Alcohol and drug use was an issue we never talked about in my family. No one talked to me about our history with addiction, which included the fact that both of my parents, and some of my grandparents, suffered from addiction as well. Everyone just wanted to sweep everything under the rug and put on a happy face.
The problem was that my insides did not match up with the image I was expected to portray. I was left to figure it out on my own. As a teenager, I vowed to never drink the way my dad did. Little did I know that I had a genetic predisposition to develop substance use disorder — and indeed, it wasn’t too long before I found myself dealing with addiction.
With little parental guidance, I found myself easily influenced by my peers. They were the ones I turned to for the guidance I was lacking at home. I had low self-esteem and hadn’t been taught positive decision-making skills. My decision to try drugs for the first time was voluntary — I did it to fit in. Maybe it would have helped if I’d heard my parents’ voice in the back of my mind telling me that I was making a bad choice, but those voices just weren’t there. Instead, what that first high gave me was a sense of wholeness and confidence that I had never felt before.
I felt like I had finally found the thing that was going to fix me. My low self-esteem seemed to disappear when I was high, and the feelings of emptiness were temporarily gone. But after a while of numbing myself, no amount of drugs or alcohol could take away the emotional pain and insecurities I felt inside. Getting high only gave me artificial confidence, and when it wore off, I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness and fear of not knowing how to stop using drugs and alcohol, and not knowing who I could trust or turn to for help. What at first seemed like a way to have fun and fit in started to feel like riding in a car without any brakes. I didn’t know how to stop it.
If my family had not intervened when they did, I don’t think I would have lived to see my eighteenth birthday. I was free-falling, and it was crucial that someone stepped in to catch me before I hit the worst possible bottom. Not only was I being hurt by addiction, but the people I cared about were getting hurt, as well. Recovering from addiction can seem like you’re climbing a mountain that never plateaus, which is why it is so important for parents to gain an understanding of exactly what they are up against. Doing the research, talking, listening, and living through the solutions is how people with addiction find the tools we need to help us reach the plateau and find our way to solid ground.
Here are five actions my family took that saved my life:
- They pulled out of denial and came together as a team.
- They set rules and boundaries and made clear the consequences of breaking them.
- They found a treatment center that specialized in teen addiction, where a team set up a proper intervention and gave me a new community of peers who did not use substances.
- They educated themselves about teen addiction and sought help for addiction themselves.
- They never gave up hope!