I’ve spent a lot of this week thinking about addiction. I probably should have found a way to get to an AA meeting, but I didn’t. I’ve had a variety of addictions over the course of my life, including but not limited to: cutting, starvation (yeah – I don’t know how else to phrase that…the feeling of being hungry…I love it), alcohol, pills (primarily oxycontin, but also oxycodone, hydrocodone, percocet, xanax, and adderall – all drugs of choice for me), and cocaine. It’s been over 10 years since I’ve done drugs. That’s right – more than a decade of a drug-free me 🙂 My initial response is to tell you that it was easy to quit doing drugs, but it has been a lot more difficult for me to quit cutting, starving myself, and drinking. This actually isn’t the case though.
My drug use occurred over four years. That’s it. In just four short years, I went from having never done drugs to going through massive withdrawal. I was 14 years old the first time I took prescription pain killers to get high. By this point, I had already spent the previous 2 years sneaking alcohol whenever I could. I was no stranger to feeling blissfully numb. I used drugs and alcohol to forget all of the fear and anxiety that I had kept inside for so much of my life. I still don’t understand why people don’t finish their drinks. I don’t understand why people stop after just one drink. I don’t understand why anyone would ever want to stop feeling the way that drugs and alcohol make me feel. And THIS is why I’m an alcoholic.
Today, I was listening to a band called Anberlin. If you’ve never listened to them, you should check them out. Their song Soft Skeletons came on and I was instantly transported back in time. I could see the 15 year old me laying on my floor fighting through one of many cravings (a craving is what we AA members call the body’s physical response to needing alcohol). I remember that day so well. My alcohol supplier was out of town for a week. I thought I had enough vodka to get through the week, but it was a particularly difficult week and I didn’t have enough to make it. I’m 15. I’m laying on my floor, in my black Hot Topic pants and purple Hello Kitty tshirt and I’m shaking. I’m shaking and crying. And I literally thought that I was going to die if I did not get some alcohol in my system.
Fast forward a year. I’m 16. A girl in drivers ed class with me has crack. I’ve never done crack before but at this point in my life, there isn’t much I won’t do to feel blissfully numb. In the bathroom we stand in a stall together and hold a lighter under the spoon. The back of my throat burns but my whole body melts away.
Junior year of high school: I’m leaving class to do lines of cocaine off of toilet seats in the girls’ bathroom with my new friend that I met at church. Ha – the irony.
Then another year goes by. I’ve decided that I can’t handle the drugs anymore. They’re taking over my life and I no longer feel numb like I used to. The drug that I love so much is the same drug that I want to die doing. I take all of my oxycontin, every last pill that I have, and I use my razorblade to chop them up into a fine powder. I breathe it all in. Every speck. I’m higher than I’ve ever been and my heart is pounding. I’m pretty sure it’s going to explode this time. Then things get scary. I have second thoughts. I don’t really want to die. I just want to stop feeling. I call my friend Dave. By this point I’m throwing up and the whole world is spinning and it won’t stop. Dave doesn’t know how to help me, but he stays on the phone with me until my sister gets home. My sister, who was 11 at the time, gets home and tries to take care of me. She knows I’ve been doing drugs. She knows we can’t tell Mom. She paints my fingernails while I lay on the floor unable to move. The walls are closing in and it’s difficult to breathe. But if I focus just on my sister, the world stops moving for just a few seconds, just long enough for me to feel like things are going to be ok. And they were ok. I didn’t die.
You would think that that instance would have been enough to make me quit doing drugs, but it wasn’t. Getting clean is hard; it’s even harder when you are doing it on your own. The only support system I had at the time was my amazing therapist in my hometown, my dialectical behavior therapy group (consisting of 4 kind of crazy middle-aged women), and a few middle aged men and women from a church that I attended. I didn’t have AA. I didn’t have a treatment center. I had to rely on a handful of people and myself. There were several nights where I would lie on my bedroom floor hysterical and vomiting and sweating. I had no choice but to stand unafraid during those months of hell. I would take death over that any day.
I don’t know exactly how I managed to get clean. In October of my senior year of high school, I spent over $1000 on drugs, and that doesn’t include the ones I got for free. By March of my senior year, I had quit doing drugs entirely, and had substantially decreased my drinking. After all, I was going to college in a few months and I needed to start getting my shit together.
I often struggle with the concept of a higher power and the idea of Jesus and the stories in the Bible. However, there were a whole lot of people praying for me by my senior year of high school. One of those people (I used to call her my “adoptive mom,” but she doesn’t talk to me anymore) would tell me, “If it weren’t for God, you would be dead right now or out on the streets selling yourself for the next drug you were addicted to.” She was right. My therapist says I’m an anomaly because… well there a few reasons I think… but primarily because I was able to get out of that spiral of drugs and alcohol and go on to get several college degrees, hold down jobs, and maintain a stable life. I want to point out that this is impressive for anyone who struggles with mental health issues, but then when you throw a serious drug problem on top of that, I guess it makes you an anomaly…at least according to my shrink…and she pretty much knows what she’s talking about most of the time.
Here’s the song that reminded me today of this chapter in my life and my struggles with drug addiction. The lyrics hit home for me for so many reasons. And for the past two days, my wrist has been throbbing, begging me to drag a razorblade across it. But if I can overcome an addiction to oxycontin with nothing other than a Higher Power, surely I can stand up, unafraid, to my addiction to self-injury, right? I am courageous.