I was 16 when I had my first drink. I was 18 when I had my first joint. I was 22 when I had my first ‘trip’ with psychedelics. I was 23 when I came to rehab.

My quest for a connection

My whole life was a series of mistakes and over-compensation. For as long as I could remember, I’d been uncomfortable in my skin. I could easily identify as a dramatic child, angry teen and a lost adult. I was always trying to find something to make me feel whole and I was under the assumption that it would be found it outside of myself. In this forlorn search, I found a means of escape and ‘connection’ in drugs.

It didn’t really matter what drug, I wasn’t very picky. Anything that gave me a ‘high’ was enough for me. Let it be rollercoasters, speeding cars, delinquent behaviour, destructive relationships or chemicals. I was hooked on that need to run from my life and my reality.

I’m not really sure when I’d developed such an addictive personality or how and may never really be able to figure that out. All I know for sure was that I do have one. Everything in life was difficult to accept, I needed things to be how I envisioned them. Anything less was unbearable.

Even accepting the fact that I am an addict was a herculean task for me - I resisted it strongly. I completely ignored the evidence of my self-destructive behaviour that was fluorescently visible throughout my life. I rolled my eyes at people who told me I had a problem. I mocked and made fun of anybody who lived differently than I did. Everyone was either ‘too boring’ or ‘too crazy’.

My family was mostly oblivious to this darker shade of my personality. I had become quite good at the art of concealment. Lying and covering up became second nature.

‘Thrown’ into Rehab

It was a culmination of all the bad decisions that I had made when I was ‘thrown’ into rehab. My family saw me as a potential threat to myself and felt they had no choice but to get me professional help. To say I was furious would be an understatement. I was livid, belligerent and completely offended.

‘I don’t need help. How dare they think they know what is better for me than I do? They don’t know me. These strangers can say they want to help but they can’t. Nobody can.’

I wanted to be better but didn’t know how. I wanted to live up to ANY moral standard. I had dreams, goals and aspirations. I wanted to reconnect with my family. I wanted that sense of fulfillment that I’d chased in chemicals for years (unsuccessfully). The most ridiculous part of this whole thing was that I didn’t even think I was deserving of any of it. I didn’t think I was worth having anything good happen to me. To me, I was worthless, my life had been a string of bad decisions and disappointment to both myself and those I loved. So, how could anything good come out of so much bad?

Tough first days at rehab

My first few days in rehab were easily the worst of my life. I was so used to running and escaping from my problems and suddenly, there was nowhere to run. I was trapped in my own mind and suddenly, all the thoughts, feelings and memories I had tried so hard to push away caught up with me.

At that point, I had been fundamentally incapable of sorting through my emotions or responding to them appropriately. Everything felt like it was cranked up to full intensity and there was no way to numb it out anymore.

I still don’t know if ‘normal’ people feel emotions to the same magnitude that we addicts do, maybe we are actually over-sensitive to them. Or maybe everybody feels them to the same intensity and we’re just ill-equipped to handle feelings. Whatever the reason, I’m now extremely grateful that I had been given the opportunity to understand that I do have a problem.

Slow change

I say ‘do’ because addiction isn’t something that can be cured with a few kind words or a dose of reality, it is a disease that will be present with me throughout my life. Caring for myself has been the most difficult thing that I’d ever done. It’s also been the most rewarding.

Slowly, I went from thinking it was me against the world to opening up my mind to the possibility that maybe nobody was actually out to get me. Maybe I’d been receiving help all along and I just refused to see it because it hurt my ego. Maybe it wasn’t everyone else that was hurting me, but it was just me hurting myself.

How rehab helped me get my life back

It may sound dramatic but rehab (Hope Trust) and the Narcotics Anonymous programme has given me my life back. Possibly a better version of it. My counsellors, the 12 step programme and, most importantly, my fellow addicts in recovery helped me in ways that I could never have helped myself. They held me accountable for all my mistakes and bad decisions but did not judge me for it. They showed me compassion and became a support for me to lean on when I was living through the darkest moments of my life.

I realize now how important it was that I had proper help and guidance when I was this vulnerable. I suppose I have my family to thank for the fact that they recognized what I needed when I couldn’t and had the strength to admit when their love wasn’t enough.

I needed the care of people who knew what I was feeling and who have seen it before. Who have helped people like me before and know what needs to be done.

Structure and consistency were two things I was sorely lacking in my life, being in an environment that reinforced the importance of these two things was vital in my recovery. Without that I would have given up on this whole journey because claiming it was ‘hard’ a long time ago. Persistence, they’d taught me, was vital for any sort of progress.

“Nothing changes but yourself”

The results of their efforts and my hard work really started to show after I’d come out of the treatment facility and gone back to my life. “Nothing changes but yourself’ is something that I’d heard being said over and over again from so many different people. I hadn’t really understood what that meant until I started to assimilate back into my old life.

I began to understand that life and its problems do not change and other people do not change- but the way I respond to them has changed. This made all the difference in my life. I was able to respond appropriately instead of over-reacting to everything and tormenting myself inside. I found that I didn’t need to turn to substances for everything.

I’m lucky and grateful

There are so many people in this world who probably are suffering far worse than I am but aren’t able – or lucky enough - to get the kind of help they need. It just makes me all the more grateful that I had been given a chance to start over and had people to pick me up every time I slipped back.

Everyday is a new challenge and a new adventure, if there is one thing that I’ve taken away from all of this is that life is a sum of the choices that I make. It is far too difficult for me to shoulder this responsibility on my own and thankfully I don’t have to. Having support is one of the most important things to have in this journey and one of the many gifts of recovery.