“I am thankful for my struggle because, without it, I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength.”
– Alex Elle
One year ago I had to make the hardest decision in my entire life. Evolve or, quite literally die.
With a month left of my long strenuous studies, I chose to drop out of my Public Relations program, write the Minister of Health a letter begging for help, and throw my ass into treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.
Growing up in an alcoholic household I vowed it would never be me. I saw the pain and chaos it inflicted on the sufferer, and almost worse, the sufferers family. Wonderful people with so much potential shriveled up and became shells of themselves, and I wanted no part of it. Surely I was “better than that”.
But addiction is a sneaky thing. It doesn’t come all at once, and it’s not exactly something we openly talk about. It trickles in slow little bits before you ever notice its residence.
For me, what started out as recreational use and exploration, slowly (or perhaps even quickly) turned into a social lubricant for the mixers my new field of work required of me.
What’s wrong with a few drinks to toast to the end of an exam?
What’s the harm in a gin or two to give me the courage to talk to that CEO I hope to work for?
I write better when I’ve had a few, and I’m doing everything that’s required of me anyway, do I really have a problem?
But that’s the problem. I was doing the things that were required of me, and no one ever stopped to question it. I wrote the papers, I went to class, I did the public speaking events on self-love, and no one, least of all me, ever thought to say “you might need help”.
And why would they? From a “Public Relations” standpoint, I wasn’t exactly about to advertise any of my inner turmoil. After all, it would ruin my public image, wouldn’t it?
With graduation on its’ way, things came to a sudden halt for me. I couldn’t do it anymore. Instead of finishing my papers I was drinking. Instead of going to class, I was drinking. Instead of establishing positive connections and networks in my field, I was ruining the potential for any future offers.
One night I had had enough. I drunkenly asked a respected mentor if openly admitting to dealing with an addiction would “ruin my professional image”. And to be quite fair, she didn’t know. Like any good Public Relations professional she walked me through the potential of my own personal “PR Disaster”; as someone just starting out in their career, it could either make or break me.
I don’t remember much after this, and in a way, it doesn’t really matter. What I do know is, this experienced changed me forever.
Where I once sat judging others, claiming their lack of willpower, I now found myself, facing barrier after barrier to getting help, despite my best efforts. Further, I found that if you are not of a privileged class, you have many obstacles ahead of you. If public treatment is your only option, the likelihood of securing a bed date for treatment sooner than a few months is nonexistent. If you are a woman, you will wait nearly 3 months, and let’s hope you’ve secured your own childcare.
1 in 5 Canadians report struggling with addiction, and of these only half are willing to disclose. In 2008, more than 47,000 Canadians died of drug or alcohol addiction, due to a lack of available services, public education and of course, the ever prevailing stigma surrounding addiction.
Through the powers that be and the undying love of a kind, well-known family that lost their son to addiction, I was able to access treatment; an opportunity I now realize not nearly enough people will have. I was able to heal and remove myself from the grip of this death sentence, and truly gain a second lease on life.
When the time came to thank my guardian angels, they stopped me to tell me I have no reason to be ashamed.
That though addiction could “ruin my image”, recovery could be the conduit that gives others hope, that like that cheesy little quote, my struggle could lead me to my strength.
But not without being changed.
Today, I have a good life. I have the opportunity to finish my Public Relations program and work for an organization that values my experience with addiction. In the place of many fair-weather friends are genuine connections.
Beyond these external gifts though, are the feelings of humility, gratitude, and the yearning for authenticity. Shame has left me, and I am now open about my struggle, in hopes that it encourages someone else to ask for help.
Cliche as it is, the very thing I feared most has become the greatest thing to ever happen to me, and I will never be the same again.
All of my love,
– Steph Jael