I had my first drink at age fifteen and my first experience with opiates by sixteen years of age. Like many people who began using drugs, things started out seemingly fine for me. There was no initial cause for alarm when I first began using drugs and drinking alcohol. Sure, I had heard all the teachers and speakers in health class and went through the D.A.R.E Program. Yet, everybody around me seemed to either drink or smoke weed so what was the big deal? Even my first time with opiates and cocaine were so nonchalant and nobody really seemed to make it a big deal. We were just having fun and we were kids. Where was the harm?
Although I did not see it at the time, the decision to drink and get high would covertly influence many of my future life decisions. While I see how the need to use would dictate my decision making and choices, I was so blind to these facts in the moment. This is because the disease of addiction is so clever, so cunning, that when it spoke to me and steered me in the direction it wanted, it did so in the sound of my own voice.
The events that lead me to begin my journey through substance abuse started like it did for many. It was peer pressure. However, I need to clarify that it was not others forcing me to do something I did not want to do. It was my need to belong and look good in front of my friends. They say that the disease of addiction is one of isolation and that the opposite of addiction is connection. Ironically enough it was the need to be connected and belong that led me to pick up my first drink and use my first drug. Just as my addiction speaks in my own voice, it deviously used a base human need for connection to get its hooks into my skin.
For many years, my drug use would be based upon the need for companionship from others and a deep need for inclusion. I needed to be appreciated, I needed to be liked, I needed to be wanted, I needed to be loved. Yet, each time I sought these connections an opioid was needed. My thinking had been distorted and twisted. I truly did want all these things, yet I did not know how to express this and only knew companionship through substance abuse. Over time my addictions took me farther away from those in my life. I pushed away from those who were not addicts. I felt as though they judged me or wanted me to change who I was. I would lash out or hurt the friends who I shared a toxic codependency with. Eventually, I no longer sought out companionship. I was more likely to be getting high in a dark basement by myself than with friends at a party. Isolation had won and despair came with it.
At a certain point in my substance abuse, I looked at myself and hated what I saw. I wanted to change but did not think it was possible. I could not imagine my life without drugs. I needed to chase that warm hug from God that the oxy and heroin had once brought on for me. Depression was always present somewhere in the background before, but now it was at the forefront of my life. I was in pain and wanted relief, but the drugs had stopped providing that relief long ago. I did not want to go on living like this anymore. I wanted to die. I would not say I was suicidal during this period of my addiction. However, I just did not want to keep living with the emotional anguish and pain due to my inability to know a better way to live. I kept using the drugs in hopes the one thing I found solace in would finish the job.
I tried to get myself sober many times. Multiple times I would attempt a detox from opiates on my own by spending a week on a couch with a self-prescribed cocktail of Xanax, whiskey and marijuana. My goal was to try and knock myself out for the worst part of the withdrawals. I would be successful in kicking and get over my physical chemical dependency and attempt to go on with my life. It never lasted. I had no concept of what addiction truly was and only believed that I just needed to detox and stay away from opioids to be okay. The D.A.R.E Program and all the warnings from those speakers and teachers in health class never mentioned heroin was anything more than an addictive substance. Nobody ever told me about the need for treatment or that I would be required to literally retrain my brain and change my thought patterns. I was ignorant of what a substance use disorder really was. Luckily, I found help.
As I mentioned before, it has been said that the opposite of addiction is connection. In the end that is what saved me. Through finally attending a long-term drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, I learned about the nature of addiction. Not just that “drugs are bad” and “just say no”, but how they work and change your brain. I learned it would take work to stabilize myself and be strong enough to not pick up again. What really made the difference for me was the people I met through this treatment facility. The connections I made finally provided me with what I had been chasing for all those years using drugs. I developed a support network that helped me on my path towards long term sobriety.
We all have a basic human desire to belong. Community is where we find solace and peace. Many addicts have turned to drugs and alcohol to either be a part of something or to dull the feelings of loneliness. Addiction can bring you to the lowest point in your life and alienate you from others. Help is available if you are ready and willing. Once the substances have been put down and our minds and bodies cleared of their influence, we can begin the process of recovery.