Addiction Recovery: Getting Clean At 22

Remember that. It may hurt terribly but you will be fine.
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portrait of very young...
portrait of very young...

On March 4th, 2012, I was having trouble breathing. "Am I going to be okay?" I asked the nurse who was monitoring my heart rate. "I don't know," she said. "If you are, I hope you stop destroying your life."

It was not the first time substance abuse had landed me in the emergency room. But, though I didn't know it then, it would be the last.

This is not a 'drunkalogue.' It is not a retelling of my wildest nights and most desperate days because, in the end, every addict's story is the same. At first, the substance -- whether it's drugs or food or sex or alcohol -- works perfectly. It erases the boy who broke your heart, drowns out the voices saying you will never be enough, numbs the fear that suffocates you -- until, first slowly and then all at once, it stops working and all you're left with is pain a hundred times worse than what you were trying to forget.

Addicts are everywhere. Sometimes they're easy to spot -- we hurry past them on the street, our heads down to avoid their wild eyes -- and sometimes they live among us unseen. Even as I pulled away from my closest friends, even as my clothes hung off of my shrinking frame, even as I stopped going to class, I more or less kept things together. I knew how to smile, how to comb my hair and put on mascara, how to say 'oh yes everything is just fine' and how to turn the conversation back to you and away from me.

Yes, friends and family members were increasingly worried as my behavior became more and more erratic, as I stopped answering my phone and as my grades began to slip. My mom made unannounced visits to my college to 'check in' and suddenly New Haven was 'on the way' to everywhere. But if addicts know how to do anything well, it's how to lie. We know how to warp your words so that somehow you are the one in the wrong. "You're projecting," I would cry. Conversations that began with a friend expressing concern would end with friends apologizing to me.

And anyway, good girls are not cocaine addicts.

By the time I left the emergency room last March, sedated and crying in the backseat of my mom's car, I was tired. Tired of lying, of hiding, of spending days in bed with the blinds closed as my classmates loved and learned and lived their lives. I was tired of making my little sister cry and tired of brushing off her pleas to get help. I couldn't do it anymore. So a few days later I sat in a therapist's office and, for the first time in a long time, I told the truth.

The desire to escape began long before I picked up my first drink or took my first drug. The moment I learned to read at six, I developed a distaste for reality. My parents' divorce was happening to someone else. My difficulties in school and with making friends ceased to be as painful. If I had a book to disappear into it didn't matter that I had no one to play with at recess.

As I grew up and it became clear that I couldn't control what world I lived in, I tried instead to control my emotions. Food was the first drug I used to numb myself. I lived eight years of my life, from 14 to 22, believing, really believing, that nothing could hurt me if I was thin. When something did hurt me I stood in my darkened kitchen and stuffed myself with sleeves of cookies and pints of ice cream and loaves of bread to quell the pain.

And then I found cocaine.

The first time I tried it was perfect. One line erased my doubts, my fears and my insecurities. I was euphoric. Gone was the girl who wanted to crawl out of her skin and in her place was the confident, beautiful girl I always wanted to be. For six years, I chased that high on and off, but I never found it again. Instead I found self-hatred. I found pure selfishness. I found bloody noses, heart palpitations and paranoia. I found myself alone on my knees at 6 am searching for that one last hit.

Writing this blog a year ago would have been impossible, because of the shame and the deep guilt I felt about being an addict. I have never been abused or neglected. I didn't grow up in an alcoholic home. I have been blessed with an unconditionally loving family and I have been given every opportunity to thrive. Why then? Why cause the people who love me so much pain? Why be seemingly intent on throwing it all away?

The honest answer is: I don't know. What I do know -- and I have grappled with this over the past 13 months -- is that addiction is a disease. It is progressive, it can be fatal and it can touch anyone.

I was scared to publish this piece. To some degree, I still am. I am scared of the commenters. I am scared of the inevitable "first world" and "poor little rich girl" comments. I am scared of being called self-obsessed, of being told to look outside myself, to get a grip on the real problems in this world.

I know all this. I know that people live lives a thousand times more difficult and devastating than what I am describing here.

But this is what I also know: addiction lives in darkness, it feeds off our secrets and it thrives in the shadows. My life as it is today was unthinkable thirteen months ago. Yes, I mean the particulars -- I have a steady job and healthy, loving relationships -- but more than that I've learned to be vulnerable. I've learned how to apologize and how to forgive. I've learned how much strength it takes to let go. If writing this can help one person feel a little less alone, if it encourages one person to ask for help, if it allows one person to know that no matter how hopeless it feels right now, it can get better, then that is enough.

Not long ago, I went to see a foreign film at a downtown theater that specializes in showing obscure movies that no one's ever heard of. The German nurse on the screen was talking to a young girl as she attempted to administer a shot. "It will hurt terribly but you'll be fine," she told her patient. Remember that. It may hurt terribly but you will be fine.

WATCH: Christina Huffington discusses addiction on HuffPost Live


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