This story began with a young girl, an abusive childhood, mental and physical pain, conflicting “parental” figures, identity issues, abandonment, body image issues, mental illness, and substance use. As a young preteen, she was doing what she could to survive, she learned to hide her pain and suffering through the happy persona who was full of smiles and laughter around some and then also engaged in very harmful and many times dangerous activities and behaviors with others. It was the only thing that made her go on and as she grew the binge drinking and substance use became something that could help her forget and disappear.
She fought with herself, put herself down, allowed others to do the same, and kept everyone good just far enough away so they couldn’t truly see inside of her darkness, the darkness she wasn’t even willing to look at herself. As a young adult, she would find that her impulses were hard to control and that her emotional regulation was completely damaged. Many times she would hurt those closest to her, falling over and over again, losing hope and further strengthening the idea that she was undeserving and unworthy of joy, respect, comfort, love, or help. Hope is not ever lost, it’s just sometimes hard to find. I know now that I am a human being who was and will always be deserving, worthy, and valuable.
You Are Not Your Past
Trauma can impact an individual in every single aspect of their life and it can have long-lasting effects on their mental, cognitive, and physical functions and behaviors. Not all childhood trauma is abuse as most immediately tend to assume, many people can experience trauma and extreme stress from neglect, losing a parent, witnessing domestic or other physical violence, and also having a family member who lives with a mental illness. Humans do not all experience or deal with trauma the same way and it has been well documented that early trauma exposure is directly linked to substance use disorders.
Most individuals who have or are struggling with a substance use disorder are ashamed of what they have done in their past relating to the disorder. This then is used to further solidify that negative self-image and worth that tells them they are undeserving of anything in life. Take the past mistakes as hard lessons learned that will aid you in moving forward into your present and future. Those mistakes and regrets committed against those you love and care about do not define who you are. They do not mean you are unworthy of amends. It makes the process of recovery more complex but recovery is not just about asking for forgiveness from others, it is also very much about forgiving yourself.
You Are Not Your Disease
Contrary to what many would like to believe, substance use disorder is not a choice or a ‘bad habit’ but a harsh, chronic, life-altering, and threatening disease. For most people, substance use and misuse are viewed as ‘who a person is’ and ‘the main problem.’ That is also why words matter so much when discussing the topic, experts have been attempting to pull society away from extremely harmful terms such as “addict” and “abuse or addiction” to instead use first-person language such as “person with substance use disorder.” It can remind and educate those who hold bias on the topic and also help the individual themselves to see that they are more than the disease, that it does not define who they are as a human being, and that the substance use disorder is not the problem but that there are root issues and factors that they need to discover, address and fix to move forward in their recovery and life.
“You are not your illness. You have an individual story to tell. You have a name, a history, a personality. Staying yourself is part of the battle.”Julian Seifter
You Are a Human Being Who Deserves Life
Do not base your self-worth on the traumas or mistakes of your past. Change requires addressing the suffering that you experienced and endured, but what you cannot allow before even pressing start on your healing process is to question how valid your traumas are by comparing your problems to others. This is a major problem in our society, and a reason as to why so many people wait or never seek out help, they believe either their trauma is somehow insignificant or non-existent in relation to others or also that their substance use isn’t quite at the point of needing treatment.
An important example here can also be viewed among adults, specifically veterans (combat vs. non-combat-related PTSD), where traumatic life experiences are not always viewed as important or detrimental in relation to others, or that much of the American public believe PTSD only occurs among combat veterans. Statistics and various studies have shown that military personnel overall have the highest rates of co-occurring PTSD and substance use disorders. All trauma is valid and important, this is not a competition.
Our society shames and dehumanizes individuals who struggle with substance use and misuse, they are viewed as “the lowest of the low” and an “enemy” you are at “war” with (i.e., the war on drugs). This is a very heavy stigma that has maintained the barriers of access to treatment and has caused societal members to severely lack empathy. In turn, we have a nation that could care less about problems regarding mass incarceration and overdose deaths as they relate directly to substance use and misuse. In reality, every person is deserving of their recovery because they are human beings.
Are you struggling with mental health or substance use issues? Call SAMHSA's National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)