“My story begins like many others who have been either randomly plucked, lucky, blessed, or in my case desperate enough, to find themselves in recovery. As a child, I didn’t fit into my own skin. I felt less than everyone and everything from the beginning; I was a stranger in my own family.

My father was abusive, physically, emotionally and sexually. I am aware now after many tears and years in recovery that because of the abuse, I never learned how to feel my feelings. Of course, even if I had felt my feelings, there was no way I was allowed to communicate them.

Even as a small child, I always felt like I was the problem – that somehow, I was flawed, defective, that there was something wrong with me. I saw how other children reacted spontaneously to life and was acutely aware I wasn’t one of them. At the age of 5, in the playground not long after starting school, I made the conscious decision whilst watching them play in this spontaneously joyous, alien manner that I viewed with both curiosity and a sense of dread, that if I was going to survive I was going to have to learn to act like one of them.

This was one of the first coping strategies I taught myself.

‘Acting as if’ I fitted in, always with the fear and dread that I wouldn’t be found out, that my fraud wouldn’t be detected.

This feeling is still with me 14 years into my recovery journey, which has for me been about not using any mind- or mood-altering substances one day at a time.

I am not surprised that this feeling is still with me, as I practiced ‘acting as if’ for many years. I did this in many ways – acting as if I was OK, acting as if I was normal, acting as if everything internally was hunky dory. I went to great lengths to make sure everything externally looked as if I was normal, i.e. doing OK a school, getting a normal job, having a nice normal flat, nice normal clothes, nice normal boyfriend, nice normal everything, until I got into recovery aged 25.

It was then the Nice and Normal had to stop or I was never going to recover.

During the recovery process, I learned that from the age of 11 that alcohol took away the vulnerability I always felt. On top of that, it made me feel as if somehow you could not see how raw, frightened and exposed I was. Alcohol, along with the many other drugs I used until the age of 25, was my saviour, my respite, my solution. I genuinely believe that had I not found that mind-altering substances took away my fear, pain, and complete inability to feel normal, I would not be alive today.

Of course, whilst chemicals gave me something, they also took away any chance I may have had to deal with the issues that preceded their use in the first place. I would ask you to consider the fact that booze, hash, cocaine, heroin, gas, deodorant, speed, LSD, ecstasy and a few other mood-altering substances were truly my, albeit it unconventional and somewhat injudicious, reprieve from a life I had no way of living and coping with.

Recovery for me means that I acknowledge and accept how well my reliance on various substances worked over the younger years of my life – and that I am not ashamed of my previous dependence or need for them. I would also like to point out that at no time did I ever abuse these substances. They were in fact the only tools I had access to, and because of that I held them in very high regard and treated them with the utmost respect.

Recovery has taught me that when I am the abstinent addict, I am looking for a quick-fix for my particular problem with life that day. Whereas when I am in recovery, I have a desire to seek out and I expect to find a new way of living without the need for any substances in my life. For me, in my early recovery, there was a fundamental misunderstanding that abstinence cured problems such as not coming to in a stranger’s house, paying bills on time, and showing up for work on time. But it wasn’t long before I realized that most of the unmanageability of my previous lifestyle was not quickly resolved and I needed to address the underlying causes of using mind-altering substance in the first place.

This is my understanding of recovery and it is an ongoing process. These ‘underlying causes’ infiltrate everything from my attitude and reactions, to my beliefs and values. It is these things that are constantly being re-evaluated and measured against a rigorous self-inventory process, which insists that if I wish to remain in recovery there are no days off.

Yes, it is incredibly hard work, but the rewards are beyond my wildest dreams.

I have a life today that the child in me never even dared to dream about.

I have proved to myself that not only am I worthy of love and respect, but that if I am not getting it then I have to protect myself by sometimes painful actions, like letting go of some family members and old friends. I have learned to love without fear of rejection and for loves own power. I have a level of understanding and forgiveness for human frailties and compassion to oversee and get me though whatever life brings to me today. I have proved to others that I am good enough, and in that proof over time believed in the reflection they project ‘some days’.

I have learned in recovery that anger is a healthy emotion if I channel it correctly, and that the sense of injustice that is always with me can also be used to help others.

I have came through some ‘character building’ events in my 14 years of recovery, including a chosen period of poverty in order to gain a masters Degree, giving birth to a son (who was not planned) on my own, and burying close family members, some who were too young to die and some who’s deaths have left the family without an anchor.

I have also had to redefine friendships from my using days and luckily still having some in my life today. Finally, falling in love several times and finally meeting the kind gentleman and gentle man I hope to spend the rest of my life with. To know that my son will never see me under the influence, and that I can equip him with the tools of my recovery for his life, is probably the most wonderful and valuable gift of all.

In essence, to finally know that I am a clever beautiful young woman who deserves to be happy, and if I want happiness it is up to me to define it and go get it, this to me is my recovery.”

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