“Recovery has given me more than I could ever have dreamed of”

A student shares their experience of being in recovery from addiction

This article includes detailed discussion of mental health, attempted suicide, drugs and alcohol, and sexual abuse.

I didn’t come into recovery because I wanted to. I came into recovery because I fucking had to. Writing this, I am nine months and two weeks sober and free from drugs and alcohol, but nine months, three weeks and one day ago, I tried to kill myself. I had tried to before when I was 15, which also came about from drug addiction leading to the deterioration of my mental health.

My drugs of choice were alcohol, cannabis, and sex, which are “softer” drugs in the grand scheme of things. Many of my friends in recovery, which is a term used to describe former drug addicts who try to live a life clean from drugs and alcohol and with moral principles, were on much “harder” drugs. But it’s not the drug that really matters. Any drug can really mess you up, especially if you used them how I did, at the quantities I did. 

I used them to cover my emotions. I used them morning, day, and night. By the end of my using, I was in psychosis (a mental health condition that causes you to lose touch with reality, similar to schizophrenia but usually induced by drugs or other mental health conditions), paranoid, sleeping with multiple people daily due to still being in love with an ex (not a good idea, might I add), not sleeping for weeks on end, and generally in a complete state. I thought people were plotting against me. I was, in common terms, batshit. 

A few questions must come to your mind. Firstly, how did you allow yourself to get into such a state? Why did you do this to yourself? What is an addict? Why are you writing this anonymously? What’s life like as a student who’s in recovery? And finally, if I feel I have a problem, what can I do? I will address these questions throughout this article. 

The first question I feel I should answer is how I feel now. Simply, I feel blessed that I went to rehab. I could have easily have been admitted to a psychiatric ward, which I had been in the past. I was also diagnosed as bipolar and put back on medication I had taken myself off. Recovery has given me more than I could ever have dreamed of. Happiness. Sobriety. Friends. Love. Self acceptance. Self worth. Respect. Decency. Things i didnt have for years.  Recovery is the most beautiful thing in the world for me. By the end of my using, I hated myself and everyone around me. Doing lines of whatever i could afford just to not have to feel. Its not easy recovery, I wont lie to you, but its so much better than living in active addiction. 

Why did I write this anonymously? I’m part of a fellowship called Narcotics Anonymous, and one of our traditions is that we must remain anonymous at levels of press radio and film. Narcotics Anonymous is like alcoholics anonymous, but as put to me by an old timer (someone who has been in the fellowship for a good while), “NA is more fucked up”. If you have a problem and you’d like to speak to me for advice, get in touch with Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Officer Leah Keogh, who can put you in contact with me.

What is an addict? There are many descriptions of an addict. The one I like the most is that an addict is someone who is willing to give up what they really want in life for something that they want at a single moment in time. I wanted love, but I wanted sex “now”. I wanted mental clarity, but I knew if I got high enough that I would numb my mind to the point that I wouldn’t have to feel. Addiction is known as a three fold illness: the physical – we have a kind of  “allergy” to drugs in the sense that they affect us more than other people due to our dopamine response; the spiritual – we feel an emptiness in our soul that we try to fill with things, drugs or behaviours; and finally, mentally – we hate feeling, we feel more than most people, and so we try to stop feeling by using things, drugs and behaviours. 

How did you allow yourself to get into such a state? Why did you do this to yourself? It wasn’t my choice. When I did my first drug at 13, or my first drink at 12, if someone said to me that in 10 years I would have pushed away everyone I love, and would have literally nothing left – not sanity, not friends, barely family – do you think I would have taken that choice? I had a difficult childhood. I was sexually abused from the age of 7. Through the therapy I undertake now, this, plus my mental health conditions, plus my over sensitivity, plus my physical response to drugs and alcohol, lead me to my addictive tendencies, which ultimately led to my suicide attempt. Addiction is known as a sneaky illness. It creeps on you. It doesn’t just present itself. It takes you to a dark corner and makes you literally beat the shit out of yourself. Trust me, I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. 

What’s life like as a student who is in recovery? It’s beautiful. I wake up. I pray. I do my daily readings. I see friends. I have regained my love for my subjects. I ask for help. I enjoy. I play music. I’m involved with societies. I’m just like any other student, I just have to watch my behaviour to make sure that old habits don’t creep in. Recovery was once described to me as sobriety plus change. And it’s the change I have to work on a daily basis. Because I can’t go back. I simply won’t survive it. Addiction is a progressive illness. It gets worse and worse. 

I feel I have a problem, what can I do? Firstly: Well done. You’ve considered you might have a problem and are willing to do something about it. That takes serious guts. Fair fucking play. What I would recommend is to go to a meeting of NA – you can find virtual meetings online – and listen for the similarities, and get involved in the programme. It may literally save your life. It saved mine. 

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, support is available from the following services:

TCD Student Counselling Service: (01) 8961407; 3rd floor of 7-9 South Leinster Street, Dublin 2

TCDSU Welfare Officer: [email protected]

Narcotics Anonymous Ireland: (01) 672 8000; [email protected]