By Shelby Winch
Addiction was a word introduced to me at a very young age. I knew it was a bad thing and that it was similar to someone being sick, but I didn’t quite understand how it could affect some people and not others. I used to fear that instead of waking up with the common cold, I’d wake up with a case of addiction. I was scared because I knew it ran in my family. My father became an alcoholic, following a similar path as his father, after my mom broke her back and needed constant care. My grandparents on my mother’s side were also deeply in denial about their reliance on alcohol; it was their coping mechanism during any life obstacles. And then there were the friends that would come in and out of my life, one addicted to coke, another to pills. It felt like a nonstop, revolving door of people I cared about turning to substances to cure their pain rather than facing it head on. Throughout my connections with all of these people and all of the pain of having to say goodbye to them, one by one, I learned a lot about addiction and a lot more about myself.
The first thing that I learned (partially because it was shouted at me at every stage of my life) was that addiction was genetic in my family. I can attest to this because I saw first hand how it was passed down from parent to child over and over again. My way of coping with this fact was to swear off all drugs and alcohol. I fully believed that if I didn’t interact with these things, addiction could never grab hold of me. This worked for a long time; I went through high school staying clear of everything and feeling accomplished. Instead of parties, I invested my time in sports and surrounded myself with friends who preferred movie nights to tailgates. But things did change when I went to college. I chose a school that had a reputation for partying and suddenly, my perfect bubble of drug and alcohol abstinence bursted. I went from being the girl who promoted complete sobriety to the girl who convinced everyone to go out and “let loose”. After a couple years of reflection, I realize that this switch up happened because I didn’t know how to cope with being in college. I picked a school out of state where I knew no one, studied a major that I felt was too hard for me and, overall, was insecure and alone. So, I turned to the one thing that I knew wasn’t the answer, but seemed to be the cure-all for the other kids my age. Now, I want to make it clear that I never lost control; I never let alcohol become my number one priority or allow it to interfere with my relationships, school, or work. But what I did let it become was a crutch and a stress relief. While I could have joined the gym or tried making strong friendships, I opted for parties and wine nights instead. Although this may sound like normal behavior for many college students, for me, it was a sign that I was at the top of a very slippery slope.
I danced on this line between right and wrong throughout my freshman and sophomore year, but I got my wake up call when one of my closest friends went through a major setback. Throughout the course of our friendship, she had often confided in me that she was scared of addiction. She felt that she was relying on partying too much, so we planned on cutting back on the parties and having movie nights on the weekend instead. But we never cut back. Soon, she was kicked out of school and even sooner, our friendship was over. It ended over a silly fight, something that could’ve easily been talked through if everyone was sober, but it never got fixed. Instead, we got little updates about her from mutual friends, which was just a stream of bad news. It felt like the person I once knew, the person I had shared so many great memories with, was gone. And I was really sad for a really long time because of it. I was sad because I felt like I hadn’t done enough to help her. I kept thinking about the conversations we had, thinking about how I grew up knowing everything I needed to about addiction, yet I was still here. At that moment, I vowed to make this a positive turning point. I decided to take a semester to study abroad and get out of the environment I was in. I participated more in my theater major and invested my time in doing what I loved. Most importantly, I started voicing when things were going wrong. I had realized that where I had made the mistake, where my father and his father, where my friend had all made the mistake, was trying to mend any discomfort or unhappiness with alcohol. Instead of dealing with the problem to make us feel better, we just intoxicated ourselves to feel numb. We might’ve forgotten the night, but we never forgot the thing that was really making us unhappy. Now that I understand this, I think I truly know myself more and how to handle my stress in a more mature way. I still get mad at myself sometimes for not realizing this sooner. I get mad because the first part of my life was plagued with the idea that a man chose a beer bottle over his own kids and his sick wife. I felt like in a way I had let my younger self down by almost repeating the cycle. But I remind myself that I didn’t. I didn’t repeat it and I’m going to do everything in my power not too. I grew up with addiction, I said goodbye to a lot of people I care about because of it, and it’s caused a lot of pain. But the bottle isn’t the real problem; it’s everything that’s happened before that makes you want to pick it up.