06 Aug Recovery Spotlight: Helen’s Story
I believe I came out of the womb as an addict. For as long as I can remember, I felt as if something was off. Not in the world, but in me. I grew up in an upper middle class family in lower Westchester County, NY. Both of my parents were active in their addictions at the time. On the outside, I appeared to have everything. My parents were married. I had more food, clothes and shelter than I needed. I had friends. I excelled in school and athletics. But I always felt like something was missing. I felt as if I was the only one in the world who didn’t know what the point of life was, or how to live it. I never asked anyone these questions, because I was terrified of letting people know I didn’t have all the answers. I had learned early on that if you were perceived as weak, you would be taken advantage of.
When I was twelve years old, my father sat down with my younger brother and I and told us he was an alcoholic, and he was going to get sober through the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. He told us that if we drank or used drugs, we would probably become addicted because alcoholism is hereditary. I remember my first thought being, “great, now he is going to live longer.” I had always hated my father and had become accustomed to him being absent during the first twelve years of my life. I didn’t want him to be around more often, especially because I had already started my quick descent into addiction by that point. I had already begun to self medicate, whether it was getting wrapped up in toxic relationships, self-mutilation, erratic eating behaviors, or experimenting with drinking.
By the time I was thirteen, I was drinking and using drugs regularly. The first time I got drunk, I remember feeling a sense of relief. It felt as if I had found the missing puzzle piece; I finally felt a part of. I liked myself. All the noise in my head telling me how inadequate I was was quieted. From that point on, I was off to the races.
The progression was rapid. It went from drinking and smoking pot on weekends, to doing it on weekdays after I did my homework and played my sports. Shortly after that, I had quit the sports and given up on my school work. Dealing with the pain of being a human was too overwhelming for me. I decided I wanted to be numb. I tried cocaine for the first time when I was fifteen. I decided then that I wasn’t going to a day without some sort of substance in my body. I became hard and mean. I wanted everyone to be afraid of me because I was so petrified of them; the very idea of genuine human connection was frightening.
My parents were catching on at this point. I was frequently coming home drunk and getting into trouble at school. Between suspensions, arrests, and a trip to the ER due to a drunken fall where I cracked my head open, it was hard to ignore what a mess I was. My parents didn’t know what to do. They tried to keep me on lockdown, and I frequently snuck out, or just got high alone in my room.
When I was almost sixteen, I was sent to my first outpatient. I didn’t take it seriously at all. For me, it was just a way to meet more kids my age who got high the way I did. I thought the way I was living was normal. I blacked out regularly, got caught being under the influence in school, and lost many important relationships. I attributed all the trouble I was experiencing to having ‘bad luck.’ It wasn’t me it was everyone else. They needed to mind their own business. My mantra was “I can stop whenever I want to stop, I just don’t want to.” I used a lot of energy trying to come up with ways to drink and drug without getting caught and having to face the consequences.
During my senior year in high school, I started realizing how empty I felt. The alcohol and drugs weren’t working anymore. I could be at a party with all of my friends, surrounded by a sea of people after hours of using drugs and drinking, and I still felt more alone than ever. I remember thinking “Am I having fun yet? This is what I was waiting for…but why do I feel so unsatisfied?”
In April 2008, I was sent to an inpatient facility. I wasn’t thrilled about going, but I obliged willingly (not that I had a choice, since I was seventeen- a minor). Before I left, I had a thought that even though I didn’t really want to sober up, I couldn’t afford to wait for the day that I wanted to. That day might never come. I only expected to be there for 30 days. A few days before I thought I was leaving, I was told I would be there until August. I was furious. I couldn’t believe I had to miss my senior prom and high school graduation…In all reality, I probably would have made a fool of myself if I had attended these events.
Once I accepted the fact that I had three more months in treatment, I decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. I spent all my free time reading AA and NA literature. Most of my answers were in The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I realized that I had a common issue; addiction…and there was a solution for it! I wasn’t crazy, or a horrible person, I was simply suffering from alcoholism. When someone told me about the idea of alcoholics being “egomaniacs with inferiority complexes,” I felt as if it all made sense!
While in rehab, I attended AA meetings every night. I was completely blown away by the honesty of the shares in these meetings. People openly discussed their feelings that I could identify with, but hadn’t been able to put words to. I finally felt like I belonged.
I struggled with being young in recovery in the beginning. I was seventeen. I had never been to jail, gotten a DUI, or used IV drugs. I was concerned that maybe I hadn’t hit my “bottom” that everyone seemed to talk about. I took much comfort when I read the line in one of the stories in The Big Book that read “you hit bottom when you stop digging.” I didn’t have to go any lower. All of the things I hadn’t done were “yets.” If I picked up again, I was sure to experience all of those things, but I didn’t HAVE to.
Recovery has been a long, slow, process for me. Extremely painful, but extremely beautiful and rewarding. I’ve made a lot of mistakes; like it says, “we are not saints.” The only thing I’ve done perfectly is not pick up a drink or a drug. This past April (2015), I was blessed to celebrate 7 years of continuous sobriety. I’ve had to learn (the hard way) that my problem wasn’t drinking and drugging; it was living. I do not know how to live life on life’s terms peacefully. That is why I have had to find a spiritual solution, which I have found through working the twelve steps of AA with a sponsor.
For a while, I thought that once I got sober, life would be perfect and easy. That isn’t the case. Just because I am sober, doesn’t mean I am exempt from the human condition. Life can be hard sometimes, but I was given the tools to deal with it without destroying myself or anyone else. I have a relationship with my family today; miraculously everyone in my immediate family is sober in AA; my father, mother and younger brother. I have friends who truly care about me. Most importantly, I have some idea of who I am as a person…and I don’t mind what I see! I’ve learned to accept myself. At the age of twenty four I am grateful to be able to understand who I am, and develop myself spiritually on a daily basis. I used to be the type of person who would steal your money and then help you look for it. Today I trust myself to make the right decisions, and I sleep soundly at night confidently knowing I tried to be a good person that day.