Mental Health and Self-Medicating

I feel like the universe, or someone, something, whatever, is pushing me to pay attention to this subject. Over the last couple of months, I’ve had multiple conversations about addiction, specifically about using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. The variety of stories that I’ve heard, some first hand, others not, seem to have many things in common, despite the fact that the individuals and their stories are very different.

Some of them I would identify as child abuse survivors, others not. But all are dealing with mental health issues. Some have an official diagnosis, while others don’t, but show all the signs of depression or some other issue, and the more I hear the stories, the more it reminds me of my own life, even though I’m not an addict. I’ve never even done drugs for that matter.

No, what it reminds me of is the fact that growing up in an abusive situation generally leaves you ill equipped to deal with adulthood. As I listen to these stories, I keep coming back to the thought that so many people dealing with addiction are really just using because they aren’t equipped to deal with what is happening. Alcohol and drugs act as a medication for whatever other issues there are. And, at least at first, it works. Want to ignore the pain of depression? Want to smooth over the edges of bi-polar? Want to ignore your feelings of inadequacy and feel more courageous? Yeah, take or drink enough stuff, and all of that goes away, at least until the buzz wears off.

Therein lies the problem. No matter what we do to ignore the pain, and the struggle, it’s part of us. Eventually, the buzz wears off, we run out of sex partners, or things to buy, or even ladders to climb at work, and we are left once again, with ourselves and our problems. I’ve long said that healing from an abusive childhood is all about unlearning the things we taught ourselves to survive childhood, and then learning how to build our own lives as adults. I’m learning that there are many people dealing with addiction who follow a similar path. They need to unlearn the practices that have gotten them where they are, and then learn the skills that will equip them to handle their issues, be they mental health issues, self-esteem issues, personality issues, and so on. It saddens me to know that so many are out there and are unable to get the help they need because of stigma, or ignorance about this issues. They are self-medicating because they cannot find the support necessary to even start down the path of healing and equipping themselves. How much more could we do for everyone if we would allow them to talk about what is happening, and if we could hear from people who have walked that path before them?

Healing is a long path, and as I mentioned to someone just the other day, even after all these years out of therapy, I still have days where I go right back to doubting myself, or seeing myself as damaged, but I have skills that help me get through those days. I have years of practice in talking myself away from those thoughts, and years of experience to look back on where I have been able to overcome and succeed. As you might imagine, it takes years to get that!

In the mean time, how about we try and be a little more graceful toward each other, and be willing to step in, remind people of their worth, and help equip them instead of tearing them down further for the ways in which they have struggled? How about we recognize the pain they are in and find ways to remind them that someone cares about them and wants them to heal?

In the end, whatever it is they need to heal from, they can only take that healing journey themselves. We cannot heal for them, but it sure would be nice if more people were willing to listen and be supportive. Sometimes it simply goes a long way to know that someone out there values you, and is rooting for you, but they won’t find that out when so many are unwilling to talk about mental health, and their own stories. Our discomfort with the topic does no good for anyone. I can honestly say that for every single story I have heard recently, I also know someone who values that person and is rooting for them. I hope and pray that they can find a way to get that message across.

I’m rooting for them too.

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