Whether or not suffering has meaning is ultimately up to you. You can either go through life and let everything that happens get to you and beat you down, or you can use everything that comes your way for your advantage. Life is truly what you make of it.
If you would have told me this ten years ago. I would have looked at you like you were crazy and told you that you don’t know me or my life. Back then, I was in the midst of deep suffering—my father’s alcoholism, my mother’s death, my own addictions, the deaths of some of my best friends.
However, through my struggles I have opened my eyes and in fact have found that suffering—as tragic as it is—can truly be an experience for growth. New life can come from death, just like the way that a plant grows when a seed falls to the ground and dies.
I have struggled with addiction for approximately ten years now, and will struggle the rest of my life, although I believe that struggle can get easier with time. I have abused everything from weed to prescription medication and heroin, and I have been in relationships with men who did the same.
Over time I realized it was not the drugs that were my problem at all—the real problem was that I was ignoring the reason I abused them in the first place. No one wakes up one day and says, “I want to go become addicted to drugs.” There are usually deeper reasons or pain that drive a person to feel like they have no other option but to try to find happiness through using. I was responding to the suffering in my life by turning to drugs.
Sadly it took me ten exhausting years to realize that and start to look at the reasons I had started using. But doing so helped me to stop being a victim and stop letting outside influences control me. Instead of giving up as usual, I took charge and responsibility for my life. Now that I have done this it has been so much easier and my life has been so much better. Opportunities, like writing at this website and forming new friendships, have opened up for me. Those opportunities were there before, but I was not in a place to see them. I was letting my suffering consume me, instead of using my suffering as an opportunity to grow and become a stronger person.
What do I mean that I “took charge and responsibility for my life”? I mean that I made—and continue to strive to make—a lot of little daily decisions that all added up to something big:
I quit feeling sorry for myself.
I distanced myself from people in my life who were pulling me further into addiction and who weren’t interested in trying to change.
I kept busy, stayed occupied, looked for some interest or hobby to do in my spare time.
I started writing, which was a healing process for me.
I moved to a new city and changed up the people, places, and things in my life.
I learned the difference between needs and wants and the importance of self-control. Something becomes more enjoyable when you worked for it, waited for it.
I stopped overthinking.
I tried to get in a routine instead of being sporadic—sticking with appointments instead of setting them up and not showing up.
I gave myself a break when I messed up or got frustrated.
I accepted my life and adjusted my expectations. Instead of expecting everything to get better in one day I recognized that if it took 24 years to get this far down, it’s probably going to take years to get back up. And that’s okay.
I tried to find ways to help others. I didn’t want my experiences to go to waste, and if even just one person is able to know that they are not alone in their struggles because of my story, it’s worth it.
I grieved the losses, but I tried not to let the deaths of my loved ones define every aspect of my life. This whole process was made easier by letting them live through me. In fact I often think of those whom I have lost and thank them for all their strength, because I know without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.
There’s a song by Caitlin Smith that talks about how the same things can both haunt and heal us and how “We are broken and built up in the very same way.” I would have never chosen the life I have lived, but I have found this to be true: the things in my life that have torn me apart are the same things that have in the process rebuilt me stronger, if I let them.