Name: Vanessa ...
From: Kennesaw, GA
School: Kennesaw State University
The Way Out
The Way Out
It was 20 minutes after eleven on the day of my 24th birthday. The bright rays of sun coming through my window woke me up, and the heat that they gave off, were making my skin sweat. Disoriented, I found my phone in the backseat of my car and saw a few missed calls and text messages. “Where am I?” was the only thing I could think of, and when I finally gathered enough strength to get up, I realized I was in a parking garage. I must have been too drunk and high to drive home last night after the party. That would have usually been the happiest day of my year, but all I could think about was how much alcohol I had, how much cocaine I snorted, how I didn’t remember anything past 2 A.M., and how hot it was inside my car. I guess other than listing the facts, I focused on how I could have died because of all of them, and yet, somehow, I didn’t.
Incidents like the one on my birthday had become more frequent in the couple of years prior, but that day was different. Maybe it was the irony that came with the possibility of dying on the anniversary of my birth, or the few hours I spent after I woke up throwing up and thinking if the drugs didn’t kill me, the hangover certainly would. Either way, I quit that day. Once I started going to therapy, deleted my social media accounts and ninety percent of my phone contacts, found a new job in a different city, and moved back in with my mom, it got relatively easy. I was safe, but there were some downfalls: life seemed kind of dull, and I developed a new addiction. You’d be surprised about how many people laugh in your face when you tell them you’re addicted to food. Not a “you’re stupid” laugh, but a “that isn’t a thing” laugh. Anyway, nine months and 10 pounds later, I was almost content with my life. I was planning on going back to school, and I had a fulfilling job, I even returned to social media, with new accounts. Social media entertained me, helped me pass the time, and seemed harmless. Until one afternoon, I saw a message request from an old acquaintance, and I decided to accept it. Next thing I knew, my world turned upside down. Justin, one of the only people I considered a friend from my non-sober days, went home after work the night before, had some beers and cocaine that he didn’t know was laced with fentanyl, a potent painkiller, and took a nap. He never woke up.
It was way too soon for me to be around all those people from my past. I mean, these were the people I would party until 6 A.M. with; we would tip bartenders extra so they would stay open later for us, trash hotel rooms after the bar, and go to work drunk the next morning. I had mostly bad memories with them, and I thought I would never have to see them again, or at least not purposefully. I still put on my black dress and went to the funeral, and it was as hard as I imagined, but the hardest part of all was seeing Justin laying still inside a casket, surrounded by flowers, forever frozen in time. For a moment there, I couldn’t stop crying, and the saddest part of all is that everyone around me was calm and collected. I know everyone grieves in their way, but that was different. I spoke to his mom and sister, whom I had previously met on several occasions, and it was almost as if they were expecting it to happen at any minute, and now they were at the end of the journey. While making conversation with other people at the funeral, I got an understanding as to why they were behaving like that. During the past nine months, most of these people had attended other funerals for friends or acquaintances that had passed away under the same circumstances. It wasn’t their first rodeo. I went home and ordered a pizza for myself, and as I ate it, all I could think about was Drew.
We would sing along to the best songs while driving around and watch sunrises while talking about the most profound topics. He snorted while laughing when something was genuinely funny. He once cooked five different recipes of spinach dip because it was my favorite. Every Sunday brunch we worked together, he would make his versions of Starbucks recipes for me so I would stay awake. Drew had crazy tales of going out with a new boy every weekend and knew about all my failed relationships. Still, I blocked him, along with many other people, without a single warning, because it was the right thing to do for myself. I was angry, frustrated, sad, and shocked that I would never see his smile or tattoos again. I would never hear his voice again or try one of his dishes. The scariest part was that for as many nights as we spent drinking, chain-smoking cigarettes, and doing drugs together, the person on that casket could have been me. So. Many. Times.
