How I went from drug and alcohol addiction, toxic relationships and self-loathing to spiritual freedom and self-love
Ever since I was a young boy I have known what I was born to do; to love. As a child, I believed that I would grow up and change the world by reminding everyone I encountered that we are here to love each other. I possessed a deep well of compassion and empathy within me that I felt strongly inspired to pour out onto others.
If someone was hurt, I wanted to heal them. If someone was sad, I wanted to cheer them up. If they were afraid, I wanted to ease their worries. My mother always called me her “little lover.”
Somewhere between my youth and now, I lost touch with that “little lover” inside of me. You see, no matter how much I tried to love other people better, it never seemed to fix them. And eventually, my well of love ran dry. The love I gave was seldom reciprocated and I never learned to drink from my own cup of compassion.
Because of this, I grew up believing that I was unlovable and unwanted. Since my love was taken for granted over and over, I thought that it just wasn’t enough; that I wasn’t enough.
Over time I became bitter and deeply depressed. I began to lose touch with my wide-eyed boyhood aspirations of changing the world and slowly morphed into what I liked least about the world. I started hanging around with the “wrong people” and making very poor choices. I became hopeless.
I believe that we all start out this way; innocent and full of love. Then things commence to change as we grow older; we wake up to new truths about the world around us and the harsh reality of this newfound world begins to wear us down. We somehow forget what we once knew so clearly: we are here to love and be loved.
In youth, our blood rises and becomes volatile. Desire, worry, and anxiety increase. External circumstances now direct the rise and fall of emotions. Will and intention become constrained by social conventions. Competition, conflict, and scheming are the norm in interactions with people. The approval and disapproval of others become important, and the honest and sincere expression of thoughts and feelings is lost.
My Self-Destruction And Reconstruction
As previously mentioned, I was full of naive innocence and a strong zeal for loving others in my youth. What I haven’t yet mentioned, is that I was raised in the midst of a constant barrage of unprovoked violence and abuse. As far back as I can remember, violence was an everyday occurrence in my household and neighborhood.
Whether it was of the verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, or sexual variety; abuse was a very prevalent factor in my environment. I quickly fell into the victim role at a young age. I was an easy victim at home, at school and pretty much anywhere I went.
I understand that many people weren’t raised in such conditions and some others were brought up under far worse circumstances than I. My tumultuous upbringing was a huge catalyst for my poor life choices, but it is by no means an excuse for my bad behavior. I know of many people who were raised in similar extremes who did not take the same rocky path that I chose.
So what really caused me to throw away my dreams and join in on the madness around me?
Fear, weariness, and pain. I was afraid of rejection and tired of being a victim. I had enough of being pushed around and treated like a weakling simply because I was full of love, so I gave up on love. I decided to fight back. I didn’t realize at the time that I was already in my full strength and this decision was one of the weakest choices I could have made.
When I made the decision to fight against those who I thought were holding me down; I thought that I was standing up for myself, but in truth, I was giving up on myself and everyone else. I believed that I was becoming the victor over my circumstances, but instead, I was becoming a victim of them. I went from being the abused to being the abuser.
The pain in my heart was so excruciating that I considered ending my own life on a regular basis. I was so tired of seeing and hearing people tear each other to shreds. I was tired of being hurt and being compelled to hurt others. I had no idea on any given day how I was going to survive through the heartache to make it to the next day.
And then I discovered drugs and alcohol at the age of thirteen. Ahhh, sweet relief. For the first time in my life, all of the weight was lifted from my shoulders. I no longer felt responsible for the emotional well-being of the people around me. Hell, I didn’t even give a damn about my own well-being at this point.
Over time, I became completely numb and no longer cared about anything or anyone that I once held dear. I had discovered a way to escape myself and almost lost myself for good in the process.
What started out as a dream come true quickly transformed into a complete nightmare. Drugs and alcohol dulled my conscience to dangerously low levels. I hated myself and projected that self-hatred onto the people in my life. I lashed out verbally and physically to anyone who got in the way of what I wanted. I no longer had respect for human life and had become an immediate threat to myself and society.
All of the pain that I had bottled up for years suddenly came rushing out in the form of anger and violence. As with many addicts I turned to a life of petty crime, which resulted in several stints in the county jail and state penitentiary.
