What HBO’s Euphoria got right about Drug Addiction.

There’s a lot to unpack in the first 4 episodes so I’m going to stick to the key points.

Just a brief note that this may contain spoilers for the show.

Rue’s character, a teenager just out of rehab post a drug overdose, is played skillfully by Zendaya. As someone who struggles from addiction, mental health and having a history of ODing, I wasn’t sure I could connect with her teenage character but that changes as the series moves forward. Rue’s story surrounds masking the feeling of panic attacks, O.C.D and anxiety. She briefly tells us how she has no apparent reason to be struggling with these things, which is the case for a lot of us as well. It’s a common misconception that you have to be a victim to something to struggle with mental health.

At a young age she encounters this feeling of the world stopping and the air leaving her lungs for a brief period of time. She is admitted to the hospital during one of her attacks at which point begins her journey with drugs. At the hospital she’s given Valium to calm her down and so begins the journey into addiction, at 12 years old. We are now shown the “romantic” side of taking drugs; the parties, the world slowing down, the control you think you have, but really it’s just a trick. It’s the “two seconds of nothingness” that she’s chasing that addicts tend to yearn for when doing drugs. We take a pill, snort a line, drink to much all in effort to find that place for a brief moment in time where it feels like we’re in control. It’s a place that that makes everything feel right, removes our problems, worries and convinces us we need to stay there.

Immediately out of rehab, Rue starts doing drugs again. Her dealer, Fez, expresses concern for her, which will be an important part of this story moving forward. I want to move forward a bit and talk about the anxiety she experiences in assimilating back to high school. Something we can do better as a society and as we raise kids, is discuss the importance of understanding mental health and addiction. The kids in her high school are more interested in the gossip surrounding the fact that she’s still alive than her actual well being post rehab. At the age of a teenager, on-going stares and whispers from your peers can be tough to handle, without the added stress of mental health disorders.

As Rue’s story continues, we see the journey of what any addict can experience at a time. Post rehab or during a relapse we can go to extreme measures to cover up using again. Rue goes to extreme measures of asking her friends to help her pass her drug test by using their urine, instead of hers. Along with drug tests, she’s required to go to NA where she shares her story of being sober although she isn’t. I’m skipping over a bit to here because I want to discuss the accountability other members of these group feel. As someone who’s an addict and has been to NA/AA we have a keen eye for drug use especially in these situations. Rue is confronted by a member outside of the meeting who goes on to uncover that he knows she’s lying. This part of the story resonated with me because he takes you through the affect drugs / addiction have our family and friends. Too often we are so far lost in our addiction, we dismiss that the ones closet to us are also affected. The tricky thing about coming to this realization or forcing someone to come to it, is that the person needs to be in a place where it matters. If my wife, or a family/friend would have come to me when my addiction was full blown, I wouldn’t have cared about anyone instead I’d care about getting to that place of euphoria, where nothing else mattered but the way I felt at that moment.

The reason I felt compelled to write about this series was driven by a very particular moment. When dealing with addiction and/or mental health issues, the slightest bit of trigger seems like the worlds end. When you fight with a friend, do poorly on a test, receive constructive feedback, it feels like the sky is falling and the walls are closing in. In addition to this, when someone tells you “it’s not that bad” it pushes you further down that black hole and the walls close faster. Who do you run to when you feel like the world doesn’t understand or your friends are mad at you? Drugs. Back to Rue’s story, we see her in this situation, it’s pouring rain, she’s just had a fight with her best friend and she heads to her dealers house who refuses to sell her drugs. This is the scene that my stomach dropped because I’ve been there. I’ve begged my dealers to sell me more drugs to take away the pain. I’ve blamed others for my addiction because the introduced me to drugs or caused me the pain I’m trying to cover. We see Rue outside banging on Fez’s door and she yells at him that it’s his fault she’s addicted because he sold them to her despite being a teen in high school. She calls him a hypocrite for making money by selling drugs but caring about her drug use. For a brief moment in time, you’re taken to a place that if you aren’t an addict, you’ll never get to see. The moment that everything comes to a stop, including your supply for drugs. Its this moment that we, addicts, are our most vulnerable. It feels like our world is over and our heart is giving way. We have no options. It’s here that the story continues, and Rue calls the man who confronted her outside of NA. He goes on to share his insight including the point that “no one really calls unless they have no other options” alluding to her not having options to do drugs. We, as addicts know one another better than most think. We’ve struggle down the same path. We’ve been in the same dark basement where the walls close and most importantly we can read one another through our actions and words. So far, I’m pleased with the way Euphoria has portrayed drug addiction. At first I was worried they were only going to show the romantic side of drugs: Parties in high school, sex, fitting in, etc, but they showed the ugly side. They showed the possibility of overdose and being found by a loved one. They showed Rue in her most vulnerable state, with literally no options and they’ve begun to show the impact we can have on one another through our addiction.

