Please tell us your story.
I truly believe that I was born hard-wired to be an addict. At eight years old, my parents would hide the keyboard for our family PC at night because I would compulsively play video games and zone out for hours upon hours on sites like Habbo Hotel and Neopets. I remember sneaking out of bed to find the hidden keyboard so I could continue playing The Sims or talk to my online friends while my parents slept. Throughout my pre-adolescence and teenage years I found way to get out of my own head: sports teams, over exercising and undereating, toxic relationships with boys, smoking weed, binge-drinking, binge-eating, excelling academically…you get the picture.
I grew up in a somewhat loving home. I was never abused or neglected, and had a relatively happy childhood. My mother has mental health issues of her own, and her temper and outbursts of rage when she was off her medication had a deep impact on me. I was always the tallest kid in the class, never fat, just big…but kids are very mean. I was relentlessly bullied and teased for being “chubby”. The bullying started when I was in 2nd grade. Boys called me “Miss Piggy”, and in the 5th grade another boy spread a rumour that I had breast implants. I was an early bloomer and the bullying affected me deeply. It set the stage for the borderline eating disorder I struggled with in high school and university.
I went to an all girls private high school and got out of my head by studying as much as I could, doing assignments, and playing volleyball. In 11th grade I started smoking marijuana, and did that daily the entire year. This was my first experience with a drug on which I was psychologically dependent. I traded that addiction in for being addicted to obsessively working out and cutting calories. I dropped 35 pounds in 3 months. With my newfound confidence and “thinness”, I wanted to be seen as a party girl and go out with the popular crowd, so when I would drink, I would drink alcoholically. This often resulted in blackouts, messy and sloppy behaviour, and embarrassing public tantrums. This continued throughout my degree at Queen’s. I did not have access to my drugs of choice while I was away at school, so I began binging and purging several times a week to control my weight. This lasted several years and in hindsight, the bulimia was another addiction in itself; it was a way for me to numb out, check out of life, and feel good.
I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder in September 2011 and was introduced to my first benzodiazepine. I loved the way it made me feel. I started stealing pills from my mom, my dad, and my grandmother: whatever I could find. Occasionally I would use stimulants, benzos, hypnotic sedatives, or opiates to do what I had done as a kid with computer games—to escape reality. The disease of addiction is chronic, progressive, and fatal. It progressed very slowly at first, and then all at once several years later.
How long were you addicted and to what? How did it change your life?
I would say my addiction really started to progress in the summer of 2015 after I was raped. I was addicted to benzodiazepines, hypnotic sedatives, marijuana, and alcohol for about two and a half years. I became completely self-centred, sneaky, deceitful, grandiose, manipulative, and impulsive. I was a compulsive liar and would believe my own lies. My main priority was drugs—while I was high, I didn’t care about who I was hurting or any damage that was being done. I remember thinking tk8hat the drugs made me feel normal and happy, and that because I had been raped, I deserved to use. I still somehow managed to graduate with an honours bachelor degree in Psychology from Queen’s University in June 2017, and used this accomplishment as “evidence” that I was a functional addict.
In hindsight, I was living like a ghost of a human being in the six months before I walked into the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous. I did not have any passions or interests outside of my drug use. I used alone, I rarely left the house, rarely showered, and I cut off all my friends. I was absolutely miserable and tried to get clean many times on my own; during these small periods of sobriety I was overwhelmed with guilt over what I’d done to my family and myself, and I’d inevitably relapse. My family helplessly watched my addiction spin out of control.
What was the breaking point for you to get clean?
My parents started seeing an addictions counsellor to get some help regarding my situation. They wrote me a letter about how much they love me and how painful it has been for them to watch me suffer in my addiction. The letter ended with some “bottom lines”: in order to live at home with my family, I would have to abstain from all drugs and alcohol and start attending NA meetings. The first time I use, I am kicked out for one night. Second time, one week. Third time, one month. Fourth time, I’m out of their house permanently. I didn’t believe they would throw me out so I tested them. Long story short, I was out on the streets that night and was scared and broken down enough to genuinely give Narcotics Anonymous a shot. I was sick and tired of my life being ruled by drugs and I wanted my family back. I didn’t know who I was anymore and hated what I had become.
How did you get clean and how long have you been sober for? What was the hardest part for you about recovery and how did you overcome it?
I got clean by getting involved in Narcotics Anonymous: attending meetings at least six days a week, getting a home group that feels like “home” when I walk in, doing service, getting a sponsor, and the willingness to do everything that is suggested. I’ve been clean for 86 days. I get my 90 day keytag this coming Sunday.
The hardest part about recovery was surrendering myself to the program, and realizing that I had to do whatever it took to stay clean. This meant talking to strangers (people who are now close friends!), exchanging numbers, going out for fellowship, and going to tons of meetings. It was very scary at first because I have a lot of social anxiety, especially when clean, but I am so happy I did all of these things. I overcame this initial anxiety by taking a leap of faith. I had to trust that by doing what was suggested by other recovering addicts, things would get better for me. I’m so grateful to say that things have gotten much better. I have a wonderful sponsor who calls me on my bulls**t in a loving way, and guides me in my recovery. I have new, genuine friendships with people who understand me as a fellow addict.
What is your motivation to stay clean and how did you do it?
My motivation to stay clean comes from a lot of things. I love and value my family so much, so I want to be a living amends to them. I want to be the best daughter and sister that I can be.
I’m only 23 years old, so if I relapse and fall back into active addiction, who knows if I will make it back into the rooms. The fentanyl crisis is very serious, and it’s in pressed pills and other street drugs these days besides heroin. If I go back out there, there’s a very real possibility that I would die. I don’t want to die.
I have a newfound joy for life these days. Since getting clean, I’ve cultivated genuine and loving relationships. I read for pleasure again. I can sit outside and feel the wind, be present, and thank the universe that I’m alive. I practice gratitude as much as possible. The 12 steps are life changing and I think anyone, addict or not, would benefit from working them. I live my life in accordance to spiritual principles such as honesty, compassion, and forgiveness whenever I can. Life is still hard, but NA has given me the tools I need to live life on life’s terms. Deep in my addiction, I thought that suicide would be a better option than going on the way things were going. I’m beyond grateful that I’m still here today. I have my whole life ahead of me, and by continuing to go to meetings and working the steps, I am very excited to see what’s in store.
For someone in the same situation as you and wants to get clean, what would you want to tell them?
I know 12-step programs aren’t for everybody, but it’s worked for me so far. I would tell them to look up NA meetings in their area and hit up a meeting that’s close by. Go, keep an open mind, listen to what other members have to say. Exchange numbers with people, listen to addicts share, feel the beautiful atmosphere of recovery. When I picked up my white keytag after my last relapse, there was nothing but love in that room. I got so much support, lots of phone numbers, and for the first time I felt hope. Recovery is not for those who need it—it’s for those who truly want it. Take things one day at a time. Have faith that things will get better. Every day clean and sober is a successful day, no matter what else happens.
What is your life’s motto:
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Gillian is a Queen’s University graduate living in Toronto, Canada. She is a lover of mystery novels, her two dogs, and all things Eric Andre. She runs a recovery account that is dedicated to breaking the stigma of addiction and mental health issues, as well as shattering the pervasive “highlights reel” of social media. You can follow her recovery account on Instagram at @honestlygeel.