A Goodbye Letter to My Drug Addiction
Substance use disorders impact over 21 million Americans each year, but only 10 percent of people get the life-saving treatment they need. One of the major barriers to treatment is stigma. I was so ashamed of my addiction, but I was equally so stuck in denial that it took ten years of failed attempts for me to say goodbye to drug addiction and fully embrace recovery.
Fortunately, at the bitter end of my addiction, I made a smart choice to go to treatment. That decision saved my life. And the guidance and support of addiction recovery professionals is why I remain sober today.
How I Denied My Drug Addiction for Years
For years, I told myself that I had control over my substance use. My typical drug use and denial looked something like this: I’d go out to a bar after work, telling myself I’d only have one drink and then head home. Four hours later, I’d find myself in the bathroom lining up. Recalling the earlier promise, I’d made to myself, I’d say “You’re fine. You can stop whenever you want.” The reality is that I’d end up getting home in the early hours of the morning and calling in sick to work the next day.
This scenario played out for years. Recognizing those failures wasn’t enough though, my denial ran much deeper. I’d tell myself that my stress validated my drug use. I’d also surround myself with people who used more than me, so I could plausibly deny that my addiction wasn’t that bad.
That’s the thing about drug addiction: it’s the one disease that tells us we don’t have it. I truly believed that I couldn’t possibly have a problem like a drug addict. In reality, my internalized stigma about addiction, coupled with my denial, kept me from seeking the help I desperately needed — like so many other Americans.
Fortunately for me, my world crumbled when I lost a close family member. That led to a massive binge where I used more drugs than ever over a week-long period. Needless to say, I felt emotionally and physically destroyed. I couldn’t take any more. I was violently sick, and, in a panic, I searched online to see if I was experiencing some kind of poisoning. I came across a blog on an addiction website that told me I had to get immediate medical attention. Thank God I called the number on the blog and got help.
Taking the First Steps Toward Rehab
I’ll never forget how I felt walking through the doors of the addiction treatment center. I felt utterly defeated and I hated myself for letting things get so bad. I expected that rehab would be like going to the doctor and that I would be shamed and reprimanded for my addiction. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Every single member of staff, from the moment I arrived at the moment I left, treated me with dignity and respect. I wasn’t treated like a drug addict that had made so many poor decisions. I was treated like a human who had a medical condition. It was how I was treated that led me to think that I should pay attention to what they ask me to do. Thankfully I did, and I believe that’s what made treatment successful and led to long-term recovery.
For me, the most impactful part of treatment was writing a Dear John letter (aka a goodbye letter) to my drug addiction.
What is a Dear John Letter?
A “Dear John” letter is an activity that’s commonly used during rehab. It is an expressive medium to communicate your thoughts and feelings related to your former drug or alcohol use. There is no right or wrong way to write a Dear John letter; it’s simply a therapeutic way to express your feelings without having to talk.
Therapists say this tool is effective because it allows you to connect to your innermost thoughts and feelings that might not come out in talk therapy. Second, it is a way to process your experience with addiction in a way that allows you to also accept that it is a part of your past.
Again, there is no right or wrong way to write a Dear John letter, but here are some helpful suggestions to get started:
- Write about what happened during your drug addiction.
- Talk about the fun parts as well as the dark moments.
- Include the things you feel shame about, like making decisions that you wouldn’t have made sober.
- Once you’ve covered the extent of your addiction, then move on to break up with drugs or alcohol.
- List the reasons why you’re choosing to move on and how you envision your life without substances.
Here’s the bonus: not only do you get to process a difficult part of your life, but you also get to dream about the future. Plus, you don’t have to share this letter with anyone, you don’t need to read it out to your group or even your counselor. It’s yours to keep. However, you are more than welcome to share the letter with a trusted professional if you think it would be helpful to your recovery.
The part I liked the most about writing my letter is that I knew it was private and for my eyes only. I think that helped me open up more and dig deeper into my memories and feelings. While it wasn’t easy, it gave me the most insight of all the things I did in treatment!
Now that I have so many years of recovery under my belt, I am accustomed to telling my story to others if it helps them choose to get the treatment they need. So I’m totally open to sharing my Dear John Letter. It was a big part of my journey that helped me feel like I closed a chapter and took a leap into my life in recovery.
My Goodbye Letter to Drug Addiction
Dear Addiction (Specifically Drugs and Alcohol),
Our time here is done. I say “our” because the truth is, neither one of you were my favorite. You were both kind of mediocre.
While I once found you a soothing tonic to a stressful day, you became a monster inside of me that I needed constant attention. Sure, we had fun. Summer nights after work on the patio: there was laughter, joy, and you provided the social lubrication to make socializing easy. It’s like you shimmied up beside me as a smart, handsome person at the bar who offered me this magic elixir. “Everyone around me was drinking it, so why shouldn’t I?” I wondered.
What you never told me, though, is that you’re insidious like a cancer that ravaged my body until it was unrecognizable.
What hurts the most is I thought I could trust you. You told me that you were a part of normal life. “It’s how people unwind,” you said. But we both know that isn’t true. In just one year of listening to you, my mind was utterly consumed with urges to use…every-single-day. But at the time, it felt like you were a coping strategy that made sense.
For more than ten years, I tried to break up with you. But like a toxic ex, you’d creep back in reminding me that I couldn’t cope without you. We danced like this over-and-over. Until that fateful night. Remember that tragedy that I faced? I desperately needed support, but you just pushed me into a deeper depression. You nearly killed me.
Thank God, even in the midst of a crisis, I woke up to your toxicity. That clarity gave me the strength to pick up the phone and save my life.
Life today is a dream compared to life with you. I have more clarity than I’ve had in twenty years. I see that I never needed you. You weren’t a coping strategy at all — you were a crutch I leaned on. And in the end, you were a negative force in my life set on a path of destruction.
It is with the clarity of recovery that I can tell you with complete certainty that we are broken up. Delete my number, get out of my head, and never ever darken my doorstep with insidiousness again.
From here on out, I have effective ways to cope that don’t involve obliterating my reality and slowly killing myself.
And good riddance!