Born and raised in a sleepy little retirement town on Vancouver Island, I loved to sing, dance, and write as a kid. I loved to joke around too and was quite obviously the comedian in my family. I was also amped up to have a good time as frequently as possible, and drugs and alcohol were the vehicles through which I tried to make that happen from my teenage years until my mid-30s.
They say 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 desperately, but I never ran. Instead, I saturated myself in them for close to twenty years, putting them before everything and everyone in my life.
PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) propelled my drive to escape. It caused the anxiety and depression I tried to outrun by turning to substance abuse. And underneath that stack of issues?
A lack of self-love. I didn’t like myself, didn’t know how to, and didn’t think it was acceptable or possible to try to.
Getting wasted wasn’t a good fit for my mind, body, or spirit. I didn’t handle any stimulant well, which I didn’t understand until I stopped using. The proof was in the heaps of shame-inducing episodes though, which I kept repeating because I was so desperate to numb my unresolved emotional pain.
New trauma compounded with the trauma from my younger years and life became unbearable in my 30s. I found myself living in a state of constant panic. Anxiety, depression, and self-hatred ruled my existence, manifesting into all sorts of projection methods, driving me to treat other people as terribly as I treated myself.
I was resentful of the traumatic episodes from my past that I couldn’t seem to let go of and overloaded with anger towards the people who had violated me. I trusted no one. I was angry at myself, too. I couldn’t hold down a 9-5 job, and all my relationships were imploding. I was surrounding myself with people who were equally as troubled as I was. I didn’t believe in my abilities or my worth as a human female, and I was deeply afraid to face how deeply and thoroughly I hated myself. My preferred state of being? Wasted and full of faux self-esteem via 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 drugs and booze were gone and I was in desperation mode. What could I use to keep feeling good? Terrified of my reality, I slumped against the shower wall and cried decades worth of tears.
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 clear that my days of trying to escape my feelings had come to an end.
I realized then that I didn’t want to die, and that I had come dangerously close to making that happen. I knew there was something more I was meant to do with my life, that I needed to be here. I realized I truly wanted to live, not to just breathe in and out and exist on the planet, but to 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.
I’d like 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. They helped convince me there were ways to see myself other than as a piece of shit. This was key to my recovery. Sadly and truly, that is what I thought about myself for over 20 years.
I worked hard at getting healthy. I ate less meat and more plants. I drank less and meditated more. I moved away from the city my drug dealers lived in. I started getting to know myself and figuring out who I really was underneath all the layers of addiction and self-hatred: what I liked, what I didn’t like.
Over time I realized I’d been trying to act a certain way most of my life which was the total opposite of who I wanted to be. I didn’t want to try to be cool anymore. I didn’t want to try and fit in, to be accepted by people I didn’t feel comfortable or safe around. So I stopped trying so hard with some people, particularly those who didn’t support my wellbeing. It was lonely for a while, but also incredibly freeing to just let go.
The more I learned as I got to know myself, reading books, and doing research, the more I realized there was a strong possibility the self-diagnosed deficiencies for which I’d constantly berated myself were actually gifts.
I realized I’d been actively seeking out 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 began to notice these things and believe positive thoughts about myself, the more I warmed up to the idea that me being me was pretty freaking amazing. I also realized I didn’t need the approval of others to value myself, 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 literary anthology book.
Let me tell you – when that book arrived in my PO box, I cried some seriously joyful tears.
I started to do things differently than I’d always done them, and a lot of changes began to take place. 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 selfish to do so. (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 having people not pleased with me. I stood my ground, even when the ground felt shaky.
I started to open my mind to what my life goals were and realized that a lot of them had to do with the acquirement of stuff. Self-reflection and research 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. As a result, I opened my mind to the idea that although I liked fancy vacations and cars and cosmetics and stuff and things, there was no connection between me pining over stuff I didn’t have and me being happy and healthy.
With my drive to acquire still alive and well, I decided to open my heart to the fact that I was human, and that the destination would be to accept all that came with that: 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 working for other people. 9-5 jobs were never my thing, and I always felt guilty because of it. I also noticed a common theme in the positions I had worked: my employers were misogynists who paid low wages and provided services that were way outside my skill set.
These environments were not conducive to healing, which explains why I never wanted to be in them. (Full disclosure: I’m 100% sure that while I was OK at them, I was never great because there was always the pull to do something else tapping me on the shoulder: Writing.)
After quitting my final gig working for a man who was a clone of all the ones before him (Insight: Lessons keep coming until you learn them) and then very 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 then 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, ie, 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 some couldn’t offer me kindness (because they’re human and have their own trauma timelines that affect their behavior), I became my own Advocate: The Advocate of Andrea.
I amped up my writing practice. I began to actively seek out the lesson in every “Are you kidding me?!” moment I experienced, and write about it. With 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.
Because 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 freaking out. I stopped fighting. Instead of making a home in my mistakes with a bottle of cheap merlot, smokes, some coke, and a pile of pity and complaints about how everyone and everything had done me wrong, 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. Life got lighter still. I became aware of the person I’d always been below the surface of all the trauma and addiction: A woman with self-love and endless empathy, driven to be of service through my writing.
The culmination of my journey so far is this blog you’re visiting right now, and a book I’m working on which will share my story, about how a girl with many talents, abilities, opportunities, and empathy became an addict and managed to recover without medical intervention.
I also work as a writing consulting. I help conscious business owners create impactful content, and I really 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. (Plus a new one I’m working on, tentatively titled, “5 books my therapist recommended“)
Thank you again for taking the time to visit. I’m really happy you’re here, and I hope to connect with you soon.