Our Stories Are Our Strength
COLLECTIVE JOURNAL: JULY 2 – JULY 11, 2021
Ever since the lockdown began I noticed people around me becoming more effected by substances. A lot of people I know just replaced the time they would be doing stuff with drugs. One of my roommates recently developed an issue involving downers where he lost about 2 weeks of his life. I just wish that there were some services that were easily accessible for young adults struggling with the onset of these new addiction problems.
One of my best friends recently started to lose himself to Xanex seeing him become a different person due to this drug is a harrowing experience. The ability to find care is extremely diminished and the problems that people my age are facing are growing everyday. Seeing someone lose there ability to reason and there morals all because of a substance is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. I just wish it was easier for services to be accessed by people my age.
I am an addict/alcoholic from Charlotte, North Carolina. I am 22 years old and celebrated 3 years of sobriety, in quarantine. Of course, this was not how I pictured celebrating this milestone. Since the beginning of my sobriety I was always taught to reach out to others. I did everything I could not to spend time alone at home because I knew I couldn’t trust my own thinking. As I have continued on in my journey of sobriety, I have come to enjoy my time with others who are on a similar journey as me. My daily routines are still planned around attending 12 step meetings and fellowshipping with other young people in recovery. My interactions with others allow me to stay focused and stay out of my own way. So, it’s no surprise that when COVID-19 came around that it was difficult for me to adjust to a routine without in person meetings. I was used to using technology as a way to tune out the world, and now I had to use it to tune into my recovery. I had to learn how to navigate sponsoring other women through
facetime and attending meetings through a screen. Although I am extremely grateful that we have these platforms for recovery, it is a whole new atmosphere I had to become comfortable in. As a person with 3 years of sobriety feeling off balance in this new recovery atmosphere, I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for someone who is new in recovery.
Throughout quarantine I have had to truly put the tools I have learned in recovery to the test. I had to call more people, attend more online meetings, read more literature, and spend more time on my individual spiritual practice. As a young person in recovery I know how easy it is to convince myself that I am alone. My disease can tell me that I am the only person my age who doesn’t have the luxury to drink and do drugs without consequences. Obviously, this is not true but if I spend enough time alone thinking about myself and not staying aligned with the program these delusions can become quite real. One of the most important things for me in my sobriety is staying connected with a network of people who understand me. I need other young people who I can relate to. Since I have some time in recovery, I am grateful that I have been able to keep in contact with my group of friends in in recovery. We have set up times to have our own meetings and fellowship. But this isn’t the case for everyone, many people who are
new in sobriety don’t have an established friend group and still shy away from using the phone to connect. Not only is it important for me to stay connected but having fun in sobriety is an important aspect for me too. I think this is especially true for young people. It’s been a struggle to find new ways to interact with my friends. Many of us had to switch to online schooling and lost our jobs during the pandemic. I have seen more and more people struggling with mental health in addition to alcoholism throughout this time. Many young people are struggling with anxiety, depression, and addiction all at the same time. We need all the support we can get to address these issues. These are not going away now that there is a vaccine. I pray that these struggles I have seen and experienced in the young people’s recovery community don’t discourage others from getting sober.
My story is but one of many. I see suffering around me every day. This emotional pain, this anxiety, this doubt and uncertainty, this rage, I feel it all deep in my chest. Without the support I have been lucky enough to access, I would not be here to write this anecdote today.
After 5 years of trauma, domestic abuse, drug addiction, recovery, heartbreak, curiosity, discovery, and persistence, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in May 2019. With the state of my mental health in college, I never thought I would see the day that I graduated. Certainly, I never thought I would graduate with Honors. My success can largely be attributed to my access to resources through my university. The work that I did with my substance use counselor allowed me to get clean. More importantly, that work allowed me to begin to love myself and grow beyond the traumas of my past.
In the fall of 2019, I moved into my first 1-bedroom apartment and began my first full-time job. I began this job with $34 in my savings account. Shortly thereafter, my physical health began to take a turn for the worse. I am still struggling to find adequate medical care and an accurate diagnosis for my worsening disability. My new doctor referred me to physical therapy that I could not access. I have a spreadsheet in excel to help me determine if I can safely afford my medications, or if I must use what little money I have to pay my utilities so that I may have the luxury of flushing my toilet and turning my lights on.
If I don’t find a way to pull myself together enough to continue working 40 hours every week, then I can add eviction from my apartment to my ever-growing list of emotional burdens. Knowing that I can legally be denied housing, employment, and medical treatment just for being transgender increases the baseline anxiety that I feel. If I cannot work, then I will lose my housing, my health insurance, and the ability to pay for any of my medications or even groceries.
