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I really enjoyed this submission from the author NJ Lechnir of Leapfrogging Success; I think it resonated with me because I have also found myself through becoming a public advocate and finding my voice. -----------------------------------------------
For a long time, I felt compelled to write about my personal experiences with addiction and abuse in my family. It wasn’t until just recently that I felt it was time to talk about this in public. This is a story about my personal experiences as they relate to three major areas in my life: addiction, loss, and recovery. I want to share my experiences openly so that I can offer insight or help anyone else who has similar experiences. If you can take anything away from this article and apply it to your life in a positive way, then it will have been all worthwhile for me, and time and energy well spent for both of us. I could go off in a million different directions with feelings, causes, outcomes, and the like. There are too many variables that affect a person’s life, which makes it very difficult to settle on a particular set of specific causes for my issues. But my childhood experiences with addiction and abuse certainly didn’t help.
My family struggled financially for many years while I was young. My father was a farmer as well as a laborer for many years. My mother was a farmer’s wife, homemaker, and later a dietary aide at the local hospital. Starting kindergarten was extremely hard for me. I was a very anxious, nervous, and introverted kid. Friendship did not come easy to me, and I often felt the need to guard myself against bullying or ridicule. I once asked my older brother how he remembers me as a young child, and he said “You were mostly fearful, quiet, and apprehensive. You hid from people a lot.”
In fourth grade, I started to develop some health issues at school, which were related to things happening at home. I was 10 years old, and it was around this time that I started to notice some bad changes in my dad. I got sick in class a lot, and had to go to the bathroom to throw up during class. I ended up missing 18 days of school during the second quarter of that year, and it was determined that I was having anxiety attacks. It was because my dad was battling a serious addiction to alcohol.
In fall of 1978 when he turned 50, things started to change for the worst. His drinking was out of control and he was hiding bottles all over the house. He was secretly drinking in the basement and had switched exclusively to hard liquor. His two favorites were Blackberry Brandy and Peppermint Schnapps. Why do you think he chose those two particular kinds? Because blackberry brandy smells similar to common cough syrup, and peppermint Schnapps smells similar to mint gum or peppermint candy. He was trying to fool us and making it seem like he didn’t have a problem. He was trying to play it smart (or so he thought) and have excuses all ready when he needed them. His behavior became strange. He was ornery and surly, and less approachable than ever. Sometimes he got so angry, he would fly into a rage and start kicking and wrecking things in the house. It didn’t take much to set him off, and it was very scary and unpredictable in the household. His drinking became more frequent and severe, and he would go on drunken binges where he was barely able to speak or know where he was going. He sometimes blacked out for hours or days, and had no memory of things he did or said. He often hopped in his pickup truck after a drunken rampage and drive off, spinning his tires on the gravel road and speeding, and several times with children in the vehicle. He sometimes got so drunk that he threatened violence, challenging us to fist fights, and saying awful and mean-spirited things to any one of us for any reason.
This series of events greatly affected my sense of self-worth for many years after. However, at some point, I decided “Enough! I have to do something to change this now!” The pivotal moment in my life that made me change was shortly after my mom died in 2015. At that point, I made a massive shift in my life and decided that I wanted to share my story publicly. My first presentation was on March 15, 2016. I was scheduled to speak to a group at the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I called my presentation “Addiction, Loss, and Recovery: How to Deeply Understand the Mindset of Addictive Behavior and Win the Battle.” It was the strangest feeling in the world to get up in front of fifty people and share the most intimate details of my childhood and life for about sixty minutes!
At that moment, I achieved something that for so long had eluded me — closure. The reason why I chose to expose myself to that kind of terror and vulnerability was because I wanted to honor the life of my parents, no matter how many difficulties I had been through, and I wanted to help people understand why addictive behavior occurs. I also wanted to help others who struggled with the pain and suffering of addiction and abuse, and show that it was possible to overcome massive challenges and struggles, and achieve success in life. My dad finally recovered from alcoholism in 1990, and I enjoyed many great visits and conversations with him as an adult during his recovery years. He died of COPD in May 2000 from smoking for more than 50 years. On his deathbed, I was fortunate enough to have a great conversation with him, which repaired a lot of damage.
As I gave more and more presentations on my topic, I began to experience a transformation of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual realms, and it was of monumental proportion. Since 2016, I’ve given over a hundred speeches and presentations, and have spoken to thousands of people about addiction and abuse, as well as many other topics. I decided to finally step out of the darkness and leap into the spotlight. I’m here to show you that if I can do this, anyone can.
By NJ Lechnir