There is no shame in my struggle, only strength.

My story can be broken down simply. I am by nature an extremely sensitive person. I feel everything deeply. I had a terribly lonely childhood as a result of circumstance, not poor parenting. I was angry, fearful, and insecure. I lacked the majority of coping skills needed to manage these parts of myself. I struggled to get along with my peers and I could not conceptualize why my life was different from the rest of the children. Plainly put, I was in pain and couldn't understand why. At 13, my body was introduced to a mind altering substance. The escape from the constant state of anxiety I lived my life in was immediate. My life changed from that point forward. It progressed slowly and was perpetuated as new substances entered my system. By 17, I qualified as a full blown addict. At 19, I entered my first treatment center and entered the world of recovery. 

I didn't want to stop using, I was more or less given an ultimatum between treatment or a felony conspiracy charge. The choice was easy. I would love to say that I entered that program and have been sober ever since, but that would be a lie. I relapsed about a year later. I was unwilling to accept that I was truly an alcoholic and addict and attributed my circumstances to my age and the poor company that I kept. 

After trying to prove that I was a "normal" college age student for two years, I found myself once again at the end of a rope. I went to treatment again and ended up in south Florida. With no place to go, no money, no friends, and a family refusing to fly me back to New York, I accepted my fate and began to take my recovery more seriously. At this point, I was slightly more convinced I had a real problem. I started from scratch and built myself a little life. I was independent and substance free. This lasted over a year until the day came when I lost my grasp on things and picked up again. This incidence was succeeded by 8 more relapses all in less than a year's time. 

It sounds insane, and it is insane. I can safely say that the driving force of that tumultuous point of my life was shame. I was ashamed that I had relapsed. I saw it as a failure, or more so that I was a failure. I was ashamed of the decisions I chose to make while under the influence. I was ashamed to face the people who had been there during my period of sobriety. I was ashamed that after a period of peace, I had to disrupt the lives of my family once again. I had this realization that I was truly an alcoholic and a drug addict. I was a junkie. That was the dirtiest word I could use to describe myself. It wasn't acceptance that led to recovery, it was acceptance that led to an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. There was something wrong with me, and I was not strong enough to keep fighting to stay on the wagon. Many times the thought crossed my mind that I should just succumb to the life of an addict. That I should disappear and live on the streets and sell my body to get high until the drug or the lifestyle eventually killed me. It's heart wrenching to think back to the times when I felt to my core that that was all that would become of me. 

Something pulled me back from those moments though, whether it be God or some unknown mystical power, or the strength of love from my friends and family, or my stubborn will to not give in. Whatever it was (and still is) I am forever grateful for it. As many time as I fell down, I got right back up and tried again. I don't internalize my addiction as shame anymore. I no longer label myself as just an "addict" or "alcoholic." Am I one? Yes, without a doubt, but I am much more.

Having nothing has allowed me a gratitude for life and everything that comes with it.

A quick overview of my life today; I am a good daughter, and I make sure my parents know that I love and appreciate them. I am a loyal friend. I am a loving girlfriend. I am a responsible pet owner. I am a 4.0 student and working toward a career in which I can utilize my experience and natural abilities to enrich the lives of others. I am a taxpayer. I support myself financially, but I allow others to help me emotionally. I look myself directly in the eye when I look in the mirror and I am happy with the woman looking back. 

My addiction has carved greater depths in to my soul than the average pains of life ever would have. I have experienced heartache, desperation, and fear on a daily basis. I have lived a life similar to what it feels like to be knocked down by waves in the ocean, over and over, and to make it onto shore choking on salt water and gasping for breath but able to see the extent of the power something beyond myself has. It has enabled me to exhibit courage in the face of terror by taking one step forward in life while every cell in my body is screaming at me to run or hide. It has given me the ability to empathize with others on an intimate level without having known them for more than a few minutes. Having nothing has allowed me a gratitude for life and everything that comes with it. It has shown me the strength of family. It has peeled me layer by layer until all that remained was my innermost self and forced me to see beauty from the inside out.

Would I change the fact that I'm an addict? Never. The blessings of having lived through hell and made it to the other side far exceed anything else. There is no shame in my struggle, only strength.