Today’s guest post is by Constance Ray of RecoveryWell.org
“I’m so grateful to be set free from living a fear-driven life and carrying the burdens of that fear and worry. I am so thankful that I am happy the majority of the time today.” – Annette, Sobriety Advocate
Depression and addiction are serious illnesses that affect millions of people — and sometimes, they work together to make someone’s life completely
unbearable. And while it’s important to receive treatment for these conditions, whether on their own or as co-occurring disorders, the power of positive thinking can go a long way in helping people find their way back from despair. Amy, a brave addiction warrior, is proof that dancing in the rain is an effective first step in making a positive and permanent life change.
Amy started struggling with mental health issues when she was just a little girl.
“From a young age, I started having panic attacks,” she said. “I was in and out of the doctors’ offices, and eventually diagnosed with depression and panic disorder.”
Though her parents worked hard to get her the help she needed, she still suffered some dark times during her adolescence.
“I experienced quite a bit of childhood trauma growing up. My parents divorced when I was about 12 or 13 years old, and that’s around the time I started drinking. It was also around that time I started having suicidal thoughts.”
She continued, “By the time I was 16, I was experiencing constant panic attacks and was unable to breathe and unable to cope. I was drinking, but hadn’t started using drugs yet. I was kicked out of my mom’s house, and instead of going to live with my dad, I moved in with drug dealers.”
When she was 18, she underwent open-heart surgery to treat a life-threatening medical condition.
“I was so excited to have the surgery because I thought it was really going to help me — so I could breathe normally, be better at sports, and have less anxiety,” she remembered.
Sadly, things didn’t turn out the way she hoped.
“What no one had told me was that surgery can significantly worsen depression,” she explained. “I couldn’t do the things I normally did to cope with it, like sports or driving. By the time I left the hospital, I was severely addicted to morphine. Everything went quickly downhill after my open-heart surgery, and I turned to pain medication.”
Amy continued to try to live a normal life — at that point, she didn’t yet realize that she was addicted. She moved from Chicago to New Orleans for college and completed her freshman year. Unfortunately, she couldn’t keep the momentum going, and soon found herself homeless on the streets of New Orleans.
“During that time, I experienced more trauma. I was diagnosed with PTSD. Things got really bad. I was down to about 80 pounds, and I crossed just about every line I had ever established in my life,” she said.
She was in and out of counseling, but it wasn’t until a friend connected her with a man who worked in an outpatient treatment program that she got the help she really needed — including the power of positive thinking.
She said, “That man, his wife and his family came to meet me on a 12-step call, and I went to a meeting with them. Immediately afterwards, I went out drinking; but the next day, [which was] Mardi Gras when I was 21 years old, I got a sponsor.
“Before I went to to that meeting, for the first time in my life, I actually wanted to live,” she continued. “While I was there, I saw people who were truly happy. The family that took me to that meeting — they saved my life. I felt a sense of community I had never experienced.”
Now, with over three and a half years of sobriety under her belt, Amy works tirelessly to ensure that others who are struggling the way she once did practice positivity and other body- and mind-healthy habits in their everyday lives.
“I am now the regional coordinator for the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network … I bring public education to topics like suicide, substance abuse and mental illness,” she beamed.
She shares her story whenever she can in order to help others.
She noted, “I realized I couldn’t do what I was doing for a living without expressing myself and my story. Part of my self-care today involves having people around me who are aware of my past and what I’m doing. When I speak with groups, I start up conversations about mental illness, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.”
Although Amy worked for years to achieve everything she has accomplished today, she couldn’t truly battle her demons until she committed to having a changed perspective — one that allowed her to view things in a positive way.
“The first step is to want it — to really want it. I wish that wasn’t always the case, but it is.”
If you are struggling with a mental health condition like addiction, depression or anxiety, know that there is always help available for you. You can overcome any obstacle life throws at you — but as Amy proves, you have to want it, and embrace your strength with hope and positivity.
As she said, “It’s so important to have … a willingness to keep walking. No matter how small the step, keep moving forward. It’s all about daily action.”