“Haven’t you had enough yet?”
I can’t even tell you how many times I heard that question while I was in active addiction. Everyone in my life who cared about me had at one point pleaded with me to get help – my daughter, parents, husband, siblings, friends. The list could go on.
I knew how they wanted me to respond. I knew how a “normal person” would respond. I always knew what the “right” answers were, it was the action required – the actual work – that was difficult.
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 at the very end when I was beaten down and broken and barely clinging to life. I was so sick, so physically and mentally drained, that my warped sense of reality had me believing I needed a substance to survive – a substance that was slowly and painfully killing me.
I didn’t make the choice to stop on my own. I wish I could say that I did, but I’d be lying. If you know me, you know how I like to make an entrance – or in this case, a grand exit! I had to be forcefully removed from the life I had created for myself. It was determined by counselors, doctors and family that I was too much of a danger to myself to be left to my own devices. These are the people who made the decision for me, because I was incapable of making healthy decisions for myself anymore. They are the ones who decided I wasn’t going to die like that, and I was too tired to argue.
I distinctly remember lying in a hospital bed and sobbing because I wanted to drink so badly. For me, “enough” would have meant death, and I would have been OK with that.
I see it today – the insanity of it all. It’s so clear when you are on the outside looking in. I see family’s every day desperately trying to help their loved ones, and I can understand that pain and frustration. The fear that their son or daughter might not wake up the next morning. I understand the desire to want shake the addict awake, to make them realize that they are killing themselves.
I get it, because I have talked with my own family and friends about all of the things I put them through when I was sick – the sleepless nights, the overwhelming despair, the constant anxiety, the loss of control, the tears, the anger, the grief and the irrational feelings of personal failure.
When I think about those times, it’s hard for me to explain how I feel. I imagine I am sitting alone in a movie theater, and my active addiction is playing for me up on the big screen. My initial instinct is, of course, to run from it – to close my eyes and ignore it. But today I understand that I would never learn anything about things like personal growth and development, redemption or honest amends if I did that.
So I watch it. I work through each emotion, step by step,no matter how uncomfortable I become. And as I continue to watch, the seats around me begin to fill up with other recovering addicts. They watch with me, they hold my hand, they pass the Kleenex and when it’s all over they hug me, shake my hand and high five me, and some even applaud me. They tell me they are proud of me, and that I should be proud of myself too for finding the courage to change. I feel the weight of the world leave my shoulders, and for the first time in my entire life I don’t feel alone.
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, and all of the mistakes I have made along the way, has allowed me to breakdown every ounce denial I had been hanging 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 that person’s character than it does my own. At this point in my life, my vulnerability is my greatest strength. It is the very thing that keeps me alive, while living with an illness that wants me dead.
Advocating for recovery is not about making people comfortable. It’s about opening society’s eyes to the horrors of addiction – things people in recovery bear witness to every single day.
I am grateful I am a helper today, because it was the helpers who brought me back to life.