- Mental Health
Submitted by: Susanne Johnson
My parents divorced when I was five. The man my mother married when I was seven was an alcoholic. Turns out he was a mentally abusive alcoholic with a mean streak when he drank, and he drank every night and all day every weekend. My mother had already had one marriage that didn’t work out and was delusional about the dysfunction of this marriage because for some reason, she needed it not to fail like her first marriage did. From a very young age (age 8), my step-father expected me to think and behave like an adult. By the time I was 12, my mother had another child with my step-father. She was determined to stay married this time at all costs and went on to have another child. She wasn’t leaving.
His rages were terrifying; I pushed myself to do things as perfectly as I could, way too young, out of fear of physical consequences when he was discontent. He was always discontent. The consequences of any perceived wrong or misstep were swift and sometimes not just emotional but also physical. I desperately sought unattainable approval and in my life outside of the house and became a people pleaser. I could never get that affirmation of a job well done as a kid at home and couldn’t affirm for myself I was doing a good job at anything outside there.
I felt and was treated like an outsider in the place that was supposed to be my place of comfort, a haven, the place where I lived. A vicious cycle ensued. I had become emotionally damaged, filled with fear and anxiety. The mental sickness had set in and began to manifest in behaviors. In our house the words “I’m sorry” didn’t exist, compassion love and support were not spoken, shown, or felt.
At 13, I had my first drink. Looking back, the day I had my first drink, I was hooked. I fell in love with alcohol. I remember how good it felt to finally feel relaxed and not be worried about what would come next. I began to drink more and more, anytime I could, to escape the intense anxiety I lived with every day.
At 14, I was smoking pot. I quickly knew I loved the ability to detach. From a very young age, I had dealt daily with way too many adult responsibilities. Every chance I got, I drank or got high. By 15, I was selling pot to support my own habits. By 16, I was trafficking cocaine to put money in my pocket. By 17, I was snorting it. At age 18 in tech training, I justified my using by thinking it helped me be able to get so much more accomplished. I could push myself longer and harder…I thought that was a good thing. I completed technical college and married at 19.
Shortly thereafter had my first daughter. My pregnancy was the only time I abstained from picking up or using. Mostly because everything made me physically sick. My husband was a functioning addict at the time. After being clean while pregnant I realized my husband’s behaviors reminded me of what I ran from.
I couldn’t see the direct link of using and picking up. We divorced. I began drinking again, then smoking pot soon after. At age 24, I remarried. He fell in love with me. When I was 25, we had a daughter. When she was 2 I began using again and I proceeded to make my husband’s life hell.
In active addiction, we don’t have real relationships…we hold emotional hostages. People who love us, love us too much to let go for their own good. I loved him as much as I was able to as an emotionally damaged addict. I couldn’t stop once I started again. For a long while I was a “functioning addict” who wore a mask of “everything is great” in public, at work, and other places.
At 29, my grandmother passed away after two weeks of fighting to hang on after a colon surgery. She never fully regained consciousness after the surgery. She was a woman very strong in her faith and the only person I knew who unconditionally loved me. The only example of healthy living I ever knew. She passed slowly over two weeks. When she finally succumbed and passed away, I came completely unraveled, angry at the God I knew for letting her suffer.
During that time I had a psychotic break… today’s term for a nervous breakdown. That, coupled with my addiction which spiraled into a binge, triggered a chemically induced psychosis. When I hit bottom, I ran from everyone. My family couldn’t find or stop me. I have only glimpses of memories of the next two months. When I did come home, I collapsed and was transported by ambulance to the hospital.
I was in a catatonic for approximately a week. The doctors told my family to check in to a long-term care facility as there was a good possibility that I may have never come out of that mental state. The doctors had done all they could after detoxing me and said I was “in Gods hands.” About a week after my family was given that grave news, I was gradually becoming lucid. My family had me transferred to a dual diagnosis hospital for treatment.
