Personal Stories of Addiction and Recovery

Personal Stories of Addiction and Recovery

When Addiction and Recovery Become Part of Our Lives

As the final series of essays submitted in the category of those with personal stories of addiction and recovery, these student submissions show a staggering degree of resolve and determination to escape the worst consequences of alcohol and substance abuse disorders.

From those working in the field to those who have become graduates of prestigious schools after experiencing addiction and housing insecurity, our judging panel believes these ‘Honorable Mentions’ are worth reading for anyone who wants to know more about the many faces of addiction (and recovery from its grasp).

1. J.H. (School Unknown)

I am personally in recovery, I celebrate 6 years in January. My wife is also in recovery. I have been involved in the recovery community and have also worked as a peer recovery coach in a hospital assisting patients who have overdosed on opiates with finding treatment and basic needs, such as shelter, insurance etc.

Holistic Recovery from Substance Use Disorders

With this experience I have come to believe that the biggest contributor to SUD in the United States is someone’s overall well-being. As broad as that term is, it sums up the complexity that is the state of addictions in our current society.

In my talks with hundreds of addicts, the biggest issue our team would encounter was their general feelings towards life, their experiences, their future and what they feel is available to them to have a chance out of addiction. Most of the patients I encountered had no sense of support, they had friends and family but no one they felt they could actually talk to about what is happening in their lives and what has happened to them to lead them to their current situations in life.

Making Resources Fit Clients Needs

Most patients were aware of the counseling resources available to them and even had been to therapy/ IOP but felt the programs did not see them as an individual worth assisting, but as another number in an increasingly skyrocketing number of addicts that society now has to do something about. The issue with 12- step for most patients was the strict program ideology that came with the sense of community that came with it, along with people being turned off programs after being court ordered.

Our society as a whole is focused too much on citizens taking care of their own needs through success and money and little focus and funding is given to those struggling. Most people I talked to felt that they were forgotten about or were hated because they weren’t contributing to society, didn’t have a job or a good job, used government benefits or have had interactions with an individual or group of individuals in some system at some point that made them feel like they were less than and not worthy of anything.

Improving Provider Attitudes Toward Addiction Treatment

Addiction Treatment

Most people we saw in the hospital didn’t even want to come to the ED because our own MDs sometimes made SUD patients feel less than. We started a program to certify MDs to prescribe Suboxone so patients that were admitted wouldn’t go through withdrawals, we had a very hard time getting most MDs to sign up as they felt it was something they didn’t believe in.

But the same MDs would readily prescribe the same patients pain medications when they went into withdrawal, leaving the patients to have to immediately find their drug of choice when they left the hospital and were cut off instead of our route of being prescribed for a week and given an appointment at a local treatment center. These experiences turned patients off the idea of seeking medical/ psychological help in their times of need- opting them to AMA or opt out of medical treatment when EMTs gave them Narcan in the field.

Undiagnosed Trauma and PTSD

Most of the patients if not all the patients I talked to when asked what the cause of their SUD was, said they had no idea or never even thought about it. Patients are so focused on treating the withdrawals with more drugs than to ever consider what caused them to use in the first place.

Once I began talking to patients, they would start to unravel their current and past issues, the majority of which included trauma or undiagnosed mental health disorders that patients had started self medicating for. If they had been to therapy or IOP, they never allowed the people around them to know the level of emotional turmoil they had been through, usually because they themselves had become numb to it and felt that it was just normal.

Appropriate Processing of Addiction and Trauma

I myself am guilty of this, even when I was actively seeking therapy, I would still lie and or withhold trauma and mental health concerns because it was too overwhelming to start dealing with. I feel that the most immediate changes require the use of more peer recovery coaches in programs- using their experience to assist individuals in their times of need- not only in treatment but in community centers and food pantries- places that are used by people experiencing SUD but aren’t actively seeking treatment.

Another need is for programs, IOP, treatment centers, criminal justice centers etc to provide immediate basic necessities along with a person’s treatment and after. How can someone make it to counseling if they don’t have a place to live or consistent food. It would also help for k-12 students to have access to a community program like a LGBTQ youth center that provides support and programs confidentially to youths dealing with trauma/SUD etc. and have.

Indiana Specific Efforts at Addiction Treatment

Indiana’s 211 has expanded to offer more comprehensive services that assist individuals with transportation to treatment, insurance and even cell phones so individuals have the essentials needed to attend treatment along with connecting them to community services available to help with bills, housing etc.

The program I worked with even had community peer coaches that would assist anyone needing it, with resources and just someone to talk to. It’s a good first step to showing our society as a whole that someone is there, just a call away to offer support and resources.

