Guest Post: When Everything Is Not Enough

by - Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I am a big believer in the power of the arts to do good.  The following is a story I was asked to share on my blog by someone who has struggled with drug addiction but has been able to turn around her life with the help of art therapy... 

When Everything Is Not Enough
My own experience with drug addiction deeply affected my family, and it is something I regret to this day. My children were very young – two daughters aged 6 and 8 – and I cannot pretend that they were not damaged by the events of two years ago. It is only with the passage of time that I am able to begin to come to terms with what I did to them, and how I can live with myself for the upset I caused.
My Story
My addiction was to heroin. You may wonder how a mother to two children, with a middle-class upbringing, ended up with a heroin habit. I have often wondered myself. I had always been a ‘wild child’ and even though motherhood calmed me down a great deal I felt I needed to express that side of myself too. I stayed in touch with friends who I had known as a teenager, some of whom had never grown up and settled down. My husband had been one of that group, but my friends were shocked at how conventional he became when the kids arrived. They encouraged me to go out drinking with them, and it was a great release for me from the pressures of being a parent, and a dutiful wife. These expectations of me were incredibly hard for me to live up to. I felt like a failure for not always being on top of the laundry, the housework, looking clean and smart and thin like the other mothers. I would miss school events, forget to take the clothes to the cleaners and burn the dinner. I felt useless and my self-esteem plummeted. The only time I felt alive was when I was out with my old friends. I felt young again and carefree, and not judged.
We had smoked weed ever since we’d been at school. It was routine to spark up when we met, and one of my husband’s main gripes with me going out with my friends was the fact I always came home stoned. He began to forbid me from meeting up more than once a fortnight. I rebelled, and asked for some harder drugs from the man that supplied us from weed. I loved cocaine, as it brought me even more to life. I would return home flushed and excited and chatted into the small hours, either to my husband or friends on the phone. He became increasingly unhappy about the situation, and eventually he left. “You have everything,” he’d yell at me, “why isn’t it enough?”
He cited drug abuse as the reason he should have custody of the girls and won when I tested positive for cocaine. From that moment I spiraled downwards, until I asked for my dealer for heroin, just to find some release from reality. I think I hoped it might kill me, but it didn’t. It just left me with a desire for more and more and more. The bliss I discovered made me forget about my children, parents, loved ones. Before long I was totally addicted and dangerously ill.
Luckily, the same friends who had facilitated my downfall came to my aid. After an overdose they got me to hospital and didn’t leave until they’d researched local treatment centers and secured a place for me. To be honest the first few days were a blur as I was sedated while my body adjusted to being without the drug. I remember pain and fear and deep, deep sadness. After a few days I was well enough to take part in some activities. I was finally eating again and felt strong enough to mix with others. My self-esteem was non-existent at this time, and I felt sure I would never have my children back, whatever I did. My suicidal thoughts never went away. That is until I started the art therapy classes that the treatment center laid on for us. Every day, between 3pm and 4.30 we could go to the studio and paint, sculpt or sew. I chose to paint, because I had always enjoyed that subject best when I was at High School. The art therapist was wonderful, and never interfered unless we wanted help. It was a peaceful time, and allowed me to rest from the psychotherapy I was undergoing the rest of the time.
Over the weeks that followed, those art classes saved me, I am quite sure. My ability increased as the kind therapist, who encouraged me to develop and experiment, taught me every day. I tried cartoons, pen and ink drawing, pastels, oils and acrylics. I liked working in chalks most, as there was something very bold about marking the paper with assured lines and it felt like I was making a statement of confidence every time I did it. It took a while to find that confidence, but all the ability I had had as a young teenager came back to me. I realized that I should have studied art back then, instead of running wild and marrying young. Art gave me the ability to go back in time and put right the things I had messed up. By the time I left the rehabilitation center I had turned my life around. I understood that by drawing and painting I could have something in my life I felt good about, a way of rebelling if I wished to, and a form of self-expression that was uniquely my own.
Looking back two years to the painful early days at the treatment center is not easy. But I can now say that I am proud of what I achieved. I have been clean of drugs ever since, and have thrown myself into creating art every day. The discipline of working at my easel every morning has given me a structure with which to rebuild my life. I now have my children back and am training to be an art therapist myself. Seeing how art helped to turn my life around has left me with a burning desire to help others. As soon as I qualify, I hope I will be doing just that.

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