I want to preface this by saying the entirety of this entry actually has zero to do with the outdoors; but I can assure you we do find ourselves there in the end. If you’re okay with reading about things unrelated to my blog’s typical theme – carry on! It’s not very lighthearted, however.
I missed out on our February Mastermind meeting due to a bout with the flu that was going around my house. I was so weak and tired I couldn’t even keep my eyes open. I think I got at least 40 hours of sleep that weekend within 3 days.
After getting a meeting recap from Sara Beth, she informed me of some of the topics of conversation during the call; one being to challenge ourselves to compose a post that is a little different from the norm. To share something that makes us uncomfortable. I thought long about this. There is a part of me I have never exposed before, anywhere. I’ve been vague about it or perhaps referred to it, but really only the people who were going through it too hold this knowledge.
“I think it’s a good idea to ‘get comfortable with getting uncomfortable.’ I have always felt that pushing myself outside of my comfort zone encourages growth.”
-Jessica “Dixie” Mills // Triple Crown of Hiking Finisher
*I do not feel like it’s a necessity* to share this information with the public and with my readers, but I think as life goes on and I am constantly trying to become the best version of myself, I should shed some layers. Carrying burdens can be difficult. I want you to know and understand me. More importantly, I want to know and understand me. And maybe, my story can help someone.
Trigger warning: recollections and details of drug use, substance abuse and self injury.
We all have a past. I just don’t want mine to make you think less of me.
If you know me, you’re probably aware that I am fairly introverted and don’t like being the center of attention. I don’t typically offer much on the subject of myself. If I’m asked I will absolutely share, but it’s a struggle for me to divulge in person sometimes; I’ll trip over words and draw blanks. I’m just not one who speaks well, but give me a pen and paper or a keyboard and I can spill it in intricate detail.
I’ve journaled for as long as I can remember.
I try not to be ashamed of things I’ve done or been through, as I have taken those experiences and learned from them. What I’ve survived isn’t super outrageous or completely unfathomable by any means. Do I fear and think that you may possibly view me differently after this entry? Yes. I guess that’s a chance I’m willing to take.
My parents know everything I’ve ever done at this point in my life. In fact, my mom has pushed me to share this. We try to be very transparent with each other. But they’re my family and they love me unconditionally. I did some pretty terrible things to people I loved and cared about and to myself. I sabotaged friendships and relationships.
I’m going to massively condense this; as it carries on consistently through half of a decade of my life.
I remember my first rock bottom.
There’s a couple rock bottoms, but this one defined me. Parts of it are still with me physically.
It was October 2006. The Cardinals were in the World Series playoffs and I spent all day downtown drinking and celebrating with friends at a rally. I somehow decided it would be okay if I drove home after all of that and…the next thing I remember a couple hours later is sitting on my kitchen floor alone, T9 texting my sister for help with my flip phone in one hand and a disposable razor blade in the other (I liked the challenge of peeling apart a cheap, disposable razor and using the tiny, lightweight individual blades); my left shoulder and arm covered in my own blood. This would be the reason 7 years later I insisted to wear sleeves on my wedding day. The scars from that night still ever present to this day.
It wasn’t the first time I ever did it; self harm. I found comfort in it. I had a ritual. But it was among the worst yet. My sides, thighs, ankles and arms had already been victims of my self injury sessions for years. I had learned where to place my cuts to hide them, some deep and some shallow; out of the view of others.
I remember the ugly damp dish towel I was holding. I was sticky. Red.
It was only 10pm. My middle sister was at my door in no time; her 18 year old self. “Jennifer!” She belted as she cried with me, just as confused as I was. She helped me gather some things and drove me to our parent’s house where I spilled my guts, detoxed and cleared my head for a couple weeks.
See, 7 months before this…
When I was 21 in March 2006, I took my first “recreational stimulant” – a tiny orange ecstasy pill with a Superman emblem stamped on it. I then spent the next 200+ days consecutively in an intense downward spiral. Anything in pill, powder or liquid form was ingested in more ways than one to keep me numb.
Ecstacy. Cocaine. Pure MDMA. Xanax. Percocet. Vicodin. Mushrooms. Oxy. Liquor. And I’m pretty sure I accidentally ingested heroin in pill form one night. Twice.
I mixed them. I took them at all hours of the day or night, sometimes for days on end. Coming down was a nightmare. Sometimes I was lucky and avoided it when taking a dose of something else to counter it. Through it all, I functioned. I still made it to work, I paid my bills, and nobody knew any different. That is kinda scary.
The people who did take notice were close friends who didn’t condone this newfound lifestyle (rightfully so…) and reluctantly stepped away so they didn’t have to witness myself and others disintegrate. The people who encouraged and enabled the situation…well, we stuck together. We understood one another. My friends weren’t all bad people. In fact, a few of them I’m still acquaintances with. They’re doing just fine. Some of us have fallen away from each other. I wish them well.
