Trigger warning: Mental illness, addiction, suicide
“Okay, I get it, I understand/ There’s people here to hold my hand, But what happens when, happens when, I can’t comprehend someone holding my hand?” – Juice Wrld, ‘Feel Alone’
Watching the Juice WRLD documentary ‘Into the Abyss’ this week, I feel so many mixed emotions on the topics of addiction and mental health. I’m seeing a wide range of opinions online about whether the people around him could have or should have done more, if they were enabling him, or if maybe the outcome of his death is what he had hoped for.
After my struggles with mental health left me flirting with death in the past, I have some thoughts of my own.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or mental health professional; these are thoughts I have come to as a result of my own lived experience.
Addiction is complicated
Addiction is a complicated disease, and many people are still learning how to understand it. For loved ones of those suffering, it can be hard to know what to do, because what worked for one person might not work for another. Everyone’s “bottom” is different—the circumstance that leads them to either asking for or accepting help and beginning their recovery journey. Knowing there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to recovery, loving someone suffering can be challenging. You want to help them more than you want anything in life and you wish for nothing apart from that person getting clean. But you can’t want it for someone. You cannot love someone out of addiction. Unfortunately, it is bigger than that. If we were able to love people out of addiction, it might not be the problem it is.
Recovery is not one-size-fits-all
So what do you do if you can’t love them through it? Do you leave? Maybe. If that is necessary for your mental health and you feel that by staying in the person’s life you are enabling them or continuing to allow them to be addicted, then maybe it’s an option to consider.
If you try to force someone into recovery for anything—addiction, mental health issues, etc.—it won’t last long term. That person has to want it for themselves and be ready to accept help and commit to the process. That person has to commit that if and when they mess up—because they will, recovery is not perfect and not easy—they will not allow that slip to let them backslide, but they will dust themselves off and continue trying to do better. In AA, they say progress not perfection for a reason.
I went into treatment for my depression and severe anorexia in late September 2016. I absolutely was not ready to recover. I was in emotional turmoil and convinced myself that my illnesses were keeping me safe. I was not ready for the help. I was forced into it, so it didn’t stick. I continued sending back meals, not sticking with my treatment plan, and continued losing weight. My final semester of college was on the line if I couldn’t keep up with my schoolwork, and I was unable to attend work due to being hospitalized. For some people, that would be the bottom. Not being able to walk around campus or go out for drinks with your friends on your 21st birthday that would be bottom.
But it wasn’t for me.
Depression, anxiety, other mental illnesses or addiction don’t discriminate
Watching the Juice WRLD documentary, if people weren’t listening closely to his lyrics and the messages he shared with his fans, one might think he was happy. He was always smiling, laughing, and hanging out with his friends. He was close with his mom, had a girlfriend, and had all the money in the world at 19 years old.
But he wrote: “You can see the pain in my laugh/ Demons comin’ back from the past/ Feelin’ like I’m ‘bout to relapse/ Voices in my head/ All I can hear them say is ‘everybody wants me dead’/ I’m already dead/ I’ve been dead for years”
It broke my heart to hear him say he wrote the lyrics that he did in order to have conversations with his friends about what he was saying.
A lot of people don’t understand mental illness/addiction
I saw someone on Twitter say, “Haven’t you ever loved someone with addiction?” Like the person receiving that question should be ashamed they didn’t have their level of knowledge on addiction. It’s hard, if not impossible, to understand something you’ve never experienced firsthand, either yourself or by loving someone who has had the experience and witnessing it through them.
I hope you, or someone you know and love didn’t experience this firsthand. I wish no one had to.
But I think it’s wrong to shame people who don’t intrinsically have that knowledge. If we’re hoping that the people who aren’t familiar with addiction or mental illness are compassionate, we have to meet them with compassion as well.
Having open conversations that start with, “This is what I’ve experienced…” “This is what I witnessed…” or “This is what I’ve learned” can go a long way in helping people understand who have not experienced it themselves.
I always try to speak as openly as I can about what I go through with my depression, because I want people to understand. I want people to understand how they can best help me and anyone else who might be going through the same things.
This, I understand, is not a comfortable approach for every person, so that’s why I do it.
For example, I’ve shared: I have great friends, I am close with my mom and my sister, but sometimes when I’m experiencing a bout of depression, it is impossible for me to feel that love is real, that it is there. Depression convinces me I am alone.
Conversation is powerful
The only way to understand is to have conversations. It makes me so incredibly happy to see a widespread conversation around mental health and addiction being had. Conversations help facilitate understanding, eliminate shame or taboo, and help those suffering feel supported and safe.
I will never forget feeling so ashamed that I was going to therapy while I was in college. I would lie to my friends about where I was going, say I had a doctor’s appointment, and not specify any further. The first time a friend told me he also went to therapy, I immediately felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders and felt more connected to him. I was surprised through conversation to learn just how common it was among my friend group. I thought, Why didn’t we talk about this sooner?
Suffering in silence is incredibly lonely and isolating. Conversations about how someone is feeling, the thoughts that are running through their head, and if you have an experience that makes them feel not alone that you can share can save lives.
Getting help is brave
If you think you need help, if you think you could benefit from any kind of support or service, you should. Regardless of whether or not you’re insured, there are resources available to you either free or low cost. Some churches offer support groups, there is AA and NA, there are other support groups for grief, eating disorder recovery, etc. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness can help you pinpoint resources offered in your community that can best help you.
Getting help is scary. At first.
When I entered treatment, I felt like a lost cause. I had lost half my body weight and my organs were shutting down. I was so depressed I didn’t care if I lived or died. How could I possibly recover? I thought to myself. I am too far gone; I might as well give up.
Recovering is hard.
There will be times you will mess up. Probably many times. You are human. Do not let that completely derail your willingness and commitment to trying. It will be emotional. You will probably encounter emotions you’ve been trying very hard not to feel or you will have memories you have tried very hard to suppress.
There will be times when you’ll be angry, upset, and want to quit.
Recovery is worth it.
When I was in treatment, I heard a girl who was also suffering from an eating disorder say that she wanted to recover so she could ride horses again.
Why am I here? I thought. So I can go home. I told my doctors, knowing full well, in the mindset I was in, if I were to go home, I would relapse.
What are your goals? they asked me. It can’t be ‘go home.’
I wanted to play sports on a team again. I wanted to be able to wear jeans and have them fit me like a woman, not a child. I wanted to be able to go on dates and hang out with my friends. I wanted to experience life.
What’s your why? Why are you here?
If you or someone you love needs help, the national helpline for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is 1-800-622-4357
The National Suicide Prevention Line is 1-800-273-8255