This blog post is probably going to be the most honest I’ve ever written. And it’s definitely not like anything I’ve written before. But I have a serious passion inside me about this topic, among many other liberal views, and I actually can’t hold it in anymore. I’m ready to speak about addiction.
If you follow me on Snapchat, you know a few more personal details than you would if say, you just knew me from Facebook or Twitter. For example, you’d know that I don’t like spicy food or that I just moved house. You’d know that I love dogs. You’d also know that I am a recovering addict. And that was a curve ball, right? Because I’m a young, confident, outgoing female with very little indication that I’d ever even tried drugs. And when I say drugs, I include alcohol. Because alcohol is a drug. I say that in nearly every mental health blog post I publish- and the reason I say it is because I know.
See, I don’t look like the stereotypical ‘junkie’ and that’s why people are so confused. I bet you’ve already thought: ‘she mustn’t have been that bad’. And maybe so. But the reason I’m writing this post isn’t to share my story of addiction and recovery- I’ll save that for a book someday. It’s to break down some of the stigma that society has burdened onto people that do not want to end up like that. I wanted to be honest about my identity because not only does it give me a bit more credibility, it allows me to connect and let you see where I’m coming from. I have a few main points to make. And I, honestly, could talk about this for a very long time. But I understand that in order to get my point across, I need to be exact.
This argument is based on my opinion which is based on my first hand experience that was then shared and identified with other people that have been through similar things. I can’t speak for anyone else. I can’t tell you how other addicts feel or how they got where they ended up. But I’ve learned enough in the last two years to know that addiction does not deserve to be brushed off, exiled and looked at in disgust the way that it is. And I wanted to talk about that. So here goes.
I believe that addiction is a disease or a disorder that can be stripped back to a chemical imbalance. I believe that a person can be an addict from the day that they are born. And I believe this because I know that I always felt alien. The disease of addiction is almost like another person in your mind. A person that is dressed as your friend but doesn’t have your best interest at heart. It’s like a friend that wants instant fixes. It’s a friend that doesn’t want to talk about your problems. It’s a friend that would rather block them out. So, when I say that someone can be an addict from birth, I mean that this friend can be active from a young age. However, drugs at that point don’t have to be the form of escapism.
Have you ever met a kid that is just so obviously insecure? That can’t sit still? That can’t be quiet? That can’t focus? That feels inadequate all the time and that uses external things to constantly distract themselves from themselves. Well, I know how that kid feels. From a very young age, I was really self-aware and I was really sensitive. I compared myself to other kids, their lives, their families. I hated who I was. And this is where it gets tricky because usually at this point, someone would say that they were abused or that their family was broken or their home life made them that way. But me? Nope. I had a bedroom that was decorated annually however I liked it. Your stereotypical four person family, parents that were hard-working, any toy I ever wanted, birthday parties every year and a beautiful home. Nothing happened to make me the way I ended up. Now, that’s not to say that things don’t happen to change peoples perspective or lead them to drugs. I’m just saying that that is not always the case. I think that I have something in my brain that wants to see me dead. It wants me alone and it wants me to be miserable. It wants me to block out reality, not deal with my problems and hide away forever. As a child, I distracted myself with the likes of television, movies and most importantly, obsessions.
Obsessions allowed me to escape reality. And I’ve suffered with this since I was a small child. And just because I’m in recovery now, they do not stop. If anything because I’m aware of them, they can be worse. Obsessions can vary but when I was a child, I’d replay songs or print posters of the same picture and put them all over my room. I’d watch the same movies over and over. Or develop crushes on boys and simply not have the capacity to stop thinking about it. As I got older, these obsessions only got more dangerous: drug use, self-harm, men, gambling, friends, locations, money… the big boy stuff. Stuff that can get people in a lot of trouble. Stuff that left me in a lot of pain.
So, at the age of twelve when I found vodka, you can imagine the absolute field day that was had. And the point I’m trying to make here is that alcohol was the first drug I look, the first high I had, my first love and the drug that brought me to my knees. And I know you’re wondering if I took other drugs because that would define an addict, right? Well, before I go any further I want to note how important it is that it does not matter what drugs I took. It was about my mental state. And it was about why I took them. So, I could sit here and type a list of narcotics and the effects they gave me, how often I used them and what things I’m not proud of but that would be pointless. It simply does not matter. I’m an addict because of why I took them. I’m an addict because I could not control my use once I started.
On the note of how often I used them, I don’t want to disclose much but all I will say is that I managed to hold down jobs, degrees, relationships and and much more in the course of my active addiction. I did not use drugs everyday. Some might argue that that would mean I wasn’t physically addicted to drugs. But that does not define an addict either. An addict is someone who’s life is centred around drugs and other forms of escapism. And mine sure as hell was. I went out on Friday night and went solidly to Sunday, then spent the rest of the week thinking about how I’d end the mental torture of shame, regret and secrecy. And then I’d do it all again and torture myself over that. I couldn’t understand why I was the way I was. I could see that my drug use was very obviously affecting my life. I was anxious, depressed, struggling to leave my house and in the end, all of the external stuff did suffer. Relationships ended, I lost a job, I deferred college. At one point, I begged my mother to sign me into a mental institute. I thought I had something really wrong with me. I couldn’t see why I kept doing the same things over and over again but expecting different results.
I would promise myself and everybody in my life, genuinely, that I would not use. I would tell myself that I would go out for one or two drinks and come home. I would really mean it when I’d look in the mirror and swear that I didn’t need drugs or men to have fun. And then I’d put myself in the most degrading of situations as a result of everything I said I wouldn’t do. And I’m not proud of these situations. Actually, even two years clean, I’m full of shame sharing about them. I wanted to put this work off. I didn’t want to start fighting this stigma because I would have to, in order to have any kind of credibility, be really honest about why I care. And some of the things that I did were so beyond disgusting. I hurt people. I had no self-respect. But today I can see that I didn’t have any control. And I’m not like that now.
