Researchers believe that about half of people with addictions will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. Similarly, half of people with mental health disorders will experience an addiction. Co-occurring disorders is when one has an addiction concurrently with a mental health disorder. Sam’s story shows how someone can suffer with multiple disorders, and still find lifelong recovery.
Born into a broken family in Phoenix, Sam started life in an unstable environment. She was transferred from home to home many times before the age of 10. At 10, she found the people she now calls her parents. She lived a secure life with them until she was about 22. Although stable and safe, her new home was also quite strict. Her new conservative lifestyle included rules about religion and going out.
Her parents set rigid expectations for how she should behave. Soon, she was rebelling against them. Around the age of 15, people noticed that she was angry and upset. One day, they finally asked her why.
This question required some thought. Even she wasn’t sure why she was so angry. Sam could only surmise that the anger she felt had to do with her childhood abuse.
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She began to recognize that the mental, sexual, and verbal abuse kept her from connecting to people. Eventually, she found a youth pastor to guide her through her young adult years.
At 22, Sam decided to move out of her parents’ home, go to college, and make her own decisions. It was then that she realized that she didn’t know how to make decisions and interact with people.
The Beginnings of an Addiction
Sam’s goal upon entering college was to party it up and have fun. Because she was a 22-year-old freshman, she was able to buy alcohol. This made her popular amongst her younger classmates. The ability to purchase alcohol gave her instant popularity and a way to connect with people, without feeling insecure.
About this same time, Sam began to struggle with depression and the effects of it on her life. College wasn’t easy; but her constant partying wasn’t really the problem. Sam was “having high highs and really low lows and constantly suicidal”. She couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her or why she couldn’t feel normal.
In therapy, she asked her counselor if she would always feel this way. He didn’t seem to offer any optimism. This was quite disheartening, and it left Sam with a sense of impending doom, given her upcoming graduation.
The uncertainty of what life after college would be like left Sam feeling hopeless. She thought she might end up killing herself within a few years of graduation. Nonetheless, she graduated with a 2.0 grade point average.
After graduation, she moved in with a former roommate and got a job. But it wasn’t long before she felt the burden of fitting in and finding her place. This uncertainty led her back to drinking, despite her concern for addiction. She had previously quit drinking when she realized it was becoming an addiction.
The Addiction Gets Worse
In addition to returning to drinking, she had easy access to marijuana. Her roommate kept plenty of it in the house. At first, Sam wasn’t terribly into using pot but eventually, she began to enjoy it.
She’d get so high that she wouldn’t be able to go to work. This inevitably led to her depression worsening. She had no choice but to take medical leave from work for 30 days. Shortly after returning to work, she decided to start dating.
She met a guy on a dating website. After eight months, they agreed to move in together. The relationship quickly went bad; he become abusive in a very short period of time.
After about a year and a half, Sam realized that the relationship wasn’t healthy, so she got her own place. Living by herself, she began to feel the crushing emotions from the break-up.
So, she drank. She drank a lot. Every day, she drank until she blacked out, and she smoked marijuana constantly.
“I was so incapacitated that people would ask me what was wrong with me.”
Soon, drinking and smoking weed weren’t enough, and Sam began to seek out other substances, including Xanax. She took Xanax to help self-medicate her highs, lows, and emotions.
One night, at the peak of her addiction, she took around seven Xanax pills and drank alcohol. She didn’t think this would kill her but hoped it would. She blacked out and hit her face on the bathroom counter. Her friends saw her fall and moved her into her bed.
When she woke up, she remembered that her firearm was sitting right next to her bed. To this day, she is thankful that she didn’t kill herself or try to drive.
The Road to Recovery
A short time later, a friend of Sam’s convinced her to see a doctor. At 27 years old, Sam was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After the diagnosis, she searched for the proper medication. Unfortunately, after several months of searching with no results, she returned to alcohol.
“I’d rather be manic, at least sometimes I’d feel better.”
After losing her job, she started working at a restaurant. The restaurant ultimately introduced her to fentanyl. It was easy to spend all the money she had on fentanyl. When she had nothing left, she went into withdrawals. The experience was enough for her. She went to a support group meeting and achieved her first four and a half months of sobriety.
Unfortunately, the first try didn’t keep her sober. Sam wasn’t completely honest while working the steps and eventually talked herself into relapsing.
“The obsession [to use] came back and it came back with a vengeance.”
After this relapse, she realized she couldn’t stop and completely lost control for about six months. She got fired from both of her jobs and lost everything. She could no longer ignore that she needed help.
Sam went to detox, then rehab, and was finally placed into a halfway house. Although the halfway house wasn’t where she imagined herself after rehab, it was the place that really changed her life.
One particular counselor took her to meetings. This is where Sam was able to find a sponsor and begin working the steps completely and honestly. She learned to stop yelling and being angry at people, and instead, start showing others compassion.
Sam has two goals today. She wants to give others the same love that she was shown at the beginning of her treatment. She also wants to develop healthy relationships with others. She wishes to continue sponsoring other people in the program, as well. Her biggest goal is to live a life in which people can’t imagine her as an addict or alcoholic.