I was filled with happiness and a sense of accomplishment when I recently earned my coin for achieving six months of consecutive sobriety.  After struggling through mental illness and addiction for a number of years I now have an understanding of not only who I am, but the importance of vulnerability and connection in my life today.  I know it is okay to ask for help.  I am no longer afraid to be myself.  I don’t find it necessary to put on a mask, just to fit in and have a lot of friends so that I looked happy on the outside.  I made my addiction my identity. 

I am being completely open and honest in this essay because I no longer want to hide whom I am due to a stigma around mental illness. While being a student at m The New School while living in the city for three years I came to love the diversity not only the school had to offer, but the diversity I experienced everyday when just walking down the block to a deli to grab a drink or a quick snack.  I would love to help each and every person who is struggling to truly understand that it is okay to be different, it is okay to be afraid, it is okay to be sad, and it is okay to want to escape the reality that we have created for ourselves, especially when we are pressured by our peers, our parents, or the entire society to become a person who blends into the crowd.  When we can be courageous enough to find the light within us we will be kinder to ourselves, and all of nature.  We then have the ability to take off the mask that we put on every morning for the world, and we can connect to other souls by opening up and being vulnerable.  Connection is the essence of existence.  Without connection it has been proven that the overdose rate of people who struggle with addiction is 99% more likely.  The answer to addiction is not sobriety it is connection and finding a purpose. 

Finding a true purpose in my life has helped me to shape my identity.  I believe that helping others has been the core to finding the light in me; as well as motivation to do the opposite of what I feel like doing when having a period of depression.  Usually when I push myself to meet up with a friend, do a yoga class, or anything to distract myself the lack of motivation that I experienced during the periods of my life when I was using drugs and alcohol to escape my severe depression is no longer present.  I remember the days where all I looked forward to after work was buying a bottle of alcohol and on occasion some drugs too.  My goal every day was to find an easy way out a short -term sense of happiness and a way to socialize with people even if they weren’t true friends at all.  I felt so alone and shameful after a recent relapse that I had after having a year completely sober.  I now realize that every relapse has been a slow suicide because I did not know how to cope with the sadness I felt in my life due to my depression as well as PTSD symptoms haunted me every waking hour.

I went to a place called The Center for Motivation and Change to work on my sobriety because I knew that the core of my addiction was a side effect and a way to cope with my mental illness.  Mental illness usually goes hand and hand with addiction.  Especially with individuals who have experienced abuse in early childhood or trauma through out their lives.  I did not get addicted just because I had fun and it felt good; I got addicted because drugs and alcohol were my solution.  Drugs and alcohol were a way for me to self-medicate myself when nothing else worked.  Every person I talk to who has struggled/are struggling with addiction has proven this to be true.  We can all relate to self-medicating and using substances to deal with the symptoms of mental illness.   People say that drugs are addictive therefore this is the reason that people get addicted, but this is not true we all have been given some sort of drug whether its morphine at a hospital, smoking some weed, being prescribed a controlled substance, or simply having a glass of wine at dinner.  A drug is a drug and alcohol is a drug as much as pills are. 

Sobriety has no longer been a struggle everyday for me.  When I have a passion or a goal such as being able to accomplish and be accountable for a job, my jewelry line, writing my poetry book, group therapy, and self-care  it helps me to motivate myself.  When the Buddha passed away he told his followers, “Do not mourn me, find the leadership and wisdom in you to carry on my teachings.” 

I would like to end with my experience being in my current outpatient drug rehabilitation program, which includes group therapy as well as workshops on DBT and Smart Recovery meetings and AA meetings.  I have found a new sense of self-worth by simply not feeling so alone in my life.  In the past I felt I needed to have a boyfriend while being sober or be distracted by a person to escape the emotions going on in my mind, but simply by meeting with such a great group of people four days a week has given me the sense of belonging.  The vulnerability shared every day in-group is so powerful in forming a strong, beautiful, and caring relationship with another person, and in a pretty short period of time too.  There is no judgment because each and every one of us has struggled with not only addiction but mental illnesses too.  It’s shocking how we all have similar stories and similar consequences due to our addiction.

We know how it feels to be unafraid of dying, but afraid to live.  We know what it feels like to so desperately want to escape our minds and find complete oblivion.  We know what it feels like to be stigmatized by not only society but our friends and family too.  We know how it feels to seek temporary relief and happiness despite the consequences of jails, institutions or death.  But guess what?  Even the people who aren’t addicted are unaware that even when they are not experiencing life long consequences they are all addicted to something that takes away the pain.  We all have a vice.  Look at the planet Earth for example we are destroying this beautiful planet to benefit ourselves because of consumerism and power; we have replaced connection with materialism.   Every single person on this planet can relate in some shape or form, unless they are sociopathic or psychopathic.  We are all the same in the way that we crave affection, love, connection, and empathy.  I hope we can learn to all stand together because in reality we are all humans and in some way we are all the same.