#mindflip Resilience Series
This post is a part of the #mindflip resilience series. A series created to provide hope and inspiration by sharing stories a real life struggle. In each of these stories, people have overcome hardship and come out with greater meaning, perspective, confidence and hope. We can find strength in sharing our stories, while also realizing that we are not alone in our struggle. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for help. You are always worth it.
Alisha Woodroof writes:
Fear and Fitting In
Fear, wanting to fit in, pleasing others and morphing into whoever and whatever I thought others expected were my main motivators. For as long as I can remember, I was afraid to be myself. As a kid, I just wanted you to like me, I wanted to fit in and always wanted to be “cool.” Instead, I was awkward and just liked whatever you liked so that I would fit in. I would pretend to know what was going on in a conversation even if I had no clue. Fear of “being found out.” That if you really knew who I was, you wouldn’t like me. I felt lonely in a crowded room.
Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
I played competitive tennis since the age of 9 so I became known as “the girl who played tennis” and that was my identity growing up. I had a hard time controlling my temper and emotions on the court. in retrospect, I can see how angry, alone and fearful I was. I was depressed but didn’t know it nor could I define it. Suicidal ideation started early. Intervention would’ve been good here, but instead I turned to other coping methods like self-harm and bingeing on food or alcohol. I did anything I could to numb out the feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy. In college, the undesirable coping behaviors continued and I swung in the other direction with not eating enough and over exercising. Again, just trying to find a way to deal with all of the uncomfortable feelings of not being enough.
Experiencing success athletically and academically certainly helped me establish a facade that all was well. Regardless of how things looked on the outside, I still had feelings of inadequacy and “not being enough.” I was a successful Division I tennis player, and completed a double major at University of North Carolina. Life kept moving along and I kept up this act as I was on the path of becoming a successful young tennis coach at the NCAA Division I level. None of this felt enough or authentic. I’m not even sure it was what I wanted?
The Disease of “Never Enough”
Of course I got married during this time and that marriage unraveled (was that even an authentic relationship? Was I just doing what was expected and to fit in? I still question). Amid this chaos, I sought help from a therapist to help develop healthy coping skills as I continued cutting and drinking heavily. But….I was not ready or willing to change, so I continued my downward trajectory. I became addicted to harder drugs, including crack cocaine and heroin. What started out as a coping mechanism for the feeling that I was “not enough” now was addiction, the disease of “never enough.”
My world became very small and the spiral down continued. It’s impossible to live the life of an addict, always looking for the next high, while coaching Division I athletes! Obviously I lost jobs and material possessions as the addiction took over and lost every bit of self esteem I had left. After burning every bridge in coaching, I returned to North Carolina and became a personal trainer. The shame of who I had become kept me in the cycle of addiction. Now I was really afraid to let people know what I had done and who I had become.
A New Obstacle called MS
In 2005, I was having trouble with my balance and my face was numb. I thought it was from the drug use, but was too scared to take myself to the emergency room. After several tests, the attending neurologist told me I had multiple sclerosis (MS). He also told me that he was more concerned with my drug addiction than the MS. He felt I was going to die if I kept living how I was living. The MS was manageable but smoking crack was not. I tried to get clean and sober many times, but shame and fear kept driving me back to the “easy” way out.
I’m not sure why June 30, 2006 was the last time that I used, but on July 1, 2006 I got up and decided I was going to put the same amount of effort into staying sober as I did to get high. I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but I couldn’t keep living the lie I was living. The fear and shame was going to kill me.
The Sober Journey
With the help of friends, 12 step programs, and therapy, I was able to develop healthy coping skills. I was still scared to let people in, but how I was living was not working and I had to get vulnerable and learn to trust.
Today I can feel the fear, but instead of cowering, I can move through the fear.
Yes, I’m still scared of failure or of what people might think about me, but I have healthy skills to help through the fear.
Triathlons for Healthy Coping
As I got sober and more importantly stayed sober, I found the sport of triathlon. Triathlons have given me the opportunity to push my limits, face fears, and complete races that I didn’t think were possible. Each increasing distance, I wasn’t quite sure if I could do it, but as I crossed the finish line, the feeling of accomplishment was insurmountable. Almost addicting. I wanted more. Imagine that.
So I continue to push myself in the sport of triathlon as it gives me a great outlet and a healthy way to take care of myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. When I started on this journey of triathlon, I wasn’t sure what my body could handle with the MS or the potential damage I had done to my heart with the drug abuse. Through trial and error, listening to my body, and taking care of myself through medication, proper rest, and proper nutrition, I have been able to put the fears aside that I’m going to make the MS worse. I have now completed 7 1/2 Ironman distance races and 6 full Ironman races. Never in a million years would I have thought I could swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and then run a marathon all in the same day. Certainly not when I was in the downward spiral of addiction.
Living Through the Fear
By letting go, letting others help me, grasping on a straw of hope, holding on, and not giving up on myself, today I get to live a full life, not without fear, but through fear and out the other side.
I work hard every day to address the issues that lead me to use destructive coping mechanisms to hide from fear and numb myself. Alcohol and drug addiction and other self harming behaviors are but a symptom of something much deeper. Once I let go and allowed myself to start the healing process, these behaviors were replaced by healthier coping skills. When I was stuck in the cycle of addiction, my world was very small. Today, even though I have moments of anxiety or fear of what others will think, I am willing and able to be open, share my story, and do my part to bring awareness that addiction knows no boundaries and can happen to anyone. While my stubbornness and perseverance once kept me stuck, today I use these characteristics to achieve goals once thought unattainable.
Huge thank you to Alisha for sharing her story. You can connect with her on Instagram or Facebook. Through her story, we hope to stop the stigma on addiction and mental health issues. It should be talked about, rather than hushed, so that everyone feels comfortable enough to seek help.
With good intentions,