Swapping One Pain for Another

Picture having a constant pain in your leg, you want the pain in your leg to go away so you intentionally hurt your arm. Now your arm hurts more than your leg but at least you don’t have restless leg pain. Living with dual-diagnosis means fixing one problem with another problem. Although a silly example, substituting one painful experience for another is what it is like living with dual diagnosis. First, you have a mental illness such as ADHD (this was my case), then it is followed by an addiction. It doesn’t matter which illness developed first. Either way, you have the worst of both worlds. I used to mask the symptoms of ADHD by getting high but when the high wore off, the symptoms of my mental illness were amplified.

When I was 14, I was diagnosed with ADD and prescribed the popular medication, Adderall. This was supposed to help calm my brain down and help with my focus. I actually hated the feeling of Adderall so I would self medicate. The come down from Adderall was terrible. so a go-to favorite of mine was marijuana. But then, smoking weed became an around the clock habit. Marijuana was my saving grace, it was the perfect combination to not only my ADHD, but the Adderall too. Amphetamines such as Adderall are basically methamphetamine and have some pretty nasty side effects. Loss of appetite, dizziness, nervousness, heart rate increase and many more. Marijuana basically solves all of the above symptoms. Smoking weed can increase your appetite, calm your nerves and mellow you out. So, I had the perfect routine.

I would wake up, take Adderall, eat breakfast and then spend the rest of my day getting high—I did this for many years. At no point of the day was I sober. After a while, I even forgot I had ADHD. Two years went by and my techniques of self medication began to fade. I needed a change.

So I did what every addict would, I upped my dosage of Adderall and started experimenting with stronger downers. It was like finding another perfect combination. All of my symptoms were hidden completely. I found that the best concoction possible. Adderall a couple times throughout the day, many joints and Xanax to go to sleep. But I was always up for new things to try.

I loved to party. I was down to party whenever, wherever and however. With whoever. So I solely based my college selection on which school threw the best parties. College was everything I dreamed of at first. There were parties every day of the week, class was optional, and I had nobody nagging me about anything. It was a dream come true. I also had the opportunity to completely redefine myself because I did not know anyone there. I tried to become the coolest freshman on campus. It actually somewhat worked in the beginning. I used expensive bottles of liquor and hardcore drugs like cocaine, Percocet, Vicodin, Xanax, mushrooms and acid to gain popularity. I even started selling drugs to make money to buy more drugs.

This lifestyle was everything I dreamed. My entire life I wanted to be the guy I had become; I didn’t realize that by accomplishing this persona I would still end being miserable. I was only able to keep this “bad-boy” mentality up for a short-while. Drug addiction got the best of me. My behavior was out of control and I was impossible to hang out with. I lost all my drug clients because I got high on my own supply, I had become someone I hated. Someone who thrived off fighting with people, stealing money and drugs, and isolating from everyone and everything.

To hide from my own dual diagnosis problem I did even more drugs. Especially uppers. I hated uppers but it was easy for me to get them and at that moment I had no other option. My first semester of college ended abruptly. I ran out of my downers but had enough Adderall to last me three months. That three month supply lasted me about a week and I finally hit the dark bottom of self-medication. I drove myself into a drug induced psychosis. That cold dark October week, I didn’t sleep or eat. Instead, I took a large amount of amphetamines.

I ended up in the hospital in the psychiatric wing, the psych ward. By this point I had nothing. No money, no car, no friends, no family and no hope. My family was there for me but I was not there for them. I had burned too many bridges with everyone in my life, and unless I received help, they wanted no part of me. I was broken: spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically broken. I needed help and I knew it was time to tackle my problem once and for all.

Thankfully, my family was extremely supportive. They helped me find the right treatment option for me, and out of all of the rehab centers to choose from, I decided to go to a dual diagnosis center in California. It was the best decision I ever made because this center absolutely saved my life. See, before treatment I thought I was alone, I felt as if I was the only one with this issue. It turns out there are thousands and probably even millions people similar to me. Dual-diagnosis is a very common issue among drug addicts and for the first time in my life I didn’t feel alone.

I was in treatment for nine months, I learned about everything there is to about addiction, mental illness, mental health and most importantly, RECOVERY. I came into this program as a scared little boy but excited with a sense of who I was. I knew deep down inside that I was an addict and that going back to my old ways would lead me to my premature death. So when I left treatment, I did the next thing suggested to me.

I was told to go to some sort of support group meetings. I chose AA, not because I was a hardcore alcoholic but because I knew people in the program and they seemed happy. I reluctantly started going to meetings the moment I got home. I quickly picked up a sponsor and immediately started working the steps of the program. I found a new found love for myself and others. For the first time in my life I had true friendships and relationships with people. Slowly but surely, I stopped obsessing over getting high.

Back to the ADHD. So before I would swallow pill, smoke a joint or drink liquor to get rid of myself.. I had to find other solutions to my problem because drugs and alcohol will no longer suffice as a solution. I tried many different techniques but what I have found to work the best is exercise. As long as I consistently lift weights, play basketball or anything active. I will not be hyperactive. When I get fidgety I will take a walk or talk to someone. I know that I will never outgrow this problem but I do have certain methods I can use to combat it.

Today, recovery is my whole life. I know that if I put anything in front of my own recovery, that is the first thing I will lose. I am content today, and no longer have to battle myself. Every day that I wake up sober is a miracle and I will spend the rest of my life achieving sobriety.