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Recovery from addiction is hard — but possible

Recovery can be one step forward, two steps back. Focus on the step forward.

I didn't wake up one day and decide to become addicted to drugs and alcohol. As a matter of fact, I felt the same way about people with substance use disorders that many others do. I would think to myself, "they just need to get it together. Why don't they just stop using?"

I couldn't understand how someone could put the drugs or alcohol above everything else.

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Well, my thoughts changed when I found myself on the other side. I picked up my first drink at the age of 11. Little did I know, I had unleashed a beast inside.

I thought, I'll never do hard drugs, I'll never do anything illegal, and I can stop anytime I want to. But I always needed to get one more hit, one more drink. Drugs and alcohol numbed my pain and helped celebrate my joy. By the age of 21, my "nevers" became "forevers." I couldn't see that I needed help. I was caught in the grips of addiction.

A substance use disorder blindsides you. You don't see it coming, and when you're in it, you see no way out. There is no doubt: those who are battling these disorders face stigma from the community. That stigma is one of the most difficult parts of addiction because it held me back from getting the help I needed.

That stigma ignores the reality. I thought my substance use disorder was my own fault. I thought I was "an addict" and "junkie" — not realizing that these labels were also holding me back. I didn't realize that I actually had a treatable disease.

Once I accepted that I had a disease for which there was proven treatment available, I was able to start my story of recovery. I had to change everything.

Letting go of the love I had for drugs and alcohol was a mourning process because it was all I knew. Others in recovery took me under their wings and showed me how to accomplish things that many people find so simple, like getting up every morning and brushing my teeth or cooking my own dinners.

I am now a person in long-term recovery! I have been in recovery for six and a half years. I got the treatment and supports that I needed, and I have found new hope and purpose in my life. I have hope and for those who are struggling now; I want them to know there is hope. If you're struggling with substance use — or care about someone who is — a great place to start is the Baltimore City Crisis, Information and Referral Line: 410-433-5175. It's open 24 hours a day, every day, and can help you find treatment.

Every member of the community must understand the facts about addiction and be willing to help those who are struggling get the help they need. Those who haven't struggled should know this: substance use disorders are not a choice. And recovery is not simple or easy; it's an imperfect process.

There may be times when a person in recovery takes one step forward and two steps back. Focus on that one step forward, that one day, one hour, one minute and celebrate that. That is recovery. Treatment works and recovery is possible!

Brandee Izquierdo is an associate director at Behavioral Health System Baltimore. Her email is brandee.izquierdo@bhsbaltimore.org.

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