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Nobody told me what addiction could look like.
I had watched Public Service Announcements showing people with greasy hair, missing teeth, and sallow skin. I saw needle marks in arms, and tattered clothing adorning thin frames. Bloodshot eyes and skin abscesses, like words on a paper, telling the story of a person’s descent.
I didn’t know it could be a man managing to hold down a full-time job, or a mom staying sober long enough (or not) to drive her children to practice. It could be priests, neighbors, teachers, doctors, or your favorite grocery clerk. It could be a young college coed ill-equipped to grapple with her crippling anxiety and depression.
Nobody told me about who the addicts were before addiction robbed them of their identities.
I heard stories of people who were already at rock bottom. They were drinking themselves to death. They were paranoid menaces after meth binges. They were people who had already lost everything.
I didn’t know addicts could start out as bright, optimistic and good-natured people. Life, being cruel as it can sometimes be, turned them into fragments of their former selves. You’ll never find a school report with, “I want to be an addict when I grow up” scribbled on it.
Nobody told me I was predisposed to addiction.
I knew there were addicts in my family, but the way they were discussed among gossipmongers at gatherings made it seem like other people’s problems. They were reckless and weak, unable to control themselves. These were people who seemingly enjoyed living on the constant edge of demise.
Little did I know that this same mystifying dysfunction was the same one coursing through my own veins. It waited for the right moment, when I was emotionally destitute, so that it could put a chokehold on my life. I didn’t choose addiction, addiction chose me.
Nobody told me how addiction starts.
I knew what addiction looked like in the thick of things. I saw people drinking in excess, only able to have a good time if they drank until they blacked out. I saw the kind of drug use that was beyond experimentation and recreation. I saw people standing on the remains of a life they completely gambled away.
I didn’t see one bender turning into two into ten. I didn’t see sleeping through one class turning into one week turning into an entire month of school. I didn’t see small lies turning into huge lies turning into a network of lies. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive…ourselves.
Nobody told me how alienating addiction could be.
The addicts I knew appeared to purposely isolate themselves. They stayed out all night, never telling people where they were going. They ran away from home, floating from one place to another. They found a new network of friends, friends who fueled their bad behaviors.
What I didn’t realize was that this was a misguided form of self-preservation. You think you’re being sneaky, that people won’t see what you’ve become if you just distance yourself. Before you know it, your addiction has managed to dismantle every healthy relationship in your life.
Nobody told me quitting would be the hardest thing I’d ever have to do.
You hear about the struggles people face, and how easy falling off the wagon is. I’ve struggled in writing this sentence because I wanted to accurately depict how difficult it really is to become, and then stay, sober. Ask someone in the early stages of their sobriety, and their look will say it all.
I had to confront the precursors to my addiction, and for me, that was much harder than any physical withdrawal I ever felt. My addiction was such a secret that most of my friends and family still don’t know about my struggle. I could barely admit I was an addict to myself; this meant I never spoke a word about it to anyone else. It also meant that cleaning myself up was done in the absence of a support system. I do not recommend that.
Nobody told me sobriety would alienate me all over again.
My sobriety is incredibly unconventional. I have smoked pot a few times in my sobriety. I do drink, but not often and always in moderation.
My addiction stemmed from deeply-rooted emotional and psychological issues which manifested themselves into an alcohol and drug-fueled form of escapism. I don’t do drugs of any kind anymore, and I won’t drink when I’m feeling really low. Because I still partake, I don’t feel like I fit in with other recovering addicts.
Nobody told me about the final chapter in my sobriety.
I don’t talk at length about my recovery, and it’s not something I want to give much thought to either. While some recovering addicts talk openly and proudly about their sobriety, I choose to completely detach myself from it. Leaving that period of my life behind me has been a huge part of my healing process.
After I publish this post, I won’t write about my struggle with addiction ever again. It’s not a part of who I am anymore, and to some extent, it wasn’t even a part of who I was back then. I want to spend my time and energy moving forward and continuing to work on the Jen I am today.
Nobody told me I’d never have the opportunity to become the person I should have been.
If only I had known.