Who Is An Addict?

“People have a lot to say about lives they’ve never lived.”

When I was being taken back into the detox unit I stayed in the first thing that was said to me was, “You don’t look like an addict, let’s get you help before you do.”  Even at an NA meeting I had someone come up to me and because I don’t “look like an addict,” they assumed that I must have been a family member or a friend of an addict; that because I don’t look a certain way I couldn’t possibly be suffering.  I get comments like these all the time.  All.  The.  Time.  While I understand people are trying to be nice in saying what they’re saying, this comment actually infuriates me because it is placing addicts in a box of what society thinks they should look like. And it makes it harder to recognize those who are suffering who don’t “look” like they’re suffering.  It, honestly, has made my recovery harder because I don’t often feel seen or heard.

I recently posted a question on Instagram that asked, “When you hear the word addict, what/who do you think of?”  I got a lot of responses: “Dysfunctional.  Junkie.  Needles. Sadness.  Nose bleeds.  Ignorant.  Piece of shit.  Crack whore.  Track marks.  Crutch.  Liar. Alone.  Selfish.  Weak.  Homeless.  Strung out.  Obsessive.  Sick.  Death.”  All negative.  And then one came across my screen that got me thinking.  It read, “I think of two types of people, those who have lost their life (physically or mentally) to the disease and those who have fought to find gratefulness and hope to live.” This comment.  This is why I fight so hard for the addicts out there, both in recovery and in active addiction.  There is hope.  There is recovery, if it is wanted.  We live in a society that STEREOTYPES addicts like it’s nobody’s business.  Most people, who more than likely have never personally been affected by addiction (thank God), have a very clear mental picture of what an addict should look/be like.  And I’m guessing that picture entails almost every word that I just listed above.  To be completely honest, before addiction touched my life, I got that same picture.

But that picture is not always the case.  An addict is not always the homeless person sitting on the street corner.  An addict is not always the girl with the messed up teeth.  It is not always the guy with all the tattoos to cover up the track marks.  It is not always the person you can never count on.  It is not always the person asking for money.  It simply is not.  An addict can be all those people.  But an addict is also the person with a steady job.  An addict is the person who helped you when you when your hands were full.  An addict is the person who smiles at you in the grocery store.  The person sitting in church on Sunday mornings. The person always smiling.  The easy-going, loving, caring, empathetic person.  The person who helps others.  The person going to school to get their degree.  The person living in a nice home, the person with a loving family.  An addict is your peer, maybe your friend even.  Me.  I am an addict.

I am in NO way, shape, or form trying to glamorize addiction by saying that you can live a “normal” life while using.  No, if you’re using life is sad, depressing, excruciating, cruel, lonely, and full of pain, anger, and a hell of a lot of self loathing.  What I am trying to say is that addiction and mental illness aren’t always easy to see.  Sometimes people who need help look nothing like people who need help.  Sometimes it’s the happiest person you know who is barely breathing.  Sometimes it’s the person who seems like their life is perfect who is shooting up in the bathroom.  Sometimes it’s the person who has been there for everyone else who needs someone to be there for them.  Sometimes addiction and mental illnesses are hidden so well that you would never think twice about the fact that maybe, just maybe, that person is suffering.

My whole life has been a silent fight to be okay, and it’s taken me years to be as open and vulnerable as I am now.  Only through fighting in silence for so long did I realize that my pain has actually been propelling me into my purpose.  And now I feel very passionately that my purpose on this earth is to use my experiences as a catalyst to raise awareness. That I am supposed to use my past to help others.  One step at a time, one person at a time, and one day at a time.  Addiction and mental illness are all around you.  So open your eyes, but more importantly open your heart.  Don’t judge.  Don’t place blame.  Don’t hate.  Stop stereotyping.  Look.  Listen.  Help.  Love.

Fight For Yourself.  Always.  

To The Nurse Who Saved My Life.

Forewarning: this post is going to be really, really sappy.  I’m emotional just writing it because my heart is so damn full.

