The ways an addict suffers while in the throes of addiction are multi-layered. Their physical, mental, and spiritual being are all hurting. Most addicts get into drugs and alcohol to suppress some type of trauma that they went through. I had the pleasure of talking to "Jillian", a woman in recovery who went through traumatic events that has caused her an amazing amount of pain and suffering.
When Jillian was a young child, she was the victim of sexual abuse. Over the course of several years, she was repeatedly sexually abused, mentally tortured and worse. Unable to cope with the anguish she felt, she attempted suicide at 10 years old. As Jillian put it,"Surviving that suicide attempt just made my spiral downward that much more intense".
By the time she turned 13 years old, Jillian was drinking daily to cope with the unending abuse. Her Mother, who turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse itself, ignored the fact her young daughter was on a path of self-destruction. By the time she turned 15 years old, Jillian was smoking pot daily, drinking like a fish, and still having to deal with being sexually abused. That was when luck shone on her for the first time. A teacher had caught her intoxicated in the library. Instead of turning her into school authorities, the teacher asked,"What's wrong?". That was the first time in her life someone cared enough to ask. Like turning a faucet on full, Jillian couldn't hold it in anymore. Upon hearing her horrifying story, the police were called, and Jillian's tormentor, her father, was arrested. Unfortunately, that was also the beginning of a dangerous phase in which Jillian was lucky to have survived.
At 15, she was sent into foster care,"lost in the system", as she told me. Already having lost her family, in a sense, Jillian began doing heroin on her 16th birthday. She was basically a street kid for the rest of her Highschool days. She wouldn't go into specifics about how she survived but she hinted at selling what was left of her soul, just so she didn't have to relive the anguish she had gone through. By her 18th birthday, she had been hospitalized several times for drug overdoses and, in one case, for nearly being beaten to death in a drug deal gone wrong.
Like most people in the foster care system, she was let loose at 18. With no desire to reunite with her Mother, Jillian hit the road. Within months, she was living on the streets of Chicago, doing whatever she could to survive. According to her, that was the first time she had a major run in with the police. While attempting to buy a bag of heroin, Jillian was busted by an undercover officer and immediately arrested. Having spent many months incarcerated, she was released and was back on the street.
At this point, Jillian started getting uncomfortable with telling her story, so I stopped taking notes and talked to her on a personal level. I won't go into details, but I will say that the fact she is still alive is quite amazing.
It took her another overdoses, a couple more run ins with the police, and the loss of everything she had left, before she finally said enough was enough and sought treatment. It was the first positive thing she had done for herself, maybe in her life. She entered a long term treatment center. After six months in treatment, she was put into a halfway house. Getting her life together, Jillian has gotten her own place, found a good job, and seems happy. She even has started seeing a therapist regularly.
Though we all struggle with torment to some degree, we have to sit back and appreciate all that we have; even if it seems fleeting. If that happiness is built on a lot of old pain, at least we have the capability to move beyond our past and reach a shining future.