Born and raised in a sleepy little retirement town on Vancouver Island, I loved to sing, dance, and write as a kid. I was the comedian in my family and driven to have a good time as frequently as possible, which is what I tried to make happen using drugs and alcohol from the age of 14 until my mid-30s.
I once heard James Taylor say on Oprah’s masterclass that if you fall in love with drugs or alcohol the first time you try them you should run like hell in the opposite direction. I loved them both instantly but I never ran. I saturated myself in them for close to twenty years, putting them before everything and everyone in my life.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was the source of my eagerness to get wasted as often as possible. I would try to outrun the anxiety and depression I felt in meandering the world as a deeply empathetic human with zero understanding of what it meant.
Underneath that stack of issues? A lack of self-love. I didn’t like myself, and didn’t think it was acceptable or possible to try to.
Getting wasted wasn’t a good fit for me. There were so many embarrassing scenarios and I relied on the memories of them to remind me of what a piece of shit I was. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s truly what I thought of myself for close to 20 years.
New trauma from my addiction-fuelled lifestyle compounded with trauma from my youth and things started to visibly fall apart in my late 20s. The issues carried on into my 30s when I experienced living in a constant state of panic. Anxiety, depression, and self-hatred ruled my life and manifested into all sorts of projection methods. I didn’t know how to be nice to people, because I didn’t know how to be nice to myself.
I felt resentful of the traumatic episodes from my past I couldn’t seem to let go of. There was so much anger within me, particularly towards the people who had physically and emotionally violated me. I trusted no one, especially myself. I couldn’t hold down a 9-5 job – the idea of being strapped to a desk all day terrified me – and all my relationships were imploding. I found myself drawn to people who were equally as troubled as I was. I had zero belief in my worth as a female and felt terrified to face how deeply and thoroughly I hated myself. My preferred state of being? Full of faux self-esteem through drugs and alcohol.
There’s only so far you can go with that kind of lifestyle before you hit a brick wall, and thankfully, I hit one before I ended up dead.
It was six am after a night of partying. The coke and wine were gone. I had nothing to use to run from how I felt. A terrifying yet powerful catalyst for change began to bubble towards the surface: shame. I not only felt I had done something wrong, but that I was something wrong.
Slumped against the shower wall, I cried 2 decades worth of tears. I cried for the violations I couldn’t seem to heal from, the abandonment that ripped my heart in two as a child, and the fear that ruled my life and told me to keep attempting suicide by trying to escape my pain.
I wanted to fight with the truth, that I had been defeated, that there were no more ways to run, but something inside said No More. Even in my sleep-deprived and stimulant-altered state, it was obvious: the days of incessantly trying to outrun my feelings were over.
I didn’t want to die anymore and knew I needed to be here. I wanted to live. Not just breathe in and out, but step beyond living in survival mode.
I wanted to do something with my life I could be proud of. I wanted to heal myself, and I wanted to help other people heal as well.
It would make for a great story to be able to say I quit drinking and doing drugs right then, but that’s rarely the case with addictions. Steps back accompanied every step forward for a long time. This is life; This is what it is to be human.
Throughout the back and forth I read a lot of books which helped convince me there were ways to see myself other than as a piece of shit. This was key to my recovery, as was moving away from the city my drug dealers lived and delivered in (yep, that’s how easy it is to get drugs. Shocking right?)
I worked hard at getting healthy. I ate less meat, more plants, and meditated. I started getting to know myself and figuring out who I was underneath all the layers of addiction, trauma, and self-hatred: what I liked and didn’t like.
Over time I realized I’d been putting on an act most of my life, playing a role that was the complete opposite of who I was and who I wanted to be. I was sick of trying to be unoriginally cool, and constantly attempt to fit in with people I didn’t feel comfortable or safe being around was fucking exhausting. So I made a commitment to stop trying so hard. It was really lonely at times, but also incredibly freeing.
The more I learned as I continued to heal by reading books and doing research, the more I realized there was a strong possibility the deficiencies I’d berated myself for throughout my life were actually gifts.
I’d been actively seeking relationships and approval from people who didn’t value what I had to give; people who were deeply troubled in their own right, and incapable of supporting the healing I needed to do.
The more I understood my role in my suffering, and believed positive thoughts about myself, the more I warmed up to the idea that me being me was pretty freaking amazing, and that I didn’t need the approval of others to value myself.
This was a mind-blowing concept for a girl who attached her self-worth to outside approval her entire life.
