SURVIVOR : Defeating Addiction to Drugs and Alcohol Means Accepting--and Liking--Yourself for Who You Are

My name is Laura. I'm a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. I am slowly stepping out of the closet, exposing this information with more courage than I ever thought I possessed. This is something I feel I cannot afford to be ashamed of any longer.

I know many people who have fallen victim to drugs and alcohol. Many of them have conquered their addictions, but many have not.

Around me I see others going through the same pain and turmoil that I experienced, differing only in the fact that they might not have the strength to try to recover, as I did. I hope and pray that my story might encourage a hurting soul to seek help, or at least make someone think a little.

I took my first drink of alcohol when I was in the seventh grade. Having seen my father and sister, the two people I probably looked up to most, drink, I was naturally curious. Add to that the fact that several of my friends had done it and said it was fun, I jumped at the opportunity.

Four of us got together at a friend's house after school one day when her parents were out of town. Once I began to feel intoxicated, I didn't want the feeling to end, so I continued to drink myself into oblivion.

To this day, I cannot remember what happened in that house for 3 of the 5 hours I was there.

After that, I continued to get drunk frequently and any way I could. Stealing from my parents' liquor cabinet was the easiest way, but that was risky because I could never be sure they wouldn't notice the watered-down alcohol or receding amounts.

In the eighth grade, I came to school with a new look. My dark brown hair was dyed blond in front, I shaved the hair on the sides of my head and I wore the most outrageous outfits I could dream up. My parents were a bit concerned at first, but I calmed their fears by explaining it was my way of expressing my individuality. Besides, my grades were still all A's.

My biggest dream since childhood was to be the most popular girl in school. But by this time, I realized that would never happen, so looking different was the only way I could think of to get the attention I desperately craved.

My best friend at the time and I began hearing about people who were smoking pot. The thought of marijuana was exciting, and we were easily seduced into buying our first dime bag from an old friend of mine. When I think back to that day at a local schoolyard, I have to laugh at how we tried to roll a joint using a brown paper bag because we didn't have cigarette papers. Now, thinking of how young and naive we were, it's scary.

From there, my progression into drug abuse was pretty uneven. I would use pot heavily for a few months until something bad occurred--anything from a confrontation with my father to a friend's overdose--and then tone the usage down a bit. This roller coaster continued for some time.

I looked at each time of intoxication as a thrilling new experience. Each introduction to a different device and drug for getting high dragged me deeper into the clutches of addiction. I tried acid a few times, but I did not know how to obtain it regularly, so I never became too involved with it.

High school came and it was then that I met my true love--cocaine. I did coke for the first time at a friend's house and thought it was the best thing I could imagine. But two friends I had been doing drugs with moved out of town and, with them gone, my circle of acquaintances became smaller. Another friend changed schools, and still another quit doing drugs.

By now, I had calmed down my appearance, although I still hated looking anything like my classmates. During this time, I was so terribly afraid of being like everyone else, I denied having the emotions that teen-agers are supposed to have.

I denied having a poor self-image. I denied that I cared what other people thought of me. And I also denied that I was in horrible emotional pain. I denied these things to such an extent that I fooled not only everyone around me, but more importantly, I fooled myself.

Addiction is the greatest fool's game, and I played the game with all my heart. Drugs gave me the confidence I so adamantly wanted to believe I had. They made me feel good, and they allowed me to have fun.

But somewhere along the line, I began to realize that I was losing control. There were times I had gotten so drunk that I blacked out and could not remember what I had done the night before. When I got near alcohol, I could not control my temptation to drink all I could. I found a huge percentage of my allowance going toward the purchase of marijuana.

I began to feel frightened that I couldn't even control what I was doing to myself. I felt guilty about lying and, deep down inside, I knew that what I was doing was wrong.

Luckily, drugs were always close at hand to wipe away these feelings.

Continuing along these lines with no major problems, I met new people and discovered a hundred more reasons that justified my drug use and everything that went with it. Occasionally, some friends would express concern with the way I handled my drug usage, but who were they to say anything when they were not completely sober themselves?

My parents were the best enablers possible, especially my mother. Their convenient blindness to my dependency and total denial of the situation allowed it to progress. Who can blame them? For a person to admit that his or her child is an alcoholic or a drug addict is not only an extremely difficult thing, but it forces the parent to deal with a problem that he's been trying hard to avoid.

However, it is a parent's obligation to make sure his child is safe. It took me a long time to realize that. Before, I always thought it was only my life, and if I wished to ruin it, that was my decision. Now, I realize that if my parents had been more aware, I might have been forced into getting help much sooner.

During the end of my junior year, I started spending time with some old friends of mine--friends who would accept me as I was. I started smoking pot every day rather than just on weekends. A cocaine dealer lived close by, so I started doing that pretty regularly, too. From there, I was turned on to crystal methane--a form of speed--which I did nearly every day for about 3 weeks. I would come home and not fall asleep until 4 a.m. I stole from family and friends to get money to buy coke or crystal. I had two groups of friends that I went between in order to get as much free dope as possible. My slow effort to kill myself was being sped up.

Then, this past summer I left with my family on a monthlong vacation to Africa. I honestly believe that if I hadn't gone when I did, something horrible would have happened to me. Upon returning from the fantastic trip--during which I had only been drunk a few times and stoned about five times with dope I had brought with me--I felt pretty confident that I had licked my addictions.

I met a college student named Mark who was struggling to stay off drugs, so I figured I'd be OK if I hung out with him.

Then one day, I fell into an extreme state of depression. I had awakened on a Friday morning feeling hysterical. My parents were out of town for the weekend and the doctors I called were either not in or couldn't see me that day. I thought I'd have to live through the weekend with the suffering, but didn't think I could.

I took a handful of sleeping pills to try to fall asleep, hoping that when I awoke I'd be alogical and calm. I woke up several hours later still in pain and called Mark, asking him to come over. I then cut my wrists with a kitchen knife in an attempt to show everybody how serious I was about needing help. Mark found me in my parents' bathroom and called the paramedics.

After 3 hours in the emergency room of a Fountain Valley hospital, I was transferred to Brea Neuropsychiatric Hospital. It was during my month's stay there that I was finally persuaded by the chemical dependency group to admit I was an alcoholic and drug addict--one of the most difficult but crucial steps toward my recovery.

It is very difficult for me to handle everything on my own, and I have now learned that it is far wiser and more noble to seek help than to destroy myself. I go to therapy once a week or more--depending on my needs--and Mark and I attend Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous meetings as often as we can.

Facing reality has been difficult, but it is far more rewarding than living in the world of addiction, where death is the only reality.

Recovery has not been easy and neither has being sober, but I am learning to love and accept myself, which is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done. I had always pictured the day I would wake up and like the person who looked back at me from the mirror. Today, that is happening.

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