2. M.F. (Oregon State University)

Both of my parents have suffered from addiction. Growing up with a father in the military, he became dependent on alcohol to deal with the unpredictable actions of my mother who at the time, was addicted to methamphetamines.

Disappearing for days or weeks on end and known to consistently steal money from the direct deposit paychecks provided by my father and myself, our home was not a stable environment that promoted wellness. Many years later, as mental illness has become more understood, my mother was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and a layer of understanding was provided to our family.

An Unstable Household and Understanding Addiction

Growing up in an unstable household presented me with some unique opportunities for growth throughout my childhood and adolescents. While both my parents had their own battles to fight, I had the responsibility to take care of my younger sister. It was hard to grow up so quickly but without the challenges I had faced, I wouldn’t have developed the responsibility and work ethic I have today.

My father given his addiction never handled his emotions properly but instead suppressed them. Along with this, my mother given her illness and addition, never took care of herself or held a job. This example I was given showed me what I did not want for myself or my life.

As I have grown, I have learned that personal health and wellness are vital components to a successful life which has been a driving force in my own life goals. I have sought out therapy throughout my life and have realized how taking care of mental health through education and understanding is a vital to combating addiction, this is one of the reasons I love education.

Making A Powerful Tool Accessible to All

Education is power. It is a power you cultivate within yourself given the proper resources. Throughout my journey, I realized that to overcome my childhood traumas, therapy and education has provided me with comfort in turning to the natural world for healing. Our natural environment brought me so much understanding through the chaos, leading me to recognize how important our natural resources and environment are, not only for my own mental and physical wellness but for our world as a whole.

Choosing this course, I have escaped addiction. My continuous drive to grow through both hardships and personal barriers makes me a great candidate for this scholarship. This funding will help contribute to my dream of obtaining a degree in Environmental Sciences promoting wellness through applied ecology, not only as a dream come true but the start of a foundation for myself and my family, becoming the first to graduate from college. Thank you for the opportunity and your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

University of California – Santa Barbara

3. M.B. (University of California – Santa Barbara)

There was a time in my life when I considered my bed a bunk at a homeless shelter, the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission (SBRM). This transient way of living in enslavement to my vices isn’t conducive to real life. This too is a developed taste. Albeit a bitter one, but not a regrettable one because, for me, it takes experiencing a full pallet to harness my desires.

Accepting Responsibility (with Help)

After accepting responsibility for my position and accepting guidance from those who had been in similar, I enrolled in Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) as a non-traditional first-generation student the following Spring. I absolutely excelled.

It is impossible for me to describe how much appreciation I have for the assistance I’ve gotten in order to make it this far and create not just a feeling of necessity but a gratifying delight in pursuing higher education. With gratitude, I then contributed time volunteering at SBRM. Initially, my duties were simple: assisting in the kitchen, facilitating the dorms for overnight guests, and offering information about social resources.

When I volunteered, I knew enough about computers to help in the fourth phase career services center. This was the fourth phase of a year-long inpatient addiction program on site. The center helped in finding work, going to school, and learning important skills like using a computer.

Helping Others to Help Our Own Efforts

For some, it was their first exposure to Windows or MacOS. My duties soon shifted to assisting those who were interested in applying to Santa Barbara City College (SBCC). Encouraging participation in EOP, applying for grants and searching for scholarships endowed for the disenfranchised to experience education without fear became part of duties.

With optimism for a new life, I felt sympathetic joy serving those who were once on the street or sacrificing soul for substance. This act of kindness shifted my perspective on what I desired in my own life, and how my personal support and advancement in the academic realm might be utilized to assist individuals in a situation similar to my own.

While addressing the initial facets of treating addiction, I believe a strong focus should be applied towards granting tangible hope of a possible quality of life for those freshly approaching recovery. There are some methods we already know will help: Implementing recovery programs over incarceration is a given, and of course one must first treat the physical ailments, followed by psychological and social strongholds of addiction.

Personal Stories of Addiction and Recovery

But, from my own experience it is providing a tangible sense of hope throughout the process which achieves an even greater chance and length of sobriety. This comes by way of providing a focus on applicable skill endowment for those approaching recovery: provide a path towards education or trade accessibility. In some regions there may be applicable programs, such as those benefits we found for recovering addicts at my local community college.

But the path is not always clear. For those approaching recovery they are already facing an incredibly daunting task of relieving physiological and psychological dependence, let alone carving out their own legal route to a life well lived. Provide the potential opportunities, and a clear bridge of escort. Trying to stop the origin of addiction is a commendable task, but the variables are plenty and each individual has a very unique experience of how it began.