If you know someone struggling, don’t try to fix them. Instead, try to just be with them and understand them. Try to understand what it means to find that place where nothing else matters. Hear us out when we talk about dark things you may find disturbing. Most importantly, please don’t ever tell us “it’s not that bad” because where it seems small to you, it’s Mount Everest to us.

An Addictive Holiday

Packed airports, pesky relatives, old friends and lengthy vacations away from your routine, are some of the challenges we have to face during the holidays. Someone who doesn’t struggle with a addiction might read those as the cost of having an amazing holiday, but for me, the addict, they’re terrors that could jeprodize sobriety.

San Diego was my home. It’s where I grew up, had my first drink, took my first drug and slowly lost control of my inhibitions. Since I’ve moved up to Washington, coming home is always challenging because of this. The San Diego airport is a goldmine for my aniexty ever since a few Christmas’ back. It’s rings with reminders of arguments, police and being ambulanced to the nearest hospital. This is how my Christmas vacation starts, every year, full of anxiety and shame of the past.

Its Christmas day. I’m surrounded by my family and holiday cheer. I’m asked to grab some wine for the guests, open it and serve it. A family member asks, do you want a glass? I hesitate for a second, hold my tongue but I’m frustraded, annoyed and overwhelmed because my family should remember. Do they want me to relapse? Is this a test? Do they think my addiction isn’t serious? All of these questions arrise and suddenly I find myself wanting a drink, line or anything to make me feel different than I do, at that moment. Despite the work and steps completed to stay strong and clean, in a matter of seconds I’m back into my addictions.

I don’t take a drink.

Its these moments that you don’t realize what you’re doing to someone’s sobriety. It’s really easy to forget how much an addict leans on the ones that they are closest to and how easily they can compromise the years of work completed. No, it’s not your responsibility to change your behavior or walk on egg shells but it is to remember that you have an addict in your family or friends circle. The second you forget about that you put everything at risk for them. So what do you do? Where’s the training manual on an addicts holiday?

For the family and friends:

  1. Ask them about their journey, their process, but don’t beat around the bush. Be direct, be aware and be caring. Don’t ask if you don’t want the real answer. There’s potential that I could say, I relapsed and if that bothers you don’t ask this question. The last thing I need is a lecture on how addiction has ruined my life.
  2. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. Addicts live in daily discomfort. We are pros at managing it and have learned to cope with it. Discomfort is good for recovery because it’s challenging and forces you to see different perspectives.
  3. Don’t check in every hour. If there’s alcohol at your holiday, don’t ask me if I’m doing okay as often as you want. It’s annoying, it’s frustrating and for someone who is managing sobriety, you’re just going to remind them that they aren’t normal or are a burden. If you notice me being isolated, or not engaging in conversations its because I needed break to focus and recenter myself.
  4. Treat me normally. As if my sobriety isn’t who I am, but it is. Drink around me. Do things you would usually do around others. Enjoy yourself and I’ll feel “normal” and included. The worst thing you can do is make me feel like I’m changing your normal behavior or causing you to miss out.

