Hi, my name is Sean-Edward Hall and I am an addict. Yes, I’m breaking my anonymity. I do so because I feel the need to reveal some of the struggles and roadblocks I have encountered in my journey towards freedom from addiction, so that you or someone you know might understand that they are not alone. First, however, I’d like to give just a little bit of my personal story about my disease because I have a passion to shed some light on this “… continuing and progressive illness whose ends are always the same: jails, institutions and death …” (Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, p. 3).
Before we lose any more precious lives, we should examine how shaming and judgment associated with this disease still exists today, even science has dispelled some of our old myths regarding its grip. I don’t have the statistics to prove this, but I would imagine that every person reading this newspaper has had at least one person in their life lost to the disease of addiction or has someone in their life that has lost someone. Just one week prior to me writing this, I personally knew of two folks that died from drug overdoses and the teenage daughter of a dear friend of mine almost died and had to be hospitalized. More needs to be done to stop this cycle. Many addicts won’t seek treatment simply because of the stigma, for fear of loss of employment or threat of losing friends and family.
Both the American Society of Addiction Medicine and National Institute on Drug Abuse define addiction as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry” and as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease that changes the structure and functionality of the brain.” With all of the science and the strides that have been made in the field of addiction, we still are called “crackheads,” “tweakers,” “junkies,” “meth freaks” and “drunks.” This disease does not discriminate. Addicts come from every walk of life. We are: teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, police officers, pastors, salesmen, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. We’re not just the homeless and the felons and the convicts and the broken and the poor. This disease most certainly can take us to these places if we do not find the answer or the treatment. It is not, however, who we are. It does not define us! It is, “… a disease from which there is no known cure. It can, however, be arrested at some point, and recovery is then possible” (Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, p. 13). Addiction needs as much attention and treatment as lupus, diabetes, asthma, Ebola, HIV or even cancer.
I’ve struggled with addiction since the year 2000. I won’t go into all the graphic details about the using, but I was introduced to my original drug of choice accidentally. First, if you don’t know me, you should understand that I don’t fit the stereotype surrounding the “user.” I grew up in a loving family that was centered on church and being morally clean. My parents never drank and I was not around any heavy drinkers in my family. I also never knew of anyone who had a drug problem. It just wasn’t something we talked about and I certainly didn’t see any signs of alcohol/drug abuse in my family. I was not a wild or rebellious teenager. I did what many young people do, I broke curfew now and again; however, other than a taste of a beer here or some wine there, I had not really had any serious drinks until the night of my high school graduation … and I did not get drunk. I then went on to attend a small liberal arts Christian College where drinking, drugs, sex and even smoking cigarettes, were against the strict rules for attendance. When I came home from college on weekends or during the summer, I would go to parties and have a drink every now and then and one summer I tried marijuana for the first time. Because I didn’t care for the coughing that would occur whenever I attempted to inhale, I didn’t experience the drug in its entire capacity for quite a while. I experimented with a few other drugs in my post-college years … nothing too serious and nothing more than once.
Thinking back on my association with drugs and alcohol as I write this, I wish that I had encountered someone in my life that had said to me, “Don’t play with this. It’s a lot like playing with matches. You’ll probably not start any fires. You may even get away with just watching the tiny flames flicker and die and smell the sulfur as it expires … but the potential for a raging; out of control fire is always there. Don’t risk it, my friend.” I hope that maybe this article will be that message for someone out there that needs to hear that. “Don’t risk it, my friend.”
My story also includes issues with mental illness. I am bipolar. Those of us who suffer from mental illnesses know that there is something wrong that we can’t explain. Many of us feel things that we can’t express or know how to process. Drugs such as cocaine, heroin, alcohol, meth and even nicotine relieve our symptoms immediately. It’s like a magic pill or instantaneous relief of feeling the things we feel. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last very long and it has horrible consequences. Our brain chemistry gets readjusted and it tries to find that synapsis again that the drugs create. It reverts itself to its primal functioning and convinces us that whatever we just put into our system, must not stop and we must do everything we can to repeat it. We find ways and means to justify and to rationalize the disease and it feeds itself by breaking a healthy cycle every chance it gets. Because it disguises itself so insidiously within our psyche, we begin to believe that, “Wow! I finally feel normal,” and we ignore the damage that incurs as a result. I’m not an addict because I’m bipolar; however, because I’m bipolar, I was more susceptible to becoming an addict.
Unfortunately, one lonely summer night in 2000, I was with someone who offered me a “hit” of something. Foolishly assuming it was marijuana, I didn’t think twice. It was not. It was something that made me feel really good. It made me feel alive. It made me feel great. Once it wore off, I wanted more and then I wanted more of that and then I wanted even more … and soon I needed a whole lot more. For 10 years, I lived in full addiction and denied I had a problem. I had many bouts with hospitalizations and medication changes and suicidal attempts and hundreds of therapy sessions dealing with everything except the honest fact that I was a drug addict. After yet another suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization at Blessing Hospital in Quincy; I opened my eyes to the fact that besides being bipolar, I was a drug addict. After I checked out of the hospital, I checked into The Wells Center, here in Jacksonville. I completed the program successfully and decided to reinforce my recovery, by moving into a sober living facility in Chicago and begin a new life as a recovering addict. I had some success at being “clean,” while living in Chicago.
Had I finally found an answer to this disease? Was my life going to finally be free of all substances once and for all? No, my journey has included relapses…some small, some not so small. This is not the case with everyone, but it is true for a lot of us. I relapsed once again in the late spring/early summer of 2015 and struggled with staying clean for well over a year. In July of this year, I finally decided I had enough and realized that I was truly “powerless” over my addiction and my life had become “unmanageable”; that even though I had a disease and I was not responsible for my disease, I was responsible for my recovery; and finally, I could no longer blame anyone or anything else for my addiction. I needed to face my problems and my feelings honestly and openly or I was going to end up in the hospital, prison or even dead. I began a new journey that has been painful, life changing, difficult and frustrating; but, most importantly, freeing.
The disease of addiction is really all about the lies. It is the lies the disease tells our brains. It is the lies the disease tells our bodies. It is the lies we tell ourselves to justify our desires and our cravings for it. It is the lies we tell our family and friends to hide our need to feed the addiction. It is the lies we tell God when we suddenly realize where we have arrived and how we have gotten there. It is the lies we believe that keep us living in our illness. It truly is all about the lies. Once we get honest about everything and truly find a desperate passion to eliminate the disease, freedom arrives.
This is not about me. I am not trying to get attention or to derive sympathy. These stories are for you. If you are reading this article and see yourself in my story, there is hope! If you, or someone you love, desire to learn more about how to fight this disease and find ways to manage it, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are also very good Narcotics Anonymous meetings and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Jacksonville and Springfield and I can immediately give you some times and places for these meetings. You can also check the local papers for dates/times/places, or can call the Wells Center at 217-243-1871 for information. If you prefer using the computer, go to the www.meetings.intherooms.com.
My next article will give you a glimpse into the beginning part of this journey. I will tell you about how difficult I found it to be to get treatment for addiction with the financial crisis happening in the State of Illinois and also how this has adversely affected programs and facilities. I will also tell you some of the stories of those around me who want you to know how they have struggled to find an answer to help them manage their disease. Most importantly, I will share with you the message of courage, strength and hope.
There is a way to manage this disease and become free. As it says in the preface to the First Edition of Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, “The full fruit of a labor of love lives in the harvest, and that always comes in its right season..”