My twisted love affair with mood and mind-altering chemicals spanned over twenty years and nearly resulted in the death of myself and others on multiple occasions. Along the way, I picked up another addiction to help me escape myself: toxic relationships.
Within these relationships, I somewhat reverted back to the mindset of my youth. I once again believed that my love alone was enough to fix another person. I unwittingly sought out young women who were as sick or sicker than I was and tried really hard to fix them, one doomed relationship at a time. The more I tried to fix these women, the more broken I became.
After nearly two decades of alcohol and drug abuse, three years of incarceration, chronic homelessness, multiple suicide attempts, and countless failed jobs and relationships, my life reached an abrupt turning point. On March 31st of 2010 at the age of thirty, I woke up on my brother’s couch and was quickly informed by my mother that I had been stumbling around for two days in a drug and alcohol-induced blackout.
During this blackout, I swallowed an entire bottle of Xanax and wrote a detailed suicide letter. My family had taken me to the emergency room where I somehow became coherent enough to talk myself out of being committed to the psychiatric ward of the hospital. To this day I have absolutely no clear recollection of anything that had taken place during these two days.
There was one part of the whole bizarre fiasco that really hit me to the core of my being. During the blackout, I had dropped an open bottle of assorted high-strength prescription pills onto the floor of my brother’s house while everyone else was sleeping. My brother had two toddlers who lived in that house with him; my niece and nephew. What if they found the pills and thought they were candy? I couldn’t bear the idea that I had put those innocent babies in such danger.
Something had to be done. I checked myself into a twenty-eight-day rehab program on that day, April 1st, 2010. (The irony of it being April Fools Day is not lost on me.) Forty days later I successfully completed the program and departed the rehab facility with a strong resolve to stay sober and help other people. During this time I was involved in an extremely unhealthy on and off relationship that lasted around eight years in its entirety.
I relapsed about six months after leaving rehab, which was also about three weeks after I received sole custody of my nine-year-old son. For three years I struggled to remain sober and be a good father to my son. On May 5th, 2013 I successfully completed rehab for the fourth and final time. I have been entirely clean and sober from all mood and mind-altering chemicals since March 31st, 2013.
During the three-year span between my first and last visit to rehab, I began to reawaken to my true self. That period was simultaneously the most severely painful and divinely enlightening chapter of my life thus far. All of the running from myself came to a steady halt.
For the first time in my life, I began to look within, and there inside myself is where I found what I had always been searching for: love and acceptance. I experienced a profound spiritual renewal of sorts. I remembered who I was in the beginning and the “little lover” inside of me began to shine through once again.
Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have — life itself. — Walter Anderson
Self-Love Was My Key To Freedom
I can now see clearly what I couldn’t when I was a child. The love I so desperately sought from others was within me all along. I ran out of love to give others because I was not regenerating it through self-love. I no longer feel the urgency to be accepted by others because I have learned to accept and love myself completely. I have forgiven myself for not knowing how to love myself and have forgiven all who have hurt me for not knowing how to forgive themselves.
Looking back, it is clear to me why I had forgotten how to love myself. I expected others to have the same heart as I did. And when I realized that they didn’t, I mistakenly assumed that it was my perception that was warped. I thought that because I didn’t receive the love I expected from them, I must not be worthy of love.
What I didn’t consider at the time was that the love I craved from others was already inside me. I gave in to the “dog eat dog” mentality that was presented to me and let go of the idea that love and compassion were my default state of being. When I look around me today, I see a world of people imprisoned within themselves and looking for the key to their cell outside of themselves; while it rests securely inside of their own hearts.
I think the most important thing in life is self-love, because if you don’t have self-love, and respect for everything about your own body, your own soul, your own capsule, then how can you have an authentic relationship with anyone else? — Shailene Woodley
The common denominator in every healthy individual that I have encountered in my life has been a strong sense of self-acceptance and self-love. The opposite seems to consistently ring true for those unhealthy people I have encountered. As long as people are looking for love, acceptance, and peace of mind strictly outside of themselves, they will never be complete. These people will always feel the need to compensate for their lack of self-love.
Featured image by Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash.com
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