Lost & Found

December always finds me in the space of reflection. Nine years ago, I decided to try a different way of life. I have spent a lot of time this week thinking back to those early days. What made it different from all the other times? I have been asked that question in a million various capacities and never knew the answer until now.

Love.

The difference was love. People scooped me up and wrapped me in love—the hot mess express. I didn’t know how to operate without a buffer between me and the world. I put on a good front, the tough chick who cussed a lot and had no filter. I still curse a lot and don’t have a filter, but I could be cruel back then. Regardless of what brilliant idea I had, I was met with love. Love kept me steady during the ugly moments of recovery, an anchor that held me in place. Today I don’t know where the love went. I fear for the future and how many more lives will be lost before we create change.

This year brought profound hurt and disappointment. I went from being in the system to working for the system. Now grown up Jordan was trying to be the professional/person that little me needed. I am just now in a place where I can work through that institutional trauma. Finally able to confront the harm done to me by the system tasked with taking care of and protecting me. Finally able to allow myself to heal. Covid shook up my neat and orderly life, and nothing has been the same. Too much has happened to go back, but I am still working out what comes next. Ever since I got into recovery, I played by the rule book. People who know me know I like order, calendars, and to-do lists. At times I can be obsessive with it. The years of chaos left me craving stability. Everything I thought I knew was challenged. I had a plan — I've always had a plan — this was not in the plan. I crashed and burned. No longer able to just let it go. I didn't know how to move forward any longer without losing more pieces of myself. Stepping back was terrifying but necessary.

Nine years ago, I believed that I just needed to stop using drugs. If I could just stop using drugs, everything would be okay. (Before I continue, I need to point out that this is my story, and every person has their own. Do not use my story to paint generalizations. Do not deny people their path, whatever that may look like.) It's not as if I thought everything would magically be okay again, but at the moment, that was the missing piece. The truth is, it took choosing me. I mean unapologetically choosing me over and over. To do so is messy and costly. But not choosing me has also cost me more than I was willing to sacrifice. At this point, telling my story is second nature. First, it was how I found others like me—bonding with crap coffee in church basements. Then I started working in peer support, using my lived experience to help others find their path. And lastly, as an advocate.

I couldn't tell you how many times I've shared my story, hundreds maybe? Always open, especially about my mental health—specifically self-harm and suicide. I have not shared how my mental health did not disappear the day I stopped using drugs. I am worlds apart from who I used to be (it's amazing what love and a good therapist can do), but boy, are there still dark days. The kind of dark days that threaten to suck you in forever. There are still days when I do not want to be alive despite my growth. It has nothing to do with what I have or don't have; this is my brain. For all the good things it gives me (my sparkling wit, dazzling personality, and snorting laugh), it is my least favorite organ. It has protected me in my darkest moments, shielding me from pain and trauma. And it has waged war against me. She and I are old friends at this point; it's been a long journey.

Over the years, I have gone in and out of therapy and played medication bingo. There were some excellent therapists along the way, but they never lasted. Damn, those reimbursement rates, right? In September, I went back again. My first words to my new therapist. "If you mention the words 302, hold, or crisis, I'm out". It took me a long time to be honest about the harm I endured within a broken system that never cared about me. I saw my first therapist at 13 years old and would see some who had no business ever being one. I have been degraded by "professionals." In one facility, I overheard staff taking bets on how long before I would leave AMA. Do you want to know how many people get preyed on by "professionals" (or, as my friend calls them, "bad actors"?. You don't. Therapy is pretty pointless if you don't feel safe. This one's a good one though, she gets it and looks a bit like Brene Brown.

My brain doesn’t rage against me every day but comes in waves. After a couple of decades of getting tossed around like a rag doll, I could admit I needed some help. Together we’re figuring out how I ride through them. I said before that this year was challenging. So many changes, some forced upon me. When I first started working in the field, I was full of hope and optimism. Now I go to bed at 8:30 and have a deranged sense of humor. Ever had a bookcase thrown at you? Folks are leaving the field in droves, and I don’t blame them. Our system is full of bad actors, people who are content to maintain the status quo because it benefits their wallets. People who profit off their own community = new york subway gum. I spent this last year feeling like I was stuck in some secret "how to gaslight people" experiment. The most recent data says we lost over a hundred thousand people to an overdose death in 2020. How is my urgency problematic? How the hell do we keep navigating around the elephants in the room and piles of shit?

A couple of months ago, I got a call from someone needing outpatient care. They called around but couldn't get in because they had a medical marijuana card. It wasn't the first time I had sat next to or on the phone with someone crying. But that day gutted me. I have my medical marijuana card. As someone with chronic disabilities, it has been a lifeline. How dare we deny resources to someone seeking help? This holier than thou, abstinence-only, moral superiority is killing people. Choosing me meant finding my voice and being my most authentic self. I was scrolling through my Facebook memories the other day and came across a post from 2009 (I apologize) that said, "I won't be everyone's cup of tea, and that's okay." Where did she go?

Bit by bit, she's been coming back. I went to an advocacy conference in Vegas a couple of months ago. When I'm coming out of a wave, I'm exhausted. It is so inexplicably hard to pretend. I'm vulnerable, and my guard is down. Vegas was perfect timing. I was distraction-free and present. Something happened there. Maybe it was being on the other side of the country or connecting with some badass people, but I had my "aha" moment. I spent far too long not choosing me. I can't be quiet to make others comfortable. That's not my shit. People must have a space to feel heard, valued, and included. If you think that's lame, grow up and go to therapy. Stop being mad at people for wanting to heal and grow. Be there for people.

I share all of this because I know someone else is asking why they’re burning themselves to the ground. Someone who is not okay and feels like they’re drowning. Talk about it, find people who give you that space. Find people who provide you with compassion, dignity, and respect. It’s okay to talk about your mental health. We need to. I needed to know it wasn’t just me. Authentic representation matters. I wish I could go back and tell 18 year old me, “it’ll be okay".

Above all, be kind. That's it, just be kind. In my lowest moments, it was always love that pulled me out. I am forever grateful for my people; thank you. What a ride it has been, nine years, ya'll.

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