Over the past two weeks there have been a lot of powerful analogies put forth in class; today was no exception. Our teacher in ‘addiction class’ asked us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” …Complete silence in the room…we knew there was a catch. He continued on to say, “People recovering from mental health illness and addiction exhibit many of the traits an adolescent does”. Oh goodie! I hated being a teenager. If anyone says high school was fun, I might punch them in the throat. Ok, realistically, I could tell where he was going with this. Every one of us could relate to the following adolescent feelings; insecurity; not knowing where we belonged in the world; we experienced moods swings like a pendulum; we felt isolated and definitely misunderstood. But on a good note, similar to an adolescent we (once again) had the opportunity to decide ‘who we wanted to be’. Did we want to be an addict, or not? Did we want to heal from our illnesses, or not? What future did we see for ourselves? So that’s it? We just DECIDE? Let’s get real, we were all light years away from celebrating at ‘sobriety prom’.
The class started to express their frustration in how easy the teacher made this decision sound. The reality was that deciding who we ‘wanted to be’ was often a minute by minute choice; did he know what that felt like? Similar to an adolescent we all had constant internal battles. To carry on with the analogy, we all had a high school bully living inside of our heads, trying to convince us to numb the pain we feel from our mental illnesses with alcohol or drugs. It’s what we all did in the past…it’s how we coped…and how we almost died. And honestly, that bully is SO convincing. He tells us one drink will be ok…that we’re adults and can make our own decisions…that no one needs to know about it… that everyone else is just overreacting. I wanted to hear the teacher say that the bully would eventually leave. That with time and hard work we could all have complete inner peace…but that was wishful thinking. Apparently he will always be there, lurking in the back of our minds. But we can control how much power we give him. Putting ourselves in situations where people are drinking (or ‘using’ for many of my classmates) will make the bully stronger, more tempting and easier to give in to. However, living a healthy well balanced lifestyle will kick the bully’s ass significantly. But alas, it…will…take…time.
Sadly, many of my classmate’s bully’s had been too powerful at one point in their lives. Some had relapsed after 25 years of sobriety (heartbreaking). It wasn’t going to be an easy road; it hadn’t been so far. But at least for today we choose who we wanted to be; a healthy human being…that’s why we were there. Together we already had our ‘click’, with no peer pressure, just acceptance and support. Now that’s my kind of high school.