By Karen Collazo
When I hit the “post” button a few days ago, I knew that I was turning my back on a lucrative and successful career in advertising and exposing the false but very well-fabricated story of who Karen was. I even assumed that I would lose some friends in the process, because for many the disease of addiction is still viewed as a moral failing that can be controlled by will alone. What I did not expect was to receive all the love, support and personal stories of struggle that have been pouring in since Friday. I know I am on the right path, based on your reactions to my first blog post. And while I cannot represent the addict community as a whole, I’m honored to be able to tell my story and carry the message of recovery to those in need.
The heartbreaking truth about addiction is that it does not discriminate. Who is an addict? The blue book tells us that an addict is a man or a woman whose life is controlled by drugs; the getting and using and finding ways and means to get more. A person who lives to use and uses to live looks like everyone else: your sister who abuses Xanax, your colleague who binge drinks every day, your son who smokes pot regularly. And while they might not look like the stereotypical junkie, they are in the grips of a continuing and progressive illness. They are in pain and believe they cannot survive without drugs.
My story begins at the age of eight. Feeling less than, I began to seek comfort in food. As I got older, food was replaced with stealing, then drugs, then shopping and finally sex. To be viewed as a functioning member of society, I created rules for myself. These rules would allow me to hide my addiction for 15+ years. On the outside, I had everything going for me: a good job with a decent disposable income, a nice place in a good neighborhood, a new car, family and friends who loved me. But inside I felt insignificant, depressed and always alone. Rules like: only drink in social settings, only do hard drugs on the weekend, only binge eat on special occasions, were both a blessing and a curse. To the world, I was functioning. To me, I was enduring until the next high.
It took three therapists, some rule-breaking and a few panic attacks for me to admit that I had a problem. I had all the telltale signs of an addict. I couldn’t handle life without numbing my feelings. I couldn’t feel pleasure in everyday things. I constantly replaced one addiction for the other. I even tried a number of geographic changes, hoping that a new city would give me the backdrop for a brand new start. However, when I really examined my life with a magnifying glass, I saw that I had lost a lot of things to my addiction: the house I grew up in went into foreclosure because I snorted the mortgage payments up my nose, a very dear friend pushed me away for years, because she couldn’t stand by as I destroyed myself with alcohol, I even lost the chance to say goodbye to my mother, as she lay on her deathbed losing the battle against cancer, because I was fighting the demons in my own head. I wasn’t there for my sisters when they needed me the most. I lost a $100k inheritance to frivolousness. And countless other scenarios that played out over the years, I see now as obvious products of my disease.
While this sickness has been there all along, my turning point was being sexually assaulted at 15 years old. One night, I was invited to a party at an acquaintance’s house whose parents were away. At the time, I was desperate for love and acceptance. After years of being bullied, I had finally found approval from a group of friends who were acting out like most teenagers do. We’d skip school; buy alcohol with fake ids and experiment with drugs together. That night, I snuck out of my house while my parents slept soundly. What I didn’t know, was that when I walked into that house full of boys, I was walking into my first traumatic experience. I was encouraged to drink massive amounts of alcohol and coerced to have sex with one of the boys at the party, while everyone stood by and watched. Feeling like I deserved it, like I had it coming to me, I never told anyone what really happened that night. I was a slut who should have never gone to that party to begin with. At school the next day, the boys spread rumors around. They told everyone that I had given blow jobs at the party and my girlfriends turned against me. I was devastated. Back in my bedroom, I drowned my tears in a bottle of vodka that my dad kept in the liquor cabinet. It killed the hurt and alleviated my sorrow. Vodka was there for me when I couldn’t reach out for help.
In my 20’s, when I lost both parents to cancer, I turned again to the only tool I had for dealing with pain. Feeling like life had robbed me, I moved to New York, where for the next ten years I lived each day like it was going to be my last. I rationalized my behavior behind the pretense that this lifestyle was part of the fast-paced culture of the big city. But, when you took the glamour of New York away, there I was; just me and my inability to feel negative feelings. When my current therapist suggested I go to rehab, she positioned it as a spiritual vacation for my soul. It finally clicked for me. I had been struggling with anxiety and depression for so long that I had forgotten what it was like to feel happy and hopeful. In February 2016, I finally surrendered to the fact that I was a drug addict. And what I went on to experience in rehab will stay with me forever.
Hi there, my name is Karen and I’m a recovering drug addict. I recently joined Writing Class Radio in hopes that having a creative outlet would help me better understand and come to terms with my addiction. For the next 90 days, I’ll be taking over the WCR blog and sharing my journey of recovery. If telling my story brings hope to just one other addict who is still sick and suffering, then opening up about my struggle will have been worth it. To protect the anonymity of those seeking recovery, names of people and places have been changed. While the eleventh tradition of Narcotics Anonymous states that we need to always maintain personal anonymity, I believe this shroud of mystery further perpetuates the stigma behind the disease of addiction. Addicts come in all shapes and sizes, but we share one common thread: we suffer from an incurable disease. Yet each new day we are provided another chance to arrest our active addiction and become useful members of society. This is my journey, my process and my story. The essay below came out of a prompt given to our writing class this week: Write about a time you started over… Enjoy.