“Haven’t you had enough yet?”
“Aren’t you sick and tired of being sick and tired?”
I can’t even tell you how many times I heard those questions while I was in active addiction. Everyone in my life who cared about me had at one point pleaded with me to just stop; my mother, husband, friends, sponsor. I knew how they wanted me to respond; how I should respond. I knew what the “right” answers were to those questions. They wanted to hear me say, “Yes! I have had enough! I am exhausted. I can’t live like this anymore,” and they wanted me to mean it!
The truth is I never had enough. Not even close! Not even in the very end when I was beaten down and broken and barely clinging to life. I was in the throes of active addiction, and my warped sense of reality had me believing I needed a substance to survive. Turns out, it was the substance that was slowly killing me.
And I didn’t make the choice to stop on my own either. No, in true dramatic fashion I had to be forcefully removed from the life I had created for myself, also known as the day I was committed to a psychiatric hospital because it was determined I was too much of a danger to myself to be left to my own devices.
I distinctly remember lying in that hospital bed and sobbing because I wanted to drink so badly. For me, enough would have meant death, and I almost took myself there. My addiction almost won and at the time, I would have been happy to just sit back and let it happen.
I see it today; the insanity of it all. It’s so clear when you are on the outside looking in. I understand the desire to want shake a person awake, to make them realize that they are killing themselves. And for what, exactly? An empty promise of escape? I get it! It’s infuriating, but imagine (if you can) being the addict. The person who is so tormented inside, they can no longer tell what’s wrong or right? The person who doesn’t even realize that they are killing them self. The person who doesn’t realize that in order to survive, they need to stop.
Some days I feel like I am just a spectator when reflecting on all that I did when I was sick; all the things I put my family through. I was unreliable, sloppy and belligerent. I spewed hateful words like venom and was at times violent. I wasn’t present as a mother, wife or sibling. I lied, I manipulated and I stole all in the name of my addiction. To protect the one thing that wanted me dead.
It’s as if I am a stranger looking in, and sometimes it feels too intimate, like I should give the old me some privacy. Maybe I should close the curtains or something, but seeing and acknowledging that raw, desperate version of myself has been one of the keys to my success in recovery. When I take responsibility for my past actions, I no longer allow others to hold those things against me, not even myself.
You see, I wore a mask my entire life. I hid behind the smile, and the pretty clothes and the sense of humor. I hid behind my job and my marriage and my home. Those secrets that I protected kept me sick for years. Acknowledging my illness has allowed me to breakdown any lingering denial I might be holding onto regarding my addiction.
So when someone tells me that I should keep my past a secret because talking about addiction may make “some people” uncomfortable, I respectfully disagree. To me, it says a lot more about their character than my own. It shines a light on their own insecurities, but never seems to stifle my voice.
Advocating for recovery is not about making people comfortable. It’s about opening society’s eyes to the horrors of addiction, to the things we addicts witness daily.
Nearly 200 people die in the United States alone every single day from a drug overdose. I believe that should make all of us feel uncomfortable! And I would hope a statistic like that would spark action. If not action, than at the very least some compassion.
Ridicule and judgment had absolutely nothing to do with my choice to recover. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Compassion and empathy, and a little thing called “human connection,” that brought me to my knees and gave me the strength to ask for help.
Love the addict, hate the disease.