“To be nobody but yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” – E.E. Cummings
I found myself in sobriety. I lost her along the way. The world was full of noise. It was telling me to be this and to be that. To care about things, I did not care about and to pretend everything was good, even if everything was very bad. I wish I would have known what matters and what didn’t matter. I wish the cloak of shame I wore throughout my addiction and in early sobriety would have come off quicker than it did. But, time takes time.
I grew up in an upper-middle class neighborhood in Phoenix, Arizona that was full of good people with good intentions. The problem was that the world was telling us that in order to shine we had to achieve, and compete. We had to be better than our neighbor and we had to beat them in every race.
I grew up with a high moral compass, thanks to my parents and my family. I said no to drugs and I said yes to education and experiences and people. I was always pulling back from what the world wanted me to be, while still ensuring that I was doing what the world wanted me to do. I was full of contradictions. I wanted so badly to love what I loved and to not care about popularity, and trophies, and accomplishments. But, I also wanted validation just as much.
It was a constant fight to be the person I knew I was, while still ensuring that my parents and my teachers and my friends were telling me they were proud of me. I craved validation in the same way I ended up craving the drugs that broke me down. I couldn’t breathe without it.
I was an exceptional student. I saw how my older sister was constantly praised for her intelligence and I started valuing my own intelligence above all else. She was valedictorian, a cheerleader, an honor student, and it appeared that she could do all things I could not. I couldn’t dance. I couldn’t keep a beat. Good grades didn’t come naturally to me. I had to work for them.
I ended up graduating college Summa Cum Laude in 3.5 years and going to graduate school directly after that. My sister was in law school and I knew I had to get an advanced degree if I wanted to live up to who she was becoming and going to be. In December of 2004, I had a minor surgery and I was prescribed opiates. During this time, I was studying for the GMAT’s and putting an unbelievable amount of pressure on myself to get accepted into the graduate school of my choice. It was the very first time I ever used a prescription for non-medical reasons. I know I was prescribed Vicodin, but the pain had subsided and I continued to take the pills because they relaxed me and made me feel at peace. After that prescription ran out, I found another Vicodin bottle in my medicine cabinet from when I got my wisdom teeth taken out. I swallowed every pill and when I visited my parents’ house, I found their old opiate prescriptions and took those as well.
When the bottles of pills ran out, I stopped using them. I didn’t think of it as abuse or a problem that I would ever have to confront. I took a few pills that helped me relax in the same way people drink a glass of wine to help themselves relax. It wasn’t an issue, until it was.
Over the years, I would continue to seek out opiates. I would use them on the weekend or buy them on vacation in Mexico. I preferred swallowing a pill, over drinking. It was my preferred route of administration.
Overtime, I started recognizing a problem in myself. I was self-aware enough to know that this is not how I would normally behave. I ended up seeing a psychiatrist and told him that I had been abusing prescription painkillers and that I was depressed and needed his help. He spent about 25 minutes with me and sent me off with 3 more prescriptions. Xanax, to treat my anxiety. Ambien, to help me sleep. And an anti-depressant, to soothe my depression. He didn’t seem to care that I thought I had become addicted to prescription opiates. He only seemed to care about treating the symptoms, not the true problem. However, I was able to stop abusing prescription painkillers for the next couple of years. Instead, I learned how to abuse Xanax.
In 2009, I was involved in a bad car accident and I was prescribed more opiates than fathomable. It’s true that I was in pain and I ended up with three herniated discs and consistent pain that would still last until this day. However, once again, the doctors seemed to treat the symptoms, not the problem. I was still able to function and maintain a job and be a productive member of society, but I could feel myself losing control.
In 2010, I was prescribed Adderall by the same doctor who prescribed me Xanax, Ambien, and an anti-depressant when I told him I had a problem with prescription opiates. This time he prescribed me Adderall after telling him I wanted to die and I didn’t know what to do. I had lost an important job opportunity and I felt suicidal. His answer was a highly addictive amphetamine that would soon lead me to complete destruction.
I spent the next four years in and out of drug rehabs, and psych wards, and sober living homes. I could not maintain my sobriety because I had lost myself over the course of the last ten years. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I had always been the successful, determined, and accomplished woman that society wanted me to be. When I lost my identity as this woman, I became afraid and fragile and fearful. The only thing I wanted to do was escape this pain. I couldn’t face the world anymore. Without this identity, who was I? I had no idea.
In 2014, I entered recovery and I finally began understanding who I was again. I can’t fully explain why this time it stuck and all the other times it didn’t. There are a thousand things I did to make recovery stick. I believe the combination of all the tools I utilized and all the people I met along the way are what helped create the miracle of lasting recovery. Sometimes nothing makes sense and when you look back on it, it all makes sense (as confusing as that may sound.)
I can say I threw the book at my recovery. I never just stuck to one way or one program of recovery. I continued adding more and more tools as I wanted to keep growing and keep evolving. I utilized counseling, meditation, meetings, prayer, essential oils, breath work, tribe, people, sobriety schools, movement, poetry, books, Rumi, God, family, animals, writing, the internet and other people. The list could continue on forever as there are so many things I did to maintain my recovery. I didn’t want to lose my sobriety anymore. It became my most cherished possession.
Rebecca Campbell says “Bless the thing that broke you down and cracked you open, because the world needs you open.” My addiction and the destruction that occurred in my addiction led me to here, to now, to the gift that is my life. I don’t wish addiction for anyone. However, I have learned to be grateful for the experience of addiction. It’s not my identity. It’s part of my story. My identity is a human. I have stripped the layers of shame and guilt and I have become a woman I am proud to be.
I maintain my recovery by continually working on becoming a better human. This is my one goal. I believe the greatest thing I found in my sobriety is a God of my own understanding. I actually found God through the poetry of Rumi. I built a relationship with God and I work on that relationship every single day. I ask God to use me for His purposes. I thank Him daily. And I stay close to him, in everything I do, in all the people I meet.
I never want to be a finished product. I am always willing to learn, to be open-minded, to change. All the material things that used to matter don’t matter so much anymore. When you have been taken down to the bare bones, you start to understand what matters and what doesn’t. For me, my sobriety is my priority. I know that Kindness matters. Love matters. Service matters. I have grown into a soft woman with the biggest heart. I am not defined by what the world thinks of me, but rather by what God thinks of me. I found myself, because of sobriety.