Being diagnosed with severe clinical depression at the age of 13 when I began to struggle with coming to terms with the fact I was adopted and had been “given up” was rough on my whole family. They took it personally. As a teenager, I was very angry, especially at them for being so selfish when I needed them. I turned away from them, their strong Christian mindset, and got involved with a much more open, accepting crowd.
Like many teenagers discover, peer-pressure is a real problem in society. I’m a victim of it and you probably are, too. I was sad, confused, lost, and angry, alone… my depression had taken over, I hated my family, I hated myself. Being adopted had convinced me there was something “wrong” with me, and it all became about self-medicating. Anything to numb the noise.
It started with self-harm; cutting and burning myself and starving or staying awake for too long. The worse I felt physically, the easier it was to distract myself from the mental hell. I began to sneak out, getting into cars with strangers, taking the pills handed to me. Wanting everyone to like me became my next addiction. I’d do anything to feel accepted.
My first true addiction came in the form of self-harming, but my next serious problem presented itself in opioids and stimulants. Everyone saw me as just a 13/14-year-old and never would have guessed how easily I managed to get my hands on Adderall, Ritalin, Klonopin, and even Vicodin when I got really low.
The most common question addicts face, in my case, is why. Why did you start? Why didn’t you get help sooner? Why did you choose this path?
There is no good answer. Everyone comes from somewhere different, but we all share the same mindset. That’s what most people don’t understand – the mindset that addicts and recovering addicts have. When it feels like getting your next high, your next dose, or your next cut… nothing else matters. It’s consuming, it’s isolating, and it confuses us, too. Trust me, I’ve been there.
I was there for 4 years. Because of drugs, addiction, and depression, I feel like I never had a childhood. I never went to prom. I barely remember anything between ages 12-17. Entire years, relationships, experiences… completely wiped out because I was so doped up. It’s terrifying to think back on, and I’ve been there.
Experiencing a Downfall
October 30, 2012, I nearly died from a suicide attempt. Vicodin was the main culprit, a drug I’d become severely addicted to in the previous two years of abusing it, but I’d taken other pills, too.
I spent eight days in a recovery facility. One of the things that no one ever talks about when they share their recovery story is how shocking it is to have your secrets revealed in a heartbeat. In my case, rehab didn’t have much of a positive effect on me the first time. I went from my chaotic, stressful life to a realm of safety for over a week. I felt great. I started to feel like I could really get clean and pick up my life and all of its pieces.
Then you leave rehab. Then you have to face everyone who now knows what you did behind closed doors, what you went through, and you’re thrown into the middle of it all over again. This time… it’s worse. Everyone is relying on you to stay clean, healthy, and happy. I felt more alone than ever, and it didn’t take long for me to start self-medicating again.
When I’d get drunk, pills didn’t seem like such a bad idea anymore. Self-harm was more inviting. It was easier to let people down when I was drunk, so I’d use alcohol as a delivery system to step out of a responsible mindset and give me the excuse to make other mistakes.
It Began with Baby Steps
Nearly a year after my suicide attempt, I tested positive on a pregnancy test in the Walmart bathroom within walking distance of my host job at a local restaurant. I was 16 years old, an addict, an alcoholic, severely depressed, and had no intentions of changing any of that anytime soon. It’s an understatement to say that I was terrified.
Being an adopted child myself, I knew I could never push this sort of trauma onto another human being. I couldn’t put another person through all the things I had been through, the depression that stemmed from my abandonment issues which opened all the doors to addiction. Adoption was out of the question… but so was abortion.
With only one option left, I decided to start turning the page to the next chapter of my life. All the nights I’d spent crying in my bed after midnight trying to figure out why my biological mother didn’t love me enough to get clean and keep me started to impact me in a different way. It became a motivator.
Quitting was my only option and I knew it would be impossible without help. I can’t even begin to describe to you the amount of pride I had to suck up in order to go to my parents, the figures who had always been the most judgmental of me, but I managed to do so. Going to them for help, enrolling in programs at the hospital for recovering addicts, and going to therapy all gave my pride a serious hit, but I did it.