Then I gave myself permission to do what I loved again after a 15-year hiatus: Write. I wrote and wrote and wrote, some sub-par stuff, some stuff that belonged in a journal, not on the internet (Insight: never press post on something that was written with a closed heart), and some pretty freaking spectacular stuff, until I got published in a magazine, was invited to become a Huffington Post blogger, and had my writing featured in a book.
When that book arrived in my PO box, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.
I kept doing differently than I’d always done them and a lot of changes began to take place as a result. I started to feel OK about putting my mental and physical health at the forefront of everything I did, in spite of the people in my life who thought it was a selfish act. (Insight: Perpetual self-sacrifice is NOT your birthright.)
I gave myself permission to be assertive with people who tested my boundaries and I used my newly formed sense of self to stand by my right to be well. This was challenging – People don’t like it when you don’t do what they want you to do. But I let myself feel the discomfort of people not being pleased with me. I stood my ground, even when the ground felt shaky.
I started to examine my life goals and realized a lot of them had to do with the acquirement of stuff. Self-reflection told me that at the base of those desires was a drive to feel accepted for who I was. Case in point, if I have this kind of car, that kind of make-up, or those kinds of clothes, people might accept and approve of me more readily.
I knew this wasn’t healthy, so I started examining my drive to acquire things. Whenever it started tugging at my sleeve, I sought out the catalyst – the feeling that was fuelling it. This helped me open my mind to the truth: I liked nice things, and that’s OK, but pining over what I didn’t have and using stuff to fill a void wouldn’t help me heal.
With my drive to acquire still alive and well, I decided to open my heart to the fact that I was human, and determined my destination would be to accept all that came with it: the ugly and the pretty; the fuck ups and the fuck yeah’s; the shitty and the holy shit am I ever grateful right now‘s. I committed to stop fighting with my humanness, while not allowing it to dictate my life choices.
Job wise, I convinced myself I wasn’t a terrible person because I didn’t like the 9-5, working for other people game. Self-reflection showed a common theme in the positions I had worked: my employers were misogynists who paid low wages and provided services outside my skill set.
These environments were not conducive to healing, which explains why I didn’t want to be there. So did writing, which kept tapping me on the shoulder, telling me the gig wasn’t for me.
After quitting my final job working for a dude who was a clone of all the ones before him (Insight: Lessons keep coming until you learn them) and then quickly quitting the next position over the way she treated me (Insight: Women can be misogynists, too), I went through the shocking process of realizing and accepting that my employers weren’t the only ones who weren’t treating me with kindness: I wasn’t being kind to myself either.
So I began practicing Maitri, loving-kindness, self-compassion. Amidst all the very human backstepping and blunders and screw-ups, I took the time to acknowledge my humanness; To breathe and to be loving to myself. And even when people couldn’t offer me kindness because of their own trauma timelines affecting their behavior, I became my own Advocate: The Advocate of Andrea.
I amped up my writing practice, actively seeking out the lesson in every “Are you kidding me?!” moment I experienced and writing about it. Through every fight with my hubby; every less-than-stellar interaction with a family member, employer, or client; every moment of impatience that prodded me to freak out about something or at someone, I sifted out the lesson and wrote about it.
I wanted to learn from the painful moments, not just so I could feel better, but so I could get better.
In the process, I started looking at life differently. I stopped letting the disappointments consume me and started seeing them as necessary to my emotional evolvement. I stopped fighting with myself. Instead of making a home in my mistakes with a bottle of cheap merlot, smokes, some coke, and a pile of pity and complaints, I rose up when I fell down.
Without the fog of escape, I was able to notice fear when it came about, rather than letting it make decisions for me and life got lighter still.
I became aware of the person I’d always been beneath the layers of trauma, addiction, and self-hatred: A woman with self-love and endless empathy, driven to be of service through writing.
The culmination of my journey so far is this blog and a book I’m working on which will share my story, of how I became an addict and how I managed to recover without medical intervention.
I also work as a writing consulting. I help conscious entrepreneurs create impactful content, and I love doing it. You can learn more about my writing consultation services here.
I’m grateful you’ve taken the time to visit and read this far, and I look forward to connecting with you. 🙂 That said, I’m in my happier place when I don’t make social media my top priority, so I communicate with my readers through twice a month-ish emails.
I share insights, self-care resources I’m loving, and new content. Plus, subscribers get my One Minute Meditation Guide, made for wellness seekers with time-constraints, for free. (There’s a new one in the works, tentatively titled, “Books my therapist recommended.” I’ll be sending it out to my readers January 1st. Head here to sign up to receive it.)
Thank you again for taking the time to visit. I’m really happy you’re here, and I hope to connect with you soon.