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February 21, 2017

Finally Facing the Darkness of Addiction.

When Jesus saw her lying there and knew that she had been there for a long time, he said to her, “Do you want to be made well? Then pick up your mat, and walk.” ~ John 5:6-8

I’m not what most people would consider religious folk.

I don’t read the Bible, I never go to church, and I swear—a lot.

I am, however, a spiritual person. I believe firmly in a higher power and I spend a considerable amount of time each day communicating with and strengthening my relationship with my higher power, which I like to call God, by the way.

I believe that everyone has their own higher power, and that you are free to call yours whatever you’d like.

I decided to address the God topic right off the bat, since I began this piece with a quote from the Bible and didn’t want to give the impression that this is going to be some kind of church-pushing tale.

I started with this quote because I believe that in a simplistic, yet powerful way, it describes my journey—my journey to where I am today, who I am, what I believe in, how I view myself and interact with others, and the world.

My name is Katie Roby and I am a 32-year-old public school special education teacher. I have a boyfriend, a dog, one sister and two amazing parents. I love running, reading and coloring, and I was born and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Okay, so I left out a few important details.

I am also a recovering alcoholic and anorexic, have been hospitalized for attempted suicide, and have been diagnosed with depression, severe anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, for which am currently taking medication.

I want to emphasize that these last additions to my story are true, but they are only and exactly that—pieces of my story that do not by any means define or dictate who I am, what I am capable of becoming, and how well I am able to love myself and the world I live in.

It started in junior high.

I was attending a new school and I immediately knew that I didn’t fit in. My clothes weren’t right, my hair wasn’t right, my shoes weren’t right. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I didn’t understand what the other kids were talking about when discussions centered around TV shows, famous people, name brands, stores at the mall, and slang words that pre-teens used.

I felt so clueless and insecure about myself at this time that the light-hearted icebreaker activities in class were my biggest fears, and I tried to avoid casual conversation with people as much as possible. The worst part about this whole experience was not that I didn’t fit in, that I had very few friends, or that I felt uncomfortable at my new school, but that I began to seriously doubt myself as an individual. I began to doubt, and later on, to hate, who I was. I began to doubt my self-worth.

It wasn’t long before I started searching for things on the outside to help fill the hole inside of me that gnawed at my soul.

First I tried food, but before too long I realized that eating food in excess was not only virtually unattainable (as I did not have an income at that time), but it also made me gain weight.

I hated that.

As if it wasn’t bad enough to hate my insides, I began to hate my outsides too. So my solution to the food dilemma? Not eat, or eat very little to be more precise. Here began the chapter of my life involving reading any and all nutrition labels I could get my hands on, meticulously measuring portion sizes, and basically starving myself to the point that when I slipped on my diet, I would be hungry enough to eat an entire box of Oreos in one sitting. To this day, I still remember how awful that felt.

Welcome to anorexia. 

I ended up losing a ton of weight—to the point that my parents enrolled me in an eating disorder clinic. The details of this part of my life are foggy, which is a common theme in my story.

I received ongoing therapy and diet support from a counselor and a dietitian. I don’t remember ever being cured of this daily affliction, but I must have impressed the people in charge, because I was discharged from the program and moved on with my life.

It was also around this time that my anxiety, depression and OCD symptoms started flourishing. My obsession with food had not disappeared. And I became obsessed with others things like self-image and popularity. I was anxious around-the-clock, because I was constantly worried about whether people liked me or not.

My depression soared. Deep down I hated myself. I knew I was not being true to who I was. I was putting on a show. And while I was the main character in my show, all the other actors were the directors and I was constantly trying to figure out what they wanted me to say and do.

Seems pretty simple, right?

Well the problem was that I didn’t have the script. I will spare you the details of how my obsessions turned into compulsions, my depression made me contemplate suicide more than once, and my anxiety turned me into a nervous wreck and started seriously affecting my ability to function normally.

By the time I was in high school and anxiously and miserably struggling to keep up the main act in someone else’s play, I discovered alcohol. This new discovery was a life-changer for me. Alcohol immediately provided me the relief, security, and confidence that I was searching for all those years. When I drank alcohol, something inside of me changed. I loosened up, my self-doubt faded away, I knew what to say, who to say it to and how to say it.

I was finally comfortable just being me. Except for the fact that, I wasn’t actually being me.

