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I can get clean and sober, but now what?!

Ever since I was at least six or seven, I can remember experiencing extreme mood swings. I remember feeling constantly frustrated and angry; it seemed any little thing would set me off. Sometimes it would get so bad that I would feel helpless and desperate for anything to make it go away. (Side note: I never learned how to effectively self-soothe; I was either sucking my thumb (until age 17), biting my nails, holding my blanky, or finding some other external resource to use in my attempts to cope.)

Although I did not start smoking marijuana until I was 16, I think I was first introduced to the idea of using chemicals to solve my problems when I was in fifth grade. I was ten years old when first diagnosed with ADHD, but it wasn’t until a year later that I was prescribed Ritalin. I was told this would make most of the problems associated with ADHD go away. I never really felt it made a difference, but my mom was always proclaiming how it seemed to make a world of difference, thus making me “better.” For one reason or another it was well known among my cohorts that I was taking medication for my behavior, and they often made it a point to “inquire” or remind me about taking my medicine. Rather than doing this out of concern for me, their main intention when bringing this up was to ridicule me about my behavior. It really hurt my feelings and made me angry when this would happen, and often felt like punishment for behavior over which I had no control. I realized, despite being on this “wonder drug,” I still had many of the same problems, academically and socially, as I had had prior to starting the medication. The only real positive differences seemed only to exist within the home, in my relationship with my mom (my father was completely absent until I was 14, and then only distantly involved). I had, however, begun to notice many negative differences, which I assumed could only be attributed to the medicine: poor appetite, especially in the mornings; difficulty getting to sleep at night; fatigue in the mid-afternoon, but inability to take naps. I was told that these are side effects, typical with ADHD medication. After enduring another few years of this torture, I decided I wanted to stop taking my medicine.

questionsI mentioned earlier that I started smoking marijuana around age 16, and it was at this time in my life I also began to establish myself as a member of some social circles. It was the first time in my life I actually had real friends, not just a one-on-one best friend. I discovered that marijuana had a variety of effects on me, many of which were positively reinforced by the actions and attitudes of my peers. Some positive effects included minimizing the now permanent side effects of the ADHD medication. I decided that marijuana could effectively serve both my recreational and medicinal needs, and I no longer wished to continue taking “speed” for my ADHD. I continued smoking marijuana through my 20’s and into my 30’s; however, I have cut down dramatically, from smoking multiple times daily to smoking very occasionally.

After high school, I started using cocaine, methamphetamine, hallucinogens, as well as what were referred to as “rave drugs,” such as GHB, Ketamine, Ecstasy, and Nitrous Oxide, on a very regular basis, and my engagement with these drugs lasted from 1999-2001. At the height of the summer of 2001, I decided I had enough of partying and spent the next six months only smoking marijuana and occasionally drinking alcohol. Unfortunately, I had a falling out with the friends I hung out with, and ended up befriending my soon-to-be new boyfriend, who, like me, really enjoyed using cocaine. I spent almost every day of the next three years working part time and going to college full time, with cocaine on/in the brain. Then, for a variety of reasons, at the end of 2004, I again decided to stop using cocaine. As with my previous experience, was successful at eliminating cocaine completely from my diet; so much so, that since then, and even through the present day, I have no desire to try it, much less pick up the habit again. Although, please allow me to explain something: I wish I could credit my success to pure will and drive, but I have to admit that I’m positive my success is due to the fact that when I walked away from the cocaine, I stepped right up to methamphetamine. I realize that all I did was substitute one substance for another, which is one of many reasons I am having so much difficulty abstaining from methamphetamine.

