It’s like I was trying to fill this impossible void. Because that’s just it. It’s impossible.
But you try. You try like hell and as the intrusive thoughts grow louder, you find yourself submerged. Submerged in a sea of endless fucking shit.
What the heck am I going to do now? And that’s just it. I had no fucking idea.
Because I was self-medicating instead of listening. I was doing a lot of things I shouldn’t have. And it starts a little something like this.
There are many reasons people turn to drugs and alcohol. From social influences, a desire to feel or look a certain way, to curiosity and wonder. Escaping reality and relieving physical pain (emotional ish too) were big ones for me. To be honest, they still kind of are. People also use as a way to reduce stress, manage side effects of other drugs, or misremember a certain traumatic event. In short, people self-medicate to mask symptoms of a bigger mental health issue.
This idea was originally known as “the self-medication hypothesis,” which was introduced in 1985. The hypothesis claims that people use substances as a response to mental illness. Period. It states that alcohol and drug abuse is often a coping mechanism for people with a variety of mental health conditions, such as P.T.S.D., depression, and anxiety. It also suggests that people gravitate toward the substance that alleviates their symptoms most effectively. The catch, however, is that using substances to self-medicate actually worsen symptoms of mental illness.
That’s because it does very little to treat the underlying cause.
And that will differ from person to person.
Sometimes though, most of the time, you don’t even know what it is, but it’s there, and it’s driving you insane. Yeah, I know. I get that feeling too. And that’s exactly how it happens. Because the missing void is often mistaken as unhappiness, fatigue, or depression. Maybe you feel like you’re stuck in a rut. Maybe you plan a wild vacation or try things you wouldn’t normally do —just to see if any of those activities settle the strange, inexplicable emptiness you feel inside.
The thing is, when you return (or when the party ends), the problem is still there. That’s because wherever you go, there you are. You can’t chase this shit away. At the same time, maybe you think it’s that you didn’t go far (or extreme) enough. So you try a little harder. And when you fail, it hurts even more. Sound familiar? Or, do you have it all under control? I’m guessing since you’re still reading, you don’t. It’s okay. Neither do I. In fact, neither do most people. Some are just better at pretending.
It’s the pursuit of happiness.
For me, like before I started using, I felt empty. I wasn’t happy with who I was on the inside. So I looked outwardly to fill that missing void. Because it always felt like something was missing. And that shit cuts deep. Because I wasn’t sure if what was killing me was making me stronger or just killing me. Truth is, it felt more like the ladder. And then I found pills. That was the beginning of the end. Because when I first started using, I couldn’t stop. It gave me this false freedom I mistakenly took for empowerment.
I’d like to say I don’t know how it got so messed up after that. But I kind of do.
Because eventually, those drugs became my best friend. And my worst fucking enemy. All at the same time. I was a walking contradiction. A wandering corpse. The definition of an oxymoron. I see now that I was walking a tightrope between my old familiar behavior, and the life I thought I wanted. Little did I know, it was leading me to death. The new unknown path promised hope, but I didn’t want hope. I wanted to get high. It was a dangerous time.
Because in spite of my wishful attempts to better myself, one part of me —obviously the more influential part, always succeeded in undermining my good intentions. That’s because there’s a thin freaking line between abuse and addiction. We often don’t see it as we cross it. We often don’t see it until it’s too late. So there I was. An accidental addict. I was trying to overcome my eating disorder and mental health challenges, yet, the very thing I thought was saving my life, began to end it —one line at a time.
I tried to make it stop. I tried to break the grips of addiction.
But I couldn’t. I was beyond the point of return. At the time, I recall my eyes brimming with tears. I remember my voice cracking as I’d try to suppress the lump rising in my throat. Shit. I suddenly felt the full weight of my impending transformation. For the record, that wasn’t a good thing. But I didn’t care. It’s just, I only got this way when I was running low. Not today though. So I snorted another line, and my face started sinking into an optimistic smile. Because when I felt the oxy drip line my throat, I felt instant relief.
And that right there made everything seem worth it. It’s not just me though. According to medical journals from the 1970s, physicians started noticing that heroin addicts weren’t using their drug of choice to have fun, but rather, as a way to cope with their problems. This led to the idea that drug use results from the absence of adequate solutions and meaningful social relationships. It’s ironic because drugs or alcohol may seem like the only way to provide that relief, but it’s regularly short-lived, and will almost always make matters worse in the long run.
But you couldn’t tell me that. And that’s just it.
I didn’t know then that the initial encounter would, in fact, initiate a seemingly never-ending journey into a darkening chamber of horror. All I knew then was that I had sunken into the depths of my own personal hell. I was quite literally on an emotional roller coaster. Highs getting higher. Lows increasingly lower. And the extremes occurring in much greater frequency. Because addiction at its core is not black and white. Grey? Who knows. I was black and blue.
My physical sense of self-shifted, causing my emotions, intelligence, and even my sense of morality to drop significantly on my scale of priorities. I’d do anything to not get sick. I’d do anything to get high. And I did. Never say never. I said yes instead. This false sense of security, made it all seem worth it. But was I happy? Not even close. In the grip of an emotional octopus, I was immobilized by an entanglement of tentacles; strengthening it just preceded my suffocation —with the slightest hint of a struggle for change.
