When I left a friend’s funeral nearly four months ago, I called my mom in tears.
I wasn’t just heart broken. I was angry.
I had called my mom, because I knew she would be one of the few who would understand why I would be angry at someone for dying.
It’s not fair, I told her. Why should I have to keep being the one to suffer from substance abuse when I’ve never done it?
It sounds selfish, I know ...
At 37 years old, my friend had been found dead in his apartment. The doctors had guessed it was from a heart attack. I found out at his funeral that he had been doing drugs the last several months of his life.
All I could think when I was told this was that I had had enough.
It is no secret that substance abuse is prominent in my family. It is not a secret, because I have chosen not to make it one. Instead, I have chosen to loudly stand on platforms for substance abuse awareness, and I have chosen to scream about how proud I am of the people in my life who have risen above it.
I have watched people I love literally eat themselves to death, drink themselves to death and hit rock bottom because of drug abuse.
In that moment of grief, I was angry and felt like I had had enough. I didn’t want to hurt like this again.
Again, I know it sounds selfish to most, but being the person who watches your loved ones drown in substance abuse can be as painful as being the one fighting the battle itself, because you are powerless to save them, a concept I have always struggled with, as I always want to save everyone.
I don’t think most people realize just what an amazing accomplishment it is to overcome addiction. Imagine having a voice in your head, telling you every day that you need something, that you have to have it to survive. Imagine your body joining in the chorus, telling you the same thing – you have to have it. Then imagine saying no to your mind and body as they both scream at you for what they want at the same time.
This is where it comes down to communication.
Sometimes the hardest people to communicate with is ourselves. It is so much easier to find the faults in others or to make excuses for our problems and choices than to admit we have a problem. And I get that. I get it, because I am human, and we all do it to one extent or another.
I recently interviewed a recovering drug addict for a story, and she told me that a person will never quit until they want to. Many other recovering addicts have told me the same thing. You have to be able to admit that you are an addict, and you have to want to quit being one. If these two elements are not in play, it won’t happen.
And once you take those steps towards recovery, chances are you will fall off the wagon again at some point. But that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you get back on it and try again.
I called my cousin, Wayne Godden, who is a recovering addict, as well as a counselor to other recovering addicts, and I asked him, what kind of communication does it take with yourself to stay clean every day?
“With me personally, I never want to lose my self-respect or my family’s respect again,” he said. “In order to be successful in recovery, you have to love yourself. If I had had self-esteem, none of those things would have happened. If I had had self-esteem, I wouldn’t have been in toxic relationships; I wouldn’t have used dirty needles in bathrooms; and I would not have lied and cheated and done the things that I did.”
Wayne said what keeps him clean every day is the fact that “I love who I am today; I’m comfortable with myself today.”
“I remember the last day I got loaded, and I never want to feel that empty and alone again. What keeps me going is I value my heartbeat, and I knew if I kept doing drugs, I was going to die,” he said.
“I always tell my clients, don’t let your past failures define you as a person. You are good people. You just made bad choices,” he continued. “If we let our bad choices and addictions define us, we might as well have stayed on the drugs.”
Wayne will be 10 years sober in February.
There’s nothing wrong with having problems. We all do.
But the first step to fixing problems is communication with ourselves and with others.
Talk to people who have been there.
Even if you are currently using drugs, and you don’t see a way out, you might be surprised the results you might get when you find that someone else believes in you.
You are a good person.
Because I can guarantee you that others do.