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If you had told the ambitious and driven 18-year-old me that at the age of 27 he would be referring to himself as a recovering addict, he wouldn’t have believed you. See, at that age, I had big goals and everything seemed to be going according to plan. I knew what I wanted, I knew where I was going and I seemed to have direction. 27 saw me finding my way back to the 18-year-old me but after a heavy struggle with addiction. It took me quite some time and near-death experiences to realise that I needed help. Addiction is a vicious cycle that literally strips you of your identity.
“Addiction is a vicious cycle that literally strips you of your identity”
In the previous article, I mentioned that addiction is normally accompanied by a mental illness, in my case, it was Bipolar II disorder. I was always a happy-go-lucky individual, in fact, the only time I was “moody” is when I was hungry. So when I was told I was bipolar, you can imagine how confused I was because I just never saw myself as the type. What I didn’t realise is that, just like a lot of people, I didn’t even know what Bipolar really was, and no, if anything, it’s not being “moody”.
Bipolar II disorder
My battle with addiction started in my teen years. At that time, I was already dealing with the sad truth that my father had rejected me from the moment he heard my mom was expecting me, but somehow, my inquisitive and curious nature would not allow me to take this lying down. After asking a lot of questions, a way was paved for me to meet him and his family and somehow I still faced rejection from them. I remember how headstrong I was about gaining acceptance from them no matter what it took. I feel like I spent my childhood trying to fit into a family that cropped me out of every picture. At first, it felt normal, I was fine with whatever little affection (sometimes none) that I got from them because I so desperately wanted to belong. As the years went, I became angry because no matter what I did, my father just wouldn’t accept me or welcome me as his own. Writing this now, I’m feeling things that I thought I had conquered, but I guess that’s why they say “recovering”. I remember how this made me question myself. I used to question my beauty, my intellect, my existence, etc. What was so wrong with me that I couldn’t be accepted by the one person that meant so much to me?
“I spent my childhoold trying to fit into a family that cropped me out of every picture”
Eventually, when I turned 15 and after a long call with my then stepmother who told me that my father wanted to run paternity tests because I was somewhat dark in complexion as compared to his other kids, I decided to call it quits. He directly rejected me twice, in one lifetime. Even after all the commonalities that were revealed and a heavy resemblance, I just wasn’t good enough for him. It was a lot to carry. I guess it also didn’t help that I was a homosexual, or at least at the time we can say I was “showing signs”. That whole experience really made me numb to everything that was happening around me. The sight of men, any man, brought about uncomfortable feelings within me. I was angry at everything and everyone but mostly at him because if anyone had to make things easier for me, it had to be him, but he didn’t. I was young and clueless, he could have tolerated me but now I know that’s not how the world works. This is such a common story, and I don’t think people realise the massive effect it has on ONE human being.
Meanwhile, things on my mother’s side were great, but I could never be satisfied knowing that there was a part to me that I’d never experience. I felt so lost. I felt unwanted. As young as I was at the time, I was emotionally exhausted. I didn’t know who to blame, what to do and then eventually I had my first drink. I remember the feeling of being intoxicated. For the first time, I felt invincible over my situation. My head was spinning, and I laid there in front of people who were old enough to be my parents, drunk and totally unbothered.
Matric (2008) was the year in which I fell deeply in love with a boy for the first time. It was out of this world. My hormones were highly active around him. I would get butterflies seeing him walk from one class to the next. I can’t even tell you how we started dating, but I know that as much as it was a challenge, it was also beautiful. He was still in the closet, I mean we were just in matric. I, on the other hand, had started rebelling so I didn’t have time to hide anything. Eventually, that relationship ended too, I guess not everyone is meant to have a high school sweetheart. That’s the point where I started believing that my life was surrounded by a cloud of rejection. If there’s anything that used to get to me, it’s that, rejection.
2009, after having matriculated and not being ready to go to tertiary because I was at war with my mom who felt I should do something in commerce when all I wanted to do was radio or drama, which “won’t pay my bills”, I decided to go look for a job. I found a few of those odd ones where recent matriculants are literally exploited because they’re still clueless. In February that year, the worst thing happened. On my way home from work on the 24th, my cousin told me that my baby brother had been run over by a car and we needed to head home. Upon getting there, I saw the accident scene, his remains were splattered on the street where I lived. The site alone destroyed me, and although I didn’t see his body, I know it was a painful death. That day cemented my hate for men. The man who ran him over lived a few blocks away from my house. I hated him, I wanted him to rot in jail but my mother had other plans, my brother was never coming back anyway. From that day, something changed in the way that I viewed men altogether and that also explains why I had never dated older guys. It seemed like they reminded me of the men I used to blame for how my life turned out. I hated myself because I’d be reminded of my dad every time I looked in the mirror. I wanted to be different.
May his soul continue to rest in peace.
That was the year that my battle with addiction started. I was in so much pain, I was still dealing with my first break up, a rejection from the man I wished would just one day love me back, and the loss of my baby brother. A lot was happening at once and all I wanted was an escape and I found it at the bottom of the bottle. From that day, I drank every day, even if it was just two ciders after work. When that became hard to maintain, I resorted to cannabis, but I hated the effect it had on me, so I continued drinking. I found a job that paid me well, stayed for a few months and then left because I felt I was still young and employable. All I wanted to do was find enough time to intoxicate myself. I went to a gay club for the first time in that same year and got so immersed in that life. As much as there was drama, it was a nice distraction from what I was personally dealing with. Nobody knew my demons, I never let anyone get too close.