My first step was deciding my reason for quitting and committing to it. That was what had been missing in my first two times before when I had tried to get clean. It was never my choice, but the choice made by my parents. Put aside your addictions for a moment in your head and focus on what matters to you more than anything else in this world, and make that your focus.
Then you have to tell people about it. As much as it hurts, you have to tell everyone what you are doing, why you are doing it, and ask them for help. Friends, family, co-workers, even people you don’t feel close to. The more people you have for support and holding you accountable, the less likely you are to slip up and manage to hide it. Anonymous support groups, one-on-one counseling, or even hospital operated programs can be an amazing place of support if you open your mind to it.
Hard work doesn’t end when you’ve officially quit cold turkey. A relapse could happen in a month, a year, even a few years. It’s important to stick to your resolve even when you think you’ve made it past the worst part. Take me, for example. I’ve been clean for five years and I still have those days frequently where I can’t stop thinking about just letting go and giving in to the “old me.” It may never truly leave you, and that’s okay. You can be stronger than it.
I’ve found that my most vulnerable times are when I’m stressed and being hard on myself. What is my method for combating feelings of insecurity or self-hatred, or when I’m caught up tormenting myself over my past mistakes? I write it down. Write down your achievements for the day.
You got out of bed.
You did the dishes.
You gave your son a kiss.
You bought pork chops for dinner.
Look at everything you do in a day and ask yourself if you could have done all of that while high, or drunk, or otherwise involved in your addictions. Look at what you’ve done in a month and ask yourself the same questions. This can continue to increase for as long as you have been clean and sober.
If you’re still struggling to get to that point where you feel confident in your sobriety, start even smaller. Some days, I can really only account for an hour. Some days, my list is only as long as took a shower. Didn’t cry.
Remember who you want to be, why you want to be that person, and how much better things will be when you get there. I was 13 when I fell victim to addiction and mental illnesses. It’s almost a decade later and I am a homeowner, I have a beautiful 5-year-old son, and I’m honestly content with how I’ve gotten here. I had to face my emotional struggles related to being adopted to change my future. Remember, this is your future. This is where you could be by your choice to say no and never, ever turn back.
Leanne Lemire, MSW, LCSW, Executive Director of the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, says, “We recognize the impact that having been adopted has on the emerging young adult. Often experienced in early childhood without conscious awareness, recognition or vocabulary, the attachment disruption that stems from adoption can lead to a set of core issues of experiencing a deep sense of abandonment, rejection, grief/loss, identity issues, intimacy issues, and guilt/shame. By the time the adopted child becomes a young adult, we see how the effects are still felt on a very profound level coupled with present-day emotional dysregulation and relational difficulties. Our adopted young adults often still maintain the shamed-based belief that “something is wrong with me” for being “given away.” This causes a yearning and extreme vulnerability to seek acceptance through unhealthy relationships, succumbing to peer pressure, and self-medicating in an attempt to numb the pain or sense of loss. Left untreated, this underlying trauma fuels addictions, mood disorders, risk-taking behaviors, self-sabotage, expectations of further abandonments and chronic suicidality.”
The Claudia Black Young Adult Center treats substance and process addictions, co-occurring disorders, and the underlying traumas. Specifically, for the adopted young adult, the treatment team assists them in becoming aware of the impact that adoption has had on their development, challenge their shame-based beliefs, explore how the core issues of adoption are still present and fuel present day addictions or unhealthy behaviors, and begin the process of healing layers of delayed grief through experiential and trauma therapies. Connecting with peers in healthy ways is fostered through a sense of community where peers hold each other accountable and offer healthy support. The present-day family dynamics within the young adult’s adoptive family is a primary focus of the program’s family week which incorporates experiential learning with a strong emphasis on healthy communication. At the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, adopted young adults learn to embrace recovery and courageously bring hidden wounds to the light so they can successfully launch into adulthood.