- Friends & Family
I have spent a great deal of time and effort looking back into my past over the years, to gain a good understanding of the things that contributed to me becoming an addict. Even with the understanding I have, I can only say that these things contributed. There is a world full of people that have had similar experiences that never became addicts.
I was born in upstate New York in a small town and the youngest of 7 children in my family. I was a child who went into foster care when I was very young, was with one family and then adopted by another – all at a very young age.
I am a person of color and one major feature of my life was the fact that my parents were white – just like most of the people in the town where I was raised.
I do not say this because this was a bad thing – there were many great things about my situation growing up and I had all of the financial supports to live a great life as a child and had a very loving family.
The reason I bring this up is because of the part that did contribute to me becoming an addict – not feeling like I belonged where I was.
My parents worked very hard to make me feel like I fit in but as some people who are adopted can relate, there is this subtle difference to being adopted. When growing up you go to school events and see all of the other kids with their parents – and you notice how they look alike. But you understand your situation is different. There is also the deep negative view of self because you feel like someone did not love you enough and ‘gave you up’ – no matter the circumstances.
I believe there is inherent trauma caused by not being raised by your biological parents – no matter how great your adoptive parents are.
Taking that and growing up around people who were not the same race as you – was very difficult. Yes, I can say the n-word was heard and there were comments and teasing here and there, but larger than any major incident, there was just this ever-present feeling of otherness.
That was what got me into using in the first place – it automatically got me a ‘crew’ – a group of people that I had getting drunk and high in common. Yes, we also did other things – but that was the common thread.
So, with the newfound friends I had, a sense of belonging – combined with the actual effects of being high. I thought I hit the jackpot when I first started using.
I had friends and I had fun, and most of all, I had something to make me forget about the normal stress of the teenage years. Stressed about a test, get high. Stressed about going into a new social situation, get drunk.
Things went on like that for a while but trouble quickly caught up with me. Mostly petty little things, but I quickly got into loads of trouble and was arrested and jailed many times before even turning 21. More than once I even woke up in a jail cell and did not know how I got there.
I went from being the Student Government President and playing sports to dropping out of school to get drunk and high all day – each and every day.
That is one of the things I always try to point out when I talk about my drug use. For a while it actually worked for me and then at some point, I can’t remember the day, it all pretty much turned on me.
I went from being a person that had friends to being a person that isolated from others. I cared more about using than I did about having friends and being around others and having fun. Relationships that I had were damaged because of things that I did when I was drunk or high and instead of trying to make them better – I used more to ease the pain of those losses.
Prior to ever even seeking treatment I knew that I was an addict. Then one day when the pain got bad enough I sought out treatment and went to detox. It was weird because I had never met anybody who actually reached out and got better.
One of the first things that I did when I left treatment was to enroll in school. I had the idea that my education was going to be one of the things that saved me and enabled me to live a normal life in society. I ended up going back to school and I got a two-year degree and then a four-year degree and now most recently have gained a master’s degree.
Early on I worked in human services and then took my interest in political science and public policy and have enjoyed a career where I’ve worked to help other people who have had similar difficulties. Some of this has been program development and some of this has been advocacy work – most of it has been centered around making sure that recovery supports are available to everyone.
I have a great family, a great career, many hobbies and interests and I have people around me that help me and in return I help them.
To me it is very important as we look at the issues currently facing the behavioral health climate in our country that we consider the root causes of people’s pain. Once we know people’s pain we can get a better understanding about helping them work through those issues so that they don’t have to turn to using to try to medicate the pain that they’re in.
I used to always look back and wonder why I went through the pain that I went through in my life and I can honestly say that is not even something that I look at it being negative anymore – the pain has enabled me to have a better understanding about the world and people around me – to become a great person who is nice and loving and tries to put good energy in the world (both in my personal life and in my professional life).
Because I did have some hard times, now I really have an understanding of the importance of simple things that make a life complete. The joy of hearing my kids laugh, eating ice cream, going swimming, kayaking, fishing – doing those types of things are really the foundation of my life. It is relationships with others that really gives me the joy to be able to push on and really have a fantastic life.