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- Mental Health
Submitted by: Susanne Johnson
Sometimes I think about how happy I am that I’m still here. Things could have been different without the drugs and alcohol. I started drinking at age ten and by age twelve I was almost a daily drinker. By the time I was 17, I started to get horrible anxiety attacks and added prescribed Xanax to my drinking.
I have three sisters and somehow never felt that I belonged to my family. I was born with feet that required medical treatment and I had to sleep in wooden shoes with a bar. Later, at school, teachers couldn’t understand me, so I had to attend speech classes. I felt always different and never felt that others understood me.
One time, I became ill for several weeks, so I was home from school. I found four little airplane-sized bottles of liquor in my sister’s room and finished all four of them. I felt an unbelievable peace wash over me and all the anxiety that usually ruled my day was gone. I’m not sure why I was attracted to it, but I had a history of trying substances.
In third grade, a friend and I went into her parent’s bathroom and tried everything we could find, just to see what it did to us. We even drank shampoo to see what would happen. I wrote it all in my journal.
My teacher, who found that description of our bathroom episode, called my parents in deep concern. She told them that they need to keep an eye on me, and that I may turn into a drug addict with such curiosity. The teacher’s concerns were right.
While I was growing up, we never talked about our feelings. As long as everything looked good on the outside, everything was fine. If we didn’t talk about it, it didn’t exist, right? I never had many rules or much structure, either. In eighth grade, I spent the entire summer outside or at friend’s houses; there were no consequences for anything. So I kept doing all the things that I shouldn’t do. I felt like I didn’t matter; I didn’t feel the love. For years, I asked my parents to send me to a boarding school without success. I know now that I was looking for structure.
When I was a freshman in high school, I tried a bong, thinking it was just weed, but it was actually a mixture of PCP, opium, and a many more things. I felt as if my heart were beating out of my body and I was frightened and paranoid. I suffered auditory issues for three days. I could see other people’s lips moving, but I couldn’t hear the sound for another two minutes. I was horribly afraid to end up in an insane asylum, and that I would never be normal again. Finally, after three days, it all disappeared again.
My life changed a bit from that experience though. I learned then that I can never trust the dosage, I can never trust other people, and that I don’t know what anyone put into anything. But with alcohol — I know what that is. With a prescription pill — I know what that is. There, I had my delusion of keeping control.
I never abused my pain medication that I use for my rheumatoid arthritis, only because I knew that it would stop working when I needed it if I abused it. But my Xanax prescription read “take 1-2 pills as needed”. I followed that direction and in my mind there was no abuse and no problem with that. I actually showed up in rehab with my Xanax prescription and started arguing with them because they were taking the Xanex away from me. I told them that I needed to keep taking those because of my anxiety, that I had no problem with it, and that I took them exactly as prescribed. They didn’t buy that story.
By that time, I have moved from Michigan to California. Somehow, I believed that my probation officer would cross-reference each signature on my attendance sheet, even between the states, and I went nicely to all required meetings. During that time, I stopped being a party girl and drank a lot less than before.
I was married by that time the two years were over, and I moved to Santa Barbara. My marriage was somehow empty, and I started picking up the drinks again more and more. At age 31, I was prescribed a drug for a chronic illness I had, and it was not supposed to be taken with alcohol. I did anyway. It lowered my healthy blood levels when it was combined with booze.
I went to a business trip to Vegas and after a binge there, I found purple spots all over my body, indicating a major problem with my platelets. A few days later, after the usual couple of bottles of wine with dinner, I turned on my cell phone and found numerous calls from my doctor, where I had a blood test done earlier that day. My blood results were so bad that I had to rush to the hospital and was placed on seven consecutive days of blood transfusions. They couldn’t understand how I was even alive with what I had left in my blood. I was not trying to die, but I didn’t care much about living either at that point in my life. My immune system tried to destroy my own blood and I was given over 90 blood and platelet transfusions.
Yet even that experience wasn’t enough for me to stop. In fact, I drank more after that shocking incident. I started in the morning, carried a Perrier bottle filled with wine to work, had wine for lunch, and continued as soon as I came home. I started hiding bottles and had the different stores where I bought alcohol mapped out. I couldn’t stop anymore. I bought self-help books and hid them in the same places I was hiding my empty wine bottles.
I spilled wine and took a sponge and sucked every drop out of that sponge– it was that bad. Sometime soon after, I started to vomit blood. I remember I looked in the mirror and didn’t see any soul in my eyes. I heard a sound coming out of me that was not human—it was the most guttural sound I’ve ever heard. I didn’t know if it was my soul trying to expunge this demon, or if it was my soul trying to hold on to itself to keep me alive. At that moment, I hadn’t slept in the bed for years. Instead, I had a habit of passing out on the couch every night. I knew I couldn’t go on like that.
During a trip to Hawaii, my husband screamed at me on the way to the airport. “Why are you doing this?” he demanded. All of a sudden, a moment of clarity hit me. I knew I needed to be physically removed from alcohol, that if I tried to do it all alone, I wouldn’t have a chance.
I was 33 years old when I went to treatment. I went to a treatment center in Malibu. As soon as I arrived, I felt (for the first time) that everything would be okay. My liver was about to shut down. In the first week of treatment my liver enzymes went down by 4000%!
I stayed for 90 days and never returned home again. I divorced my husband, and first entered a sober living home, then moved in with one of my sisters. She had six years of sobriety at that time. I continued to see my primary therapist and my personal trainer, worked as a volunteer, and did two meetings a day. From that moment on, everything changed.
The number one thing is the community I have now around me. I never knew what it was like for people to care about me. Today, I allow them to care about me. After 16 months of sobriety, I started working in a treatment center. I began helping other people through the journey that I had been through, was the only thing that made sense to me. I know that darkness, I know those demons, and I came out on the other side.
I’m worth being loved. I learned that through my recovery. It’s okay to ask for help. If you ask for help, people will help. They help because they love you and they care. I’m not alone. Addiction is the disease of loneliness. When we isolate, we are in a bad place. Today I’m not alone anymore. I let myself be around others, and I let other people in my life.
Today, I’m very big into meditation. I meditate at least 18 hours a week. For so many years, I didn’t really breathe. Today, it is huge for me to breathe and focus on just breathing. Also I love to go hiking, and I do a lot of service. I love riding and all kinds of exercise. In my life in recovery I love to go out for lunches and dinners. I can go anywhere and mindfully eat the most incredible food with wonderful people. If there is alcohol around I just say, “I don’t drink,” and I’m totally okay with that.