A while ago I was given the opportunity to go back to Fairfax Behavioral Health Hospital to meet with my favorite nurse, Cassie.  You’ve heard me talk about her before, and you’re probably going to continue to hear me talk about her for the rest of my life. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that I feel like I owe her the world.  I’ve been preparing for this meeting for over a month now.  Anxiety on anxiety, wanting everything to go perfectly while not even sure that she would remember who I am.

Yesterday the day finally came.  I arrived and purposefully sat in the exact same seat I had sat in seven months ago while waiting to be admitted into the detox unit.  At that time I was full of anxiety, confused by what my life had come to, and angry at both the world and myself.  Yesterday I sat in that same seat but this time full of hope, courage, purpose, and thankfulness.  But as I waited my anxiety started to get the best of me.  I was playing a scenario over and over in my head that went like this: She would come get me, I would shake her hand and reintroduce myself, and then we’d have some sort of awkward 20 minute conversation followed by the two of us parting ways and never seeing each other again. I could not have been more wrong.

As I sat there getting more and more nervous, she snuck up beside me, wrapped her arms around me, and said, “I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry but I literally can’t help it.”  So there we both stood, with tears in our eyes and gratitude in our hearts.  It was like we were old friends seeing each other after years apart.  We sat in a room and talked about life in recovery as well as life in general for well over an hour.  I gave her a letter I had written for her that started out by saying, “I couldn’t go the rest of my life living in a world where you didn’t even know I existed when you changed my world so drastically.”  Little did I know how drastically I had changed her world, too.  She told me about how my blog post had been the talk of the hospital and how a coworker had told her about it but couldn’t remember the name of the writer.  She knew it was me before she even read it.  She told me how you either click with patients or you don’t, and explained how when she first saw me I was so lost and broken, yet she knew that I was going to be that patient for her.  The one who validates the reason why you go into that field.  The one who makes the hard days more bearable.  The one who changes everything.  For you, her remembering me may seem small and insignificant.  For me, it was everything.

When I was a patient at Fairfax I was more lost, broken, defeated, and ashamed then I had ever been in my entire life.  I was a version of myself that I had never met before, a version I didn’t even know existed.  Cassie took me under her wing immediately.  She sat with me in the hallway for hours as I rocked back and forth with my head between my knees.  She kept me behind during meal times to make sure I would eat.  She encouraged me to go to my first NA meeting there, but left with me when I started to panic.  She advocated so hard for me to get out when I did so that I wouldn’t be spending my 21st birthday in rehab.  I had forgotten how to love myself, so she reminded me how.  I couldn’t fight for myself, so she fought like hell for me.  She’s the reason I have “Fight For Yourself” tattooed on my arm and why I say “Fight For Yourself. Always” at the end of every blog post.  I left Fairfax the day before my 21st birthday expecting to be just another patient and to never cross her mind again. But she didn’t forget about me.  She let me help her become a better nurse, and in return she helped me become a better person.

Yesterday she told me, “You’re somebody who I’m going to have in my life forever.” Cassie, I’m honored to be in your life.  And I’m even more honored to have you in mine.  To the nurse who saved my life, and now my new friend, thank you.

 

I also want to give a huge shout out to Katy at Fairfax who organized all of this and has been nothing short of amazing! I’m telling you, these people at this hospital aren’t just there because it’s their job.  They’re there because they genuinely care about every single person that walks in the door.  They’re changing lives, and I’m so blessed that mine was one of them.

Fight For Yourself. Always. 

Cassie and I (Photo posted with permission)

 

 

Eating Disorders And The Holidays.

With the holidays quickly approaching the subject of eating disorders has been weighing heavily on my heart.  The table is generally a place for happiness and laughter, but for some it is a battleground – a place of stress and anxiety.  If you know someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, be cautious with them this holiday season.  And if you yourself are struggling with an eating disorder, reach out.

Keep in mind that eating disorders have close to nothing to do with food itself.  It’s more than starving yourself, throwing up, and/or over eating.  It’s a serious mental illness that fixates on fear, power, and control.  Eating disorders are dark and twisted and crippling. They go hand in hand with anxiety and depression, and can make each day feel like hell.  Eating disorders are often misunderstood and can leave the person suffering feeling lonely and worthless, I know this first hand.

