This post is about my personal experience with addiction, I'm not asking you to agree with everything I say or read this looking for medical/therapeutic help. I am not a licensed professional, I am a 20 year old college student.
Addiction is an awful disease, that has no real cure. So if you are suffering and want to get help please go to the links at the bottom of this post.
Also know that if a loved one of yours is suffering and you want to get them help but they don't want help right now, you cannot force them. You can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped. Give them time and space even though it is the hardest thing you'll ever do.
I love the smell of cigarettes. Not because it's intoxicating and inciting, but because it smells like home. It smells like christmas night and driving to the movie theater and the steps at the back door of the tavern. They smell like good memories from my childhood, ones that are dead and gone, except for when I pass through the grey smoke on the street. Then the memories are alive again, just for a second.
I've always been curious to try one, but I stop myself every time.
Addiction runs in my family. Drugs, alcohol, food, hoarding. All of it. And it runs deep. For a long time I thought that was just everyones family, I didn't know any different because it was always so prevalent in my life. Turns out that's not necessarily true; although it does affect around 20 million people in the US according to a 2014 study, so the number has only grown since. As I've gotten older I've grown more aware of how that addiction has manifested and could manifest in my own life.
I'm genetically more inclined to become addicted to things. And that doesn't just mean drugs or alcohol as most people think. You can be addicted to anything really. For me it has mostly translated into caffeine. Which is fairly harmless. I've also seen it be much darker for myself in how easily I slipped into the habit of monitoring and restricting my food. It's dangerous. I think about it with every sip of alcohol I drink. Any sip could be my first of never stopping.
Watching people you love suffer from addiction is the most painful, heartbreaking thing in the world. You feel completely helpless. It becomes hard to separate the addiction from the person sometimes. You know you love the person endlessly, but you hate the addiction with the same passion and sometimes the lines get blurred.
For me the hardest one is seeing what addiction has done to my sister. She's adopted, but addiction runs even deeper genetically for her. She's always been a adventurous, stubborn, 'I'm invincible' type of person from the time we were little. She used to climb up onto the top part of our swing set and get stuck. Now, doing that once is an innocent mistake, but she would do it every time even though she knew she would get stuck and our mom would get mad. She would even ask me if I thought she should and I would say "no! you'll get stuck" and she'd proceed to do it anyway. It's that same fearlessness that has turned her life down a negative road.
I was in seventh grade and she was in ninth when her issues with addiction started to begin. Now I'm 20 and she's soon to be 23 and it's only gotten worse. I want to emphasize how much I don't think her current situation and continuous struggles with addiction are her fault. She was dealt one of the most difficult hands in life and I am so proud that she has made it this far. Addiction is a disease that will never go away, and it takes courage to wake up everyday and fight it and I am so proud of her when she does.
Growing up surrounded by addiction has impacted my life in the best and worst ways. Seeing my sister and other family members struggle was, ironically, sobering. Had I not been exposed to addiction from a young age I don't think I would have gone through life the same way or ended up where I am today.
I make the conscious decision everyday to try and translate my addictive personality into healthier things than restricting my food or excessive alcohol or cigarettes. Instead I write nonstop and go on walks and have routines for myself to do everyday. Sometimes I fail to do those healthy things and see myself falling into bad habits but being actively aware of that is all I can do.
I like to think that it has also made me more empathetic towards people struggling with addiction. Often times people struggling with addiction are just looked at as 'scum' or 'a waste of a person' but they are the furthest thing. They are some of the strongest people you'll ever meet, they wake up everyday and have to fight this insistent urge or craving inside them. Sometimes they can't and they give in, and as a society we have decided that that means they are worthless and we shouldn't help them. When in reality we should be doing the opposite.
Now when I say this, I don't mean we should force them to get help. If there is one thing I have learned in my life it's that you cannot help an addicted person who does not want to get help. Trying to do so is only going to make everything worse. The person has to make the decision of wanting help on their own otherwise it is a waste of time, money, and energy. The other thing I've learned is that when the person doesn't want help or they relapse, you can't blame that on yourself as much as you can try and help them, what they do is ultimately their choice and the consequences of that choice fall solely on them.
What we can do is make help more readily available. That means cheaper, more accessible, and removing the taboo we have created around addiction. We need to talk about it. Talk about what addiction is, the different ways it can manifest (not just drugs and alcohol), and how to get help when ready to. These are things that should be taught in schools, I know for me the only thing remotely close to talking about addiction in my public school education was "don't smoke weed it's the 'gateway drug'" and that was it. Which is just astonishingly unhelpful and completely not the point we should be making.
I know addiction because I've seen it from a young age. I've seen the hell it puts not only the addicted person through, but how it tears families apart. It's devastating. I know how it feels to wake up and not know whether my sister is alive or not. I wish it on no one, but I'm also aware that many people know the same feeling as me and have it much, much worse.
So, what I ask from those of you that are lucky enough to not be touched by addiction in your life, research it, learn, and ask questions. Don't be ignorant and don't make uneducated assumptions about people suffering from addiction and the choices they've made in their lives to get where they are now.
Remember that addiction is a disease, not a choice.
Where to get more info and help (USA):
Drug and Alcohol: https://usaddiction.com/
Eating Disorder: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
General Info on Mental Health: https://www.mentalhealth.gov/