Name: Elle James
From: Portland, Oregon
Not your average
My story looks a bit different from that of a traditional recovery story. Even still is a story of recovery and transformation. I have never had a problem or been addicted to any illegal substances, in fact it took me over 20 years to realize that I had been experiencing a substance addiction at all. My addiction started in the form of mental health care but developed into a lifetime of escapism through prescription pill bottles.
In my teens it became apparent that I was suffering from depression and anxiety as a result of early childhood trauma. As a solution my parents took me to our family doctor. There he prescribed me my first set of anti-depressants. This was the start of living my life in 6-week increments. Prescription medications typically take 6 weeks to work into the bodies system before you see changes in mood. The changes I needed never came. In response I would be prescribed a different cocktail of anti-depressants, mood stabilizers and/or benzoxadiazines every 6 weeks. 20 years later I found myself more depressed than ever, frustrated managing symptoms of medications and feeling more and more hopeless. Not only was I perpetually sad, I was overweight, sexually unsatisfied, experiencing body-shocks and unable to afford more care.
On a particularly awful night I was out of an expensive medication and was experiencing unbearable withdrawals. I didn’t have the means to get more for another couple weeks at which point I could start my 6 weeks over again. I sat and mediated on this for quite a while. I realized that in all these years I had been just been managing side effects. I had not felt an emotion I truly knew was my own in all this time. I didn’t know where my baseline was! Every prescription had been to manage these moods instead of feeling them. Every time I felt an undesirable emotion I ran for a pill. That night I ran for those bottles but instead flushed away their contents.
I sought out a new therapist and start down “sober” therapy. Her greatest words of wisdom to me, “You aren’t broken, you have trauma. We can deal with trauma”. I thought I was broken and I was reaffirming this to myself every time I tried to fix myself with a medication instead of listening to my pain.
For the past 3 years I have been dealing with this pain and trauma. I have been riding a really amazing rollercoaster of my own emotions. Sometimes I am really sad, angry, scared and anxious. Sometimes I am really happy, hopeful and calm. When I feel an uncomfortable emotion instead of reaching for a pill bottle to squash it, I feel it! I experience it, try to understand it and then deal with it. I want to live a full life, full of all the colors of every emotion. These emotions, after all, are what make up this whole human experience!
I believe that the addiction crisis in our country is born from a couple complex factors. First, the need for quick fixes and fast solutions. And second, a lack of empathy and human connection driven from a ultra-competitive capitalist society and a this notion that tough emotions are undesirable. The result is an unsettled collective unconscious of depression and anxiety and people dealing with it by self-medicating and dissociating with others. I believe that the solution is one that requires a huge shift in our societies views and priorities surrounding mental health and our capitalist system.
With the advent of so many different technologies and devices our society definitely craves quick fixes. It has also been highly discussed how these technologies and devices have driven us to disconnect with each other. I would suggest rather that it is actually our societies polices that drive a disconnection. Quick fixes are needed when our society works at such a feverish rate and competition proves only a few of us will make it to ‘the top’.
In almost every area of our society when we get to the root of what drives society it is profits. We see this time and time again in a capitalist society. Profits above people. A prime example of this is the pharmaceutical industry, using sales reps to sell to doctors while collecting commissions, again putting profits above people. No matter how we try regulating industries appropriately and what checks and balances we put in place when we add money (which is essentially survival) into the equation we create a space that is about revenues and incomes first, purpose and people second.
The result is an unsettled collective unconscious of depression and anxiety filled humans who are scrambling for survival and this leads to self-medicating and dissociating. Our middle class disappears as the houseless population grows and the difference between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ becomes greater and more distance.
I believe that the solution is one that requires a huge shift in our societies views, priorities and policies surrounding not only mental health but also capitalism as a whole. We all need to do more to change the large laws and policies, but there is much to do on a personal level. That after all is the problem, a lack of empathy and connection with others! We can start on an individual level changing our own mindsets. We have to break down these societal barriers that keep us apart on our own to find the empathy needed to help others.
While I believe individual therapy is incredibly important, I have gained so much through group therapy session. Being able to be sharing in a community of support and understanding is incredibly powerful. The collective conscious of a group that comes together in love and support can be one of the most beautiful forces. Learning how to be vulnerable with a group is powerful but so much more powerful is the ability to engage your active listening skills. Hearing the stories of others helps to not only put problems into perspective but also exercises the empathy muscle leading to stronger connections with others.
Through my experiences with group therapy and an unhealthy relationship with prescription medications I understand my addiction/recovery story is different than others. I think that might be my over arching point. I was able to understand the differences in my story and also find empathy for others through these personal connections I made in therapy. These connections helped heal me. Having access to addiction recovery and mental health services is a right I would like everyone to have. I think this would open the door to a more excepting, empathic and healthy society.