Over the next few weeks, doctors diagnosed me with bipolar (manic depressive) disorder, suicidal ideation, homicidal with psychotic tendencies borderline personality disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post traumatic stress disorder. I had self-medicated with drugs and alcohol to the point of near death– to total mental shutdown. They began treatment with a mood stabilizer and anti-psychotic medications and my brain chemistry began to level. Eventually, I was stable and well enough to begin php, then move on to intensive outpatient where I learned about my diagnosis and the disease of addiction.
I didn’t pursue recovery beyond the time period of treatment. I rationalized my previous drug use as I gradually began feeling more stable than I previously ever had. I thought I had found the reason I had the mental break down and the disease of addiction quickly had me rationalizing that my psychosis wasn’t just due to the drugs, it was my untreated disorders! The cunning, baffling, and powerful disease of addiction convinced me that I was ok. I wasn’t at all, my brain chemistry was just therapeutically stabilizing for the first time.
After six months I thought, “well I’m cured now and I can use a little….I can manage my use.” I wanted that anesthetized feeling again because all the things underneath, those disorders, were never dealt with. I didn’t continue pursuing the program of recovery because I never got a sponsor and didn’t work the 12 steps. I thought I was physically and mentally stable, so I didn’t need a recovery program. I was different… or was I?
I bought a business, began social drinking and it snowballed from there in a very short time. I was trafficking again to feed my addiction. This time it ended with a 10 year prison sentence. I got clean in lock up and reality set in. In lockup I wasn’t anesthetized. I had hit my second rock bottom. I finally admitted to myself I was clearly powerless over my addiction– completely broken and lost.
After six months I was granted an early release on “shock probation.” Ten years on probation, I had a second chance at life, recovery and freedom. The day I got out of prison I knew I had to pursue recovery. Day two I was at a 12 step meeting. This time upon coming into the rooms of recovery, I got a sponsor and began working the 12 steps, digging down deep and doing the work of getting to the roots of the pain I had let metamorphosis into addiction. I learned about causes and effects. I began healing and real recovery.
I have been in recovery since September 7th 2004 and have found freedom like I had never known. I am beyond grateful that I was shown by others in recovery that if I put as much work into my recovery as I had selling and doing drugs that I, too, could recover. Over the years, as I worked recovery, I opened a small business, at first to prove to myself I could. It kept me busy, I hired people who were in recovery. People working the 12-step program of recovery are the best employees anyone could ever hope to have. No one is more dedicated to being honest, responsible, accountable and positive as a recovering alcoholic or addict.
I was blessed with a successful legitimate business where I could help others and receive that needed validation of a job well done by the satisfaction of my customers and seeing my employees get to gain self esteem and shine while working the program. I had some very happy customers that loved the atmosphere of good positive vibes and top notch service. During that time period, as the promises came true, I paid off my home, cars, other debts and put some back to retire early. Wow! What a miracle! Along the way I found that I had arrived at a place in my life where I felt satisfied, with tangible evidence of a job well done clean and sober.
I kept feeling there was something more I wanted to do– something down deep I needed to do. This may sound crazy but I sold a thriving business that was making good money. It wasn’t the money that stirred that feeling inside me–it is the healing of helping another person seeking recovery, who are where I once was.
Today I enjoy being a daughter, sister, wife, mother, nana, photographer, life skills and addiction counselor. The joy of sharing the fact that there is a solution with others still struggling is amazing. I give back by doing radio interviews and speaker meetings about dual diagnosis and recovery. I’m senior administrator for some of the largest solution based recovery groups on social media.
There’s a happiness money can’t buy in helping another alcoholic or addict toward freedom from addiction. Carrying the message daily that no matter how far down we have gone there is hope. To let those struggling know that there are men and women who have been right where they are, spiraling out of control to or at rock bottom perilously close to death. We have been there, done that and made it out alive and now we thrive. Living proof that they too can overcome addiction. As for myself, if I could do it, anyone can. Seek help, go to treatment, break the bondage of chemical enslavement to addiction, you’re worth so much more!
Choose life! Choose recovery…. along the journey you too can find peace within yourself and achieve serenity, drug free! Recovery is a beautiful thing, don’t put it off, start today! It works if you work it so work it you’re worth it!