I was being me under the influence of alcohol, but I was completely blind to this inevitable truth at the time. Although I had many exhilarating, exciting and sometimes dangerous brushes with alcohol in high school, it wasn’t until I went off to college that my drinking went through the roof.

With no one to police my alcohol use but myself, my drinking rapidly spiralled out of control. I still managed to portray myself to the general public as a functioning individual, but inside I was a complete wreck. I managed to pass all my classes with flying colors, and even held down a consistent part-time job in addition to two intensive internships.

Looking back, I have no idea how I was able to do this. During my college years, however, I ended up being hospitalized for a suicide attempt while drinking alone, forced to switch institutions, and enrolled in an out-patient treatment program for substance abuse at the age of 19. Although these incidents may surely have been red flags for most individuals, I was going to need almost 10 more years of drinking, anxiety and misery in order to finally surrender to the fact that I had a problem with alcohol.

As I moved on from college and into the professional world, my drinking habits traveled right along with me. I landed a job as a special education assistant, a job that I loved, but was stressful beyond belief. Everyday at work became another excuse to go home and drink. Day after day the same pattern repeated itself. Slowly but surely it got harder and harder to drag myself out of bed in the mornings and gradually became difficult to make it through my days at work without drinking.

So what was my brilliant solution to this tumultuous daily struggle? I decided to sign up for graduate school. I wanted to get my teaching license and masters in special education so I could be a teacher. Also, I could have something that would force me not to drink in the evenings. I distinctly remember signing up for grad school so that I would not be able to drink every night after work. Makes sense, right? Well needless to say, that plan backfired for many reasons, the first being that the class turned out to be only one night per week, and I felt the need to drink more every other night to make up for it.

I eventually finished grad school, but continuing my education was definitely not the solution to my drinking problem. I could go on about the different things I tried in a futile attempt to remedy my struggles with alcohol, which served to only further intensify my depression, anxiety and OCD. All the while, I was still refusing to admit that I was an alcoholic and quite frankly, I was utterly terrified by the idea of quitting drinking completely.

Instead of painstakingly re-living every one of those unbearable moments of my life again, I’m going to move on to what happened to me to help me start my journey to recovery and what it is like now, living my life alcohol-free. I refer back to the quote that I started with:

When Jesus saw her lying there and knew that she had been there for a long time, he
said to her, “Do you want to be made well? Then pick up your mat, and walk.” ~ John 5:6-8

That’s exactly what I did.

I finally surrendered one night while I was intoxicated. Go figure. I reached out to God and to a close family member for help. I don’t know how I did it or why I did it, but I do know this: I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was hopeles, depressed and suicidal. I knew that my drinking was killing me, but I couldn’t even imagine life without it.

I knew I couldn’t continue living and drinking, nor did I have the desire to quit drinking and live. So I did it. I admitted I needed help. With the help of God and a family member, who dropped everything in the middle of the night to get me the help that I needed, I began to pick up my mat and walk.

This was 16 months ago—September 21st, 2015.

I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since that night. It has been a long and painful journey, but it has also been filled with hope, strength and love that I did not know even existed.

The only way I’ve found to describe sobriety is a life filled with promises that were utterly unimaginable to me during my drinking days. Just 16 months ago, I dreaded and feared every day of my life. I doubted and shamefully regretted every choice I made. I crept nervously on egg shells, frightened that with each subsequent step I might break a shell and expose the ugly and true me. I closed the door to my friends, family and faith.

No one deserved to see the pain, bitterness and hate that I clutched inside of me. I cried, I shook, I screamed—alone.

I was sick, very sick. And the worst part, was that I knew it. I knew that I was the sole creator of the misery I was sinking in, sinking with no way out. I could absolutely not see a way out.

Then I surrendered, turned my life over to a higher power and learned that there was a solution to the misery that I was drowning in. I learned that admitting my powerlessness to alcohol was, ironically, the most powerful thing I could do for myself. I learned that I was not alone. I learned that there were other people like me out there, and that I wasn’t an unworthy, unfit to be loved, messed up individual.

I learned that my family and true friends were still there for me, despite all I had done to turn them away. I learned that I could put my faith in a higher power, and that that higher power would walk with me on my journey every step of the way.

I learned that I deserved happiness, just like everyone else, and that I had the strength within me to create that happiness.

Because of that, I am grateful.

 

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Author: Katie Roby

Photo: Andréa Portilla/Flickr

Editor: Lieselle Davidson

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