Now for the addict:

  1. Remember to be selfish. You’ve stayed sober because you were selfish. You put yourself and recovery first above everything else. Continue down this path, especially during the holidays.
  2. Speak up. If a family or friend is offending you or saying something that doesn’t sit well with you, speak up in a mature, collected manner. Don’t supress your feelings because that’s one of the reasons your addiction got the best of you. If someone offers you a drink, respectfully remind them that you’re in recovery and say no.
  3. Walk away. As hours progress, people get drunk. When this happens, walk away from everyone and spend some time on your own. Check in with your sponsor, read blogs on staying sober, practice your steps, etc. I’ve missed gift exchanges, family photos and more because I needed to take a break. That’s OK and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Remember the first point – be selfish.
  4. Reflect on your journey, your process, your achievements and struggles. Think about why you got sober, why you stay sober and what you’ve achieved during the process. Reflection is critical because if you don’t remember why you got sober and why you’re staying sober, you’ll lose track of your sobriety all together.

All of these recommendations are things I do each holiday. Holidays are one of the top reasons addicts relapse. As a friend or family member you can help an addict stay strong. As an addict, you’ve already got a full set of tools waiting to be used, so use them.

If all else fails remember: Take it one minute, one hour, one day and one step at a time.

Happy sober holidays –

Ashlie

1 year 10 months sober

Year One: Beginning

“What did you have to drink and what did you take?” asked the ER doctor that day in February. “8 bars of Xanax and I’ve been drinking for hours. I snorted the Xanax, and I’m taking sertraline for depression” I managed to mutter. “Well, its a shock you’re alive because that’s a lethal dose. Most people wouldn’t recover from that.” But I did. I survived, and I believe it was to tell my story.

A year ago today, I experienced the most painful, traumatic night of my life, or so I thought. I had no idea about the journey I was going to begin, but I knew I had to start somewhere. When you’re an addict, you’re blind. I’ve walked fearlessly through the darkest parts of my city, cash in hand, asking every street person if I could buy. It didn’t matter if I was stateside or in uncharted waters, I could sniff out a dealer as soon as I walked into the bar. There are nights I don’t remember, and I wish I could just like there are nights I remember and wish I didn’t. I’ve stepped into the darkness without any hesitation. I craved physical and mental pain. The thing they don’t tell you about addiction is it doesn’t care about you, or the people around you. It cares about getting fed, doesn’t matter how just matters that it eventually gets a hit.

Most addicts can’t tell you where the path got blurry. Most people who go out to bars every weekend will tell you they don’t have a problem, but I can. I’ve been through a fair share of extremely difficult break ups. When you suffer from chronic depression, abandonment, co-dependency, panic disorder and major anxiety, a break up can feel like the walls are slowly crushing you. The weight becomes so heavy you literally can’t move and the only thing that is on your mind is making it stop. Imagine feeling like that everyday. Imagine constantly losing your closest friends, disappointing your family and having to wear long sleeves in the middle of summer. What’s most important is that yes, I did have a choice, at one point. Being exposed to drugs/alcohol before I was born made me susceptible to the demons of addiction, and eventually, I fell.

For six years, I’d travel down this path. Sometimes I’d take breaks, but most of the time hiding it from anyone close to me and always ignoring my responsibilities. I’ve seen hundreds of sunrises, had just as many bloody noses and even more days ruined by having a hangover. I’ve burned friendships, opportunities, and relationships. Slowly you turn into a person you don’t even recognize. You start to have a complete out of body experience, where you’re just sitting in a dark room watching yourself from across the room, unable to be heard despite how loud you’re screaming. This is when it happens. When your demons win, and it’s when you lose it. These demons have moved through your blood and now make decisions for you. I’ve prioritized complete strangers over my wife, friends and even family I’ve prioritized drugs over everything. If there weren’t an opportunity for me to pick up – I wouldn’t go. Without drugs, I wasn’t myself.

 

February 6th, 2017 was the day the darkness would finally win. A few months before that, I was waking up in a hospital bed. I was questioned by police and analyzed by doctors. My family came into to see me, and after a short conversation, I screamed at them to leave. My fiance (now wife) walked in and I, for one of the first times in my life, experience real gut-wrenching pain. It wasn’t the millions of scars I have covering my body or the damage I’ve mentally done to myself; it was the terror in her eyes of having almost lost me. To this day, it chokes me up.

