At first you’re just sad. You don’t know why (or maybe you do), but you’re just sad. So it’s just a couple codeine pills you get from a friend who got them from her doctor after jaw surgery. For a couple hours they make you feel better, but it feels as if it’s the first time in centuries that you’ve felt this good. Next it’s some pills you find buried in the back of your parent’s medicine cabinet. Then it’s a couple lines someone offers you at a party. From there on, the hole just starts to get deeper.
This is how it started for me, and little did I know, I was barely cracking into the tip of the iceberg. At first it was just three pills from my friend’s surgery, but eventually it’s me with strange lines and strange men in strange places in the middle of the night. Eventually it’s stealing medicine from the drugstore aisle of Walmart for a cheap and awful high, but at that point I didn’t care. Any pain was better than the one that came when I was left sober and alone to think. Any substance I could find a decent supply of I was hooked on for months. From pills to powder to drinks to crystals.
Endless days, even weeks, of warped, dizzy reality and buried emotions. No matter how much I hurt myself with strange substances, strange men, bloody noses, and tired eyes at ten hour work shifts, still nothing could compare to the pain and dread I felt while sober. I was raped, abused, beaten, and hurt all for drugs over and over again. Meanwhile I didn’t care. I felt nothing. I was numb, and I did it because there was no stronger force or euphoric feeling than the next fix.
No matter how much suffering drugs brought me, it was better than what I deemed the worst pain of all—the aching, poisonous loneliness I’d suffered from my entire life. As I got older it only crept further across my skin and spread like a rash. From highs and lows, Adderall to Xanax, whiskey to cocaine, MDMA to LSD. In the end it was only me all alone, lying on my bedroom floor half alive, too ashamed to call an ambulance, with 32 unanswered texts, asking myself “how did I end up here?” Eventually I had achieved what I set out to do all along: lose myself and along with it, the original source of my pain. Except it didn’t fix me. Although I now no longer knew what the tears were about, they still came every night.
I should have seen it coming. The way I never saw my parents drink at adult parties when I was a little kid. The way they never had any alcohol in the house. The way they never let doctors prescribe me and my sister narcotics when we got hurt and went to the hospital. Even when I was a child, they knew where their little girl would end up and I grew into their greatest fear. At first they had bright hopes. I was a scholastically gifted and good child but eventually I lost that part of me, and as I abandoned myself, they abandoned me. Among the titles addict and druggie, I now also donned the title of “disappointment.”
I saw the signs. I felt myself slipping. Finally at a certain point, it was no longer me. It was the drugs forcing me, grasping my hands and crushing up that next pill or taking that next sip. It wasn’t me killing myself anymore. I wished myself dead, but there was still a small part of me that was holding on for dear life, and it knew without the next fix saving me from my own thoughts, I wouldn’t survive. My life was falling apart in every way possible, and the only thing deadlier than the abuse of drugs was my own mind.
I beat myself up in more ways than anyone could imagine because I believed that was what I deserved. That I was worth nothing more. I was an idiotic, useless, disgusting, worthless drug addict who would go nowhere in life and who genuinely never imagined life for herself past the age of twenty. A waste of space. That was my reality. I was stuck in the catch-22 of doing drugs because I felt worthless but feeling worthless because I kept doing drugs. It is the world’s loneliest cycle and every addict knows that truly no one can save them but themselves. The day my life changed was when I realized I wasn’t stupid, or worthless, or awful. I was sick, and in more ways than one.
Addiction is a disease. It is vicious and deadly and gut-wrenching. It’s no different than cancer or leprosy, except no one in the world sees it as a disease. Most people wonder why they should care about meth addicts and heroin junkies when it seems like they don’t even care about themselves. They don’t realize that it’s a hole anyone can fall into, and the worst thing about that pit is that it is bottomless. No matter how bad it gets, it can always get worse. There is no hitting rock bottom and thinking “I can only go up from here,” because you will continue to fall until you make that decision yourself. A smoker will smoke until their lungs are black. A crackhead will keep snorting until their nose deteriorates. A meth-head won’t stop until all their teeth are gone. Drugs continue to kill more Americans than cars do. Just like me, thousands are terrified to reach out for help, are alone with no support system, and would rather die of overdose than call for help and get tangled up with the cops. While they need compassion from others, I now know what they most need is compassion from themselves. Many hold a bitter mindset towards those suffering from addiction and that is the stigma that must be changed in order to save lives. It starts with our hearts.
Even once someone wins a battle with addiction, they will never truly be done. I will never be done. I’m permanently damaged and for the rest of my life I have to carry this with me. No matter how long I’ve been clean it will never be completely over. I can never lose focus of my goal now. I can’t slip up for even a second. I have to continue to put in the work of staying sober for the rest of my life, but I will gladly do that any day over the sickness I used to suffer. I will take it any day because now I can see the light at the end of any tunnel no matter how long it is. For so long I never planned on living past my teenage years, whether it was the drugs or myself that would take me out. I truly saw no further future for myself. I framed my entire life perspective and every action I took around this negative mindset, but now I don’t think I’ve ever had so much faith in myself or seen so much brightness in the future. For all the darkness I saw, it made me learn to appreciate the light that much more.
I fought one of the ugliest diseases at such a young age. The things I have seen and done, no child should ever experience. I used to wish things could have been different, but eventually I began to realize I would not be me without it. No one else my age has the strength, the wisdom, the perseverance, and strife that I have gained through my years of pain and hardship. No one else my age has the determination to put in the work or the blood, sweat, and tears that I have into changing their entire life. They haven’t gone from the ugly, disgusting face of addiction and depression to graduating high school with a 3.59 GPA and admission into one of the best colleges in Illinois. Almost no one has such strength of character and independence that do. I used to wish I had never experienced the suffering that I had. I would sit up at night wishing I could build a time machine to go back and stop it all from ever happening, to bring back the person I used to be. When I think about it now, I wouldn’t change a single moment. I remind myself that if I hadn’t gone through the fire, I wouldn’t have come out as refined gold.