A Personal Story Through Addiction & Mental Health

addiction mental health post

Part Two

9-minute read time.

I certainly didn’t enter treatment on my own account. It was an ultimatum placed on me by those that loved me far greater than I loved myself. Sometimes that is exactly what it takes to get someone started, and it was clear to my family and friends that it was the only option I had left.

If you were to look at my life from the outside, everything seemed to be going as planned. I finally owned a restaurant that was quite successful, I had a bit of money in the bank, and most importantly, a loving partner, two gorgeous little girls, and my first son on the way. The accumulation of material goods and external, societal successes brought me ‘happiness’. “Just look how many people go to my restaurant. Just look at the cars I own, the followers I have on social media, the people who love my cooking, the fame I’m gaining in the culinary field”, I would tell myself. “I must be doing okay”.

This had been true to a degree (as I am and will forever be proud of myself for some of those accomplishments and achievements), but in reality I had a gaping, internal hole that could never be satisfied. No matter what, internal problems cannot be remedied by external solutions, at least not for long. Mental health and addiction continued to run my life, and therefore, my life was always absolute chaos.

Addiction is the disease of ‘never enough’. Whether it’s money, power, fame, women (or men), or material goods – nothing ever satisfies the insatiable thirst for more. I got a little, I wanted more. I got more, I need an abundance. It is a never-ending cycle. Short bursts of dopamine flood the brain and in the moment it feels fantastic, but what goes up, must come down. Peaks and valleys are constant. “One is too many and one thousand is never enough”, is something you hear often in recovery circles. That rang true in my life. It was never ever enough.

Starting with cannabis and ending with cocaine, once I picked up a substance, I couldn’t tell you where I would be, who I would be with, or how long I would be there. I handed complete control over to the substance at play. I was like a tornado that picked up steam and crushed everything in its path. This last relapse was no different in that regard, but a bit different in another.

This time around I gave up absolutely. “This is who I am. An addict for life. I need these substances to function. My anxiety is too powerful. I’ve tried to get help and stay sober for almost a decade now, and it’s obvious that nothing works for me”, I claimed. “This is just the way it is”. I was using acceptance, but in the worst possible way. It became my identity, a part of my genetic makeup, and therefore, an area that was impossible for me to change.

My thought that I had tried everything was wrong. It was simply my ego trying to protect me and justify the continuance of the lifestyle I was living. It’s unbelievable the stories we tell ourselves that keep us stuck for so long. I always thought I had the worst luck, I was given the wrong cards, I couldn’t get away with anything, and that I was just going to be one of those people that fizzles away. This mindset kept me in the ‘victim’ mentality beautifully.

No one heals playing the victim. No one changes while blaming the world and everyone in it for their problems. I am not saying we are always responsible for the things that happen to us throughout our lives (horrible, unimaginable things happen to us that we have absolutely no control over), but what I am saying is that we are responsible for our recovery and our healing. We do have choice, and we do have power. We simply need to tap into it and change our perspective.

In reality, I am one of the lucky ones. I have been blessed with supportive, caring individuals, that to this day, surround me on all sides. They took it upon themselves to fight for my life. They gave me an opportunity to let go of everything I had been holding on to for so long, and a chance to focus on my healing. I am forever grateful to each and every one of these individuals for being there for me. The all know who they are.

One of my all-time favourite quotes is by Dr. Gabor Maté, which states, “Only in the presence of compassion will people allow themselves to see truth”. This is what my family and friends showed me – compassion. It allowed me to finally see truth.

On the morning of October 15th, 2018, I woke up to my partner sitting on the bed. “Come upstairs”, she asked. “This isn’t an intervention, is it?”, I replied. Well, sure enough, I walked upstairs and found a room full of love staring me in the face. The TV show I loved so dearly became a reality.

I walked outside with my best mate to have a cigarette before we got started, and I knew, right then and there, this was over. The sense of relief, oscillating with deep anxiety, was intense. These people are doing for me what I could never do for myself. I could finally breathe. The lies, the manipulation, the stories and fabrications – done.

I sat down between my mother and my partner and knew without a doubt I was going to take the opportunity being presented. I listened to their letters, which had to be one of the most difficult things they would ever write, got my things, and was off. That drive to the treatment facility was the most at ease and peaceful I had ever felt up to that point in my life. The overwhelming serenity and calm was unforgettable.