Two years have passed since that night. I still think about Justin, I’m still sober, and I still have an eating disorder, although I have gotten a lot better thanks to my therapist and all the techniques she has taught me. But I think of all people who haven’t been able to get their hand out of the sand, who don’t have a support system, or even a fighting chance at gaining access to mental healthcare. All those people who might never get to hear or understand that their addiction is a coping mechanism that helps them avoid feelings, good or bad. All those people that, with the help of corporate America, keep filling their emptiness with the latest iPhone, make/up palette, ice cream flavor, or fashion trend. The people that drink a bottle of wine every night because they can’t stand their career choice or their family situation, who then wake up hungover and feel like dying, so they turn to big Pharma to make their symptoms disappear for a while. The people who live for social media likes and comments, or nightly Tinder dates, only to avoid being by themselves, with their thoughts and feelings. I think of all of them, and I feel worried, yet thankful. Thankful for the professionals who volunteer their time to reach those who can’t afford therapy and the endless self-help resources on the internet. I’m also grateful for being able to attend college and open my eyes to what is happening around me, and hopefully, with time, become part of the solution. The solution to addiction in America; aided by big corporations who only care about increasing their fortune while taking advantage of people’s subconscious minds and the lack of mental healthcare support across the country.
The consequences of this crisis are far graver than a few missed hours of memory during the weekend or a bad hangover. They entail a wide range from those lesser consequences: accumulated debt, drastic changes in personality and personal appearance, loss of job(s), diminished self-esteem, incarceration, violence, and even death. These consequences are adverse enough, but even worse, they reinforce the root behavior, causing a vicious cycle. People come to hate themselves because they see these manifestations in their life and the only way of making those feelings disappear is to go back to the addiction and even find a new avenue when the first one isn’t enough anymore. The vicious circle aggravates the individual but can also affect their immediate and even extended circle, leaving a trail of suffering around them and triggering a butterfly effect with consequences that can’t begin to be measured. When people are part of an organization and fail to do their job correctly or even show up, they can cost companies resources and time; worst of all, if they are in healthcare positions, they can directly affect other people’s lives. When families get involved, they can put in a lot of energy and financial help, which some families don’t even have to begin with but will seek to be of assistance. However, if the individual doesn’t put his or her best foot forward, they will waste all of their family’s effort, which can cause hatred and low morale among the family, bringing the individual back to square one and scars the family. It seems like an overall grim situation, but the first step to end this crisis is always to reach out for help.
As an individual, one must realize the effects of addiction on all levels of one’s life and genuinely want to get better. It is essential to understand that it is never too late to start over, but that it won’t be a smooth or linear path. People must be willing to be patient and loving towards themselves and those around them, and to have the courage to leave no stone unturned in the path towards a better life. Countries should put tangible measures in place to help those in need of mental healthcare. Laws must be enforced that require health insurance companies to have better coverage in their policies for such an important area. Access to mental health education across all levels should also be a priority, which would help end the stigma around disorders and addiction and inspire others to be of help in the conversation within society. People in the mental health field should continue to expand their research on innovative techniques to help people holistically. The latest approaches include physical, psychological, and spiritual practices from different religions and areas of the world, such as meditation and yoga, which I have personally found to be extremely helpful in my journey. Other approaches integrate the arts; dance, music, and visual arts are helpful therapies and hobbies that serve as creative outlets for all types of feelings. Most importantly, they give individuals something positive to immerse themselves into and regain the sense of joy they need to keep moving forward.
What works for others sometimes doesn’t work for me, and vice-versa, and I am glad to have had the willingness to stick it out and find what does work. With time, I have found things to look forward to and to live for, and I attribute that to anyone around me who ever gave me a chance when everything about me told them otherwise. My education has been invaluable, it helped me gain information and explore things that I like, and I am grateful to be on this path and to be reaching the end of my first college degree. I hope wherever my journey takes me, I get to inspire others and help them be better humans, friends, partners, and members of society. I also hope many others allow themselves to look in the mirror and find even the tiniest ray of light, that will give them hope and guide them forward, with the help of those around them, so that they start loving themselves and make changes, no matter how small. So that when the time comes for their bodies to freeze in time, they will have lived a fulfilling, long, beautiful life, positively influencing everyone around them.