With that being said, please please please remember that eating disorders are not always visible.  You don’t have to be extremely skinny or overweight to have an eating disorder. You do not have to look like you have an eating disorder to have one.  This is probably one of the most common misconceptions about eating disorders.  And this is so dangerous because there are many eating disorder sufferers in need of help, but not seeking treatment because they don’t think they look like someone with an eating disorder.  They don’t think they’re sick enough.  As someone who struggled with an eating disorder but remained at a “normal” body weight, I know how scary it can be to reach out because you feel like you won’t be taken seriously.  But if you think your ideas and behaviors around eating are disordered, please reach out to someone.  Eating disorders thrive in the dark.  They love secrecy, it makes them stronger.

So this holiday season, please be so gentle with those around you. Don’t comment on your family members’ weight loss/gain.  Don’t mention how much or how little food they have on their plate.  I personally know how hard the holidays are when you feel like you are trapped inside your own mind.  Your loved one more than likely feels guilty for not being able to enjoy the holidays like everyone else, sending them spiraling into a depressive state.  Their anxiety is skyrocketing.   Their eating disorder becomes all-consuming.  Their world feels out of control because of what is supposed to be the happiest time of the year.  Support them, love them, and let them know you’re there for them.

And to my friends struggling remember this: You are worth more than this. You deserve freedom from your disorder. You deserve a fighting chance. You’re allowed to feel the things you are feeling.  You are loved.  You are allowed to get help, not matter what.  You don’t have to suffer in silence.

Dear Younger Me.

“Dear younger me, where do I start?  If I could tell you everything I have learned so far, then you could be one step ahead of all the painful memories still running through my head.  I wonder how much different things would be, dear younger me.” – Dear Younger Me, Mercy Me.

Dear younger me,

If only you knew then what I know now.  If only you knew the trials you would face. If only you knew the hurt you would endure.  If only you knew the joy you would feel.  If only you knew the laughs you would have.  If only you knew how strong you would be. But honestly, would it make a difference if you did know?  I’m a firm believer that every experience, both good and bad, shape you into exactly who you are meant to be.  And who you are right now, at age 21, is on the right path to who that woman is.  You’re not there yet, but it’s all about progress not perfection.

Let’s start with this: Sweetheart, I wouldn’t change you for the world. The woman you grow up to be is incredibly brave, empathetic, strong, and full of heart. She is also a bit broken, a bit defeated, and is having a really hard time. But don’t worry, as always she’ll keep fighting.

I know you feel like you don’t fit in, like you’re undervalued, like you’re replaceable, and like you’re never heard.  You’re probably going to feel that way for a long time.  I know that being shy and full of anxiety gets in the way of so much life, I’d be lying to you if I said that goes away fully.  I know you feel like this dark cloud will never disappear, but hold on, your sunshine is coming.  But good news, things do get better.  You will learn how to feel heard.  You won’t be shy for forever.  You’ll learn to cope with your anxiety.  And that dark cloud will eventually subside.

You’re a listener and an observer, and know that’s okay.  You’re loyal to a fault, but don’t forget to be loyal to yourself first.  You’re a deep thinker and an even deeper feeler, don’t let those things overwhelm you.  Your heart is big and you’re going to want to heal everybody, know that you can’t and that it’s okay.  You’re a giver, just remember you can’t pour from an empty cup.  You’re a fighter, just know that you should never have to fight on your own.  You’re a lover, but don’t ever be afraid to love yourself first.  Self love isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.  You’re kind, but don’t forget to be gentle with yourself (this is something you talk a lot about in therapy, learn to love it.)

You’re going to have a lot of pain in your life, try your best to find the good in it. Your parents are going to get divorced, but it will actually be the best thing to ever happen to you.  You will gain a new step dad and step mom who you love, as well as new siblings and two whole new families.  You will struggle with an eating disorder, it’s going to go unnoticed for a long time, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Eventually you will overcome that challenge to the best of your ability.  You will attempt suicide not once, but twice. And you will live.  Keep living, it’s worth it.  You will have two permanent, prominent scars on your arm that at first you will hate. But eventually you will grow to love them because they are part of your story, and they will help others. You will hate high school, but you will graduate and go to college.  Your best friend will die at 20 years old, and I don’t really have anything good to say about that other than that you will grow from it. You will lose two of your grandparents in the course of six months, cherish your time with them always.  You will become addicted to drugs, and you will come out victorious but not without one hell of a fight.  Don’t give up. The friends you have in your twenties will be twenty+ years older than you, which is fine. They were placed in your life at the right time, with the right wealth of knowledge, and are making a huge impact on you. You will fall in love with a man and you will think he’s the one.  He’s not, and that’s okay. You have to learn how to love yourself before you can fully love someone else.  You will willingly go to therapy, don’t ever stop.  She’s changing your life, work with her not against her. You will have a blog, and you will change lives through it.  Never be afraid to share your heart.