By applying a tangible focus on the existential “What ought I to do?” as a point of recovery I believe, have experienced, and have witnessed, will reduce the number of people actively suffering from addiction in our country. As I stand, I am graduating in May with a Biological Psychology B.Sc., and I am currently applying to graduate programs for a Bioinformatics, M.Sc.


4. Shaun L. Smith (University of Houston – Main Campus)

I only wish that there was a “one size fits all” solution to the addiction problem in this country. If there was then I wouldn’t even be writing this essay, but unfortunately, there isn’t. As much as I wish that my friends that I’ve lost to this disease could have taken a medication, or gone through a certain treatment center to cure their alcoholism, or chemical dependency issues, that just isn’t the case.

Finding What Works for Your Recovery

The grim fact is, what works for some, doesn’t work for others. Why that is, I don’t know. I am not a psychologist, nor a licensed professional. All I know is what has worked for me.

What I do is to try my hardest to pass that on to other young men and women in recovery by being of service to them and the next alcoholic or chemically dependent person that reaches out for help. I will be 23 years old as of January of 2022, I’ve been completely abstinent since October, 28th 2014. I know what despair and hopelessness feels like.

The Power of a Fellowship in Recovery

Though I hate watching others go through similar experiences, I love being able to make whatever impact I can on them, however small. Since I was 4 months sober I have made myself available to sponsor young men in recovery to share my experience, strength, and hope with them in hopes that they get this thing. Since I started, I haven’t been without at least 2 sponsees. Like clockwork, every Sunday at 6:00 PM we go to an AA meeting.

After the meeting we work on step-work, check-in with each other, and keep in contact throughout the week. We do this not because we have an epiphany every week, but we walk away feeling connected to each other. What I was taught early on is the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection. The beautiful thing is I now have sponsees with over 3 years sober, and now their sponsees have sponsees.

The Importance of Showing Up for Efforts at Sobriety

To answer the essay prompt directly, all an individual can do is just show up, show that they care, and be consistent no matter what program they’re in, how they identify in recovery, or who they are. Even just one person can make a small impact or even plant a little seed in someone that may need further help in the future.

Imagine if everyone in every recovery room showed the same amount of care for others as people showed them when they were new to the program. I would argue that the success rate among addicts and alcoholics would be much higher. My point is, one doesn’t need a large budget, or to work with a major corporation to make an impact. Anybody can at any point.

Education to Curb Addiction, as shown by the University of Arizona campus center


5. R.L. (University of Arizona – College of Social and Behavioral Sciences)

Throughout my growing up I saw the impact of substance abuse on some of my closest relatives and the struggles they faced as they tried to dislodge the hold of their dependencies and fear they faced of letting it go. Still today, I see the same cycle in my mom and my family does our best to support her through times of trouble.

Acknowledging the Cost of Addiction in Families

Personal stories of addiction and recovery, family concept pic

For my uncle, I feel a loss as I see him wither away into alcoholism, and at 41, his skin is ashen, and his eyes are yellowed. My closest friend at 20, struggles to find grounding in her fight against addiction and she fears the impact of generational addiction, and the loss of her aunt who died of a cocaine overdose.

Since the dawn of man, humans have faced addiction and it follows human history the same as great wars and revolutions. Its range and influence steadily grow as we continue into the 21 st century with unprecedented change, as fear of pandemics, climate change, war, and poverty rack people’s minds.

With it, however, the recognition and study of addiction, health and economic disparities, and public health have evolved. I have been fortunate to shadow in a psychiatric hospital where I could see firsthand the power of addiction over people from every background. There is where I also learned that addiction is not something to flippantly regard and try to “fix.”

Removing the Disease from the Person Suffering

It is a disease, a kind of virus, that can only be removed and healed by understanding that the addiction one holds is not who they are. One is not an alcoholic; they are one who struggles with alcoholism. This distinction is crucial in removing society’s stigmas and helping people find grounding and identity.

Next, and I find to be the most important aspect of reducing addiction in this country, is to provide education on addiction and substances in our schools, establish programs across every community that provides counseling, outreach for resources, and opportunities for those who struggle with addiction to be connected with the help they need. So many of these programs already exist and have helped so many, but still, our country continues to struggle to give crucial aid to people before it’s too late.

Revolutionizing Addiction Treatment in America

Therefore, finally, I believe that we need to revolutionize the way we approach mental health and poverty. In every school, every job, every doctor’s visit we need to emphasize a person’s mental health as much as we do their physical.

One thing my mom told me that always stuck with me was the story of her picking up a cigarette for the first time. It wasn’t because of social pressures; it wasn’t because it was cool. It was because she felt so lost in herself that she reached for something, anything that could help her. So many lives could be changed if we take these important steps in our communities and ourselves to help others who will know that even when they cannot help themselves, we are there.

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