Some of us, both friends and family, unfortunately didn’t make it through the haze and have since passed. I’ll love and miss them always.
In the meantime, I abandoned a 6-year relationship with my very kind and patient high school boyfriend for drugs and the people who gave them to me. I missed both of my sisters’ high school graduations. (Well, I was there for one of them; but I was not present.)
The apartment I lived in became a party palace. Constantly trashed and infested with handfuls of people I never thought I would surround myself with. It smelled of stale smoke and apple cinnamon candles. I felt invincible and disgusting all at once. My roommate and best friend at the time of all of this moved out after 5 months, feeling the heavy pressure of what we were doing and the negativity we created in that space.
What if. What if? What if…
To be honest, I still sometimes can’t stomach watching the sun come up. It’s a reminder of days where sleep never came. I would lie awake clenching my jaw, staring at the ceiling just…waiting. The gray blue cast of light that coats everything before the sun peeks over the horizon often makes me feel very uncomfortable. There were weeks where the only thing I could eat was watered down oatmeal and bananas, because my stomach was so messed up.
I remember sitting in front of a mirror one of those nights where I lived alone, impaired beyond measure and speaking out loud to my reflection. “Who are you? This isn’t me.” I touched my face. Looked into my own eyes. Cried. I went to a family Labor Day bbq the next day, after getting no sleep. I did clean my car out at 6am though. Spotless.
From 2006-2010 I silently struggled off and on with many forms of substance abuse and feelings of guilt. I put myself in sometimes very dangerous situations.
With 2006 being the worst of the drug use, 2007 and 2008 were purely alcohol fueled with recreational drug use here and there. When I say alcohol fueled – I mean easily a fifth of liquor every night or every other night. Mostly rum, vodka, whiskey and wine. Shots with a chaser.
2009 was a prescription pill battle as I moved on from drinking so much. Still loved that whiskey and wine. Developed an incredibly painful stomach ulcer.
Near the end of 2010, I finally decided to wrap it all up. It had been quite a while since I had taken anything, but in November that year, I had one last hurrah with a literal pile of MDMA and I have never looked back. It’s been 9 years since I’ve touched any of those things or even had the desire to. Any thought of it genuinely makes me nauseous. It was all so bad; and I am lucky to say I made it out.
Nature vs. Nurture?
Here’s the thing. I wasn’t raised that way. I grew up in a very happy, healthy environment; wanting for nothing and constantly surrounded by a loving family. I made choices. I was placed inside a living “Choose Your Own Adventure” story and I went along with it. I could have said no at any time, but I didn’t.
Top – Age 22 in November 2006 just a couple of weeks after the 7 month long bender.
Bottom – Age 34 in 2018; happy and healthy at Rocky Mountain National Park.
That being said, I don’t know if what I went through actually counts as true “addiction” because I actively stepped away anytime I knew it was getting worse. But I think that’s the whole thing. You don’t know or think you’re an addict. I felt like I always had somewhat of a hold on it and I definitely recognized that it wasn’t good for me. I just kept doing it because it made me feel good.
I am beyond thankful that my grandparents owned a couple rental properties in my hometown. Like it was meant to happen; a renter of theirs moved out of a tiny duplex they had in a quiet neighborhood. I moved in mid-2010, paid rent like any tenant would and slowly got back on my feet.
Along with B becoming a permanent fixture in my life in 2011, I truly believe that moving “home” is what saved me. I will never look at resorting to go home at any age as a failure. Home is safe. Home is familiar.
Today, I can totally go out for drinks and be fine. I can take a pain pill for actual pain. I have smoked or had an edible where it’s legal for fun. I know my limits. I do greatly suffer from severe anxiety which I believe is a side effect from those years of drug abuse and living in a constant altered state of mind.
I have been able to successfully silence a lot of those resurfacing feelings through nature therapy.
I like to think this is why I now strive to live my life with intentions of doing good and giving back. It took me a long time to get there, but I try to always be positive. I spent so long being miserable and terrified and living in a blur that to feel raw feelings and experience emotions in full force is a new kind of high.
The sometimes painful and difficult experience that backpacking gives me makes me feel truly alive. It’s given me something to chase and it fulfills me in ways that a drug never could. Mind. Body. Spirit. It makes me think and solve problems more than I ever have and it forces me to believe in myself and while pushing me to the next level.
It IS my drug.
Now ya see me.
So, what’s your vice?
If you are struggling with addiction and don’t know where to go next; please feel free to reach out to me. I WILL encourage you however, to reach out to your family. I would never have known my family would be so supportive if I didn’t try to get help. They didn’t know I was struggling. Maybe yours doesn’t either. You are not a burden. You are so loved – let those who love you help you!