When I first got high at fifteen, it didn’t occur to me I was self-medicating. All I knew then is that when I drank or used drugs, the pain and turmoil inside me lessened. Long before using, I chose unhealthy roles to cope with my emotions. My first role was the Invisible One. I was quiet, walked on eggshells, and never rocked the boat. Next came the Chameleon. I was a codependent people-pleaser or whatever you wanted me to be. Lastly came the Blacksheep. If I couldn’t get positive attention, I was game for negative. I would exaggerate stories; makeup lies, tell people what they want to hear, like what you liked, create chaos and drama, gossip, rebel against authority, embrace unhealthy relationships and feel suicidal if you rejected me. And it didn’t stop there. My behavior grew more destructive over time. I stole money from my parents. I tried (and hated) smoking cigarettes, but I overcame my aversion, powering through and smoked them, anyway. I got a thrill out of doing things; I wasn’t supposed to do. It felt good to be getting back at the people who had hurt me. Of course, those people never knew I was getting back at them. It was my secret revenge, also known as passive-aggressive behavior. When I tried drugs and alcohol, it was a match made in heaven. The jittery, tight, tense, I’m not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, or anything enough-ism disappeared. I didn’t know then – the not comfortable in my own skin without something more than me, in it – feeling, was anxiety. I was clueless about myself. Only I didn’t know that, either. If I could get you to like me, then I was okay – for a little while anyway. The trouble was I sabotaged my relationships. I was suspicious that you didn’t really like me, so I put you to the test. I played the come here, go away, game. If you stayed close, I tested you even more, and if you went away, I knew it! You never really liked me. My worth was tied up in the people I met. I had no sense of myself at all. It seemed to me; I was programmed to self destruct. I kept running my life off the rails, despite my good intentions. Anxiety ground away at me, buzzing in my ear like an angry wasp-a restless, inner running negative dialogue, I call brain noise. I sought various solutions but never understood the answers I was looking for lived within me, not around me. That’s why we addicts and alcoholics run. We’re searching for a quick fix. Whether it’s through geographical, monetary, relational, or substance, we want to stop the sting. We seek a chemical cure to our spiritual and emotional malady. We can run, but we can’t hide. Everywhere I went, there I was, and I took my troubles with me. With each new relationship, job, or town, I created new problems, adding to my existing ones, culminating in one gigantic mess, which not even drugs and alcohol could make better. By now, if I wasn’t loaded or in the process of getting that way, I was in bed. If you’re anxious or depressed or experiencing any other mental health issues, it’s never a good thing to use alcohol and drugs to cope. It’s like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. In rehab, I was taught healthier ways of coping. Through group therapy, I found a way to give voice to my pain. Everything that had been stuffed away in dark corners came out. I had to unlearn unhealthy behaviors too. I was called on my case-building and manipulative ways. I learned the difference between self-pity and sadness and to give and receive feedback. I learned when people were honest with me; they weren’t trying to hurt me. They were helping me see the truth. I’ve come to understand addiction isn’t really about drugs and alcohol. Addiction is the absence of self. It’s like a hole in your soul, and you can’t love others when you’re empty inside. Recovery peels back those painful layers and heals through connection, honesty, and hard work. To love oneself is the beginning of lifelong recovery. If you struggle with addiction, I hope you reach out. A beautiful life is waiting for you, and there’s no shame in getting well.
Internationally recognized author, Lorelie Rozzano, is a writer, blogger, and recovery advocate who works in mental health and addiction, helping individuals and their families recover from substance use disorder. As a daughter, mother, wife, and survivor, she offers insight into the world of chemical dependency. Lorelie has given thousands the glasses they need to see addiction from every angle. She has written several books on the topic, including Gracie’s Secret, Jagged Little Edges, Jagged Little Lies, and Jagged No More. Lorelie hopes the honesty found in her books will inspire addicted persons and their families to reach out for help.