When I was younger I was a skilled basketball player, popular and a very friendly, outgoing person. In middle school, I was scouted to a private high school to play basketball but turned it down to go to school with my friends. This decision resulted in one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned in my life: friends come and go. All of that aside, I was still going to play at my high school and was starting varsity my freshman year. Everyone knew me by the end of my freshman year and I was liked by most. I had no mental illness at this time, and I laughed at people who smoked marijuana or did any other drugs. Little did I know in the next few years I would become addicted to drugs, suffer from anxiety, and have a complete disinterest for the game of basketball.
I was a junior when I started smoking marijuana, and it wasn’t long until I was introduced to the drug Xanax. I was abusing Xanax daily for over two years and in massive amounts. My school work diminished and I was barely able to graduate my senior year for missing so much time. I also quit playing basketball and things at home were a mess. Looking back at it now, I can’t believe how I let things get so bad, so fast.
I knew things were spiraling out of control but my addiction was growing stronger and I couldn’t imagine life without drugs.
One summer night in 2008, I can’t recall the exact date, I had a sobering and truly scary experience. I remember being at my friend’s house and waking up in a mental institution in my hometown when I came to. I didn’t even know where I was. I had hallucinated from taking too much Xanax and woke up in a shocked daze. I do not recall much from my hallucination experience but I vividly remember people coming to my house to attack my family.
I stayed for a few days and was visited by family members, which I have no recollection of now. After this incident, I began to suffer from high anxiety and panic attacks in social settings. My personality started to change from this as well, as I became more timid and shy around groups. I also had less of a desire to want to go out to socialize.
I swore off drugs for the rest of the summer of 2008 and told myself I was going to go to college and get my life together. The first day of fall classes , a beautiful woman approached me and I could not recall who she was. She looked at me in shock and said “I met you this summer, and we hung out about 20 times. You seriously don’t know who I am?” This was a very strange moment, and definitely a moment that changed life. I was completely embarrassed that I didn’t know her name, or even remember seeing her over the summer!
That semester was when I realized I was truly suffering from an anxiety problem, especially in public. I recall one day specifically sitting in my psychology class and literately sweating for no reason. I was anxious and uneasy, even wondering what people were thinking about me although they were complete strangers. I was not used to these thoughts and they made me very uncomfortable, I wanted to leave but couldn’t get out of my seat. Eventually, I mustered the courage to escape the classroom. When I walked outside it felt like an elephant released his foot off of my chest. That was my first true encounter with social anxiety. Immediately I wanted to smoke marijuana or take a Xanax to calm my nerves, but I knew this would only make my anxiety worse, and the guilt that comes with relapse is never fun to experience.
I was trying to manage my addiction and quit drugs on my own, which was not working well for me, things just became worse. My anxiety continued at a high level from 2008 until 2010 until I finally had enough desire to change. I started looking into different rehab options to end my addiction and help with my anxiety.
I decided to go to a dual diagnosis rehab center, which treats addiction and mental disorders. This was the greatest decision I think I could have made for myself. I learned why I used, and how my anxiety plays into me using more. I also learned new ways to cope with my anxiety and reduce stress. When I was able to get sober and not rely on drugs or alcohol, the stress and anxiety seemed to lessen.
Today, I still suffer from anxiety but it is not as bad as it was when I was actively addicted. I am finding that exercise, being outdoors and doing things I love (including writing) have all been positive outlets for my anxiety and the symptoms that come with it. I still have trouble being comfortable; and always feel like I need to be somewhere else if I am in one place for too long. I still struggle with big crowds, and having all eyes on me, but these are things I am working on. I try to challenge myself by stepping out of my comfort zone, knowing I have positive outlets and a support group that will be there for me. If it weren’t for my friends and family’s encouragement I would not be where I am today. My addiction and anxiety made me feel like I did not deserve things normal people had, and I could not accomplish goals or be successful. Today, because of sobriety and a great support group, I am the first in my family with a college degree and have been happier than I have been in years.
Image credit: Rakka
William Miko is a content writer and college graduate who works in the field of addiction and recovery. When he is not researching the latest trends in addiction, treatment, and recovery, he may be found at your local basketball court. https://www.sunshinebehavioralhealth.com