Last year, I also got the news that my mother passed away, and I was not be able to attend her funeral in person. Because of my physical health and all of the precautions I had to take. In the wake of the death of a parent, the last thing I need is the weight of the knowledge that my government is content to sacrifice me for economic gain. My home, my country, and my community is grieving the loss of queer, black, and brown lives at the hands of those who we are supposed to trust for safety and support.
If I had not had access to substance use counseling in college, I would not have the tools that I need to be able to pick myself up and carry on. These tools saved my life in active addiction, and I still use these tools to better my quality of life now. For the first time in my life, I want to live, and I want to feel happy and free. This is a feeling that I desperately wish to hold onto. What I need right now is counseling, food, shelter, and medical care for my chronic illness. Without these things, I stand very little chance of surviving the pandemic and its aftershocks.
The people who have been hit the most are those who struggle with mental health issues and those who struggle with substance use. I have seen this in my own community and in my own life. One of my best friends who struggles with anxiety and depression felt the effects of the break in routine and isolation from others. As the pandemic continued, he noticed that the fear and uncertainty worsened his anxiety considerably. This along with the restlessness of sitting around doing nothing caused it to worsen to a point he hadn’t experienced before. This led him to turn back to substance use as a way to cope with the increasing mental pressure he feels from his issues. Over the course of 3-weeks he went from one of the strongest people I know to being reduced to someone who couldn’t even remember the last time he was sober.
Luckily for him he was able to pull himself out of the tailspin he had begun, but what about people with more serious substance use issues or people with crippling mental health disorders. Those people may not be able to pull themselves out of it. The programs that don’t have enough people to help and even just the recreational activities that people were unable to do were the foundation on which many have built their recovery. Those foundations have been rocked and will take time to rebuild. I think that we are going to continue to see a stark rise in addiction and in relapse and also sadly in suicide.
The thing about mental health is that it is like trying to manipulate momentum. When someone is on top of their game and handling their issues such as: working out, taking
medication. Speaking to therapists, participating in social groups, and just generally coping with stress then it is much easier to stay positive and stay on top of things. However, once someone starts to lose their grip on their mental health then it becomes a much harder thing to force yourself to start coping again and start healing again. There have been days in my life where I have felt like I couldn’t even get out of bed and I am expected to take care of my mental issues on a day like that. The craziest thing to me is that I have felt the effects of isolation and job loss during Covid extensively and my mental health issues are relatively mild. I cannot imagine the scope of human suffering this caused on some who had more to deal with and less support immediately available.
Think of all the recovery programs that are out there helping people every day: Alcoholics anonymous, outpatient rehab programs, various kinds of therapy and etc.., People
depend on these programs to stay out of the trap of relapse. I believe that the American public has vastly underestimated the effect of social isolation on people and especially on young adults. Me and my friends are all at the age where we are trying to figure out how to live. We are discovering who we are and what personal challenges we are going to have to face. I have seen the substance usage rates go up among my friends starkly. Everyone is using marijuana daily if not drinking daily. Being a young adult is hard enough as it is without having all of the foundations that you’ve built your life upon ripped out from underneath you. And it is all changing again! We must ask ourselves what are the adverse effects that we are promoting or ignoring? What struggles are we creating in our young adults, our people who are struggling with substance abuse, and our people who struggle with mental health issues. I have seen firsthand the effect that this past year, and the loss of routine had on me and my friends. As their mental health issues worsened, they have turned to substance use.
I moved from Mississippi to Asheville NC almost three years ago when I got sober. Everything going on in the whole world today is confusing and shocking to me. I have experienced stress through these times. Having almost no income has been fairly challenging. My parents have helped me financially, but I feel somewhat guilty STILL relying on them. One of my biggest goals is to become financially independent so that they do not have to continue helping me pay for everything. I feel like I’m not clear on a lot of things for the coming semester, and I want to be as prepared as possible. Stressing about school and money aren’t fun for anyone, but especially for those in recovery. A lot of my friends are people who live to be social and constantly hang out with others in recovery. I have noticed these friends falling into depression simply because they don’t know what to do next. I have seen many people I know relapse throughout this time. I believe a lot of these people have relapsed because they have lost their jobs and are feeling completely hopeless due to that. These are scary and difficult times for everyone, but I strongly feel for those who are brand new to recovery as well as those who cannot break the cycle of addiction. Too many people need help and I wish there was more I could do.