Unfortunately, they do not teach “Mental Health 101” when you are a child.
No one ever taught me how to cope when I was feeling distressed. At a young age, I did not know how to ask myself vital questions such as, “Do I need to change my situation or do I need to find a better way to cope with my situation?” Though I had a healthy home life, mental health was not something that was a focus in our home. Mental Health was not a subject we talked about in school. My lack of healthy coping skills was what eventually led me to substance use. The coping skills I did have (or lack thereof) were no longer working for me. In fact, they were making things much worse.
I unknowingly suffered from anxiety and depression since I was a child but I did not know how to identify what I was going through. I had no reason to have feelings of hopelessness, fear, anger, sadness, but all of those uncontrollable emotions combined caused overwhelming stress.
Undereating was not the answer to my problems. Constantly venting kept me stuck in the pain with no solutions. Avoidance or completely shutting down only magnified my stress and anxiety; it also created conflict in my relationship with my family members. These behaviors combined are what eventually led to substance use. I wanted to change the way I felt and when you use alcohol or drugs to manage symptoms of a mental health issue it’s known as “self-medicating” and that is exactly what I was doing.
My substance use introduced brand new problems in my adult life. Aside from being wrapped in the chains of addiction, my kids were suffering with me, my family was suffering, there were work issues, social issues, and eventually, there were legal issues.
May is National Drug Court and Mental Health Month. For me and millions of other recovering addicts across the world recovery and mental health go hand in hand. My lack of coping skills led to my substance use disorder. My SUD led to legal issues and I eventually found myself in drug court. It was the best thing that could have ever happened for me.
Drug court kept me accountable so that I could get on my feet and rebuild what I had destroyed. It also introduced me to outpatient treatment here at Family Life Center because it was part of the drug court process but it became so much more than a requirement. It became the place that would guide me through my mental health struggles and it gave me counselors that taught me how to cope in a healthy way.
We were introduced to the 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous and 12 step meetings were encouraged. Through the 12 steps and outpatient treatment, I began learning the coping skills I had so desperately needed all of my life. I was reintroduced to God. I felt hope for the first time in many years.
My substance use disorder is no longer something I am ashamed of, in fact, I am grateful for it. They say only God can turn a mess into a message and I believe that to be true. Drug court helped restore my life and my family. It helped me find the resources I needed to become spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally well.
When one person rises, we all rise.