Each New Day

I love waking up in the morning. It is a special time of the day for me because I wake up in a comfy bed and I feel safe. I am grateful for it every day.

I love that the house is quiet, I read a book or watch an interesting video and I have my favourite breakfast which is coffee and chocolate chip brioche. That morning routine always makes me happy and I can waste time in the morning just staring out the window and thinking.

When I was in active addiction morning was hell. I’d wake up feeling terrible and have a hit in bed even before I’d got a cup of tea. Then I could face the day but it was never a good feeling waking up because I knew it’d be another day I didn’t want to do, a day of getting money, getting drugs and going through the same miserable struggle as the day before.

Mornings were hell in early recovery because I’d wake up and the first thing I’d think was, ‘God not another day’. Life was a process of getting through each day; I was tired of living but I didn’t want to die either.

The hardest part of recovery isn’t getting off drugs as long as you are able to get yourself into a detox ward or have somewhere comfortable to detox with medication. The hardest thing is living in the mess you’ve made of your life without anything to cushion it. Your brain contains none of the natural opiates the brain produces in healthy people which give feelings of happiness and contentment. Everything feels dirty, cold, dark and hollow. There is nowhere to hide.

To compound it, you probably don’t have a decent place to live or the basic essentials for living and by this point most people have no friends or support because you have to separate yourself from drug users. Your life feels like a train wreck and it is.

For me, getting through this period meant creating a recovery toolkit, which contained instead of drugs, things I do when I got really desperate. As time goes on you build a life with things make life living, but in this early stage you have to find small things to hold onto when you’re in the darkest places. Before I was able to develop this I would end up running my old pattern and I would relapse .

I found there must also be hope for a better future and to do that I had to be able to visualise myself in the life I really wanted. This meant putting aside limiting ideas which we are all deeply conditioned into believing, about what we think is ‘possible’. Believe me, even though I imagined the life I wanted, 3 years ago I never would have thought I would’ve got so far in this space of time – don’t limit yourself. Just when you think you can’t go on anymore, life can change in totally unexpected ways.

I really believe that drug addicts are some of the toughest, most resilient and most resourceful people in society. The strength it takes to keep living like that year on year without jumping off a bridge and the skills you have to develop to make it are huge. Society sees addicts as weak but they have no idea about the hardship people endure*. If you can manage to divert that strength and determination into building a life in recovery, nothing can stop you.

*I once read a blog by Eliza Player who wrote a book on her experiences, ‘Heroin, Hurricane Katrina and the howling within’. She slept through the hurricane and woke to find her town submerged in water. Not only did she have to survive in the devastation for weeks, she had keep a supply of drugs going at the same time. Her writing was excellent and made me think about the additional hardships addicts face. Addicts are often last in line for help, treated as less deserving of help than animals.

Coming Home: My Story

When people talk about ‘losing your soul’, most of us don’t know what that means. By the time I was 30 I was addicted to heroin and by the end of my addiction I had the sense I had broken something important, something which up until that point I didn’t know I’d had. The feeling would wake me at 4am; it was a sense of abject horror. My soul was begging me to look, to see the carnage …but when I woke again I would inject myself immediately and continue as if in a dream.

I grew up in a family in which both my parents were emotionally unavailable and we lived in a remote place where there were no other children to play with. Home felt safe but I was in a world of my own, in a fragile bubble which burst easily. The noise and intensity of the playground was too much for me and I withdrew into myself at school, the only place where I saw other people.

I was intensely shy with very low self esteem but I pushed myself out there, desperate to avoid the sense of isolation I felt. In trying to fit in I taught myself to ignore my own feelings and push past them. By the time I was a teenager I was able to ignore my body to the extent that I developed an eating disorder; I couldn’t feel hunger or fatigue and this also had the effect of numbing my emotions. The fact I was eating three hundred calories a day went unnoticed, which reinforced that I didn’t matter.

At 15 I hadn’t developed the most basic interpersonal skills. I remember my first boyfriend pointing out that I never made eye-contact and it was only then I realised it was something you should do. I grew up with a very poor self-image because I believed I was weak or defective. I was overwhelmed, locked in and unable to relate to others. Although I saw myself as a sensitive person I believed that fundamentally everyone experienced the world the same and I thought I struggled because I was defective.

I found that starving myself didn’t get attention but using drugs and drinking got plenty. As soon as I had my first drink at 11 I knew that substances gave me the opportunity to feel like someone else. They numbed me more than withholding food did. I felt comfortable in my own skin.

When I look back on my life now, 2 years into recovery, I can see how I denied my own self and my basic needs at every turn. When you are taught to do that from childhood and continue on into adulthood, change means conscious everyday work. I know now I’m one of the lucky ones, I had a sense of  a heart and soul connection which I’d carried through from childhood so I could feel the loss. All that time I spent alone in nature as a little girl had given me that. I knew there was something to return home to.

When you are in active addiction you think that if you are able to stop, life will get easier. The thing is, it gets much harder. Coming home to yourself you are faced with the neglect; there needs to be a total rebuild. For years you’ve been anesthetized and you now have to return to all the feelings you had before but intensified. You’ve become unused to reality and your brain chemistry is haywire; everything you used drugs to avoid comes up to be dealt with tenfold. Not only that but there is trauma and in many people PTSD resulting from things that happened during the addiction.

I decided to write this blog because my own experience made me aware that addiction recovery looks different for empaths and highly sensitive people (HSP’s). After two years clean I still feel exhausted. I found any form of group therapy left me drained and overwhelmed but I pushed myself to do them anyway, denying how I felt. I watched other people embracing life in the local community and moving into jobs or careers while I felt the need to retreat into solitude. I felt like there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t  ‘moving on with my life’.

I was so lucky, not only to have access to psychotherapy but to a therapist who was an empath and highly sensitive herself and was able to help me. She taught me to prioritise my inner work over external accomplishment and helped me make sense of my experience. Without her help I never could have given myself the space to heal.

It has been really, really tough but my life has changed in ways I never would have dreamt possible. Today I know I still have a long way to go but I feel my future self ahead in time and I’ve began to believe I’ll change in ways I can’t imagine now. I’ve began to believe there was a reason for all my suffering; that I was broken so that I could be rebuilt for a purpose. I can trust the mystery of life.

I’m writing this blog to share my journey in the hope it will not only help my recovery but be some help to others who are struggling. If what I say resonates with you I would love to hear from you.

May we all be well, happy and reach our highest potential.