By Sarah Crutchfield
As we have just celebrated our country’s birthday, a day that to us is about food, fun, family and fireworks, it marks a day in history when our ancestors broke free of a life they didn’t want to live anymore, not knowing exactly what the future would hold but the faith and resolve that it would be better than their life of unhappiness and despair.
In reflecting on the courage, strength, and belief in a better life, it reminded me of a time in my life when I found the courage, strength and belief in a better life to make a drastic change from the chains of substance abuse to living a life free of addiction.
I was a substance user, then abuser, for most of my adult life. From the time I got my first “buzz” from alcohol in high school, I knew it was something I liked, I really liked. It gave me confidence that I sorely lacked and instantly made that anxiety I always felt subside.
In college, I continued my friendship with alcohol because at the time it was still positive. “Everyone drinks and parties,” I told myself. “It is a rite of passage.” I was introduced to another substance my freshman year in college that I would end up having a long and toxic relationship with, Adderall.
I was studying for exams my first semester of college, struggling because I honestly had never really studied in high school, never had to. A friend in my dorm offered me this little blue pill and said, “I take this. It will help you stay focused and study.” I took it, and five hours later, I was still alert, focused and making note cards like a mad woman. I had fallen in love. These two substances specifically would take me up high and then down to the lowest point in my life more than a decade later.
The journey from substance and alcohol use to abuse to addiction is a fuzzy one. There are no clear lines that mark the change from one to another; it is a slow process that happens over time. It also isn’t always linear. Like for me, there were several times within that decade that I stopped using substances and alcohol for a period of time to prove to myself that I could, because at those points in my life I wasn’t interested, or for reasons I can’t explain, I stopped.
At some point, however, I innocently picked it up again and continued down the road. I was a functioning member of society and doing well in my life. It was an up-and-down journey with more down time than up as time went on.
There was a night in 2015, when I had a very clear vision of how things would go if I continued down the road I was on. I saw myself moving on to “harder” drugs that I swore I would never try, chasing the high, and ultimately probably dead or in jail in the next year. It scared me. I immediately started looking for drug treatment centers and enrolled just a few weeks later. I couldn’t really envision what my life would look like sober but I had faith it had to be better than my current situation.
I went to rehab not once but twice. The first time for Adderall and a few party drugs I had gotten mixed up with toward the end, and the second time for alcohol. I wasn’t ready to admit I had a problem with alcohol the first time. I thought I could drink successfully but I couldn’t.
I am early in my recovery so to speak. It has been more than three years since my first visit to Gulf Breeze Recovery in Gulf Breeze, Fla., and a year and change since my second visit. I personally don’t like to use the term recovery, I like discovery, like our ancestors discovering a new life and land. Recovery, to me, means going back to the person I was before, the person who was unhappy, insecure, and looking outside of myself for wholeness.
Honestly, I don’t want to go back to being that person. She was sad. I am discovering who I am as a happy, secure, still anxious from time to time, mature 35 year old. I’m discovering what I like and dislike, hobbies I enjoy, and who I really am inside, not the person that was masked by drugs and alcohol.
The reason I tell my story is to help others who I know feel helpless or stuck. I know what it feels like to try to imagine your life without drugs and alcohol and be frightened. I know what it is like, to take that leap of faith, knowing that there HAS to be a better life out there for yourself than the one you are living because honestly the one you are living is exhausting, not fun anymore, and downright depressing. The thought of living your life without something to “numb out” on seems unimaginable.
But there is beauty on the other side. I will not sugar coat it, the walk from one side to the other is not easy. It is by far the hardest experience of my life, yet so rewarding.
I always describe getting sober, and not the physical part, the psychological, emotional, and mental part, as walking through a muddy swamp with boots on full of water. It is heavy, it is hard, and you see a lot of things about yourself that you wish you didn’t. But hold to this truth and you will get through the swamp. On the other side you get to take those boots off, clean yourself up and see the sunshine.
Just like our courageous ancestors all those years ago, walking away from a life they couldn’t take anymore, you can too. It wasn’t easy for them to sail the Atlantic Ocean and it won’t be easy for you, but who knows, there might be the “discovery” of a new person on the other side.