Written by Whitney Langford.
Staff Writer’s note: According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 1 in 7 people in the United States suffer from some form of alcohol or drug abuse at any given time. Approximately 90% of these individuals start smoking, drinking, or using drugs before age 18. Addiction is characterized by a severe loss of control, continued use despite serious negative consequences, and preoccupation with using. It can wreak havoc in a person’s family relationships and make it impossible for him or her to work or attend school. People experiencing other mental health challenges, such as depression and bipolar disorder, can be especially prone to substance abuse because drinking and using drugs can help them feel better in the short term. Addiction is one of the most stigmatized mental health conditions, but recovery is possible with the right treatment and support. Here is Whitney’s story on how she struggled with, and ultimately recovered from, addiction.
When most people look at me, they don’t picture me with a needle in my arm. They don’t see a girl with a gun tattooed on her right forearm, nails and hair dirty from being up for three nights, going on her fourth day awake, starting to hallucinate that there are police officers just outside the door and that the sound of the air conditioning is really indistinct police radio chatter. They don’t see the girl who used to live in an apartment with no electricity, just a power cord through the window out to the laundry room that lit a few stolen electronics – a lamp, an oscillating fan, and a friend’s phone charger. They can’t understand what it feels like to stay in that apartment in the middle of a sweltering Phoenix, Arizona summer, where highs reach 117 degrees. People always say, “Yeah, but it’s a dry heat right?” I can’t stand those people. I always say, “Imagine how dry you would be if you sat inside of an oven turned on to 117 degrees. Sure it’s arid, but your body is not.” They never really seem to understand. When you take into consideration the fact that crystal meth increases your body temperature to something nearly feverish even if you are in air conditioning, that might help explain it. People don’t see me with a black eye, whether I got it from someone else or from myself (yes it’s possible to give yourself a black eye, I learned after coming out of an alcohol-induced blackout). They don’t see a twice-convicted felon. They don’t see someone who sat in county jail for 9 months, unsentenced.
The list goes on, because it’s true that, in order to use drugs and drink, I used to put myself in many dangerous situations. My life back then didn’t really matter to me. I thought my freedom mattered, but I was willing to risk it so easily that my actions suggested otherwise. That was usually the case. In my head it all sounded and looked so different than it usually ended up. I tried to let those around me do most of the things that I felt were risky and would lead to trouble, but being a knowing participant meant I was just as punishable as those taking the actions. In fact, I was considered worse for not reporting all of the felonious acts I was witness to on nearly a daily basis to the police. Only on paper they call that “conspiracy.” Conspiring to commit an act means you were knowing and willing; you virtually planned out the route to your own downfall. Because anyone who has been in the game long enough knows that eventually you will end up in jail, in prison, maybe in a rehab if you are lucky, or, more likely, dead. The problem is knowing those things doesn’t make it any easier to walk away willingly. In fact, the farther you go down the rabbit hole the harder it is to imagine a life out of it. Your brain just adapts to the life you are living, if you want to call it a life.
Today I can gratefully say that my life is something I wouldn’t trade for the world. I was released from jail and granted a chance to leave Arizona to start fresh with my mother, who flew out and took time off work to stand at my court date. It’s an odd feeling having your mother see you handcuffed with chain links padlocked around your ankles, but it makes the days of staying free and on the right track much sweeter. Being released from jail doesn’t mean I never took a drink or a drug again. In fact, it was not long after release that I struggled with alcohol and found a different substance to abuse. It’s been three years and another relocation, and I can honestly say that I am much farther in my recovery than where I once was. I haven’t drank in nearly two years. Haven’t done meth in almost three years. I have had slip-ups with other things, but when I do I come clean and try to make it right. Honesty is something I am still learning to work on.
But I haven’t let my time in Arizona and in active addiction define who I am. I had my gun tattoo covered up with a colorful and detailed owl. The eyes are beautiful, and without realizing at the time I chose something that symbolizes wisdom. I have a job despite my criminal record; in fact, I’ve been hired a few times and had to leave because we moved or something else came up. I was refused once because of my felony, but I didn’t let it stop me from continuing to search until I was hired somewhere else. Today I keep a very positive attitude and I live my life in gratitude. I find that if I exude positivity to those around me I am pleased with the results. I have my bad days, but in life there will always be ups and downs. The thing about staying high all the time is that the effects are temporary but the damage can be permanent depending on if you make it out alive. Fortunately spiritual healing and physical healing is possible if you allow yourself the time to feel the change. It’s always important to check out a 12-step program, seek some type of therapy, and maybe even some outpatient treatment if it’s still early in your recovery process. There are options for people who suffer from alcoholism and addiction, and the main idea to keep in mind is that you have to give it to yourself first. No one can change your life for you. People can help you along the way, but the only real change has to be one you are willing to make within yourself. At least that’s been what’s working for me today.