When I first started using at fifteen, it didn’t occur to me I was self-medicating. All I knew was that the pain and turmoil inside me lessened when I drank or used drugs. Long before I picked up my first substance, 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. Then, I became the Chameleon. I was a people-pleaser or whatever you wanted me to be. I carried those roles with me and adopted more. Next came the ScapeGoat and the BlackSheep. I would exaggerate stories, make up 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.
My behavior grew even more destructive over time. I stole money from my parents. I tried (and hated) smoking cigarettes, but I overcame my aversion, powering through and smoking 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 skin without something more than me in it – 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. But then I’d sabotage 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 buzzed 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 for our emptiness.
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 high or in the process of getting that way, I was in bed.
It’s never a good thing to use alcohol and drugs to cope because self-medicating is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.
In rehab, I learned healthier ways of coping. Through group therapy, I found a way to give voice to my pain. Everything stuffed away in dark corners came out. I had to unlearn unhealthy behaviors and got called out on my case-building and manipulative ways. I learned the difference between self-pity and sadness and to give and receive feedback. When people were honest with me, they weren’t trying to hurt me but 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.
For more information on the Jagged series, click here https://tinyurl.com/ybhjf7ut