Anxiety and addiction have more in common than a lot of people realize. They can both fester for years, sometimes flying under the radar and rearing their ugly heads in times of crisis. Anxiety exacerbates stress while addiction poses as a coping mechanism — and left unchecked, especially combined, the two can make every other facet of life almost too much to bear.
Fortunately, there is always hope. We spoke to a few recovering addicts who told us about their struggles with anxiety and addiction, and how going to treatment to get to the root of their problems changed their lives for the better.
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Anxiety at work led Alonzo to return to old habits
So often it’s our professional lives that cause us the most stress. We live to work, work to live, and if there are any money or workload issues along the way, we’re left to our own devices to adapt. Alonzo had three years of sobriety under his belt when he relapsed, and he said job anxiety was a major factor.
“Overworked, staying late. Normally at the bar is where most of the contractors would meet, so we would drink and snort cocaine and make bad decisions,” he recalled.
It was his wife who noticed the biggest change in him — not only with his risky behavior, but his overall attitude.
“She recognized my passion for helping others stopped,” Alonzo explained. “It was all about work, work, work, money, money, money. When she started seeing it was just all about me, she started saying, ‘I see you going in the same direction. You probably want to put that in check.’”
When he decided to enter addiction treatment, Alonzo made the commitment to himself to make sobriety stick. He noted that an important part of his recovery was accepting that we all struggle sometimes, and there’s nothing wrong with letting others know.
“I had a problem with being vulnerable,” he confessed. “It’s OK to be weak. That’s when you tell somebody, ‘Hey, I’m really struggling.’ That’s really when you’re strong, because you won’t fall. You’re just being vulnerable and being open and saying, ‘Hey, I’m having a tough time right now. I’m having a tough time handling this situation.’”
We all like to believe we can handle whatever life throws at us, but the truth is each of us needs help sometimes. Perhaps the real secret of anxiety is that there’s strength in numbers… if only you reach out.
“While I was out there using, I was full of anxiety, suffered from low self-esteem, emotional immaturity and was narcissistic. On the other hand, underneath all that was a decent, compassionate man. The more I reflected on my life and attitudes and was willing to change, that man came forward.” – Jeff, mental health and recovery advocate
Treatment helped Matt see the truth about his substance abuse
Matt said his alcohol addiction fell into a vicious cycle:
“Every couple of years or so, I just continued to relapse. My relapses were short but devastating to the family, of course.”
Despite the recurring bouts of drinking, he explained he wasn’t ready to truly accept that there was a problem. After some long talks with his wife, Matt agreed to enter alcohol rehab despite his reservations — and it was there that he finally found clarity.
“I’ve come to the realization after some sessions with my therapist that the issues that were causing me to relapse were ones I didn’t even know about — things that I could remember, but I really did not understand the gravity of how that could impact someone’s life,” he said.
Not only does he better understand his past and the way it affected his life later on, Matt has come to realize that the future can be much, much brighter.
“I’m very optimistic and excited about the fact that I can go back out there and not live in that state of anxiety that I didn’t even know I was living in,” he said. “As an alcoholic, you learn how to adapt to the way you feel, and it feels normal.”
Even those of us who haven’t been diagnosed with a substance use disorder or anxiety can feel inspired by Alonzo and Matt’s journeys. They were stuck in lives that made them miserable, but they made the decision to fight back and ultimately, they overcame. Recovery and happiness are within reach for us all, so don’t ever hesitate to ask for help finding them.