Addiction: What I Wish I Knew as an Outsider
As a teenager I stayed as far away from the drug scene as I possibly could. I had friends who were involved with addictive substances, and every time they started using, I left. It didn’t matter how late at night it was. It didn’t matter if it was “just weed.” I would walk home at midnight- sometimes I was miles away from my house. But I didn’t care. I didn’t want to be around it- mostly thanks to The Stories My Father Told Me.
I still loved them. They always remained my friends. I just didn’t understand why.
Whenever I broached the subject of why they used I would receive a mixture of “I just do it because I like it,” or “It makes me feel good,” or “I just do.” Sometimes I could tell there lied in wait a great underbelly of emotion left verbally untapped.
I tried not to prod in respect. I wish I would have. It’s true, I knew their personal stories and struggles, and looking back it is so painfully obvious why they used– but it was always masked under the guise of “the next party” or “rave,” or “just to try.” So that’s how I perceived it.
I ate up the lie and watched them suffer.
Sometimes I broached the conversation again, but I didn’t want to come off as “preachy.” After all, it’s their lives. I don’t love them any less, I just couldn’t understand the appeal. But then again, they didn’t understand why I wouldn’t join them, in favor for self inflicted injury. It’s all the same truly; an attempt of numbing.
Why couldn’t I see it then?
After writing What I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Smoking Weed I was acutely aware of what I’ve always known all along, but for whatever reason did not apply. During my teenage years I always tried to get my friends to talk- and they would- but they always returned to their drug, even if they didn’t want to.
I understood the medical context of addiction– but I failed to understand the magnitude of psychological addiction.
Addiction Is as Perilous as Self-Harm
Substance abuse and self-harm go hand in hand with equal measures of self-odium, anguish, feelings of hopelessness, and an acute need to escape from emotional unrest. I can’t speak for first time users, but I know the first time I took a knife to myself it was an attempt to feel better after something traumatic happened.
I’m not sure why I even thought of it.
Now I know it was because I was walking around with undiagnosed borderline personality disorder. The ties between mental health, self-harm, and substance use disorders are typically coupled together without our knowledge.
I didn’t know there were chemical imbalances in my brain, I just attributed the way I was feeling to external stimuli.
Looking to my parents’ physical and mental health, it’s no surprise I wouldn’t escape from similar conditions. What was always detrimental in getting treatment was my mother’s assurance that she would “know” if something was wrong with me.
What she didn’t account for is how masterful I became about shielding her from my raw bits; unfortunately those often expressed themselves as raging “teenage angst.” But underneath all that, it was far, far worse. I always said my grandmother’s suicide saved my life, because I didn’t want to put my mother through the agony again.
The hopelessness and misery ascribed to my own experiences of self-harm and suicidal ideation mirror many accounts of substance use disorders. I wish I would have realized substance abuse is simply a different expression of the same insatiable feelings of nothingness. Bridging the gap between understanding substance abuse and addiction is actively recognizing drugs and alcohol are the same masks we put on with different faces.
If we can espouse our understanding of our own suffering with those we have ostracized in our society, all of our stigmas revolving drugs and alcohol would melt away from condemnation to understanding and empathy.
About the Author
JessiRae Pulver-Adell is an addiction & recovery blogger for Harbor Village. She writes to elucidate the disease of addiction and is an activist for the homeless and animals. She enjoys furry creatures, Jrock, and towering bookshelves! Have a story or a pitch to share? Email her directly at Jupveradell@harborvillageflorida.com.