Written by: Kerri Paquette
Published: February 13th, 2022
When I was a teenager I really struggled with mental health, and this lead to years of substance abuse.
How it started: I felt really lonely and unrelatable when I was a teenager. It seemed that I had everything going for me but yet I always felt sad. I played on the Varsity soccer team at Millbury High when I was in 8th grade and I excelled at running track. I was voted most athletic as a senior in MHS yet I only played soccer and ran track. I excelled at most sports and I would even beat up on the boys. People generally liked me, I believe but I definitely felt my best and most safe when I was alone. Large (and even not so large) groups of people and social settings were overwhelming for me. I felt I wasn't good enough, fun enough, loud enough, funny enough; I wasn't enough. I turned to using alcohol as a coping mechanism and at the same time it also helped me become more social and what I thought most people's idea of fun would be in a person. I began drinking when I was 14 years old. I hung out with older kids and binged drank with them on weekends. As a result my studies were affected and eventually it lead me to quit the track team. Alcohol is a depressant, as we know. The more I would use alcohol, the more sad I became, and then I would drink more. I didn't realize at the time that I was in a vicious cycle that would end up taking years of quality time from my life.
I sort of just went along with what I thought was normal, and what I thought would help me fit in more. When I was 18 years old I went away to college. I kept drinking and I felt at the time that I would fit in the most when I was drinking. I would morph into myself as I would say. During my freshman year at Keene State College, my best friend from high school called me to tell me she had chronic myeloid leukemia. Over the next five years, I would do my best to support her as much as I could while I watched her go through chemo, a bone marrow transplant, hear her be deemd "cancer free" and then I watched as she had an occurrence that would end up taking her life in front of my eyes when we were 23 years old.
To say that my mental health declined when I lost Erin would be an understatement. I was sad. I was bitter. I was angry. I took it out on myself and everyone closest to me. I refused to celebrate any holidays or my birthday because if my best friend of 20 years couldn't be here with me, then what was the point? I end up turning to alcohol more so than ever in my life, which lead to harder drug use, and of course, in turn, my mental health suffered even more. I was suicidal. My alcohol use got me arrested a few times. I was a ticking time bomb.
It wasn't until until I was diagnosed with cancer myself that I realized that life is a gift that should be cherished everyday. Not everyday is going to be the best day, but everyday that we wake up there is something to be grateful for.
What I didn't understand at the time was that addiction had gotten the better of me. I couldn't stop drinking when I wanted to. I did stop for a while during chemo but I ended up going out with friends and using drugs/drinking even though I knew it could kill me.
I knew I was in too deep but I couldn't stop. The thought of going through life without drinking terrified me. Who would want to hang out with me if I wasn't drinking? Who would I even BE if I wasn't drinking?
It took me years, a few more arrests and lots of therapy to get sober. It wasn't an easy road to get here, but it was my road. I took a lot of unchartered paths along the way. I am proud to say that I am 7 years sober from alcohol and 4 years sober from drugs.
If I could give advice to others that I wish I had when I was a young adult, it would be:
you have a long time to live with yourself, so you must foster the relationship you have with yourself before you can have good relationships with others.
Be kind to yourself.
In life, there are lessons and there are blessings; every mistake you make is a lesson to be learned.
It's ok to celebrate yourself.
Spend money on experiences that expand your horizons more so than on objects that take your energy.
Be kind to others; you never know when a simple smile or a kind word has saved someone's life.