For When Hope and Help Feel Unreal

By Donaven SmithJuly 11, 2019

In the spring of 2014—my second semester in college—I stumbled upon To Write Love on Her Arms. Getting involved encouraged me to begin publicly sharing my experiences with mental illness, coming out, and self-injury online. In a short amount of time, TWLOHA’s message had molded me into a mental health advocate. I wore TWLOHA merchandise, participated yearly in National Suicide Prevention Week, wrote for their blog, and even co-founded a university chapter. I was sure that sharing this message of hope was what I was made for:

“Hope is real. Help is real. Your story is important.”

However, sharing that message often left me feeling like a fraud, because what I wasn’t sharing was that during my first semester in college, I had drunk alcohol for the first time and fell madly in love with the way it made me feel. My first drink was all it took for me to spiral out of control. I started raiding my grandparents’ liquor cabinet on the weekends and before I knew it, I was sleeping with strangers, using drugs, and using strangers to get more drugs.

Between 2014 and 2018, I was drinking and using every chance that I could. I didn’t know how to sit with feelings, love myself, or admit that I wasn’t okay in my skin, so I numbed everything. I white-knuckled dozens of attempts at sobriety, along with two stays in rehab, but I just couldn’t get it. “Being well” felt like a distant idea that everyone else was worthy of, but me? Hell no. On any given day in active addiction, I manipulated, stole, and lied more than I breathed. Along the way, I lost friends, partners, jobs, and my credibility.

People couldn’t count on me. I couldn’t even count on me.

By the end of my almost five years in active addiction, drinking and using were daily necessities. Still, I continued sharing with others that life was worth living even though I wasn’t sure I believed that. I desperately craved freedom, but I didn’t know how to live sober for longer than two months at a time. I thought I was going to be miserable for the rest of my life. Yet, despite the despair, there was a voice in the back of my head whispering: “Hope is real. Help is real. Your story is important.”

I knew that if I ever wanted to be a man who walked in freedom and used his story to help others, I had to do whatever it took to get and stay sober. There were no other options. So I packed up my car with what little I owned, drove to my parents’ home in Florida while withdrawing, and immediately dragged myself—three days sober—into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Through cycling in and out of rehab, I knew that AA was a free, safe place I could go if I was willing to change, and I was.

Admitting that I was enslaved by drugs and alcohol was the most life-changing act of surrender I’ve experienced. Recovery is teaching me how to accept the things that I can’t change and how to live life as it comes. I still deal with severe depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, but therapy, medication, and putting the work into maintaining my recovery helps tremendously. It’s all one day at a time.

But eventually the days added up and life began to get better. I am proud of the man that I am continually becoming. Has my recovery been perfect? No, and that is okay, because I have embraced the truth that recovery isn’t linear. It is okay to slip and fall. The difference between who I am now and who I used to be, is that now when I fall, I choose to get back up. I am gentle with myself, remind myself of how far I’ve come, and remember that the goal is progress, not perfection. My thinking used to be ruled by self-pity and obsessing over my next high, but now my greatest obsession is discovering how to live a more joyous existence while being useful to the people around me. At 24, recovery has given my pain purpose. I am now the residential manager of a treatment center and will be starting my master’s degree in social work next fall. I am far from perfect, but I am in recovery and living a life beyond my wildest dreams.

During my second stay in rehab, there was a mantra that I clung to: You are worthy. You are enough. You are loved. If hope currently feels like a myth or help seems unattainable, I invite you to repeat, “I am worthy. I am enough. I am loved,” every day until your tongue memorizes the truth among the syllables. Scribble it on a sticky note and tape it where you’ll see it often. If you battle addiction, remember that no matter what, you don’t have to pick up a drink or a drug today. I am living proof of that. No matter what your past looks like or however fearful you may be of the future, you are worth recovery. When hope and help don’t feel real, remember that feelings—although valid—are not facts. The facts are that you are not alone, pain is not permanent, and you can recover everything that the darkness has stolen.

When you are ready, there are friends to love you unconditionally, 12-step meetings and treatment centers that will welcome you in, hotlines you can call, therapists who will listen, and a hope that is inherently within you. Today, there is no doubt in my mind that hope is real, help is real, and that your story is important. Keep moving forward, my friend.

If you or someone you know is struggling, we’re here to say that help exists and you deserve to be connected to it. To find local, affordable mental health resources, we encourage you to use our FIND HELP Tool. Recovery is possible.

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Comments (7)

  1. Kathryn

    First of all- thank you. You are brave to be willing to tell your story so openly.
    I have never been addicted to substances, but I have been addicted to self injury for about 20 years. Right now, I am 3 months clean, and before my last relapse I was 1 day shy of 19 months.
    I am also a child and youth worker, so the feelings of guilt and hypocrisy ring true for me. I am constantly telling others to keep fighting, even when it’s hard, that their life is and always will be “worth it” . All the while struggling to try and remember that mine is too… or is it? It’s something I’ve fought for a long time. Thank you, so much, for reminding me that I am not the only one who feels this way. It’s actually much more common than you’d think.

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  2. Carlotta Minner

    People struggle every day. Look for the signs. They are right in front of your face. My brother was one but got help. Thank God

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  3. Kleith

    I’ve been reading the blog’s posts for a while now and every single one of them was so inspiring of courage to just keep hoping it gets better, which helped me quite a lot. But this one particular post is very relatable to me and speaks a lot. So thank you for sharing this story.

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  4. John

    Boy this hits home. I’m 66 and a total mess addicted to alcohol and sex. Thanks this may be the push I need.

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  5. Katie

    Thank you so much for sharing your recovery story! It matters so much. You matter so much. I’m struggling with admitting that I have an ED. It’s been very difficult for me. I have never sought out treatment because I didn’t really believe that it was a problem that I needed help with. Stories like yours remind me that everyone is worthy of help, no matter what the struggle is. So thank you for sharing that message!

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  6. Joy Malave

    Thank you for sharing this powerful message

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  7. Christina

    Thank you for sharing, very inspirational!

    Reply  |  
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