Seven Years Of The Best Years So Far.
Growing up, it was always inferred, but not directly stated by those in my circle that addiction is a form of weakness. If you have strong enough faith in God, care about your family, care about your future, or any other myriad of things, addiction isn't something you'd ever have to deal with. This was engrained in my head by influential adults other than my parents - people I looked up to, mostly from my church. They were just going off what they were taught by those who came before them, and for the longest time, I believed everything they said.
I carried this notion of addiction being correlated with weak-mindedness into my teenage days and actually abstained completely from alcohol during those years. I had been around plenty of people smoking, drinking, a few doing rails of cocaine off pool tables and dinner plates, but I never cared to go jump in myself. I had heard the stories of my grandmother's alcoholism and how it had an impact on every aspect of life on my mother's side of the family. Also, I had heard the stories of my uncles on my dad's side and their alcohol fueled debauchery. I didn't understand at that point why anyone would allow things to go that far. "Just stop doing it." Then I hit adulthood.
Alcohol wasn't something I ever touched until I was twenty years old. And it wasn't a problem for me until I could legally buy it. Around the time I was able to legally sit at a bar and drink, one of my closest friends was already a full-blown alcoholic. Donnie was six years older than me, had been married, had kids, but lived a troubled life of chemical dependency and mental illness. For about a year, he leaned on me and my clear head. I would drive him home when he was drunk sometimes, and he would often say, both when drunk and sober, that he admired how well I was put together for being so young. We had a lot of great talks and had a lot of fun, but I could see how clearly troubled he was inside. On January 8th, 2008, Donnie took his own life.
I repressed my emotions starting on the day he died. My family wanted to comfort me, but I had no interest in it. The few close friends I had at the time didn't know how to react to what had happened, so on that front I felt ignored. I had lost family members prior to that, but it was always from a prolonged illness or old age. Not like this. I had issues with figuring out how to cope. His death completely broke me, so I did what Donnie did and leaned on alcohol.
At this point I had a career in motion while still being in college, had some money saved up, had just moved out of my parents house, and things should have been going great. I was having night terrors about my friend for months on end and the only way I could sleep was to drink to the point of passing out. This became normalized in my brain because I was "medicating" myself. You see, I never drank much in public at all. I did so behind closed doors and away from most people's knowledge, but it was a daily routine for me. I was a full-blown alcoholic by the age of 23 and was to the point of drinking a fifth of whatever every single night. I would be home from work by about 4:00PM and drink myself to sleep as a functioning alcoholic, just to do it all over again the next day.
When I was twenty-five years old, in 2011, I lost the job I had held over five years. A company wide layoff happened and none of us affected were prepared, nor saw any warning signs before we were confronted and given separation papers to sign. Already unhealed from Donnie's death, I really lost my direction at that point. I wasn't just drinking myself to sleep, but was also drinking myself through the days.
Early in 2012, I started another ritual of contemplating suicide on a near daily basis. I had reached my complete breaking point and felt like I had nowhere to go - nothing left to give to the world. In October of that year, I was staring at a loaded gun and contemplating what the next move was going to be. I had just enough clarity as the Jack Daniels was filtering out and the hangover was setting in to think about where I was in that moment. This was the point I realized the lies and misinformation I had been told most of my life...
Addiction isn't a sign of weak-mindedness, and it doesn't mean you're any less of a person than someone who hasn't touched a substance in their life. It goes deeper than that and can sneak up on you in ways you never would have thought. It effects people who you would never imagine having such an issue. Some people are wired to crave that first drunk endorphin, or that first high as something they instantly can't get enough of, and some people are the opposite. I still have friends to this day who can do a line of cocaine and not touch it again for a year. Some people are wired that way, but I'm not, and it makes me all the more grateful I never touched anything harder than alcohol. Then there are others who are prescribed opiates to deal with pain after medical procedures with no way to come down from them once their injuries heal. Some can just step away, but some are hooked and just can't because of how their brains have become rewired as a result of taking that legal prescription. Still some are just curious and end up in the same place unintentionally. Nobody wants to be an addict - nobody wants to be so destroyed.
Today marks seven years of sobriety for me. It has been seven years since I was about to end my life due to the repressed emotions and pain that I tried to drown with alcohol my entire, early adulthood. The day I finally realized that addiction is bigger than just making a choice, and is the absolute biggest and most painful struggle of your life if you are so afflicted. I am an addict. I will always be an addict. Even though I haven't had a drink in seven years, I'm still only one drink away from a relapse and this will be a factor in every decision I make for the rest of my life. I know this and have fully accepted it as a part of who I am and the way I'm wired as a person. Since coming to terms with my demons and becoming sober, I have also made peace with the death of my friend, my own mental state, and have gained a focus and clarity I had never experienced prior to that point. I'm not normal - we all have issues, but since that day in 2012, I have only been focused on the great things ahead.
If you are struggling with addiction or mental illness, I believe you can get through it. Seek out the help and positive reinforcement you need to succeed. It all starts with taking that step, and I know you can get through it.