10 Things I Learned in Recovery From Addiction and BPD
This time last year, I was probably sitting in a dark basement with my ex-boyfriend, whom I loved very much. I loved him so much that I let him teach me how to do drugs, because in my mind, “If you can’t save them, join them.” Yep, you’ve probably guessed right; I am a co-dependent, an addict and also diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Little did I know, this guy was my addiction, just the same as the drug. I thought I needed both to survive. After much convincing from my peers, work and professionals, I decided to leave my hometown and go to treatment.
Here is what I Iearned:
1) I cannot fill my “emptiness” with people, places and things.
As much as I tried, I couldn’t fill the void I had with drugs or people or whatever other obsession I might have had. It was impossible. Maybe it helped for a while, but in the end, that empty feeling always came back.
2) Emotions won’t kill me.
Yes, I really believed that emotions would kill me. I feel so intensely and I feared that one day I would just cry until I would just stop breathing. A lifetime of building defense mechanisms to protect myself from feeling was actually what was killing me. Not emotions.
3) Being vulnerable is not weak.
As a small child, I was often told to “toughen up” or “stop being a baby.” I would get laughed at when I cried, humiliated when I was scared of something. I was basically taught to not show any emotion that might make me weak. Now, I learned that vulnerability is what makes us strong. It builds character, promotes self-compassion, strengthens our personal values and helps us to grow stronger and accept ourselves as we are.
4) I need to check my facts: Perceptions often mislead me.
I often made decisions based on distorted perceptions or beliefs I had. I would quit jobs because I thought they would fire me anyway, or let go of friends because “I knew” they must be talking about me. These distorted thoughts and paranoid thinking has caused me more relationship problems and pain than anything else in my life, and always lead me to self-destructive behavior (using). Now I learned to “fact check.” Go to the source, ask, confirm and then deal with the situations as they come.
5) It takes a community to heal an addict.
Ever hear the saying, “It takes a community to raise a child”? Well, the same goes for addicts or anyone with mental health issues. Many of us (although maybe not all, I don’t want to make assumptions) are natural loners. We isolate, so much so we can feel alone in a crowded room. I learned I cannot recover alone. I need connection, love, support, family and sometimes professionals who can reflect my thoughts and behaviors back to me when I am being led down the wrong path. I need to be reminded of how far I’ve come and that I am worthy of life. Isolation is poison to this addict.
6) You can’t save me.
Community is extremely important, but the community can’t do the work for me. I need to be willing to change for change to happen. I need to do the work, ask for help, take my place in this world and keep fighting, even when it feels as though I am getting nowhere. My life is my responsibility. I always dreamed of someone saving me, fixing the broken pieces. It was a romantic fantasy I had. This almost killed me. Today, I know that although I have an army of people behind me, only I can decide to make positive choices daily.
7) Living in gratitude.
I have thrown myself an endless amount of pity parties in my day. “If only I had this, if only I had that, what if I looked like this or that.” I pointed fingers, blamed my failures on almost anyone who walked in my path. I thought no one understood me, life wasn’t fair and I had it worse than anyone else. I slowly came to realize that was not the case. Many people would love to trade their problems for mine, because I don’t have it all that bad. That feeling of emptiness I kept trying to fill only has one cure — gratitude. I learned that when I live in gratitude, I feel a sense of completeness that no person, place or drug could ever fill.
8) I have permission to be happy.
I always thought I didn’t deserve to be happy. Again, this stems from my distorted thoughts. I told myself over and over again that I was defective, broken or tainted, due to being sexually abused as a child and raped later on in life. Every single mistake I made in life after that, real or imagined, was only evidence I was bad and did not deserve happiness. Oh, how far from the truth this was. I realized depriving myself of joy, love and happiness was punishing a little girl who lived the same experiences as I had. She did not decide to be abused, neglected or harmed in any way. She built her defense mechanisms to protect herself. She knew no other way. So, if I wouldn’t punish her, why do I keep punishing myself? I am not broken or bad. I can permit myself to be happy and not be ashamed of it.
9) I have qualities and strong values.
Again, as someone who thought of herself as defective, this is a big deal! So, I will say it again. I have qualities and strong values! Here are just a few: Creative, funny, caring, compassionate, artistic, hardworking, persistent, brave, vulnerable, strong, passionate, sensitive, spiritual, leader. No one can take these away from me; I must nurture them every day and put them into practice. The moment I begin to act in a way that goes against my values or personal qualities, I need to re-evaluate myself.
10) Recovery is possible.
One year later, I am clean and sober. I finished treatment. I am free to make choices for my life that are not guided by the depths of addiction and untreated mental illness. I have all I need. I am so very grateful, loved, happy and now a productive member of society.
(Side note: I have been hired as a clinical counselor at the rehab center I attended. It is now a blessing and a passion in my life to give hope, and teach life skills to those struggling. If you are struggling too, please get help. Your life is waiting for you!)
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
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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