That evening in Feb. I was in London. My wife and I just married a few backs, and I tried to take my own life. I couldn’t deal with the pain of the lies I was told over time. I couldn’t come to terms with things I was unable to remember. I was ready to give up, and I did.
Except, I survived.

I managed to make the trip home, asked a good friend to pick me up and headed straight to the ER. Upon arrival, I had to have my vitals checked, monitored and I had to go through the process of numerous exams because I was a victim of sexually assault. I couldn’t think straight, but I did know that I was grateful to have been alive. Looking back on that night, I can’t say I would change anything. I can’t say i regret anything, but I can say I’m thankful for the outcome. The next decision I had to make, is what would change my life. Do I get admitted to rehab? What’s next? How do I control my life, when I can’t even manage to control my actions?”

 

This is the side of the addiction they don’t talk about. I could sit here and write about the process and how helpful it was, but that isn’t going to help someone in my position. For the first few months of my recovery, I was fascinated by shows about drugs. I’d watch anything I could because I’d see myself in the addicts on screen. Music was my outlet. I listened to “Otherside” repeatedly, and I’d identify with every single word. The first step for me was reconciling a broken relationship, which turned out to be a relationship I’m better off without. This part is crucial- you’re going to lose friends due to your process. When this happens, it’s important to remind yourself that you’re better off. Despite how hard that is to believe, friends who don’t stitch around to help you overcome, aren’t worth your time. A piece of advice I’d give anyone with an addict in their life: Don’t excuse their action, but understand that demons are living inside of them that can physically cause memory loss and impaired your judgments. Those demons don’t care about you, or your feelings and they will destroy everything in its path. When a friend in recovery needs to make amends, let them. Without that step, the addict can’t move forward.

I wish I could you an inside look at an addicts brain, but I can’t. I can tell you that you can’t force someone into recovery because they’ll relapse again. Sure, send them to rehab, but their time will be spent pissed off that they’re there. The best thing you can do for someone suffering from addiction is helping them identify what they’re unable to deal with. It’s always there, just help them look.

In the last year of my recovery, I’ve been terrified of living a life without alcohol and drugs. I was too ashamed to meet the real me and was certain I’d never get a handle on my depression. Turns out, medically taking sertraline and Xanax can be terrible for your depression. The medicines basically work against you and cause the chemicals in your brain to have a bad reaction. My doctor helps me get that under control by increasing my dose of sertraline and gave me a nonaddictive anxiety medicine to take at night. Now, I take my medicine every day with no problem. I enjoy doing it because I know it helps keep me grounded. I’m also not ashamed of it. Getting to know myself again, was an experience I can’t describe. Because drugs and alcohol do damage to your body and brain, you learn what you like and don’t like again. I remember walking into the grocery store about three months in and just standing there thinking “has it always been so colorful here?”. Things happen to you that I can’t describe and you’ll never know if you don’t go through recovery. Your parts of yourself, but gain parts as well. You learn that you can’t control your thoughts, but you can control your feelings, and yes, they’re separate. I learned to meditate and how to deal with fear. I am a different person that I was a year ago. I am a stronger person than I have ever been in my life. I am a survivor, and I’ve let go of my fears. Fears bond with you and hold you back. Let them go and continue forward. You’ll get there, just trust the process and work hard at it. It’s going to be the hardest thing you ever do, but it will be the best thing you ever do.

We live on the cusp of death and think “it won’t be us.”
Well, it is. It’s you; it’s me, our parents, grandparents, kids, best friends, it’s us.

 

*This post is dedicated to my wife, whom I wouldn’t have made it through this process. She never doubted me. She never questioned whether I could do it. She let me avoid places that made it hard but eventually made me face those fears. She didn’t let me run, digress, or give up. She gave up everything for the last year, to help me. She stayed through the worst of addiction. She knew that the addict I was, wasn’t who I wanted to be. She could see through those demons and gave me hope that there is a future. When I questioned my existence, she’d hug me, pull me close and say without me, her world would end. This year, my process, my recovery, is dedicated to you. Despite my lies, the decisions I made that hurt her, the neglect she’s felt for the last few years, she stayed. She stuck it out, and I want her to know, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have made it. I love you.