Living With Addicted Mind
Living with an Addicted Mind
By Kerry Barto
This story is about the deadly consequences of untreated mental illness and addiction. For the sake of anonymity, I will refer to her as Sarah. Sarah was suffering from mental illness and addiction. She came into my life when I needed her most and transformed my life forever. Our friendship forced me into self-refection, at the same time freeing my mind to accept differences and love without judgement. I understand now the choices we make shape who we are. The integral parts of our personalities make us special and yet may be our undoing.
No words can describe the paralyzing fear as I stood in front of Sarah, realizing there was nothing I could do. I could not save her from herself. I was not equipped to handle the deep despair she felt, or help navigate through the trauma of her past. The life circumstances and choices that had brough her to this moment–I will never be able to understand. It is impossible to take an emotion and turn it into logic. The person I loved; my friend was gone. This realization washed over me as the pain hit my chest getting stuck in my throat. Years later the pain of it still lingers. I drove away from her house that day, not knowing I would never see her alive again.
The stigma of addiction is real and powerful. There is a saying “people come where they feel welcomed and stay where they feel valued.” When Sarah overdosed and ultimately took her own life, was that her way of saying the world doesn’t value me? Or was she saying, I don’t value myself? While most of society has a deep distain for this population, where does an addict go to feel valued?
I always hear people talking about addiction. Their stories and what brought them to this place of despair is convoluted and emotionally messy. The reasons behind addiction are multidimensional, complex, obvious, and illusive at the same time. It is the act of relying on a substance to create a feeling and yet destroys all feeling instead. It removes them from the pain of their reality and eventually strips them of their humanity. From my corner of the sky, loneliness breeds contempt, contempt breeds despair, and despair breeds surrender. This cycle will repeat over and over as the addicted surrenders to their drug of choice or death.
I have worked in health care for almost five years. Most people are unwilling to take personal responsibility for their own health. There is an unspoken expectation we as patients expect the medical community to know what is best for us. We expect to be treated and rely on others to repair us. The problem with this mindset is people forget that the medical system is a business. The fact is, mental health services and health care in general is expensive, making it unavailable to lower income individuals and marginalized communities. It is statistically proven that under privileged communities need help the most. The ambiguous nature of these services makes it frustrating for individuals in desperate need of help.
I have been speaking on mental illness. From my experience, mental illness and addiction go hand and hand. Addiction is a self-prescribed remedy intended to treat the symptoms of mental illness. It is your physical body trying to numb the pain of your tortured soul. Imagine being trapped inside your own head and being confined to a world so emotionally overwhelming that life becomes impossible. Take depression for example, it doesn’t matter what you achieve because depression will attack the way you feel about it.
Metal illness is underfunded and wildly misunderstood. The health care system needs to be based in preventive care. If someone receives therapy after trauma, they are less likely to self-medicate when their symptoms of mental illness become too much. Health care is all about treating the symptoms with medication or patching people up and sending them on their way. This is the equivalent of putting a toddler in a car and telling them to drive. The toddler doesn’t have the mental capacity to understand how to drive, react to obstacles, or see over the wheel so as not to hurt anyone. Mental illness and addiction removes a person’s ability to drive the car of life.
Recovery isn’t linear. The complexity of drug addiction is hard to understand when you have never been through it yourself. I believe to remove the stigma, it is important to have active education and open discussions. The consequences of addiction are vast. It effects individuals and families in ways that will forever change their relationships. We, as a nation, need to embrace and reality of addiction and formulate a pro-active approach for solutions. First responders could be the first-line of defense in recognizing addictive behaviors and potential mental health issues which, in turn, could be treated by health care professionals. The more information and education that is disseminated throughout our community will lessen the stigma for those to seek help.
I have unintentionally found myself devasted by the consequences of addiction. After Sarah’s death the fallout was real and immediate. I felt the emotional devastation in every corner of my mind and every part of my body. The pain overwhelmed my subconscious thoughts, interrupting my sleep. I found myself awake in the middle of the night just thinking of her; missing her. I find comfort in knowing the ghost of her soul will be walking beside me; always knowing she was important, loved, and valued. She was the first real friend I ever had. I am thankful for her and will cherish the time we had. As a testament to her life, I promise to be forever present never taking the gift of life for granted. Sarah’s journey has shaped who I am and transformed my heart forever.