But change meant nothing to this oxymoron.
Because I was in over my head. It’s just, I started using to ease the physical pain of my not yet diagnosed type one diabetes. I was trying to hush the voices in my head. OCD. Anxiety. Depression. I was fighting with my body to overcome an eating disorder. And that’s just it. Because eventually, not only did I mentally crave those drugs, my body physically needed them. So on my quest to fill that missing void, I bombarded myself with toxic chemicals. And don’t get me started on the things I had to do to get my blue little pill.
Let’s just say, that’s where P.T.S.D. comes into play.
Because I was a pretty little girl on the wrong side of the tracks. So yeah, I found myself in places I wouldn’t otherwise have been. Because at that point, I was a full-blown addict. I wanted to stop, but the dread of withdrawal impeded my better judgment —time and time again. Picture the worst flu on steroids. In short, the fear I felt trumped my desire for a normal life. Partly because the drugs I was taking (opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers) act as a central nervous system depressant.
One word, sedation.
I recently came across this enlightening article, The Poison We Pick, from NY Magazine, saying how as a nation, we’ve built a life around this technological haze. Except now, we’re killing ourselves with opioids and other drugs as a way to escape exactly what we created. And when you think about it, it’s so fucking true. I mean look at this quote. “Those who consumed opium (the plant opioids are derived from), did not shed a tear all day long, even if their mother or father had died, even if a brother or beloved son was killed before their own eyes.”
That’s because it removes pain, suspends grief, and seduces humans into this underworld of divine intervention. Like when I took my first pill, I had never felt more euphoria in my life. It felt like every problem and ailment I ever had, instantly disappeared. Some say it’s better than sex and honestly, I have to agree. But that doesn’t eliminate the fact that the poppy plant, through its many by-products, is now responsible for the highest decline in life spans throughout America for two years in a row.
There must be something about mental illness that gets soothed by drugs and booze.
It’s not complicated though. And that’s because P.T.S.D., depression, and other anxiety disorders all hinge on having an overactive amygdala —a part of the brain responsible for regulating emotions. When you experience some type of trauma or loss, your traumatized amygdala will continue to signal —telling your body that something of harm, threat, rejection, or disapproval is happening —even when nothing is. That right there makes it a less-than-desirable neighborhood to reside in.
Meaning, you need something to shut your brain up.
At the very least, drugs and booze take you out of yourself. They focus your attention elsewhere. Besides that, they can rev up your excitement or anticipation of reward (in the case of speed and coke). Perhaps, like me, you want to suppress your anxiety directly by lowering your traumatized amygdala (in the case of downers like opiates and booze). The mechanisms by which this happens are various and a little more complex. But the core of it is simple.
If not, let me give you an example.
As an addict, if I find something that relieves my gnawing sense of wrongness, I’ll take it, I’ll do it, and then I’ll do it again and again. But that right there, self-medicating, merely band-aids the problem. Because there’s a bigger issue here. On the other hand, if you take the time to really feel and experience the uncomfortable space that is your missing void, you may begin to see things clearly. And when you can see things clearly, that’s when you begin to heal. Because there are tools you can learn that will help you replace your drug of choice with healthy habits.
Behavioral therapies, for instance, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), will teach you healthy coping mechanisms for managing stress, anxiety, and overcoming difficult emotions. For the record, therapy isn’t a one size fits all type of thing. Because there are many types. Like group therapy, if you feel comfortable. If not, you can go the private one-on-one session route. Regardless, in either setting, you will learn new life skills for managing any and all of your co-occurring disorders.
Whatever you chose, promise me you’ll be open and honest.
Because you don’t have to feel guilt or shame about anything. Trust me, been there done that. Because holding back does nothing but derail your recovery. Let those around you in. If you find it difficult to share your shit with them —because I’ve been there too, you may want to include them in your treatment plan. Because family therapy is equally as important. It serves to educate your loved ones on what they can do to help you, which will further improve your communication and the inner workings of your overall family unit.
Because it really is a family disease. Friends too. And what do you know? There are specialized support groups, either IRL or online, that will promote positive social interaction while helping to dispel isolation that may be related to depression and other disorders. You can also get tips and tricks for minimizing relapse. Because yes. Relapse is apart of recovery, but so is renewal and restoration. Because when you stumble as far down as I had, it’s only a matter of time before you find a way to dig yourself out.
Fall seven times, stand up eight.
One word comes to mind —hope. Hope against all odds that an answer can surface. Hope that a solution can transpire. Hope that your conflicts can be resolved. Because all that shit is possible. It starts and ends as a story of faith and love. For me, it started with my loved ones. My family. Because they loved me when I couldn’t love myself. They had faith in me when I had none. And suddenly —slowly, I found some. It was small but I’m pretty fucking mighty when I want to be.
And as time went on, I did. I wanted it. I wanted it bad. I wanted it more than I was afraid of it. Finally. So once you get to that place, I want you to realize that the universe is never outside of you. I mean, if an egg is broken by an outside force, life ends. But if it’s broken from an inside force, life begins. That’s because great things always start from the inside. So look inside yourself. Everything that you want, you already are. And at the end of the day, if we can’t find peace and happiness there, it’s not going to come from the outside.