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“Addiction begins with the thought that something physical can instantly fill up our emptiness inside.”-Granite Recover Centers
Sometimes she felt as though her outer body served as a shell that protected others from seeing whatever rot existed on her insides. If she could get her body to look thin enough, her hair to look just the right way, if she could wear the right clothes and say the right things and fit in with the right group, then the darkness and the deep-seeded self-hatred would remain invisible. There was a huge disparity between her outside appearance and smile and the inside of herself. Imagine opening a huge beautiful cantaloupe and finding rotting maggots squirming around within.
We see people with addiction. We study them, we give them counseling, we send them to rehab centers, we put them through 7 day detoxes. We send them to court ordered AA meetings, and we think in 3 months, with just enough time to get the drugs out of their systems, they’ll be happy as a clam, back to normal, able to survive and thrive with the rest of us. Someone once told me that as humans, we all feel an inherent need to be loved by our creator. Addicts feel the need more intensely than others; they long for the connection, and they feel more disconnected from God than most. It’s like they are screaming, “Someone just love me! Please!” There are many theories as to why addicts and alcoholics are the way they are. None of us really know all the answers, but so many of us have been there.
Samantha’s flirtation with drugs and alcohol isn’t unique. It probably shouldn’t have happened. She was raised in an outwardly normal, upper middle-class family. She had everything going for her. But after a disturbing incident that occurred at a young age, a part of her changed forever. Prior to this, she remembered what it was like to feel happy, to feel excited about life. To see the world and think that she could do something special and be someone special. She would wake up every morning in excitement, waiting for the day ahead. But the horrifying event in her youth altered the course of her life forever.
There were other aspects too that led Samantha to believe drugs were the answer. She learned from a young age to walk on eggshells. Don’t say anything to upset your father; protect your mother, say the right thing at the right moment or something terrible will happen. She felt like she had to protect her mother from her father, and at the same time, she felt like she had to keep any emotion within her a secret. Don’t be yourself. Being yourself is a bad thing, she thought. Of course, her parents didn’t mean to project this on her, but they were dealing with their own brokenness, and as we all know, broken families can break their children, unless someone, somewhere, stops the chain.
So, Samantha became a chameleon. A good one at that. She was this person to that person, and another person to someone else. Whatever you wanted her to be, she was. Needless to say, she didn’t have a lot of close friendships because she was never really her own person. She had “friends” but anyone that got too close was discarded, or as we say nowadays, “ghosted”. It got to a point where if someone asked Samantha, “what music do you like?” she wouldn’t have been able to answer, honestly. Should she answer in the way that would impress them? What would impress them? It was exhausting, this chameleon lifestyle. Every year, her family took Christmas card pictures with each of them smiling, but all the while each family member harbored their own resentments and anger towards each other. But the picture always looked nice. Such a great family they said! Such lovely pictures, they said. Merry Freaking Christmas.
Keeping secrets. Keeping secrets is a bad habit and it doesn’t just go away overnight. In order to survive, Samantha had to pretend that everything was ok. Yes, people have always had it worse. But we can’t really compare one’s pain to another’s pain. You can’t compare what you feel to someone who lives in North Korea, for example. Pain is pain, and to try and compare one to another and scream “you didn’t have it that bad” only minimizes the pain itself. What does it really solve to tell someone who is in pain that they shouldn’t have been in pain?
So, when alcohol was introduced to her at a young age, it was like she no longer had to play the chameleon role. It took the heat off, just momentarily. For one moment, Samantha didn’t have to sit with the gnawing fear growing inside of her. She could just BE, finally. And addiction is a funny thing. It doesn’t happen overnight. It grows on you. It’s a demon that tells you to do the exact opposite of what you know is right, but in that moment, it’ the only solution to make everything ok. Alcohol was great, but painkillers really took the cake. They didn’t make the pain go away or the bad memories, but they made Samantha not care about any of it. Hey! She was sad but she didn’t care about being sad! She could stuff the sadness deep within and it didn’t overflow outside of her every 5 minutes.! And the ironic part is, taking drugs and alcohol only creates more bad memories due to reckless decisions made in the moment, so Samantha had to take more drugs to forget the memories she just made, again. And so on.
The demon, always going back in forth in your head. Don’t take it. Don’t do it. It’s wrong. And then the other side. But if you take it, everything will be ok. It won’t hurt anymore. The anxiety will go away. You can deal with the real problems tomorrow. You know, the fact that you’re broke and sad and lonely and in a bad relationship and you hate your job, you don’t have to think about that, today. The fact that you can’t get that terrible memory out of your mind from when you were a kid. The memories wash away into a sea of nothingness, and all you know is pure bliss. This is what normal people must feel like, you think. They aren’t plagued by terror and pain and fear and sadness.