The things that I did when I was active, I would never dream of doing or saying them things if I was clean and in my right mind. And by clean, I don’t mean sober. Or just not under an influence. I mean long-term clean, working on myself, following a twelve-step programme and practicing prayer, gratitude and love toward myself. Staying off drugs for a week at a time never helped me. I always went back. I needed something more solid. I needed to be taught how to live properly- take care of myself, do my own washing, wash myself, feed myself, speak to people accordingly… all that stuff that to so many people seems easy. It isn’t for me. Even today I can struggle with these things.
And the reason then that I am telling you all of this is because recently, I’ve realised how people refer to and think about addicts. And I am so hurt. The mainstream medias portrayal of addiction is a lot to be desired. In films we see the stereotypical ‘junkie’ that ends up homeless, is branded a criminal and exiled from society (Transpotting is a good example of this. The narrative is based around drug addiction and at some points, makes a joke of it). Plot narratives don’t really give any closure on this in mainstream media and it’s just accepted as what addiction is. We see domestic violence on screen and the drug user the culprit. We, then, also see it glamorised to the point where it looks attractive- money, women, sex, cocaine and boats. An obvious example of this is The Wolf of Wall Street. And I am not saying that this isn’t how some addicts carry out their journey in reality. A lot of the time, addiction in reality is exaggerated and crazy shit does happen. But the issue with constantly having these representations in media is this: everyday people that find other methods of addiction their reality (such as codeine use or marijuana use) cannot identify. Young people starting their journey as addicts do not relate themselves to that person. Any addict that is unaware of their problem, and is yet to learn the extent in which this progressive disease works, does not think that this will happen to them. Because we are creating an image of a ‘junkie’ or of a ‘legend’. And that is so wrong.
In turn, that’s how we view everyday addicts. Admit it, homeless people are in most cases assumed to be almost deserving of their fate, assuming that they’re on drugs and have created this life for themselves. We look at addicts that leave syringes in children’s park areas and automatically fill with anger, disgust and hatred. And I’m not saying that this is okay to do but if we had a different societal approach, it might not happen. We see young people smoking weed everyday, trying to escape their mind, probably in a lot of pain and don’t really think too much about it. But marijuana is still a mind altering substance. Heroin users are still people. And it all boils down to what level of compassion others can offer. Nobody wants to end up like that. I know because I sure as hell didn’t. And just because my addiction did not progress to the extent that some other addicts might travel, does not make it any less. And that means that theirs does not mean any more. An addict is an addict. And it is not a moral affliction, it is a mental and spiritual disintegration. One that is not helped by being exiled from society and branded a ‘junkie’.
In Ireland, there are efforts there to help these issues and I am aware that the likes of Safe Injecting Houses have now been approved and I am hopeful that we can start to move forward in how we deal with issues like these. I am strong mental health advocate and whether it’s a good or a bad thing, I have more compassion for someone than I do hate when I see them on the ground, strung out, crying, desperately wondering how their life got to this. Not only because I can identify as an addict, but mainly because first and most importantly, I can identify as a human.
I know there are people reading this that have been affected by an addict. And yano what? Me, too. Addiction runs in my family and I have been hurt by another addicts inability to control their using. I’ve been put in all sorts of predicaments and left wondering why I’m not good enough to make them just stop on many occasions. So I know how that feels, too. There is an entirely other piece of work that could be dedicated to that topic. It’s hard to not hate someone who is so selfish, right? I’m still working on this topic because I have been both people. I have been the selfish one but I have also been the one hurt by it. And I’m still confused. I’m still a little bit hurt, actually. The best thing I learned was to distance myself from people that could not look after themselves, let alone me. And I learned to do that with love. I did not distance myself with hate, name-calling, fights or violence. I decided that I loved this person, perhaps too much, and that their fate was not in my control. And I prayed they’d get well but I decided to move on with my life and that I’d be there when they were ready.
This post isn’t about personal dynamics and families plagued by addiction. It’s more about society. I just want people to be more aware. I just want people to practice more compassion. Just because someone is homeless, doesn’t make them an addict. Just because someone is young, doesn’t mean they can’t be an addict. Just because someone doesn’t use drugs everyday or hard drugs at that, does not make them exempt from addiction. Just because someone is anything between working to upper-upper class, does not mean that they cannot become addicted. Not all addicts are criminals. The best people I’ve ever met in my entire life, the nicest people, the kindest and the most warm, loving people in my life are recovering addicts. ADDICTION DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE. IT IS NOT A MORAL AFFLICTION. IT IS A DISEASE/DISORDER OF THE MIND AND NOBODY WANTS TO END UP LIKE THAT.
So next time you watch a film and cocaine is made fun, or next time you hear someone say ‘junkie’, remind yourself that addiction is a serious mental illness that deserves more than to be made into a narrative drive or left on the side of the street because people think that it’s deserved.
Unfortunately, many addicts die. Drugs ruin and end lives. It is hard not only for the addict but the people around them. That’s how I know that it is important for me to conduct this work. I am a lucky addict that made it out alive. I found my voice and I am going to use it.
If you need help or know anybody struggling, here are some contacts:
HSE Drugs & Alcohol Helpline
This confidential service has both a freephone Helpline (1800 459 459) and an email support service (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Narcotics Anonymous Ireland
Tel: +353 (0)1-6728000 (Information line only)