The Voice You’re Hearing Might be Your Owncsudhbulletin October 22, 2020 0 COMMENTS
Illustration by Nova Blanco Rico, for the Bulletin
By Raven Brown, Social Media Manager=
This is my drug addiction story: Three years ago, I crawled out of a hole I dug deep inside myself. I quit using drugs that were killing me and pursued an education I never thought I deserved.
I am not unique. College students are twice as likely to suffer from substance abuse than people who never go to college. Fortunately, I was someone who came face to face with my mortality and decided to make a change.
I never thought I would have the guts to talk about my addiction, but in honor of the fact that this is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, I wanted to share my experience with the hope it helps someone like I used to be, a student addicted to drugs.
At a very early age, I felt like an outsider who viewed the world differently from everyone around me. I could be in a room full of people and I would feel so alone. I wondered whether there was something wrong with me or something in my family lineage cruelly plagued me?
My parents were divorced before I turned 5 because of my father’s drug addiction.
But I never knew why until many years later. I suppose my mom was trying to protect me from what I could become.
When I was 11, my dad was arrested for selling meth and sentenced to 10 years in prison. I ignored the anger and confusion I felt because I didn’t know what else to do. I was a child facing grown-up issues I wasn’t equipped to handle.
As the years went by, my father’s abandonment left a void inside me. I was depressed and incredibly anxious, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to express what I was feeling.
As a teenager, you would think I would be repelled by the notion of doing drugs given their role in stealing my father and breaking my family. Nope.
My friends were doing them and though I once swore that I would never touch the stuff, I gave in. The urge to conform to the crowd was too strong for my undeveloped willpower. I wanted to belong to something, even if it was only to a group of drug dealers and users.
Age 14 was the entry point
I was 14 the first time I got high. Instantly, I felt a paralyzing shift within me. My relationship with drugs went from smoking weed to drinking alcohol at parties and eventually dabbling in other drugs whenever the opportunity presented itself. I loved the out-of-body sensations and how disconnected I felt from my problems. There was some guilt for giving in to the same vices that ruined my parent’s marriage, but the euphoria quickly drowned out my lone inner voice that was screaming for me to stop.
That singular voice told me that I was an idiot to waste my talents and that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. But it was constantly lost amid the chorus of other voices inside me that told me I was a loser and would never amount to anything.
By some miracle, I graduated high school at 18 and enrolled at El Camino College. Although I often wondered if I would even live to see my graduation day, and usually didn’t even care if I lived or died, I somehow stayed enrolled in school every semester, even if it was just one or two classes.
I bounced between majors for several years, studying nursing, kinesiology, nutrition and psychology. It was almost as if I was seeking answers to my own problems through studying subjects in the healing fields, as if that would turn my life around. But even though I loved school and I wanted to help people, I couldn’t seem to help myself. My insatiable drive to succeed in school was matched by my equally ravenous addiction.
And every day, I found a way to feed both cravings.
From the outside, no one knew I was struggling. I was working and going to school full-time, but it was all a front. I became a professional liar and was ashamed at how weak I had become. I couldn’t seem to shake the drugs or the hold they had over me.
When I turned 25, I was introduced to crystal methamphetamine by someone I wish I never met. I told myself I only wanted to try it that one time, just to see what it felt like. I was dying to feel happiness, even if it was artificial. Instead, that rock took a hold of my soul in a way no other substance ever had. I was completely powerless to it. With that first hit, I became totally addicted.
After that, my entire life revolved around drugs. I shut out all my friends and isolated myself in my room almost 24 hours a day getting high. I lied to myself and believed that the energy meth gave me was helping me get through school. I had more time to study from not sleeping and had laser-like focus; every student’s dream, I thought.
Dual addictions fed each other
My addiction to both drugs and school became intertwined and I couldn’t see anything else. I was hell-bent on earning a college degree. The obsession weighed on me heavily because I knew I would be the only one in my family to do so. I wanted to be proud of myself for accomplishing something in my life.
After almost two years of methamphetamine use, I weighed 85 pounds. I became increasingly mentally ill and experienced schizophrenic-like symptoms. I was paranoid, completely delusional and hallucinating shadow-people all around me. I was terrified I was going to end up severely brain damaged or dead.
Eventually, the drugs stopped working. No matter how much I used I wasn’t getting high anymore and I was forced to face my demons. At 27, I quit cold turkey and the next two weeks of my life were a living hell. With my dopamine reserves totally depleted, I could barely get out of bed and it felt like every cell in my body was being torn apart.
I struggled for the next year with my mental health and staying on top of my schoolwork, but the fog finally lifted and I felt my true self coming back. The girl I was before I first tried drugs all those years ago.
At 28, I transferred to California State University, Dominguez Hills, switched my major to journalism from psychology and found a peace I had never felt. I developed a sense of belonging among my peers and realized that had I not pursued an education I might not be here today.
I once believed that all I would ever be was a hopeless junkie, hitting a pipe every hour on the hour until my lungs or my heart finally gave out. I thought that I was a lost cause and unworthy to even breathe the air that I felt others deserved more than me.
That person still lives inside me, but so does the one with the passion to help other people, someone who doesn’t seek to bury the past, but who will use those experiences as the centerpiece for how she can be of greatest use to others. That’s why I wake up every morning grateful that I was given another chance at life, and certain of the knowledge that continuing my education saved me from a life of addiction—or worse.
All too often, college can feel like a chore, a tasky check-all-the-appropriate-boxes transition between our teenage years and legitimate adult status. But I’ve come to realize getting an education isn’t a chore; it’s an unbelievable gift, something that no one can ever take away.
Yes, maybe you will stumble occasionally, feel like a failure, change majors a million times, give up all hope, cry yourself to sleep every day for a year because it’s all so overwhelming and feel like nothing in your life will ever make any sense. I know that, I’ve lived it.
But I have also picked myself up after every fall, pulled myself together after every mistake and bad choice, and kept my sights fixed on getting that diploma. And I can’t help but think when that day arrives that all the struggles I endured, self-created or not, will make it feel all that much more worthwhile.
Now in my senior year, I have been clean from drugs for more than three years. It took going through a personal hell and realizing that there is more to life than escaping my problems for me to get here, but that light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer every day.
But it’s not really a light. Or a tunnel. It’s a voice, one my addiction tried to stifle for so long but that refused to be silenced. It’s my voice and it’s saying “I knew you could make it.”
If you are a student struggling with substance abuse, please contact the Student Psychological Services (310-243-3818) or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (800-622-4357) for more information about treatment and how to get your life back on track.