Bullied to Addiction

Bullied to Addiction

I first came to treatment as a teenager for dual diagnosis mental health issues and substance abuse. Living at home with my parents and 3 older siblings didn’t give me as much freedom due to being the youngest child. I was bullied at school, and bottled up my feelings, but my anger came out in other ways sometimes exploding in anger at home. I began drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and abusing prescription pills in an effort to avoid dealing with the trauma and bullying abuse I was experiencing. Now I know my addiction was tied to my experience of being bullied – bullied to addiction.

At one point, I had been admitted to psychiatric hospitals several times in a matter of a few months for suicide attempts and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and was taking medication to help manage my emotions. My parents finally admitted me into a treatment program, however they had no idea what I was going through, they had no idea I was being bullied or the extent of my addiction.

Fighting the Help I Need

During the first few weeks of treatment, I fought the help the treatment team and my therapist was trying to provide. I threatened to leave constantly, rebelled against the program’s rules, and yelled/cursed at staff. My parents were desperate for help, not knowing what to do, and searching for answers to their questions of how to handle me, their daughter. I begged them to remove me from treatment, and they held strong. When I finally surrendered to the program, the therapeutic work began and honestly, I started to feel relief, relief from the anger, sadness, guilt, shame and resentment that had been tormenting me. I had no idea it was possible. I could imagine it. I had hope. I had hope something could be different for me. I could have a different life.

In individual therapy, my therapist worked with me on increasing my awareness of when I started feeling angry and on verbalizing my anger to a supportive people in my life. We talked through, in detail, about my experience of being beaten up at school and explored positive coping strategies that I could implement in place of using drugs and alcohol. I found relief and groundedness in simple things like listening to music, going to the beach, and taking deep breaths. In family therapy, my therapist worked with me and my parents on practicing listening skills, improving our understanding of each other’s perspectives, and communicating effectively. It helped me build trust with them again. My parents attended a weekly parenting group that allowed them to learn about setting healthy boundaries (I didn’t like this at all at first, but appreciate it now and set my own boundaries with them). They also received feedback and support from other parents going through similar experiences with the other clients in treatment. My parents worked on recognizing and managing their own anxiety and working together so they weren’t sending mixed messages.

Letting Go to Grow

As I made progress in treatment, I could go on the weekends on a short family pass, then a longer family pass, and eventually to return home for the better part of a day. My father was very nervous that I would act out old behaviors (screaming, crying, throwing objects, breaking things) when it was time to return to treatment. My therapist and I prepared ahead of time and I understood ways to communicate with words rather than actions to let my father know my true feelings about returning to treatment without displaying the old behaviors. I returned later that evening and both my father and I had a great time together. In treatment, I learned and so did my family, that the entire family system is effected and it was a shared responsibility for everyone to help make changes that would ultimately benefit the whole family unit.

By the end of treatment, my therapist helped me by expressing proud feelings of the hard work and progress I had made and worked with me on the ability to accept that feedback. We had talked during therapy about the various ways that people give and receive love. My parents and I identified that we each value quality time. My parents went home and discovered that all of my brothers and sisters value quality time too. Toward the end of my treatment, my parents rented an RV and took all us on a camping trip to the beach for the weekend. This helped the us and me to transition back to my supportive family and spend quality time together before returning home.

My parents had a better understanding of my potential triggers and worked with me, my school and environmental adjustments to significantly lower the exposure.  Overall, the work my therapist, the treatment team, my family and well, the work I did, changed my life – free from being bullied to addiction. My family and I worked hard to create a new foundation for positive change that we continue to build upon together.

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