Learning to Love Myself While Finding Recovery
Written by: Sara Sheppard
My name is Sara Sheppard, and I’m an addict.
Every recovery story is unique. You might find my story particularly unique, yet even in my situation, I can see the common threads existing for all addicts. For example, the hopelessness and helplessness that occurs with each individual hitting rock bottom. Or the cliché sayings turned tools, which actually and truly apply to every single one of us like “just for today,” “take what you need and leave the rest,” “the next right choice,” “it works if you work it,” or my ultimate favorite “it’s all about perspective.”
My recovery story doesn’t begin where most do. I didn’t get a child taken away, or kill someone while drunk driving, or detox in a jail cell. From the outside, my “rock bottom” looked like any other day in the life of your average 29-year-old. I got up, went to work, took a break to get the mail, worked some more, ate lunch, worked until five, drove home, cooked dinner while watching mindless television, and went to bed.
On paper, I looked like a completely “normal” contributing member of society. Secretly, though, I was in despair, and in my “average day” listed above, I was using at every comma.
No one in my work life or even my personal life suspected the double-life I led. They didn’t know I had little baggies of my drug of choice (DOC) all over my apartment for fear I would run out. When I would get down to a gram, I would just buy more. They didn’t suspect I was dying on the inside because I no longer ran my own life – my DOC ran it for me. It dictated what trips I would go on because if I couldn’t use, I just wouldn’t go. It dictated how long I would stay out at dinner, parties, or at my parents’ house – when I didn’t “feel high” anymore, the anxiety would begin and I found a reason to exit the scene.
I allowed my addiction to ruin relationships, strain friendships, and before I knew it, it almost fully defined me. I succumbed to a life of mediocrity. Maybe from the outside looking in, I was fine. No big red flags because perhaps I hadn’t quite lived up to the expectations or abilities the people around me expected me to live up to, but overall – everything looked okay. However, I really didn’t want to just be okay. I didn’t want to be fine. I wanted to be excellent. I wanted to be successful. Most of all, I wanted to be happy.
I finally got up the nerve to come clean to the people in my life – to chase after my obsession for excellence and dream of happiness even though I didn’t feel like I deserved to be happy or excellent. I called my mom and said, “I have been using all day, every day for over 10 years and I don’t know how to stop. I’ve tried to stop and I’ve even succeeded for a couple of months at a time, but I always find a reason to start again. I always tell myself I can be a ‘weekend user,’ but before I know it, I fall down that slippery slope to all-day-every-day and I don’t know how to make the cycle end.” She asked me what I wanted to do and I answered, “I want to go to rehab.” Those six words changed everything – QUICKLY.
Like a whirlwind, the plan went into motion and the time lapse between making that first call and checking into Lakeview Health in Jacksonville, FL took less than four days. Looking back, even the 28 days I spent at Lakeview were a blur, but it was a blur of exactly what I needed – I learned the tools for self-love and self-forgiveness and the science behind the disease of addiction. Most of all, I looked at all of the amazing, unique ladies around me whose circumstances often were much more trying and sad than mine, and I so clearly saw that every single one of them deserved love, excellence, and happiness, which helped me see, by transitive property, I must also deserve those things.
So, I found them. Less than six months after leaving Lakeview, I was approached by a potential client with a proposition eventually leading to self-employment. I am now making more money than I ever thought imaginable pre-Lakeview because the mantra “it works if you work it” rings true in all facets of life. It’s very much like “you get what you give.” If you give your all and truly try while staying on the straight and narrow and WORKING the program, you will see the amazingly beautiful fruits of recovery. On some days, I get paid to travel to beautiful cities, on others I get paid to work in my pajamas from the comfort of my home. None of this would have been possible without the lessons I learned at Lakeview and without applying them to live the same way I applied them to recovery.
I also think it’s noteworthy to share that I, like many other addicts, personal struggle with romantic relationships. I allowed other people to dictate how I feel about myself, so I followed the ‘no romantic relationships’ rule from when I left Lakeview and I’m still going strong today.
For the last 18 months, I solely focused on being in a relationship with myself. I’m learning who I truly am and learning to love myself for everything I am and everything I’m not.
Self-acceptance doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s much easier to approach when you’re clear-headed and making the right decisions. In my experience, making the “next right choice” can absolutely lead to meeting your goals and realizing your dreams.
Like I said before, every story of recovery is unique because every rock bottom looks different. I spent 10 years justifying and rationalizing my addiction. “It’s not that bad,” I’d tell myself. I would also say, “you have had the same job for multiple years,” or “you can make ends meet and still have money to support your habit.” My personal favorite was, “you have it under control.”
The truth is you can justify or rationalize whatever you set out to justify and rationalize. As addicts, we are wired to do that and even to believe our own crazy notions and excuses. Only YOU can stop the cycle and demand excellence and happiness for yourself. Only YOU can truly want it for yourself and make it happen. I promise you, if you do it the right way, you will come out on the other side so much better for it. You can be in control or out of control, scared or satisfied, in despair or happy, fine or excellent – the choice is yours.
You really do only get one life. Do I hate that I wasted 10 years in active addiction now that I’m on the other side? Of course, but not enough to pick up my DOC and use over it. I easily have 50 more years to live and, thanks to Lakeview Health and to my commitment to staying clean, those 50 are going to be filled with love, excellence, and happiness beyond my wildest dreams. I look back on those 10 years as a tiny blip of time – it was a learning experience. After all, it’s all about perspective.