Seven years ago I got tired of living my life the way I was. I couldn’t stop drinking, smoking, eating or doing drugs. I was sick constantly. I was living in harmful situations with toxic people, and each and every day was exactly the same. My only respite was to go out and get loaded again.
It started when I was twelve years old, with my first drink. My drinking escalated throughout high school. I was the one who would drink more than anyone else, faster than anyone else. I kept booze in my locker at school. Once I reached the end of high school I was doing drugs as well. A friend of mine died my senior year and I really spiraled downward. I bottomed out by the Halloween following my high school graduation. Thus began my first battle with mental health issues. I managed to stay dry for a few months – white knuckling it the entire time – and then eventually would turn back to drinking and drugs again.
I spent my twenties mostly loaded. Every couple years or so I would get it in my head that I didn’t want to drink anymore, that I didn’t want to live the way I was living, and so I would attempt to quit. But it never stuck. I’d make it a couple of days, weeks, or months (if I was lucky) but I would always go back to partying as a way to deal with my life. In the last couple of years of my drinking and drugging, I didn’t even go out anymore. I drank and used at home, by myself. I couldn’t handle being around people anymore. Everything about life was painful for me, whether I was loaded, hung over, or dry.
Fast forward to today. I’ve been sober for six years, smoke-free for nearly five. I’m no longer sick all the time. I have healthier people in my life, people who value me for who I am. Some of the debts and things that followed me around for so many years like monkeys on my back have been taken care of, out of my own pocket. I continue to face fears and challenges. I am able to deal with my mental health issues with a clear head.
The first time I attempted sobriety I detoxed in a local hospital and then stayed in a safehouse as I awaited a treatment centre in a small city. At the time I attended it was in transition, which basically meant that the counselors there weren’t allowed to actively counsel us. They essentially chaperoned us to various activities. It was a lot like summer camp for adults. During the daytime we learned about things like the physiology of addiction and relapse prevention, and, as we weren’t twelve-step based, we attended SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) Recovery meetings (and the occasional twelve-step meeting, if we chose to do so and had the extra time), which are meetings geared towards helping people to make empowered choices in their own recovery. My experience at the treatment centre wasn’t what I had hoped, however. People were actively using and drinking in this place and were allowed to stay. Looking back now, it was no surprise to me that I lasted only two months outside of my two-month stay before I was drinking again. I was full of fear and I had absolutely no skills to deal with my addictions.
The following summer, I once again checked myself into a local hospital to detox, went to the same safehouse afterwards, and went to a women’s recovery house in a much larger city. This time I chose a twelve step facility, and I am glad I did because I have been sober ever since. I threw myself into ‘the program’ (as it is referred to in twelve-step meetings) and did everything that was asked of me, everything suggested by people who had gone before me. It served me well for three years.
It was just after my three year sobriety birthday – a week after, to be exact – that my mental health issues resurfaced for me, and for a time the twelve step program lost its meaning for me. I had to find something else that worked, that would support my recovery but also allow for other types of experiences. I continued to go to a special purpose meeting – a twelve-step meeting that also serviced members with mental and emotional disorders – and at the same time discovered the sixteen step program. While the twelve steps forcuses on groups and maintaining a strict policy of not having any opinions on ‘outside issues’ (ie anything pertaining to something other than alcohol, drugs, or whatever is the focus of the particular fellowship in question), the sixteen steps maintains that everything is interrelated, and we are addicted because we live in an addicted society. It caters more to the people who usually fall between the cracks of society because it directly names the problems facing said society. For anyone wanting more information, I strongly suggest reading Charlotte Kasl’s ‘Many Roads One Journey: Moving Beyond the Twelve Steps’.
I found a women’s sixteen-step meeting at a local recovery house and attended until the program ran out of funding, and am still in touch with some of the women from that group a couple of years later. Unfortunately these meetings are difficult to find and probably don’t exist much outside of cities. The good news is, pretty much anyone can start a group and Kasl has created a manual for this titled ‘Yes You Can: A Guide to Empowerment Groups’.
After that group ended I kind of floated around for awhile without any support other than the friends I had that were still in recovery, and the connection I’ve maintained to the women’s recovery house. In the last six months I returned to twelve-step programs because they offer a structure, which is something I need. Also, I have recently begun to attend CoDA meetings, which is a twelve-step recovery program for people struggling with issues of codependency. Basically, for those of us who are a little iffy on what that means, it teaches people, through the process of working the twelve steps, how to have healthier relationships with ourselves and with others, which is not an easy feat, especially if you are someone who has suffered trauma, abuse, neglect, or mistreatment at the hands of others.
Why am I telling you this? Why is all of this important? I know that a big part of my story is growing up with people who drank and used heavily. Part of my story is growing up to become addicted myself. There can be a fine line between mental health issues and addictions, and indeed, addiction is considered a mental health concern. Unlike everything else in the mental health field, though, recovery meetings are free. The fellowship we receive in these meetings, the kind words, the opportunity to work towards the solution with others who are doing the same, and to be able to do this of our own free will…these are things that cannot be overlooked. To find out if a specific fellowship (ie Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, CoDA, Sixteen Steps for Discovery and Empowerment, SMART Recovery, and there are many others) exist in your community, I recomment contacting your local addictions department, or, if you live in a big enough place, Googling the information. If you live in smaller towns where perhaps physical meetings don’t exist, a couple of possibilities exist. The first is to start your own group. However, it can be difficult to find people and also a space to have the meetings, money for supplies, etc, if you don’t have a very big group. Another alternative is to go online to one of the twelve-step websites. They have downloadable ‘speaker tapes’ (recordings of people sharing their stories) and also online meetings.
The most important thing with anything, I believe, is to take care of yourself first. If you feel that addiction is affecting you in any way – even if you aren’t the person using or drinking – know that there is help. If you find that your relationships – whether they be with family, significant others, employees, employers, friends, or yourself – are unmanageable, know that there is hope. Recovery is possible. And regardless of your personal preference, there are a variety of resources available to assist with the healing process.