Despite all the pain your young heart will feel, you will also feel immense amounts of joy. You have siblings who are your best friends, they’re growing up fast, don’t let that precious time slip by.  Your mom and step dad will take you on numerous cruises and vacations, you are blessed and don’t you ever forget it. You will attend Western Washington University and it will be the best nine months of your life. You will finally feel like you fit in, hold tight to that feeling.  You will finish top of your class from Interior Design School, but don’t forget to finish those two math classes and actually get your degree.  You are smart enough.  You will study abroad in Paris. Yep, that’s right.  YOU, with all the anxiety, will go so far outside of your comfort zone and absolutely love it.  You will be 21 with 12 tattoos, all with such deep meaning.  You will go to therapy twice a week, and you will grow in every way you never thought you could.  I mention this one twice because it is just so important.  You will learn to love yourself, even when it’s hard.  You will learn to fight for yourself, don’t ever ever ever stop.

And younger me, it’s not your fault.

All my love,

Hannah

Relapse. Am I A Failure?

To tell you my recovery journey has been a piece of cake would be the biggest lie in the world.  I made it 154 days off of cocaine and heroin before I relapsed. 154 days.  A long time.

One of the most important things I’ve heard during my recovery is the saying, “Progress, not perfection.”  I’ve heard time and time again that relapse during recovery is okay, common, and almost inevitable.  But I was stuck here convinced that I would not be that person.  And then suddenly I was. Suddenly I was thrown back into the world of drugs. Suddenly I found myself sticking a needle in my arm. Suddenly I was the old me I thought I would never see again.  And to tell you that I was okay with that would be a lie.  I spent countless hours in my therapist’s office fighting off the same demon I had battled just months before. I disposed of everything I had.  I researched different rehab possibilities.  I made myself as busy as possible to distract myself from wanting to use.  I did everything right, except one thing.  I didn’t reach out.  I reached out to my therapist, yes.  But I didn’t reach out to my friends, I didn’t reach out to my family, and I most certainly did not reach out to my parents. Instead, I chose to go head first into the battle, again, by myself.

I did not realize how hard this fight would be the second time around.  I did not realize how quickly I would slip back into old patterns, how quickly my happiness would disappear, or how quickly I would feel the physical effects of addiction.  I didn’t realize that I would push all my friends away,  I didn’t know that depression would creep back into my life, and I certainly didn’t think that I would fall in love with drugs all over again. Before I knew it I was wearing long sleeves, spending hundreds of dollars, and isolating myself.  I was giving up a life I loved for a life I hated.

I also didn’t realize how hard it would be to tell someone that I had used.  When my family first found out about my addiction in May of 2018 it was because they found me on the living room floor. This time they didn’t find out I was using when I was in active addiction, but once I was clean again.  I had been using again for a couple months but hiding it so well. I had been sitting in my therapists office for weeks and weeks promising time and time again to go home and tell someone, to purposefully flip my world upside down to get help. But why did I wait so long? I kept thinking, “why tell someone when it’s not a “problem” anymore”?  Because even though I’m no longer using now it still consumes me.  I wake up every morning and using is the first thing to cross my mind.  I get bored and it’s all I want to do.  I get angry, want to use.  I get happy, want to use.  See why it’s important to tell someone even though I’m not in active addiction anymore?  I need to be held accountable.  I need support.

