Addiction Awareness Scholarship Campaign 2020 – Smiling depression: My personal struggle with addiction


Smiling depression: My personal struggle with addiction

Depression: What I’ve learned and how it has changed
my life

From a
very young age, I learned that smiling and nodding would be my means
of survival in life. Growing up, I had two younger brothers who were
incredibly demanding. Having both been diagnosed with ADHD
and Anger Management, they monopolized all
of our parents’ time. Therefore, when I tried
to speak up for my needs, my words fell lost on deaf ears, and I
quickly learned that I didn’t have a voice. However, if I smiled
and nodded, my parents noticed what a “good girl” I was
being and instantly my needs were met. At the age of 8, I thought I
had found the answer to all of my problems and applied this “good
girl” act to other areas of my life. In the classroom when I
sat and smiled politely at my desk, my needs were met; the
other students liked me, and my teachers sent home positive
report cards. Little did I know, this smile and nod strategy would
later prove to be my path to self-destruction. If someone
puts on a smile and acts like they are happy on the outside, how
could anyone possibly know that they were suffering on the

pattern continued throughout my entire life; smiling and nodding on
the outside while anxiety, insecurity, and depression were slowly
building on the inside. Life events that would typically
cause others to express anger or sadness such
as getting in fights, going through breakups, not making the
dance team, and not getting into a desired school were met
by me with again a smile and nod; pretending that
everything was fine. Eventually, I had trained myself to
suppress negative feelings so well that it had become
a subconscious decision. Therefore, when I
experienced traumatic life events including my brother
taking a knife to my mother, my father breaking his neck in a ski
accident, or my neighbor and close friend dying of
leukemia, I was not able to express any pain. Putting a smile on
my face and telling everyone that I was fine was all that I

I lived
a normal life all the while.  I graduated from Loyola
University, a prestigious Division I program from
which I received many accolades and a full scholarship for
volleyball.  Following my undergraduate education I
completed graduate courses at Hofstra University while
coaching volleyball and directing a youth organization. I’ve
worked at a number of challenging
jobs within law offices, universities, event management companies,
and in the financial industry. I’ve traveled
abroad, have many friends, have loved, and have been very
active in the community as a volunteer within outreach programs. I’ve
been healthy for the most part aside from chronic
migraines and a weak stomach which I had from a young age and
been able to manage. I reflect on my formative years as
overwhelmingly happy times.


In April
2015, I hit a deep emotional bottom while working in New York City.
My boss, the founder of the company, started emotionally
and sexually abusing me.  Additionally, my co-workers
shunned me because of his favoritism towards me through
bonuses and perks. At home, my perceived safe haven, one my
roommates thought it would be funny to put on a ski mask, break
in and pretend to be a rapist. The city itself was swallowing
me whole and I felt like I had no one to talk to because I
was supposed to be the person for whom everything was always okay.
To make matters worse, every time I looked on social media, all
of my friends were portraying seemingly perfect lives. 
It was displayed what seemed like an unrealistic and often
time unattainable happiness which only left me
feeling more isolated.


resorted to my usual survival method and hoped that if
I smiled and masked my disdain, that eventually there would
be a positive resolution. Consequently, I had everyone
fooled that I was perfectly content with life at that time.  No
one had any inclination that I was going through any sort of
pain. However, on the inside I could actually feel that my heart
was slowly breaking. My migraines were becoming
increasingly more frequent, and the knot in my stomach
had progressed to a diagnosis of acute pancreatitis. I
had countless sleepless nights and began to develop
tendencies of paranoia. The smiling and nodding routine had become
ineffective, and I was at a loss for a solution. Then
I found the answer to my problems: alcohol. One glass of wine and all
the anxiety, loneliness, anger and depression dissipated. I began to
feel normal again, at least until the effect of the alcohol wore


I drank
progressively for about seven months until I had one drink
too many and passed out in my bed only to wake up the
next morning three hours late for work. I called in sick
for the day, determined to get myself to recuperate and
persevere. I looked in the mirror at myself that morning
and saw an emaciated, exhausted shell of a woman.  It was
a woman who was allowing someone to take advantage of
her while she escaped in a bottle of wine. I had never seen eyes
so empty.


I needed immediate help, I resigned from my position, moved
from New York to California and admitted myself to sixty days
at (name omitted), a dual diagnosis treatment
facility in Los Angeles that specializes in trauma cases.
The sixty days I spent at — changed my life
more than I could ever have imagined. Through various therapy
techniques such as Psychodrama, CBT, DBT, EMDR, group therapy
combined with a holistic and spiritual approach of meditation,
mindfulness based stress reduction, and art therapy, I learned the
root of my disease. The therapy brought to
light how internalizing all of my emotions for a long
period of time profoundly affected me, and was a
stimulus for my addiction.


But more
importantly, I learned that these wounds could be healed.   —-
taught me how to take care of my emotions; how to recognize and
observe them as they arise, and to give them the space they need for
expression instead of immediately internalizing them. Not only did I
learn the tools needed to live a life in recovery, I learned how to
allow myself to experience all of my emotions and express
them in a healthy way. This has given me the peace of mind and true
happiness that I’ve always wanted in my life. I no longer need to
pretend I’m ok and smile.  I am just as comfortable
telling others when I am angry or sad. Lastly, what I learned
most was the correlation between the life coping skills that I had
taught myself at age eight and my addiction twenty
five years later.​


during those sixty days, I became immersed in all
of the knowledge and information that I could, asking for
more articles and staying after sessions for further
discussion with the therapists. I became completely absorbed
in learning as much as I could about subjects like internal
family systems, areas of the brain and their functions, PTSD,
and the stages of change. My favorite topics of discussion were DBT,
CBT, and mindfulness based stress reduction. While the other patients
spent their free time playing games and watching TV, I was reading
books and articles and writing down questions to ask the therapists
the following day.


My life
experiences, personal trauma, and struggle with addiction
have been unquestionably the most challenging times in
my life. However, the growth from overcoming these obstacles has
been the most empowering experience; one that trumps all of the
negative combined. It has become so inspirational that I
passionately feel the need to help others who are suffering.  I
know now that my calling in life is to help others not
only identify and connect with their emotions, but to
help guide them with healthy ways of expression and coping skills.
I believe that through my personal experience merged
with the appropriate education, I could be a pillar in the
field. I hope to dedicate my life to helping others relieve
their emotional burdens emulating the therapists who have taught
the same to me.