I became an addict in my third year of college.
It was important to me that I attended at the time because I believed that a degree in a frame would bring me some respect and admiration from others.
But three years in I lost interest in my courses, to the point that going to class made me severely unhappy. I didn't think it was OK to drop out though. I had invested a lot of money in my program, as had my parents. And I desperately wanted that piece of paper.
My desire for a degree stemmed from my need for approval. I was forever thinking that if I accomplished certain things, people would like me. And if people liked me, then maybe I could learn to like myself.
I had no semblance of self-love, and even though I had been struggling for years over unresolved traumatic events, I didn't think what had happened to me was significant enough to be acknowledged.
All that mattered to me was finishing what I started.
The main problem I faced was a distorted belief system. I felt that love came with accomplishments and accolades. I didn't believe that I was good enough to love as is.
When love is missing, a lot of negative stuff comes out of the woodwork: anger, resentment, fear, jealousy. Our core desires, which if acknowledged will bring us a lot of happiness, come secondary to the needs of our unbridled ego.
And I lived to please my ego. It wanted status, acclaim and kudos -- even at the expense of my mental health.
A degree in a frame was a mirage I believed would legitimize my worth.
The belief that I had to continue doing something that brought me so much discontent created a severely anxious and depressed internal environment. I was miserable, and nothing was helping. I had my vices, but eating, shopping, and smoking failed to fill the void.
Except for alcohol. I loved it since my first sip at age 15.
I drank quite a bit in college, but only socially. Drinking alone was considered taboo amongst my friends, and I could never get past the shame I anticipated feeling had I done it to actually do it.
The truth is, drinking wasn't about me wanting to have a good time -- it was about me not wanting to feel.
But one day desperation overrode shame, and I drank a bottle of wine to myself. A sloppy yet temporarily blissful escape ensued. It wasn't a one-off. Drinking very quickly became my #1 solo escape mechanism. I even put up with the side effects of intensified depression, anxiety and shame: that's how desperate I was to sedate my feelings.
No one likes a drunk, and thanks to my drunken phone calls and social media posts, there was a lot of backlash in the form of gossip. My drinking fuelled fierce judgement. Now I like to think that had people known what was going on they would have been more compassionate, as shaming someone who feels shameful only makes it worse. But today I use the memory as a reminder to be kind when considering a situation I don't understand.
The truth is, drinking wasn't about me wanting to have a good time -- it was about me not wanting to feel. In college, and for many years following, I was living in survival-mode. I didn't believe I could live through the feelings I felt, so I ran from them. Which is ironic, because I was slowly killing myself in the process.
Fear is one hell of a drug. I could have changed my circumstances, but I didn't know how. I was terrified to admit that I was suffering, and the few people I did disclose my issues to weren't capable of providing the support I needed. So I kept self-medicating, because it was all I knew.
Addictions are really good at helping us avoid the bad feelings, which is why I drank: to avoid my feelings of inadequacy and shame.
But there is another way.
It took a long time, but I was able to release the hold alcohol had on me. My journey began the day I started questioning the rigid beliefs I held about myself. Only when I started to consider a life without alcohol could I hear the truth: I was not a piece of shit.
Recovery took a long time, yet started quite simply: by reading books that inspired me. I'd feel great for a spell, then slide back into old behaviours.
But the morning after always got me back on track. Standing in the shower, feeling overwhelmed with self-loathing was a good motivator.
Feelings are funny that way: they slap us in the face with the truths we don't want to hear.
I began to accept the fact that happiness wasn't at the bottom of bottle. I realized I would never create any positive change in the world if I drank. And I would never be the wife, daughter, or friend I wanted to be if alcohol always came first.
I still feel the burden of ruthless self-judgement at times. There's a little girl in me who doesn't feel very loved, and she tries to takes over some days. But when I treat myself with an extra dose of kindness and patience during those times, I bounce back pretty quickly.
Through daily work and positive self-talk, I choose to appreciate who I am now. I know self-love doesn't come from an accomplishment. And I know that me being me is enough.
These days I am vigilant about putting my emotional well-being first. I'm sure this commitment comes from the fact that I ignored my needs for so long. Whatever the reason, it's working for me.
Through my struggles I've learned that love heals. And In learning to love myself I was able to change the belief systems that led to me becoming an addict in college.
I survived my addiction because I changed my beliefs. And if you're suffering I hope you'll consider doing the same.
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