It was never supposed to be this way. Sure, I partied in college—I drank and smoked a little weed, but I put all that aside years ago, right after I graduated and started my "grown-up" career as graphic designer. If you've lived in the State of Oregon in the past ten years, you've probably seen my work.
None of that maturity or professionalism mattered almost two years ago, when I was in the grips of a major Vicodin addiction that almost took away every good thing in my life.
My downward trajectory went from a legitimate post-surgery prescription, to the surprising euphoria I felt, to unneeded refills, to abuse, to dependence, to doctor-shopping and multiple prescriptions, to full-blown addiction, to selling to support my habit, to getting busted, to going to go into rehab so I could stay out of jail.
This all happened so fast, and both my personality and my actions changed much more than I would have thought possible.
But this isn't the story of my addiction.
Almost one year ago, I was forced to go to drug rehab in Idaho, to a place called Northpoint Recovery. The idea was that getting away from my local area would give me the best chance of success.
This is the story of how that was the best thing that ever happened to me. Now that I have had my sobriety back for one year, I want to share some of the things that I have learned.
When I was actively doing drugs, I never thought about the consequences, because the bad things could only happen to "someone else". I wasn't worried about OD'ing, I wasn't worried about dying… I was only worried about running out.
After all, I wasn't some poor junkie on the street, shooting up smack with dirty needles.
But as I learned in drug rehab, maybe I should've been worried.
They don't advertise this in the travel brochures, but Oregon has one of the highest rates of prescription painkiller abuse in the country, and every year, hundreds of people die from overdoses.
I could have been one of them.
When I first started using, I loved how the Vicodin made me feel -pain-free after the surgery, but it was more than that. I felt both extraordinarily calm and supremely confident, at the same time. I loved it.
Here's the thing—once I discovered that, it became very easy to pop another tablet whenever I was having a bad day. Stress? Bad day at work? Take a Vicodin.
But as time went on, it became less about how good I felt when I took the Vicodin, and more about how bad I felt when I didn't take it - absolutely miserable. I would be extremely anxious and ache all over. The only thing that could help was another pill.
I never bothered to wonder what was really going on in my body.
But as I learned in rehab, my Vicodin use was changing my brain. Every time I used to make myself feel good, I was training myself that the ONLY way to feel good - or even normal - was when the drug was in my system.
It's funny - I never set out to become addicted, and I certainly didn't think of myself as an addict, but there I was. That is a hard truth.
But as I learned in rehab, that is the nature of the disease - it progresses without you ever realizing how bad it's gotten. In a pretty short time, it goes from something recreational to a real medical condition.
Why was this lesson so important to me?
Because once I fully understood that I had developed a disease, I could be taught how to manage it.
At Northpoint Recovery, they focused on teaching me how to live with my disease, instead of eventually dying from it.
I learned how from now on HONESTY would be my biggest tool. If I was honest with myself and those around me, I could take positive steps to keep it from ever getting that bad again.
I learned how to AVOID those people, places, and things that could tempt me into using again. It was amazing how such a simple thing as a contact in my phone could trigger associations.
I learned how to restore JOY in life. That's one of the things that addiction robbed from me—pleasure from the things that I used to enjoy. I had to re-train my brain that there were other ways to be happy.
I learned how to find other ways to COPE with stress. Now when I am feeling overwhelmed, I go for a walk, listen to music, or exercise, instead of taking a pill.
I learned that I am NOT ALONE. When I was inside my addiction, it was if I had a secret, but not in a good way. I didn't want anyone to know about my Vicodin use, because they wouldn't understand.
At Northpoint Recovery, part of our day in group therapy sessions and 12-Step fellowship meetings. Once I came home to Oregon, I continued going to local Narcotics Anonymous, because the people inside those walls know exactly what I have gone through—and there's no judgement. Whenever I am feeling tempted, I can draw strength and inspiration from my fellow addicts in recovery.
Looking back with a little over a year of sobriety, I can say that I have regained my life. I am physically healthier, mentally stronger, back at work, and I avoided jail. I have a lot to be grateful for.
I'm grateful to the judge who gave me an option that saved my life. I'm grateful to the people who support me today. And, I'm grateful to the folks at Northpoint Recovery who gave me the tools I needed to regain my sobriety.
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