Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
How did you start feeling normal again after you stopped using heroin? How long did it take?
I am 28 years old and have been sober for almost four months. I went to rehab for four weeks and did outpatient for another four weeks. This was for opiate addiction, mostly pills, but I had started doing heroin because it was easier to get.
Looking back, I think I had a problem even before I started with pills. In my early 20s, I did a lot of drinking and cocaine. Anyway, I was feeling sort of okay when I left rehab, but it’s even getting harder and harder because I thought I would feel more normal by now.
I know it doesn’t happen overnight, but I feel so uncomfortable all the time. There is no relief.
I don’t know how much more I can take. I feel like at some point I am going to snap.
I know you have shared a lot about what you went through, which I really appreciate. When did it get better? What do I do right now to make it less excruciating?
I am already going to AA and NA meetings. I see a therapist every other week. I hate my job, and I’m living with my sister. I am grateful she gave me a place to regroup and get back on my feet, but I also feel like she is just waiting for me to fuck up. BLAH. I am rambling, I guess.
I am just looking for some hope.
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First, congratulations on making it through rehab and staying sober as long as you have. It is NOT easy. The great thing about rehab is it gives you some time and space to learn how to stand again, without the pressures of the outside world. When you’re out of rehab, dealing with people and work or school, and now a pandemic, things get more challenging.
I remember so clearly that I was worried I would never feel normal again. I didn’t even know what normal was. The problems at the heart of my addiction had been there for as long as I remember, even before the drugs came into the picture.
When normal has meant being high, drunk, strung out, you have to reinvent what normal will be, not what it was.
In my 15 years of struggling with addiction, normal meant turning to heroin to regulate my emotions, to dampen my feelings. Normal was not feeling uncomfortable, alone, in pain without numbing it. In those years, during my brief periods of sobriety in between relapses, I felt like an alien who couldn’t breathe the air here on Earth. I wanted to exit, always.
That dampening, numbing, exiting—it stopped working. I had to find a new normal. I had to, or I was going to die.
I wanted normal to mean being able to function, to exist in my body without wanting to jump out of my skin. I wanted normal to mean that I could stay.
It didn’t happen overnight, or in a month, or a year. But it got exponentially easier with each passing week.
Recovery is a process. When I surrendered to the process, accepted that I felt abnormal, and trusted that the discomfort would pass, things clicked for me. If you stick with it, continue on this path, I know this will pass for you, too.
It’s been over 17 years since I last used heroin; I promise you, it does get easier.
You’re doing a fantastic job. Stay the course with meetings and therapy (which I know are online right now). Don’t be afraid if you need more support than that or different support than that. For me, I required additional mental health care (medication), and I needed to set myself on a path of deepening my spiritual life. Allow yourself the time and space to discover what else you might need.
As for your sister, try not to focus on what you think her expectations or judgments are. You can’t control what she thinks or expects, and it’s not your job to guess. Chances are your perceptions are colored by the thoughts you have about yourself. Unless she has given you a reason to believe otherwise, trust that she has you living with her because she loves you and believes in your recovery. When we don’t know the truth, it can be easy to slip into assuming the worst. Give yourself the gift, and you may have to practice by repeating this to yourself, of assuming the best right now.
Lastly, I want to address that this question came in just before the whole world shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even with 17 years of recovery, these days are not easy.
I feel shaky. I’m not in the place anymore where I feel like I want to use, but I have been struggling with all of the feelings that used to make using a compulsion. I know how hard it must be to be in early sobriety right now. Please stay connected in any way you can with your support systems. Attend online meetings and therapy appointments, check-in with your friends daily via text, video chats, and phone calls. Create a schedule for yourself that includes taking care of your mental health. Look for an outlet for those feelings—playing music, singing, dancing, writing, drawing, anything that may help you to funnel your emotions.
You are not alone. I say this to you and to anyone else who may feel alone, who may be struggling, I am here.
I see you. DM me, email me. We can do this.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, what I’m listening to, Magnetite, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden.
Did you know I wrote a book about my 15-year struggle with heroin addiction? It’s called STRUNG OUT: One Last Hit and Other Lies that Nearly Killed Me, and it’s on sale now!
Lastly, I’m so excited to share with you my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my newsletter, which contains a behind-the-scenes look at STRUNG OUT and the publishing process, exclusive extras and book giveaways only for newsletter subscribers, recommendations to get you through the week, extra Ask Erin content, and more… XOXO