Samantha always felt that if people felt like her, they would use drugs too. It’s just an excuse to keep using, but it feels so true in that moment. If anyone else felt as horrible as she did, they would stuff down 100 Vicodin’s a day themselves. Hell, they would go out and buy them for her. She knew what people thought. Poor little you. What do you have to suffer for? Nothing. You’re just a little spoiled brat who has daddy issues and trust issues. Get over it. Move on! But how do you move on if the only solution you’ve ever known is the one thing that causes all of your problems, but also solves them?
Addiction isn’t something that you choose. I mean, you do choose to take that first drug, that first drink. But once you’ve crossed the line, it’s no longer a choice. And once your body is physically addicted to something, the choice is gone. You will do anything to get what you need to feel better. And the sadness keeps growing. Sometimes Samantha felt like she was so sad, that it would spill out of her, like the maggots within would just come through her pores. And you can’t ask for help, because asking for help in the past has gotten you in trouble. Be strong. Be courageous. Don’t ask for help! Keep suffering because you deserve it! Loser!
And Samantha just kept on hurting people. You don’t mean to, of course. What are you supposed to do? You need your fix. If you don’t get it, you can’t function. So, what if you have to hurt people in the process? So, what if you push everyone who cares about you out of your life? I’m fine! I’m fine! I’m fine! No, you’re not fine. And your insides are beginning to match your outsides. Your looks fade because the maggots within are starting to show on the outside too. Your hair falls out, your lines are showing, and your eyes just look so damn sad. You see pictures from that time, and you look at the eyes. The eyes really are the windows into the soul, as they say.
It’s a struggle for many people to get out of addiction. Although the recovery rate remains somewhat low, the good news is that with more effective and modern treatments coupled with life-saving therapy and communities such as AA, there are many ways to sustain recovery. Some are more conventional than others, but there are many paths forward and we are learning more every day about treatments that can be effective. That being said, we must continue to do better in helping more people recover and heal the wounds that led to their addictions in the first place. It is also important to understand that the majority of people who suffer from addiction are dealing with unresolved trauma. Sexual abuse. Dysfunctional families. Not everyone who came from hardships becomes an addict, but there aren’t many people who are addicts that came from the Walton’s.
When people asked Samantha why she became an addict, she always answered the same way. She just wanted the anxiety to go away. It wasn’t so much about getting high, she just wanted the fear to go away. And what she had to realize, and learn, is that the fear is not something coming at her, from outside of herself. Scary monsters aren’t jumping out at her in the shopping market. The monster is within. The fear is within. The fear comes from an inability to let the light within her shine. The inability to be the real her. To actually be her true self- that is terrifying. To stand up for oneself, when necessary. To tell people when she’s feeling sad, and to trust that they won’t use it against her. To be vulnerable and say, “I’m sorry, I need help. I feel insecure right now. I can’t handle this. I can’t control this problem. Please don’t leave me! Please help!” To not use anger as an excuse to feel powerful when you feel powerless. There’s so many lessons addicts have to learn to get better; it’s like teaching a small child in an adult’s body how to live life on life’s terms.
These are all lessons that can be learned in counseling, in AA, through meditation, church, and deep self-reflection. There is no one-size-fits all solution. Recovery is possible. As cliched as it is, it’s truly one day at a time. You have to get to a place where you completely give up all pretense of control and admit that you don’t know how to solve the problem. Then, and only then, can God come in and do the work to help you. Solutions are different for everyone, and God knows what each of us needs to heal broken hearts. Samantha doesn’t know if tomorrow she will drink or use a drug. But she does know that if she does everything she can do today to stay sober, she has a chance. She can’t make the bad memories go away, but she can accept them, and use them to help other people who may be suffering. She can use her newfound sobriety to make good memories. And she can accept the fact that somedays, she will be sad, and other days, she will be happy. That’s life. It’s part of being human. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
There will always be a part of Samantha that wants to escape from the bad memories, from the pain, from the anxiety. But what she’s learned is that the vices addicts such as herself use to escape reality make the memories worse, the pain worse, and the anxiety worse. So, all we can do is reach out and say, “I need help. I’m vulnerable. I’m a human and I can’t do this on my own.” It’s the hardest thing you’ll have to do, but it’s the only way to make your outsides match your insides, in a good way. Our outsides and insides are a little messy sometimes, but that’s ok. That’s the way it should be. Nobody is perfect. Spill your secrets to someone you trust, whether it be a counselor or a sponsor. Expose your pain and secrets to the light, and the light will make the perceived shame shrivel up like rain water, disintegrating in the sun.
Having a relationship with God has been key to Samantha’s recovery, and she recommends that everyone find something bigger than themselves to believe in. It makes it a lot easier when you don’t have to do everything on your own. This little phrase sticks with Samantha when she feels scared and afraid to spill her secrets and shame. As John, 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Secrets make us sick, and the only cure is to expose them to someone you trust. And you can recover. Many of us have. Luckily, just for today, Samantha is still in recovery.