Updated: Jun 12, 2021
I have struggled with mental illness my entire life. I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t a captive within my thoughts and impulsive actions. As a little girl, my disorders and illnesses presented very different from how they do today.
From the outside, things looked okay at the beginning...
I began self-harming through cutting and burning when I was 13 and intentionally vomiting to compensate for eating when I was 16. But even with all of my demons and the constant chaos in my head, I somehow graduated at the top of my class. I volunteered at the Jewish Federation, participated in every youth trip possible, went to faith-based summer college prep programs, and even placed third at the international science and engineering fair. Perfectionism was part of my mental illness just as much as the other self-destructive behaviors.
I needed to do everything and anything to stand out from the crowd, and as a high school student, I put my effort into getting ahead. However, once college came and I was no longer in the safe bubble my community created for me, the perfectionism to succeed in life, turned into an obsession to show everyone in my dorm and on my college campus that I could handle absurd amounts of liquor and Xanax.
As my struggles progressed, so did the stigma I faced.
My family came to terms with my mental health issues. It took them time, but they found ways to digest the fact that I had a medical condition, just like someone suffering from Diabetes or another chronic illness. However, my addiction was harder for them to grasp.
"Being an addict and an alcoholic comes with an entirely new level of stigma and misunderstanding that my loved ones could not wrap their heads around"
I suffered in silence throughout all of college. I drank myself to a blackout at least 4 days a week and popped Xanax all day on the weekends. After moving to Washington D.C. to intern at a prestigious government agency, everything seemed to fall apart. There was no hiding that my behaviors anymore. It became very clear that my addiction warranted detox and rehab and my mother made sure to find me the help necessary.
However, the biggest difference between getting treatment this time and the times in the past for my self-harm and eating disorder, was now my parents didn’t want me living at home post-treatment completion. My familial support felt like it was dwindling, and my heart was crushed. What I didn’t understand during that time was that my parents were loving me fiercely from a distance so that they could quit enabling me and give me what I needed: accountability.
There is no singular way to recover - but I have begun my own healing process.
I moved to sober living in South Florida, over 4 hours away from my family and my hometown. I stayed in this area for over 3 years, bouncing in and out of recovery. Relapse is a part of my story. I used to hold immense shame for this, but now I realize that every time I picked up after some time without the drink or drug I learned valuable lessons.
Being in recovery from alcohol and drugs in addition to having multiple mental health diagnoses brings its own set of difficulties. But recovery from all behaviors and disorders is possible with hard work and dedication.
"I found internal peace and healing within multiple recovery programs, in addition to therapy and medication. There is no one way to beat a substance use disorder, each person must find their individual path."
For me, integrating Alcoholics Anonymous with Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) and focusing on the 12 steps, has been what has helped me the most. In EDA, you rely upon either a higher power or higher purpose. Being able to create a higher purpose for my life and entrusting this mission with my health and wellbeing, has allowed me to put my focus back on what keeps me in recovery, my family, and my passion for helping women who have been affected by sexual trauma.
Today I have over 2 months sober and my life is beginning to come together. 2 months may not seem like a long time to non-addict or alcoholic, but for me, my substances became my solution to all of life's problems. Living without them felt impossible for so long.
In my newfound recovery, I've been able to find other solutions to life's obstacles.
Now that I can find solutions to my problems within healthier outlets, I can put my time and effort into being the aunt I have always wanted to be for my nephew. I can be a daughter who helps her mother rather than worries her sick. I can work towards finding a job as a victim rights advocate and share a message of hope and freedom to a rape survivor who turned to alcohol and drugs like myself.
Recovery is hard. For me, finally putting alcohol and drugs down and refusing to engage in self-injury has been the most difficult thing I have ever done. It was harder than graduating college.
"However, recovery is the best gift you can give yourself because with healing and peace you are not just a bystander in your own life, but the conductor."
Now that I have found recovery from my alcoholism and drug addiction, I have a say in what happens with me. I can take my nephew to the park and not be questioned. I can be depended on. I am trusted. And most importantly, I am wanted to be around. My journey has been a long one, and one that has been difficult beyond words, but for what I have now...it was worth every aching moment.
Sarah Tedesco is a 26-year-old writer and marketing professional in her early stages of recovery from alcoholism and benzodiazepines. She is also recovering from an eating disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She lives on the west coast of Florida near her biggest motivator: her 3 ½ year old nephew. Sarah is passionate about helping women and men affected by sexual violence and hopes to one day work in this field.
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