While growing up, I never felt “a part of” anything. I was never able to connect with my family or friends on an intimate level, even though human connection was all that I had been craving. I knew early on that something was different about me, but I could never pinpoint exactly what everyone else had that I did not. I was lonely even in the middle of a crowd and being alone happened to be my worst fear. I always had a creeping sense that something would go wrong, to the point of driving myself to full-blown panic attacks. Feeling alone and fearful, I began to act out at home. I would start screaming matches with my mom, which ultimately just drove a deeper wedge between the two of us over time.
As I got older, my mental despair just worsened. I could never find a reasonto explain the way I behaved, I just knew that I could not control myself. My head would start to spin and I hadn’t developed any tools to stop it. This led me to seek therapy, where I was diagnosed with OCD. OCD showed up for me as extreme anxiety, mostly social, and the constant inability to stay still or stop fidgeting with things. My doctor didn’t believe in medication, so we ended up trying the natural route.
With natural remedies not working to soothe my OCD symptoms, I started to self-medicate with men and substances. This led me into an extremely abusive relationship fueled by drugs, alcohol, and toxic feelings. The abuse gave me an “excuse” to use drugs at a more intense level, and I soon became addicted. I was suffering from co-occurring disorders that just kept building upon each other, worsening each day. Eventually, the drugs did not soothe my symptoms and the abusive relationship I was in led me to develop PTSD.
Once the drugs stopped working, I hit an emotional bottom. I couldn’t sleep due to nightmares from my PTSD, I could barely leave my house because of my anxiety, and I had a deep-rooted hatred for myself for allowing my life to get this bad. I played the victim for years and at this point, I began to blame myself. I felt hopeless, shameful, and completely numb all at the same time. These feelings led me to a suicide attempt, that landed me in a dual-diagnosis treatment center.
All of my life, I craved social connection but pushed it away at the same time. My whole identity was a contradiction. When I stepped foot into that treatment center, I finally felt welcomed and “a part of”. The thought of never using drugs or alcohol again terrified me but by some force, I was granted the sense that everything would work out for the first time. I still hated myself, but the support of other recovering addicts and medical professionals who truly wanted to see me get better allowed me to realize that maybe everything wasn’t my fault.
I was taught about how addiction and mental illness fuel each other and began to learn the proper coping mechanisms that I had lacked. I participated in individual therapy, group therapy, and 12-step meetings while in treatment. I began to learn how to build up my self-worth and I realized that if I don’t love myself, I will continue to hate everything else around me as well as myself. I was ready to quit living a life of unsatisfaction and despair, which meant I needed to look inside of myself and repair what was broken. Trauma therapy became my best friend. Eventually, the nightmares from my PTSD came to an end and my flashbacks are rare. Anxiety is still a struggle, but I have learned coping mechanisms that work more effectively than any drug ever has. I became willing to go through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and found a relationship with a higher power that has given me strength and purpose.
Going to treatment completely turned my life around for the better and gave me a strong foundation to build a real future upon. I went from completely hating myself, to being able to love and appreciate who I am as a person- inside and out. My devout atheism has been transformed into spirituality and faith, which has allowed me to trust in the process of life instead of trying to micromanage everything. My life today is filled with love, serenity, and trust.
About the Author:
Kailey Fitzgerald is a writer in the South Florida recovery community who is passionate about spreading awareness and breaking stigmas in relation to addiction and mental health.