You’ve probably noticed by now that I refer to addiction as a demon, because that is exactly what it is.  Addiction is the worst kind of monster.  It is meant to rob you of everything you have, both things and people.  It’s supposed to strip you of your happiness, your joy, your dignity, and your peace.  It’s job is to, eventually, kill you.  It is selfish, inconsiderate, and rude.  It is a demon.  And I’m sitting here today, writing this, while battling that demon. Not because I’m actively addicted again, but because I’m not. You see, recovery is a never-ending fight.  I’ll be 80 years old and still fighting because that’s how strong the demon is.  He never gives up, he never stops persisting, and he never slows down.  But he also won’t win, not with me anyways.  I won’t let him.  I’ve come too far in this life to let him.  So yeah, I may have messed up, I may have gone back down that road for a minute.  But I’m still victorious because I didn’t let him drag me down no matter how fiercly he tried.

Today I am CELEBRATING 100 days clean. I put strong emphasis on the word “celebrating” because that’s exactly what I deserve to do. I have won a war that I didn’t think I could. You can, too.

If you are in recovery and have relapsed know this: you are NOT a failure. You’re simply not.  You’re a fighter.  You’re a warrior.  You’re a badass.  You’re trying. You’re working hard.  And as long as you realize all those things, and accept them, you will come out of this battle victorious.  But here’s the thing, you have to want to.  You have to want help, you have to seek help, and you have to accept help.  You can’t fight this on your own. Reach out, go to meetings, go to rehab, do whatever it takes. This world needs you desperately, defeat this demon once and for all.

Fight For Yourself. Always.  

Loving An Addict.

Before I began my own journey with addiction I loved an addict.  If you read my post, My Best Friend Died, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t read it, go read it and then come back.

First of all, if you are loving an addict know this: you are not alone.

I loved an addict and I get a lot of questions in regards to how I did it. Here’s how: I removed the label and I loved the person.  I loved her by reminding her that she was strong.  I loved her for her heart, a piece of her that drugs couldn’t take away.  I loved her because she was worth fighting for.  I loved her because she was kind, caring, and hilarious.  I loved her because she was my best friend.  I loved her because she was my favorite person.  I loved her because she was Cali.  When I looked at her I never saw just an addict, I always saw her for the person she was within.  After everything I chose to continue to support her.  I chose to let her move into my house, to call her my sister, to have her become part of my family.  I CHOSE TO.  And then addiction really set in and I still chose to love her.  I chose to answer every 3am strung out phone call.  I chose to put myself in danger to rescue her from scary situation after situation and to call the police time after time.  I chose to sit with her during come downs and hold her down while she was lashing out.  I chose to get screamed at, cursed at, and told that I was hated over and over again.  I chose to put myself last and put her first.  I chose to try to save her.  And then I realized that me trying to save her was in fact doing the opposite.  Not only was I not saving her, I was destroying myself.  I was choosing to let my soul become so heavy.  I was choosing to help her, then go home and cry because my help wasn’t actually helping.  So then I had to make the hardest choice of my life – do I continue to hold the rope close or do I create some distance?  I’m sure if you’ve loved an addict you’ve asked yourself that same question.  You don’t want it to seem like you’re giving up on the person you love, because you aren’t, but you also can’t continue to go through what you’re going through forever.  So, I began learning how to love Cali from afar. I let her know I would always be there but that I couldn’t keep saving her, she had to learn how to save herself.

If you’re loving an addict in active addiction I’m sure you’ve been through everything I have.  You understand the pain.  You get it.  Here are some things I’ve learned/found helpful while loving an addict:

  • Remember that addiction is not a choice, it’s a disease.
  • Know that the addict you are loving is not themselves, the things they say/do are their addiction taking over. Be forgiving, but also stand your ground.
  • Don’t give in to manipulation.  Addicts are master manipulators who will do anything to feed their addiction.
  • Accept that you can’t change them.  You can do everything you can, but you can’t do everything.  They have to want to change themselves, they have to want to recover.
  • Be supportive, but do not take the blame for problems created by addiction.
  • Learn what healthy boundaries look like.  Don’t provide financial support, don’t make up excuses for them, don’t bail them out.  As hard as it may be, they have to learn to fight for themselves.
  • Be optimistic.  There is hope for the person you love, even if it’s hard to see.

