An Open Letter to My Former Self
*I wrote this piece for my former guidance counselor, Gary Lindgren, to read to his current students per his request. After writing it, I realized I was channeling it towards my former self.*
Hi, Amity students! My name is Hannah Rose and I am an Amity alum. I graduated in 2008 and headed off to Goucher College in Maryland. I've been in Maryland ever since - I miraculously got into graduate school at Johns Hopkins in 2013 and received my Master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I now work at Ashley Addiction Treatment, a 28-day inpatient residential rehabilitation facility (that looks like a resort, so I really lucked out).
I remember sitting exactly where you are SO WELL, listening to speakers who were either upper classmen or graduated long before my time. They told us about their struggles with addiction or any kind of delinquency, what had happened, and where they are now. They would say things like, "I remember sitting where you are and hearing the same stories, but I never thought it would happen to me," etc.
Well, here I am doing the exact same thing! Go figure.
In high school, I was in Gary's group for students affected by drug addiction and alcoholism. I was exposed to addiction in my family from a young age. Little did Gary know at the time (I think) that I was a budding alcoholic. I was only drinking on weekends because lord knows I wouldn't have been able to get a fake ID - I still don't even look like I'm 21 (I'm 27... by the way).
I would party on weekends and go about my week normally. Nothing seemed off; that's the thing about being an alcoholic in your teens and twenties. My drinking looked like everyone else's. We millenials drink to get drunk. Period. It's not like these older generations where they casually have a glass of wine. Like, what even is that? I don't want a glass of wine or one beer; I want to drink multiple drinks in order to get Shwasted (I can almost hear Gary saying the term "Shwasted" and I'm laughing out loud at my desk).
Anyway, Gary's group was instrumental, but it definitely didn't stop me from drinking and eventually seeking out drugs (just cocaine, ketamine, nitrous, and whatever other hippie drugs were around on campus in college).
I was never physically dependent on alcohol or drugs, which fueled my denial that there was even a problem.
The difference between me and some of the other kids I drank with, though, is how I felt when I was sober. The weeks would go by and I would stress out about who was going to buy alcohol, where the parties would be, and who was going to be around. It was almost obsessive. It only got worse in college - but the obsession seemed to die off because I had the autonomy to get liquor and drink whenever I wanted to. Sometimes alone - but I would be skyping people so I told myself it wasn't really that bad.
It should have always been a red flag that I'd get super emotional when I was drunk, even sometimes engage in self-harm. Looking back now, I realize that I didn't really have any other coping skills. It's all I knew. It was a shitshow. Sorry for swearing, Gary.
Long story short, I ended up getting sober in a 12 step program when I was 20-years-old. The fellowship is actually really chill. I remember going to my first meeting when I was 19-years-old, mainly as a ploy to get my parent's off my back after multiple catastrophic nights in college. I was blown away by how many people in their teens and twenties were there.
Over 6 years sober later, I'm super grateful I found my people there. I'm not here (in writing) to preach to you to get sober, by any means, but to be mindful of the path you're going. When I heard people tell me not to drink in high school, I would smile and nod and tell myself that was all BS. I was different. It wouldn't happen to me.
Even if drinking or drugging isn't something you engage in, I absolutely understand the struggle of being surrounded by people at all times but feeling inescapably alone. I feel like this is a common experience in high school - so I'm here to tell you that you aren't the only one.
I hope this is somehow helpful to you all. Just know that all people who were alcoholics/addicts and are now sober are definitely not lame weirdos, which is what I thought. And if you're unsure about your path or where on the spectrum of addiction you are, that's totally okay too. Maybe you aren't supposed to know! The cool thing about Amity is that people like Gary exist who can help be a support to you.
Even if I wasn't an alcoholic, some experiences throughout my childhood and adolescence still really screwed me up for a while. I also perpetually played the victim, making everything and anything about me. I've learned now, after being a therapist for a few years, the significant impact that childhood trauma can have on us. Or adolescent or teenage trauma. Or any trauma at all.
What I didn't know is that trauma is relative. This means that something that may not be traumatic to someone else (like parents divorcing) may absolutely be traumatic to you. It's about how your brain and body internalize and react to it.
My parents divorced when I was 5 and I never thought anything of it.
Now after BEING in therapy myself, I've learned that my parent's divorce instilled this maladjusted schema in me (a fancy phrase for negative worldview) that told me that love isn't real and no relationships last. That led me to sabotage every single relationship I had for like a decade, and I didn't even know that I was doing that.
Please feel free to reach out to me by facebook or email. I'm happy to chat about whatever. I wish I utilized the supports I was given in high school a little more than I did. And let's all clap for Gary who is by the far the coolest dude there and literally saves lives on a daily basis.
Have a wonderful day!