Fast forward to 2012, my ambitious self was about to turn 21 and I had nothing to show for myself. All I had was a brand new “screw everything” attitude, and a couple of mistakes and regrets. I remember it was on the 3rd of May 2012 when I realised that everything I was running away from was making its rounds again and this time, it was intense. I still had a hard time connecting to a man in a relationship, I still missed my brother, and I still wanted my dad in my life, even after everything he never put me through. What was it all for? The night before, I lied to my housemate and told her I had a headache, she had a bunch of pills in a packet and I knew what my plan was so I told her to give me the whole packet and I would return it. The next day, when everyone went to work, I went for it. I gulped as many pills as possible, which when the packets were counted, amounted to 72 pills, most of which had paracetamol. I remember sitting there, crying my eyes out, but I couldn’t hear a thing. I tried getting up, but I couldn’t, the next thing I knew I was on a hospital bed. That nurse kept on asking me what I had taken and I was just so annoyed because there was a pipe down my throat, I just didn’t understand what was going on, everything was a blur, I was in between a deep sleep and whatever was happening there. I passed out again and the next morning, I woke up to a nurse who welcomed me to a hospital. I spent four days in ICU feeling all sorts of terrible things.
I was so disappointed in myself and also annoyed because I knew that from that day, the people in my life would no longer see me as the strong person I convinced them I was. I really wanted to die, I felt like my existence in this world was pointless. It was on the very same day that I was diagnosed with depression and then later on in the week Bipolar II disorder. I didn’t even understand what that meant but I was just bored with this planet and couldn’t wait to leave so I could have a drink…or twelve. I remember when I was given a second chance, I made sure I came out of the closet, with a bang. On my 21st birthday celebration, my boyfriend at the time sat next to me at the main table, this happened in front of the whole family and the neighbours. I wasn’t concerned about their reaction, I just didn’t care. I felt like I was just moving through life because I had to.
2013 saw me quitting alcohol for three years after struggling to keep up with my treatment due to drinking. I got into my 3rd serious relationship and even that went South, it was at that point that I thought, “you know what, it’s cool, relationships will never work for me”. I checked myself into rehab and focused on healing and on finding myself again. It was a big year for me and I made a lot of progress as an individual. I decided to go back to school but even that was tough because there were no funds to keep me afloat so I opted to look for a job but by then the recession was bad and I would find myself sitting around, hunting and getting even more depressed, unemployment is depressing.
In 2015 after almost a year of just surviving, I experimented for the first time with recreational drugs. I didn’t want to drink because I knew that I would go back to the person I did such a good job at running away from. Recreational drugs were great but when the buzz was over, the pain was unbearable yet even with all of that, I still wanted more. All I wanted, was to stay intoxicated, something I never want to experience ever again. I struggled with those for five years. I was so desperate to quit but I couldn’t. I’d think I was doing okay, and then one morning I’d wake up and just find myself buying them. I’d probably cry before doing a line by myself because I knew that I so badly wanted to stop but it was so hard, in the meantime, I maintained a happy face around my friends. Around this time, I got to know myself. I sat with myself and tried to figure out exactly what was happening. I had to make some hard decisions and sacrifices because I so desperately wanted to be clean. This year, I decided I was done and I wanted out. I didn’t even know where I was going to start, all I knew is that I was on that mission, and this time, I kept it to myself so that I never had to deal with the pressure and that dreadful “didn’t you say…?” question. My battles were my own. I stopped seeking external help and relied on my own strength to make this happen.
My whole experience introduced me to some interesting characters. People that I would meet either as dealers or as people that took drugs too. I was exposed to a lot of wonderful people who were pushed by circumstances to resort to questionable ways of escaping. Suddenly all I wanted was to be an ear for people who needed to talk which was rather unfair of me because until very recently, I never really liked to talk about how I feel, in fact, I would hide behind, “No, I’m listening, you talk”.
I don’t blame the authorities for calling us “recovering” addicts, because every day we recover from our small ways of living. When I started The Filling Station, all I wanted to be was an inspiration to others. I didn’t want to wait until I was “perfect” in the eyes of the public. I wanted the public to see me becoming perfect, perfect in their standards. I knew that if I wanted to change, I’d have to depend on a power that was higher than me. I had to seek love, validation and acceptance from a higher power because down here, it felt like there was nothing for me. It’s only when I found the God of my understanding that I started recognizing all the important people in my life. I started backing away from people that had agendas. My eyes were opened and I knew what I had to do. I had to accept myself for who I was so that I could become who I’m meant to be. I am committed to recovery and I know that I’m not the only one. Someone out there is going through the most, but always remember that before you judge someone for what they do, find out why they do it. We all have themes. It’s not about whose story is more gruesome than the other, It’s how you felt when it all happened. It’s what you took from the experience, both positive and negative.
“I had to accept myself for who I was so that I could become who I’m meant to be”
I’m taking accountability for the mistakes that I have made and acquiring a new mindset so I can change my life. You can do it too, no matter how old or young you are. My experience has taught me never to judge anyone and to treat everyone with the same respect. I’m more open about what’s happening in my life. I’m open to love and meeting new people. I actually complain less because when you “almost” die, you somehow become more grateful for the life that you have. I’ve met a lot of individuals that are fighting silently and I pray for them before going to bed at night, because I know how lonely this war can get. Get as much support as you possibly can, if addiction is a disease, then it surely can be managed, you just need to believe that you can do it and stay determined. Remember why you started.
Remember to share this on your social media pages, you never know who it might inspire. Thank you for reading ’til the end.