If you’re loving an addict in recovery, here are some things that I have found extremely helpful as an addict in recovery:

  • Actively listen.  Your loved one just wants to be heard. Listen intently to their needs, concerns, and thoughts.
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle.  Exercising, healthy eating, and keeping busy will be so beneficial in their recovery.
  • Suggest a support group.  Whether it’s AA, NA, or a therapy group it is so important for your loved one to be surrounded by people who have been through what they’ve been through, and are now in the same stage as them.
  • Find a therapist.  Don’t force them into therapy, that most likely won’t help.  But definitely encourage it.
  • Set expectations.  Don’t be afraid to hold them accountable to rules/expectations you have set, especially if they are living with you.
  • Relapse.  It does happen.  The way you react to your loved one’s relapse can be a huge piece in how they rebound from it.  Recovery is about progress, not perfection.
  • Be patient.  Recovery is a lifelong journey and is so extremely hard on all people involved.

And if you’re loving an addict, don’t forget to take care of yourself.

  • Find a support group for YOU.  There are so many support groups for families/friends of addicts.  People there will understand you and everything you’re going through.  You’ll be amazed by the community you can create for yourself.
  • Go to therapy.  Loving an addict is one of the most exhausting, difficult things you can ever do.  Get some help for yourself, go talk about it.
  • Treat yourself.  Buy that coffee, go get your nails done, have a spa day.  You are fighting, too, and you deserve it.
  • Rest.  Your days are probably consumed by so many different emotions.  Resting is so important.

Here’s my point: I understand how hard loving an addict is.  I know that it is one of the loneliest things you can do.  I get that it’s exhausting, defeating, and unfair.  I get it, I really, truly do.  There is a very fine line you have to walk when loving an addict: are you just loving or are you loving and enabling? Here is the best advice I was ever told when it comes to loving an addict: “If the addict is happy with you, you’re probably enabling them.  If an addict is mad at you, you’re probably trying to save their life.”  Hard words to accept, right? I thought so, too.  But they are the truest words I have ever heard, and something I learned very quickly when loving Cali.  So if the person you are loving is furious with you, accept it and know that means you are doing something right. Figure out how to help them and love them, but don’t forget about yourself.  Don’t forget that you are worth fighting for, too.  And if you need to reach out, I’m here.  If you need to talk about it, message me.  You are strong.  You are worth loving.  You are worth peace.  Thank you for being brave enough to not give up.

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Cali Noel – 12/19/1996 – 9/6/2017

Fight For Yourself.  Always. 

Girl, You Are a Badass.

This ones for my ladies: GIRL, YOU ARE A BADASS.

To my girls who struggle to get out of bed every morning.  The ones who are battling eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and/or addiction.  The ones who put on a brave face everyday just to come home and cry.  The ones who are exhausted from having to try 24/7 to just be happy.  YOU ARE A BADASS.

To my girls who are genuinely happy. The ones who light up every room they walk in. The ones who always have the right words to say.  The ones who can take any situation and make it good.  The ones who have the most contagious laughter.  YOU ARE A BADASS.

To my girls who are single.  The ones who struggle in every relationship.  The ones who have been abused.  The ones who think they are worthless because they don’t have a partner.  The ones who choose to be single because they know their worth.  YOU ARE A BADASS.

To my girls in a relationship.  The ones who have found the right person.  The ones who know what true love feels like. The ones who fight everyday to make it work.  The ones who have found their equal.  YOU ARE A BADASS.

To my girls who have been raped/sexually assaulted.  The ones who never spoke up, the ones who did.  The ones who are open, and the ones who will never share their experience.  The ones who support other women.  Me, too. YOU ARE A BADASS.

To my girls who are moms.  The ones who wake up an hour early to have an hour to themselves.  The ones who love their children more than anything.  The ones who are constantly running late. The ones who struggle with depression. The ones who have never been so content.  The ones who are up all night with a crying baby.  The ones who cry themselves to sleep.  YOU ARE A BADASS.

To my girls who couldn’t have children. The ones who had children who didn’t live.  The ones who heard those heartbreaking words.  The ones who see a baby and feel their heart sink.  The ones who will never fill that void in their heart.  YOU ARE A BADASS.

To every single girl out there: YOU ARE A BADASS.

Fight For Yourself. Always.