Keep Moving Forward
Please note: This post contains content related to substance use.
When I first realized I was going to die one day, the walls came crashing down. I don’t know what triggered this thought, but I was mortified. The illusion of the perfect world I thought I was living in came to an end. What was going to happen after I died? The fear of the unknown startled me. I pictured blackness. During the day, I forgot all about it, but once my head hit the pillow, the flood gates opened. The fear of the unknown plagued me just as much as the fact that I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live forever.
Reality stung like a bee. Eventually, the thoughts began to flood my mind during the day, and I had to look for ways to distract myself. I usually enjoyed going to school and taking piano lessons, but that relief was only temporary. As time went on, I developed a fear that I was going to be killed in my sleep. Every night I checked to see if the security alarm was turned on, the doors were locked, and there wasn’t anyone outside my window. I always had to sleep with my door closed. I never told anyone what was happening. There was this whole part of me that was never seen, and so I felt lonely and disconnected. I felt like nobody understood me, and I had a lot of self-pity. Later, I felt very angry that no one was ever there for me, but how could they have been? They didn’t know what was going on. I blamed the fact that I didn’t want to die for all my sadness.
As time went on, I found comfort in drugs and alcohol. We’ll call them substances. This was the perfect escape, I thought. I no longer felt insecure or afraid. I felt that substances allowed me to be the person I always wanted to be: funny, cool, and confident. It was a short-term solution to finding happiness, and happiness was all I ever wanted. Another way I coped with my sadness was to dream about a better future. I was going to do great things, make a lot of money, and become famous. I never actually thought about how I planned on getting there. I always imagined that everything would just work out. Once I got to college, this illusion of a perfect future was shattered. I had no idea how to achieve these huge goals I had set for myself. I had no idea which classes to take, and I knew whichever path I chose would require a lot of work. The future was just too terrifying. I didn’t want to face it.
At the same time, I was living away from home for the first time. I felt like the identity I had built over the course of my life meant nothing because no one knew who I was. I didn’t know who I was. I thought, briefly, that smoking weed opened me up to becoming the person I really was. I told a friend that I was on a path of self-discovery, and I wasn’t going to stop until I got there. Where? Smoking weed only brought me farther away from the truth and left me feeling more lost than ever.
I barely got by my first semester, mentally and academically, and by the time I hit winter break, I knew something had to change. I started cutting back on my substance use, but for the next year, I fell into a cycle. I would start feeling good, but then as soon as I felt uncomfortable emotions creeping back in I would go right back to using substances. The times I was able to stop using substances, I started doing healthy activities to replace them. The first time, I picked up reading and writing. The second time, I started exercising, going to AA, doing art, and meditating. However, none of those were sustainable for me. Each time I went back to using substances, it got worse and worse. By the end of it, I felt trapped by my thoughts. I either had to go to sleep or get high to avoid the discomfort. I didn’t really talk to anyone about what was going on, which made things a lot harder. By the time sophomore year came around, I wasn’t able to get through school. After a period of time, I went to rehab, and then I moved into a sober living home all the way across the country. I was willing to do whatever it took to get sober. I’ve stayed sober ever since. I am now going back to school full time, and I am in a collegiate recovery program.
I’ve learned a lot through my recovery. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that when it comes to making progress, I must try to be happy with little improvements and not expect all my problems to go away at once. There are days where I feel frustrated because I am not happy with the way I feel, but I just have to remind myself that it is a process, and things will get better. I still have insecurities and fears, but I don’t run away from them anymore. I have a lot of coping skills now. I have strategies that help get me out of my head, like talking to people, dancing to music, hiking, and playing sports. When I am panicking about something, I have words I can say to myself to calm myself down, like “It’s okay!” and “You’re going to be okay.” When I experience insecurities, I try my best to believe positive feedback I receive from other people, or I lift myself up with positive affirmations. Reflect’s values, as well, play a huge part in my recovery from mental health challenges and substances.
Allyship is a critical part of my sobriety and my emotional well-being. In the past, I often self-isolated and didn’t talk to anyone, but now I try to immerse myself in relationships with people as much as possible. People are great resources. They help guide me in the right direction and give me suggestions. When I am stuck in my head or not in a good place, people are there to pull me out.
Authenticity is incredibly important to me. It is important to me that others understand how I feel, which comes from being honest and vulnerable. Being authentic is the only way people will know how I’m doing and can, therefore, know how to help me. I strive to be as honest and open as I can in all my interactions.
Self-love is definitely something I am still working on. I struggle with the inner critic, the voice inside my head that calls me names and tells me I’m not good enough. I just try to remember that it isn’t true and that I need to try not to be so hard on myself. We are all human and imperfect. It’s okay to mess up. Self-love is an essential part of my well-being. I think the best way to help others is to show up for yourself.
Student empowerment means finding what I’m passionate about and getting to know myself better. It allows me to speak my mind, stand up for what I believe in, and feel like I’m making an impact on this world.
I am incredibly grateful for my time interning for Reflect, for it has helped me recognize these values within myself.
Jake Schachter is from Houston, Texas. He was raised Jewish and grew up playing soccer. He has a twin sister who goes to UPenn. He currently goes to Augsburg University and he is majoring in psychology.
Jake was a Summer 2019 Reflect Intern.
In his free time, Jake enjoys exercising, finding new music, and exploring different religions. He created the cover art for this piece.