In that treatment centre I made a pivotal discovery. I finally wanted to be sober, and finally wanted to do it for myself. Most of the decade prior I was getting sober for everyone else. The parents, the family, and my employers gave me enough motivation to do it for a period of time, but it never lasted. In my experience, we need to want to do it for ourselves, nobody else. It may start with others, but at some point that pivot is necessary for long-term recovery, and that is what happened to me.

After 45 days away, through various emotions, ups, downs, successes and failures, I walked out a much different human than who I walked in as. It’s an odd feeling, almost as if you have shed a skin and are once again a vulnerable newborn entering the world.

I wore masks for so long. I barely knew who I was anymore. The people pleasing, attachment-prone version of me that I was presenting the world was not who I truly was. The layers upon layers of protective coating were thick. The ego, that ‘story of I‘, kept me ‘safe’ for so long and now it was like starting not just a fresh page, but an entirely new book. There were, of course, many physical things that remained when I got out of treatment, such as my work (albeit not for long) and family, but my perspective and perception of the world was completely different.

The biggest difference now was that I had a program of recovery, and I was no longer just seeking sobriety. There is a vast difference, at least in my eyes, between the two.

Sobriety is continuing to live the way you were living without the aid of substances or behaviours. Not much changes, and you simply ‘dry up’. Life goes on without much healing. The problem with this is that the substance or behaviour you have used has actually been the solution to your problem. It has given you ways to cope with the world and make life livable. It is a survival skill, and one we hold near to us. Most of us, and especially our loved ones, think that the substance or behaviour we become addicted to is the root of our problem, but that’s not true. The root of our problem is actually ourselves. Take away our coping mechanism and survival skill, and you are left with an emotionally volatile, highly stressed, pain-ridden individual.

Recovery is a verb, meaning it shows an action. Being in recovery requires constant, consistent action towards becoming a better version of yourself. It is a therapeutic process that allows us to learn about our challenges, and the necessary skills to overcome them. Recovery is about rediscovering the authentic you that was lost so long ago, and building a life worth living again. Without active participation in this process there is little chance for any serenity, contentment, or long-term recovery.

Recovery has become a constantly active part of my life, and my first priority – even before my family. Without recovery, I don’t have a family anyway. Without recovery, I don’t have a career. If I were to put any of these things above my recovery, I place it in jeopardy. Knowing my mental health directly affects how close I am to substance use, I need to ensure that I am consistently doing the things that I need to be doing in order to stay well. Simplicity, balance, connection, and service are vitally important to my well-being.

My anxiety and mental health complications nearly vanished once I got sober. I came to assume that it was simply the intermittent withdrawal of drugs and alcohol that were initiating the symptoms, and the fact that I finally gave the medication I had been taking for so long a chance to really work.

And so, for over two years my mental health and substance use problems receded into the background. Recovery was placed at the top of the totem pole, and the ‘gifts of recovery’ kept on giving. I left the culinary world, went back to school, and became an addiction counsellor. My family and I are closer than we have ever been, and we even moved to Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland, for a fresh start. The people that surround me now are positive, like-minded individuals that want the same thing as me – to continue becoming better versions of themselves.

I would love to be able to say that all my problems disappeared once I entered recovery, but life is just not that simple. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows just because you got sober.

In January of this year, the anxiety, panic and depersonalization came back strong. I was shocked and caught off-guard, as my assumptions about the origins of my mental health were wrong.

This time around, it was much different navigating life with no ‘quick-fixes’. I was so used to just taking a Xanax or having a drink when this would pop up in the past that for a short time I felt hopeless and helpless.

The panic went from periodic episodes to nearly day-long events. The overwhelming fear started keeping me indoors as much as possible, especially when it was rainy, dark and cloudy. This ‘rule’, and a multitude of others, came back. I’d have depersonalization episodes nearly every time I drove my car or left the house. The world felt like it was caving in on me again, and it was touching every aspect of my life.

The beauty in this reemergence of mental health issues was that because of my program of recovery, because of the daily preparation I had been working on for years now, I had the skills to face this challenge head on. This time, I had the skills to navigate these challenges in healthy, productive ways. I had a support system constructed around me to assist me throughout the process. I no longer needed to avoid these thoughts, feelings and emotions with substances. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t quick, but over time I have succeeded in not allowing this challenge to pull me back into addiction.

Much like the military that trains year-round for a war, a person in recovery trains year-round for their own war: the internal battle they inevitably fight with themselves. This is why active recovery is so important. This is why we have a program that we follow on a daily basis.

This time, when my own war began again, I had a toolbox of supports, practices and techniques I could put into use.

Missed Part One? Read it here.

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