A new phase of life has begun, I’m thankful to have secured a job working in the substance misuse sector, something I’ve been keen to return to after a break. I’ve returned to working on my memoir about my journey to, through, and past addiction and as always the time away from writing has been positive. I often resist this necessary pause on the creative process, it feels like wasting time and I stubbornly persist in working my will until insight arrives and I accept that a pause on output can be just as productive.
I think this is especially true when writing about lived experience and for someone like me who uses writing as a way to support my emotional wellbeing it is even more imperative to pause and allow process, it consolidates what’s been discovered and allows space for new insights to appear and evolve. That said, I never stop writing in my journal, that space is just for me to unload, to express without hesitation, to be real without the fear of offending someone. Everyone needs a place they can do this, for some it’s with friends, family or colleagues, for me it’s my journal.
I’ve been mulling over how many female recovery stories are in the public eye and without turning to the internet I considered visible recovery role models, I struggled. I thought about Davina McCall, amazing woman who is a force of inspiration, I considered Marianne Faithful, another incredibly talented and creative force, Amy Liptrot then came to mind, I love her book The Outrun and highly recommend it! After that the women who came to mind where sadly all deceased; Amy Winehouse, Billie Holiday, Peaches Geldof.
I know there are many women out there with recovery stories but when I think celebrity I immediately think of Russel Brand and Freddy Flintoff, I have much admiration for both and having overcome heroin addiction myself I have an affinity with Russell. When I consider media portrayals of addiction the first that pops up is Trainspotting which focuses mainly on male characters and their experiences. Are female experiences of addiction different? I’m sure there are similarities but also differences.
I hope by sharing my experiences to find out, and by doing so can be a visible example of female recovery in action. For those who don’t attend meetings or services it can be hard to find identification. During my heroin addiction I didn’t know a single female who had recovered from it, I knew many who sadly died and others who kept switching substances and ended up in a cycle of various addictions. It was only after I became free of opiate dependency that I attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings and met others like me, that said, it was still male dominated, and there was always a demand for female sponsors.
I’m aware that I’m in a fortunate position regarding the disclosure of my lived experience. I don’t have a partner or children I need to consider when sharing personal information, I don’t have parents or family that may react to my experiences and my friends are aware of the truth so won’t be shocked by the revelations. My work is in the addiction field and my history is very much an asset when coupled with knowledge and clinical skills. For many women in recovery they do have to acknowledge the impact on others if they were to be visible with their experiences and perhaps I’d feel differently about sharing stuff if I knew my mum would read it or if my kids or their friends or their friends parents or teachers may be exposed. Many just recover and move on to other roles and experiences in life, I congratulate this success but I do crave insight into how they managed such a transition. So many people just mature out of substance use/misuse, that’s the normal route and one that doesn’t really get written about or researched in detail.
My addiction may be gone but the things that led to it in the first place still persist and I would love to see examples of how other women manage these. For me, the main challenge is intimate relationships, as soon as I allow someone into my intimate world I feel apprehension, anxiety and risk accompanied by a desire to share affection, tenderness and love. Pain and pleasure inextricably linked in the roots of my psyche.
I had to humble myself and admit my limits by realising I couldn’t handle an intimate relationship, it was a bitter pill to swallow as I arrogantly thought I could have it all, that I was recovered. I was high on recovery, enjoying work, friendships and education. I was manging my life and responsibilities and I thought I’d come far enough to handle a romantic relationship. I hoped some changes had happened during my addiction recovery that would allow me to manage a relationship with more maturity and awareness but I was wrong.
Gradually my sense of self started to erode, I became self-sacrificing and placed my partners needs as a priority, the addiction was gone by my issues with attachment and intimacy were not. I’d look at other people in recovery and they’d be forming happy relationships, having kids, buying houses, creating lives of joy and stability, they seemed to have it all and yet I couldn’t manage it. I suppose the things that make it possible for me to be open about recovery are also the things that challenge me in terms of recovery. The fact I don’t have family with which to do repair and reconciliation work, that I never formed any healthy attachments in childhood, that I was continuously abused, mistreated and rejected by those I should’ve been able to trust has laid some pretty dodgy foundations and my recovery requires a total rebuild! I can be a good parent by being one to myself and supporting my wounded child to start over.
What I’ve come to realise through writing my memoir is that addiction wasn’t really my problem. Addiction pointed out the problem but it was a symptom of something deeper; trauma. I spent so much of my life living with repressed trauma that I easily overlook it or meet it with flippancy ‘it wasn’t that bad’, ‘I was fortunate in so many way’s’, ‘so many had it worse’. It’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve actually accepted the amount of trauma faced and the impact on me.
During the early stages of my recovery I focused on the obsessive, compulsive aspects of my behaviour, my self-centredness, recklessness and self-loathing. I examined the selfishness of my acts, the dishonesty inherent in the addict lifestyle, I explored my impulsive nature and inability to self-soothe. I fostered a spirit of willingness, open-mindedness, gratitude and service which allowed me to develop wider connections and develop a career pathway.
When faced with an intense depressive episode related to my relationship I asked for help and this led me to engage with therapy during lockdown and I was quite astonished by the things that came up as they were in stark opposition to what was being required as part of my recovery programme. I’m always concerned about the impact on others, apprehensive about sharing negative feelings, feeling as though my feelings are irrelevant or that I have to obey and accept, feeling as though I have to be of service somehow, that I must give to others and be subservient.
Through therapy I learnt that I need to be of service to myself first and foremost, I overcame my fear of expressing anger and boundaries, I learnt it’s ok to have limits and to acknowledge and assert them, I learnt that I don’t have to accept things at all, that I can make decisions to act and change my life, that my views are valid, that my feelings in all shades are worthy, and that having doubts or questioning things can be healthy.
Writing my memoir has also revealed that during my break down and heroin addiction I faced further trauma through abortion, rape, assault and bereavement. These things don’t just sort themselves out because my addiction has gone but having a stable foundation will allow me to deal with them in time. For now I acknowledge I can’t have intimate relationships and need to follow a programme of recovery around this. I can accept that I may not become a parent myself but maybe one day I could foster kids and have a role in nurturing their development and growth.
Recovery isn’t about achieving what’s normal or comparing yourself to others, it’s about authentic healing, personal responsibility and emotional maturity. Knowing my strengths and my challenges is healthy, I’m not cured but I’m certainly more aware and taking steps to remedy the issues raised, and that’s progress!