This time around there are no substitutes. I have considered taking up drinking, but I know that would not solve my problems with addiction. Plus, I really do not like drinking anyway, so in a sense I would only be punishing myself. The thing is, I am really scared. I have managed to stop smoking meth ( I neither snort it nor shoot it), for short periods of time over the years, recently as well, but once I recover from the intense periods of sleepiness and fatigue, I find myself really depressed, overwhelmed, anxious, and overly self-conscious. These intense feelings make it virtually impossible to function in the real world and face reality. I am afraid that I am going to lose all patience and flip out on someone, or that my ADHD symptoms will get the better of me and that I would not be able to dig myself out of whatever hole I have fallen into. I have talked with psychiatrists about getting back on ADHD medication, but they have all told me I have to be clean and sober to even be seen. I have been given Prozac for my depression and that has helped somewhat, but it does not alleviate the severe anxiety I experience on a regular basis. Because I have not learned how to effectively self-soothe, I rely either on chemicals, sleep or my mom and/or boyfriend to help. The truth is, I know I can not rely on these things forever; my mom and boyfriend will not always be around, ( in fact, my boyfriend is currently in a 3 month inpatient drug treatment program in Texas, working out his own problems and addiction) and depending on other chemicals is only a superficial and temporary solution. Once the chemicals wear off, I am still faced with the same problems, for which I need to learn effective solutions.

My addiction and behavior problems have caused me much heartache, and prevented me from experiencing so many opportunities as an adult. While I have managed to be successful academically, receiving my BA in Psychology in 2006 and my MA in Mexican American Studies in 2010, I have had little success as an independent adult. My only successful employment has been part-time, and thus I have been unable to be financially self-sustained. I have been living with my mom, and finally admitted to her my addiction to meth. She has been very understanding and supportive, and we have agreed, however, that in order to continue to receive any support on her part, I must actively seek treatment. In my quest for answers, support and resolutions, I have found that treatment for meth addiction is very difficult to come by. There are numerous options for treatment for those addicted to opiates, benzos, or alcohol, and various expensive treatment programs for meth addicts. But for people such as myself, who fall into the low to no income bracket and also suffer with addiction and mental health problems, available and reasonable assistance and support seems virtually impossible to find.

I mentioned earlier that I have ADHD, and I wanted to talk a little about how that has been intimately intertwined with my problems with addiction. Growing up, and throughout adulthood I continue to struggle and experience various difficulties due to my ADHD symptoms. As a college and graduate student many of my symptoms could be managed via self-medication, but I have found there to be an extreme paradigm shift from playing the role of student to an independent and employed adult. Many of my symptoms no longer respond to self-medication (which I should do be doing in the first place). I feel as if I am dealing with a catch 22: I can get sober, but then what? I do not know what to do with myself. I have become well-skilled at being a functioning meth addict, but apparently I missed the memo on sober living skills and social and professional functioning. It is extremely difficult and painful not knowing the same social skills that seem to come naturally everyone else. At least as an addict, I could always use being an addict as my excuse/explanation for my poor social and professional skills. But if I am no longer using, then I feel embarrassed and like a failure. Since I was a child, all I’ve ever known is a life of substance use. I desperately need and want to learn how to live/survive after sobriety.

I also mentioned that my mom is now fully aware of my addiction and my struggles to overcome it. Because treatment programs are difficult to come by, and cost money which I do not have, my mom has offered some financial help, but I feel that being a recently retired public school teacher she really ca not afford it. I also feel it is unfair of me to ask that of her, since my problems with addiction are my own, and she should not have to dip into her retirement funds to deal with them. I do welcome and insist upon her supporting me emotionally and I think it is imperative we are educated as a family so we can try to eliminate any potential obstacles that might prevent me from healing and successfully living a life of sobriety. However, as important as it is that she and I learn how to do this together, it is crucial for me to take responsibility for myself and my mental health and addictions. Unfortunately, I do not have any financial means of my own, which is why I am writing this essay, and ultimately exposing my most fragile self to complete strangers, with the hope that I qualify for a scholarship. I know if I had the financial means I would pay whatever it takes. I feel like I am stuck in a revolving door of sobriety, but with no resolutions to my problems functioning in the real world. I can get to the sober part, but then what? What am I supposed do afterward? I believe this program will provide me with resources, tools and education I need to answer those questions, and I know I am ready to do what it takes to learn to be a self-sustaining sober adult. I know the road there will be extremely difficult and even painful, but at 32, almost 33 years old, it is the only healthy option I have left.

This story about addiction was submitted as part of the Breaking Addiction Scholarship Program on healthshire.com.

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