A river cutting through rock: My story of recovery and education
Speaking on the argument regarding whether addiction is a choice or a biological issue, I believe both are culprits in creating addiction. Addiction has been historically coined as a “disease of the feelings.” I believe this to be true as I look back on my childhood. I didn’t feel like other kids. I spent much of my time alone, and quite noticeably my family wasn’t like other families. I began to engage in actions that I knew were against the rules. I would wander unattended to places far from my home, often dangerous places; like the creek behind our house. I would allow other kids in my house when my dad wasn’t home, and eventually discovered his liquor cabinet. At first I would drink with other kids, but eventually I started drinking alone. This progressed to using marijuana at 13 and shortly thereafter followed cocaine. More substances were added to my laundry list, and more often.
It wasn’t until later in life that I understood why I started drinking. I drank because I wanted a break from reality; from my feelings; from myself. At first feeling high was fun. I giggled, felt carefree, and was able to exude social confidence. Eventually I met others like me who drank and used as frequently. My grades, attendance, and morals were no longer of importance; only escape. Using was no longer fun; it was more routine, a habitual activity that forsook everything of importance. I began to fight with my parents, the police, and anyone else who stood in the way of getting high. At this point, I believe chemically, psychologically, and mentally my brain had been hijacked by substances. Using was no longer a choice; it became a necessity.
Biologically speaking, I have come to an understanding that I have a propensity to addiction by examining my family tree. Many of my family members have battled addictions. Science has proven by the way of epigenetics that substance abuse is cultivated both by one’s environment as well as passed down through familial generations.
Bearing this in mind, it is important for us to understand that folks struggling with addictions are still human beings; capable of change. Denial often plays a very serious role in continued involvement with substances, keeping the person afflicted in harm’s grasp. Sadly, we are seeing families broken, mass incarceration, and grotesque personality changes on behalf of loved ones due to addiction. Thankfully there is a way out. Many communities offer detox, treatment, therapy, sponsorship, and 12-step meetings at little or no cost to the person addicted. Offering a loved one firm boundaries, prayers, and transportation (if needed) to seek help could save a life.
The gift of recovery
Thinking back on my past, I was not always so driven. Childhood trauma, lack of sound coping skills, and weak boundaries led me down a dangerous path. My decisions were less than fruitful, and that reflected outwardly in my life.
Asking for help was not an easy task. I was terrified, and quite frankly I didn’t believe I could stop using drugs. I wanted a better life; for myself, for my children. I wanted to be strong. I knew at that point, I had no choice but to seek outside help.
Detox was terrifying. I was around strange people, my body was in pain, and coming down gave plenty of time for self-reflection. I knew I needed to do anything and everything asked of me, take risks, and ask my higher power for healing. After completion of detox, I immediately found a sponsor and started working the steps. I began to see my frailty regarding drugs, and how I had neglected all the people I loved in the process. I made a promise to myself that I would do whatever it took from there out to maintain my beautiful gift of recovery.
A priceless peace
As I concentrated much of my time in 12-step meetings, I met some kind people in recovery. These folks would offer rides to newcomers, clean up after meetings, make coffee, and volunteer their time to take beginners through the book. I was amazed by the genuineness exhumed by the Oldtimers, the wisdom their journeys taught them, and the peace each exhibited. I wanted what they had.
As I got some clean-time under my “belt,” I began to take on service positions, such as serving as group secretary in a Friday night candlelight meeting. These were my favorite meetings because during sharing, the lights were off. We could only see each other by the flicker of candlelight. This helped to provide comfort and brought the ability to take risks. Feelings were intensely awkward at first, as I had historically avoided sensitivity at all costs. I also began to sponsor other women, and started to carry the message to other addicts. There I found the priceless peace I had always craved.
A goal in place
As time passed, I developed a piercing ambition to make a greater impact. I felt led to go back to school to learn, to be a humble servant amongst my peers, and to connect student learners with the vulnerable in our community. Driven to provide supplemental training for the future social workers of the community, I knocked on doors of nonprofits that could provide training and certification at no cost for my peers; training such as Naloxone administration, suicide prevention, and inspirational speakers touching on barriers and diversity.
The combination of the memories of my past and who I have become today led me to my career path. I am currently a honors student studying human services at Ivy Tech Community College. I plan to graduate in spring of 2019 with an Associate of Science degree and transfer to a 4-year school to continue my studies in the field of clinical social work, specializing in addictions. I am passionate about helping to heal our families and children who are affected by the drug epidemics in our communities. I know I can achieve this goal with mentorship, continued recovery, and a great education.
Does an addict have a choice, or is he/she biologically predisposed to addiction? Perhaps focusing so heavily on the debate distracts us from what is so important. Addiction can be felt globally and is not partial with who it chooses to devour. Stigmatizing those suffering doesn’t bring curing, nor does it provide a comfortable environment that cultivates healing. Perhaps looking past behaviors and understanding where they are rooted would be a step in the right direction. Acknowledging the links between addiction and childhood trauma, mental health issues, and low self-esteem would likely be more helpful than shaming the afflicted.
We have all gone through trials. Each of us has struggled through moments in our existence that helped shape us into the men and women we are today. I like a comparison made by author James Watkins. He says, “A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” After reading Watkins’ words, I thought about how the river compares to my own life. My journey encompasses joy, pain, hardship, and peace. I have learned that I must experience the balance of all emotions to be of the best service to others. Through the fight, I have learned to be empathetic to those struggling in my community and to trust in something bigger than myself to understand the principles of this world.
Today I am amazed when I look back on the past; I have been given a life beyond my wildest dreams. I have been given a voice to provide healing and hope to those who are struggling. I have been granted the opportunity to show my children that recovery & education are possible.
Jennifer Leonard is an Ivy Tech Community College student working on the completion of an associates degree in human services, and is scheduled to graduate in the spring of 2019. She plans to transfer to the University of Indianapolis to obtain her bachelors degree in social work. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering in the community, spending time with family, and river kayaking. Jennifer is an advocate for recovery from harmful involvement with substances in her community, and brings effective preventative training to her peers at Ivy Tech. She is a 2018 recipient of the Pearson Scholarship for Higher Education.
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