easy to have fun. I quickly realized that all of my fears were just that: fears, and not realities.

Getting sober at the age of 19 was difficult. Everything I knew revolved around getting high and I had the maturity of a 13-year-old. I had to face the cost of rehab and its treatment requirements. I had to learn how to grow up and become a productive member of society. At first, I thought my life was over. I wondered how in the world was I ever going to attend a social event that served liquor. I thought I had to avoid everything drinking or drug related, or else I would be toast.

This was not the case. As soon as I got some sobriety time under my belt and actively worked a 12-step program, I’ve found that I have freedom. This freedom allows me to do whatever I want. I’ve attended weddings, I’ve gone to bars, I’ve seen my favorite bands in concerts and I’ve even hung out with my old friends from my drug-using days. I just know that I can’t get high myself. What I thought was the cost of rehab was really the price I paid to earn my freedom.

Today, I only have one fear and it’s a very healthy one. I don’t fear what people think of me, or if I’m going to fail or succeed, or if the dope man has my favorite drug. The only thing I fear is relapsing. Early in my sobriety, I had this fear that I still hold on to today, nearly seven years later. I know I have an addictive brain and that using any sort of substance means I am most certainly signing my own death warrant. This healthy fear reminds me of who I am. As long as I hold on to it dearly, my life in sobriety will only continue to get better.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Thinkstock photo via Mark_Hubskyi

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