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  • Erin Messmer

This Book's Cover Hides Secrets

As you can tell, eyebrows weren't my strong suit, but apparently badly colored hair was. This was deep into my years of cocaine and alcohol use. I was a weekly, if not daily, user. I didn't know it at the time, but my inability to control and enjoy my drinking or my drugs was a sign that I may have had a problem. You might be thinking, well if you're using ANY kind of drugs AND misusing prescription pills, that might be a dead giveaway. I can honestly tell you, I didn't think that I had an issue. Denial truly is not just a river in Egypt. I chose to surround myself with people who drank and used and partied like I did, so my behavior wasn't out of the ordinary for my crowd. I thought I was just a party girl who was enjoying her 20's. The truth was that I WAS enjoying my 20's...I was enjoying my 20's while drinking 40's and snorting eight balls and smoking eighths and popping 80 mgs. Lots of numbers, I know, but that was on rotation when you partied like I did. I don't even think you could call it parting by that time. I had graduated from partying like my friends and into heavy use, teetering wildly on full-blown dependence.

I had seen many psychologists and a few psychiatrists who had diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, Insomnia, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, Mania, and a number of other fun grab-bag mental health issues. I had bouts of experimentation with Lithium, Xanax, Klonopin, Prozac, Lexapro, Paxil, Zoloft, Lamictal, Lunesta, Rozerem, Valium, and Ativan, to name a few, all in hopes of relieving and controlling my erratic moods swings, self injury, suicidal thoughts, and impulsive behaviors. I added and subtracted, all while pouring more booze on top and mixing in hard drugs. I know there's that morbid sense of humor in here, but I find that I have to temper the brutal reality of the way I was living to make it a little more digestible and less appalling. I really was looking for my answer, my solution, the thing that would help make me whole and normal through all of the drugs, prescribed or not. I wanted to feel like I wasn't absolutely insane and incapable of managing my feelings, and I thought that what the doctor ordered would someday do the trick.

What did do the trick was when I went to rehab. Some people call it the "gift of rehab," and those people are usually the ones giving it. When I entered a lock-down facility at age 25, I definitely didn't see it as a gift. While in rehab I was somewhat forcibly encouraged to address a decades-long easting disorder, distracting male dependency issues, binge drinking, and a deadly drug addiction. I was told that if I wasn't willing to address all of these "isms" together, I would probably die. Death doesn't seem like such a bad path when you're sweating it out in full detox symptoms, but I was in the right place with the Universe on my side. I'm sure there's a blog entry that's more appropriate to recount exactly what happened and just how the miracle took place, but this one isn't it. All I can tell you is that I fought, sometimes against and sometimes with, by disease for the next 365 days and I somehow made it to a year, that turned into two, that morphed into five, that have become eight on March 18th, 2019.

When I look back, and as I wrote this, my past flames up within me. I remember that girl in this picture. I recognize her, but I have also forgotten who she is. That can be somewhat dangerous when we leave that life behind; we forget the suffocating repetition of a life chained to substances. We get farther away from our last drink, but sometimes still even closer to our next one if we're not careful...and vigilant...and mindful...and staying in action.

This is just a small snippet of what my life used to be like. This was over eight years ago and what seems like a whole other lifetime. Since then, I've gotten married. I've graduated from college. I've traveled the world. I've gone bungee jumping. I saw one of my favorite singers in concert with my now-husband. I've climbed mountains and faced fears. I've tried and failed and I've tried and succeeded. I've been afraid of so many things. I've been afraid to go back home, but went anyway. I saw those places and those people that I hurt with how I lived my life. I got to own my wrongs with some, but not yet with all. I got to forgive myself, a little at a time. I also learned to love myself for all that I was and all that I am becoming. That doesn't mean that I deny who I was and what I did, but that I've been able to reconcile my past with what I've learned about myself and not let it destroy me like I was so sure it would.

I guess what I hope that you take from this is that with all the ways we believe we are broken, we are told we are broken, and the ways we try to drown out that brokenness that we feel so deeply, it is possible to become free. I wish I could tell you that it happens all at once and that it feels really good 100% of the time. I really wish I could, but the facts are that it's painful and messy and scary and heartbreaking. The facts are also that it is beautiful, and slow, and awe-inspiring, and like waking up to this incredible world that we never even knew existed. I laughed like I hadn't laughed. I felt indescribable joy. I felt soul-crushing pain that didn't kill me. I watched friends get married. I watched friends have babies and families. I watched friends die. I watched family die. Through all these things and more, I felt and I, myself, did not die.

If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harm, depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, alcoholism, drug dependency, eating disorders, trauma, abuse, violence, prescription drug abuse, mental health issues, or any other challenge, please know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that light is called Hope. I found hope when every bone in my body was convinced there was none. If I can find it, you can find it too. This is my Hope for you.

Here is SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

This is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

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