When I was in my early teens, I started traveling along a Highway to Hell that would probably make AC/DC blush. The seeds for my perilous path were probably planted much earlier than that, but around the age of 14, they started to sprout, setting me off on a terrible, self-destructive journey that would last for well over a decade.
My car crash of a life was hidden under my sleeves, on my arms, in cuts and burns.
If you’d been able to peek behind closed doors, you would have caught a glimpse of a girl throwing up everything she ate, crying, and writing awful poetry about hating herself and her life.
You would have witnessed a young woman repeatedly circling the space by the front door, sweating and shaking, hesitant to leave the house, barricaded in by fear.
You would have seen escalating drug use, alcoholism, and self-abuse that was soul-wrenching to live through — and for loved ones to bear.
I stayed mentally unwell for so long because I believed I was both a “broken” human being and also someone “fixed”, forever unable to change.
The Dangers of Believing You’re Broken
In my early teens, I developed crippling anxiety, which made me too scared to do many things, including eating in front of people, stating my opinion, shopping, and even walking down the street. I was terrified of anyone “seeing” me or judging.
I didn’t understand what an anxiety disorder was back then. I didn’t consider that anyone else in the world might think or feel like me. I thought that my excruciating fear and discomfort amounted to nothing more nor less than “the way I was”. I believed I was just broken and fundamentally flawed.
That fatalistic conclusion deeply depressed me, and I despised myself for being so fucked up. I told myself I was no good at life. I turned to bulimia and self-harm to punish myself. I relied on alcohol to mask my fear. And the more I disintegrated, the more it self-confirmed my horrific fantasy that I was simply broken beyond repair.
But, if I had only sought help, I would have learned that I was suffering from a diagnosable illness called Social Phobia and, later, Borderline Personality Disorder. I could have been treated, and much of my painful journey could have been avoided.
So, if you feel like a “broken weirdo”, please don’t think you are. You don’t need to hate yourself and go even further down that rabbit hole. It is likely that you have a disorder that isn’t unique to you. Research what you are experiencing and you’re sure to find others who can tell a similar story.
When you discover that others have the same problems, you see that you are not inherently the problem, and you can get help and support for your issues. I was lucky enough to stumble across mental health websites, where people felt just like me.
Once I realized that I had treatable disorders, I had to try several different therapies and practitioners until I found something that worked. Although the search was long and scary, I always had hope, because I knew that since I wasn’t broken, then there would be an answer — and eventually, there was.
The Dangers of Believing You’re Fixed
But, I fell into a different trap with my alcoholism…
Free from my anxiety disorder, I no longer had a “reason” to drink heavily. But every time I tried to have a few sociable beers, I became a drunken Duracell Bunny, unable to stop myself downing shot after shot. It became clear that I had crossed the line into severe addiction, and I had to quit alcohol entirely or risk losing the scraps of life I still had left.
I would achieve a few days or weeks of sobriety, only to fall into a deep pit of depression and lostness, which led me back to the bottle(s). After a long series of relapses, I was convinced that I would never slay that dragon.
I considered the sober, happy alcoholics I’d met as a different species from me. They were peaceful, pragmatic, positive, and grateful. I was restless, impulsive, skeptical and still wished I’d never been born. It was obvious why they had recovered and why I could not.
As difficult as addiction is to overcome, one of my greatest barriers was, yet again, what I believed about myself. I thought all of my traits were “fixed”, an essentially unchangeable part of me. The recovering alcoholics clearly had inner resources that I didn’t possess and could never attain.
I’d always been a pessimist and doubted my abilities. I was convinced that my character and attitudes were immutable. I would never be able to switch my dark outlook for a rosier one, nor become someone capable of recovery.
Just as I was about to write myself off, I discovered that the people who had recovered had been just like I had. They had learned how to change and that was why they were happy and in recovery.
So I started to practice; looking for the single spot of sunshine in a gray day, enjoying the specks of contentment that I had ignored before. I channeled my capricious streak into writing and got into the routine of recovery. And I finally saw my own value and that it was not too late to be useful.
I did achieve a happy recovery. I worked in social care, became a therapist, and was invited to chair an addiction charity. People often remarked that my smile was the widest they’d ever seen.
Beliefs and Getting Better
As someone who long ago took the exit off that Highway to Hell, I now know that challenging our beliefs about ourselves is key to getting better.
What sealed my fateful resignation to my catastrophic life was my belief that I was broken. My disastrous, doleful, drunken journey was perpetuated by my belief that aspects of my character were fixed and would prevent me from recovering.
I’ve come so far from my anxiety disorder that you’d never know I ever had one. I’ve done speeches, run workshops, and appeared in the media — not the behavior of a broken little wallflower.
I was never doomed by a rigid character. I have become stronger, more positive, and I’m grateful to be alive. I’m growing all the time and helping others to grow too.
If you have ever believed that your feelings, behaviors, traits, disorders, or problems are a sign of your brokenness, a fixed part of you, that cannot be remedied, please understand that’s not true.
Things can be treated. You can get well. It is possible to get better if you’re prepared to challenge your beliefs, seek help and do things differently.
Healing isn’t always easy, but even the most grueling journey gets you to a better place than continuing to tread the rocky paths of self-destruction with torn shoes and bleeding feet.
And even if you come off track for a bit, there is always an exit. Just don’t be too blind to see it by clinging to your old beliefs.