We are hiding our addictions while maintaining a job and life’s other commitments. I know because I did this.
The stereotype of an addict—a homeless man living on the street—is wholly outdated and inaccurate. Today, addiction is rife in the workplace as much as it is on the streets—it is easy to hide and is going on around you without you even knowing it.
My experience, and addiction statistics, challenge that stereotype. Today, women are increasingly becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. But, because of our multi-tasking nature, we are hiding our addictions while maintaining a job and life’s other commitments. I know this because I did and I have seen it over-and-over again.
Just over five and a half years ago, I was rapidly declining toward my rock bottom. My life had become work—when I managed to get there—and using. I was chronically sick. I suffered with acute depression and crippling migraines. Yet, I couldn’t stop using. I felt like I was on a merry-go-round: work, use, work, use. Repeat.
My life, or semblance of one, had reduced to a pattern of self-harm and harm to those around me because of my behavior. Stuck in this cycle, and with such dire depression, I wanted to die. I would look at my colleagues who had successful jobs, a wonderful partner, a prospective marriage, impending babies—all the signs of happily living a fulfilling life—and compare them to my lonely existence. I had removed all friends, family, and anyone else who got in the way of me using.
To some extent, I was what they call a ‘functioning’ addict. I did my job, I regularly received commendations for my work, and I kept up appearances. For some time, I kept up appearances in my home life too. Until it became too much to manage. Then I just kept up the work façade—well, as much as I could. Toward the end of my addiction, I was hiding my addiction to opiates and alcohol. Most days I would be punctuated by arriving home and drowning the day—and my misery—in several bottles of wine. I’ll just have one bottle tonight. Was the record of my life. On repeat.
It was never one. It was two, three, four. At weekends it was more—I lost count.
Slowly, my physical and mental health deteriorated to worrying levels: I suffered with repeated migraines and such severe depression that I would have weeks and months off work. My liver was starting to scar, I had gained 150 pounds, and I struggled to get around. While my mental illnesses of depression and anxiety precipitated my addiction, I was stuck in a pattern of self-medication that had begun as young as 12 years old. I had no idea of that pattern, but it was the only thing I knew. Feel awful: drink and use to feel better (temporarily).
Except, toward the end, I rarely did feel better. By that point the scales had tipped from self-medicating to obliteration. I didn’t want to be in this life. I hated it and I despised myself. I was so desperately lonely, but I didn’t know how to connect. I wanted to be held, but I only wanted the comfort of drugs and alcohol. I was totally lost.
That was my life, since I began full-time work at 21 years old, until the age of 32.
All my employers saw was sickness and my defensiveness when challenged about it. There is no denying that I was terribly sick, but in more ways than one: I was also an addict. This is a cunning disease; while I knew I drank a lot, and popped one too many pills, I didn’t realize I had a problem. I wasn’t using in work, I did my job well, but I wasn’t able to see the disaster that my life had become. I ignored concerns from friends and family. I existed in my little apartment of denial.
I am so grateful that I left that job. After another weekend of obliteration something changed: I couldn’t go on. I was faced with two choices of either suicide, or getting help. I got help. I finally saw the totality of the destruction that addiction had caused throughout my life.
I am one of the lucky ones. Not everyone is either able to see or face up to their problems and they end up losing their life. We can help. Look for signs of someone struggling, reach out a hand of support, look up resources for people stuck in addiction both in terms of how to support them and what to look out for. It isn’t always as obvious as the guy on the street.
Workit Health offers engaging addiction treatment on your phone.
Located in Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is an experienced writer, journalist, and coach. She is the founder of the popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to helping people flourish in their recovery. Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery. You can find her articles across the web on podcasts and addiction recovery websites, including The Fix, Recovery.org, Ravishly, and The Recovery Village. Liv was recently featured in VICE.