From a very young age I was diagnosed with a mental illness. The word "illness" to me communicates that someone is sick or not normal. I was diagnosed with several disorders: anxiety disorder, OCD, PTSD and many more. I was constantly trying to "fix" myself, and decided to cope with this in other ways that made me feel normal instantly. That’s when I met my cure - alcohol. I drank until I couldn't feel anymore. I drank until I blacked out. I drank alone. I drank every day. I drank to feel normal.
I woke up on May 16, 2014 in a hospital bed, both of my parents crying over me. Was I dreaming? Was I dead? Reality struck me when I learned that I was .02 BAC away from my brain completely shutting down from alcohol. On that day, I admitted that I had a problem, and that was the first step of a long journey ahead.
As a 20-year-old college dropout, I flew out to a treatment center in the middle of nowhere. When I thought of an "alcoholic", I thought of a homeless man under a bridge drinking out of a paper bag. I soon came to learn that this wasn't the case, that millions of people from all different backgrounds struggle with this same thing. In order to get sober, we had to work as a community and lift one another up to a life of recovery.
I also learned that there was nothing to fix. This was a part of who I am, and it's what I did with it that mattered. So instead, I fought for my life, embraced my brokenness, and lost my anonymity in the process. I returned to school and made it a goal to start an open conversation about mental health. The more I shared my addiction story with others, the more people opened up about their personal connection to mental illness.
One by one this continued to happen, until I began my own platform called "Spread Wellness with Wesley". This is when I discovered the power of the word "WE" and the power of community around the topic of mental health. If you take the "I" out of mental illness and replace it with "We" it creates mental wellness. I held the very first sobriety chip I picked up when I was standing in front of the entire student body and was named Miss Homecoming. I realized they all knew my flaws, my brokenness, but accepted me for who I was because they related in some shape or form.
Today, I have made it my goal to spread this message in every way that I can, and that has transformed into a career in public speaking. When I am speaking to an audience, I am reminded that if just one person resonates with my message, then I have done my job. I am thankful that I am far from perfect. I am thankful for the people who help me every day with this second chance at life. I am thankful for my diagnosis, because I have been able to connect with others through it. Today I am thankful to be sober, one day at a time.
22 million Americans are currently suffering with addiction, and deaths due to overdose are rising. Many people may not realize that they are surrounded by those suffering with addition daily. Many never realize how many are suffering behind closed doors. There is a stigma attached to the word “addiction”; one of weakness and despair. People are afraid to admit that they need help because they think that it is a sign of weakness. The potential to save someone’s life through connecting and relating with them far surpasses any fear. If all of us can work together each day to break this stigma by supporting mental health and addiction recovery, we can finally hold out a hand to those that need one. As more people realize how prevalent this issue is and that those suffering are not alone, addicts will be more likely to grab those hands that have reached out in support.
This chain reaction is the solution to anything in life. Vulnerability breeds vulnerability, and connection creates community. I thought that there was no other option, and I almost let the disease of addiction take my life. The only way I was able to get out of it was to reach for those hands that were there to pull me out. Addicts can’t do it alone, that is why we need all of society to help support recovery.
This article was written by Taylor Wesley. Taylor is a recent graduate of Auburn University and a keynote speaker and advocate for mental health. She hopes that by sharing her journey, she can encourage others to reach out and support those with mental health illnesses.