"Warning: this post discusses substance abuse, self harm, death and depression. If those are challenging topics for you, please consider skipping to another post.”

AJ

Note - this submission has been edited in collaboration with our Clinical Advisory Board.

Mental health is a big topic in my life right now. The standing of my own and that of others. I think that this topic is important not only in our daily lives but in the dance community as well. Over the past 3 years I  have been on a long journey to better myself as a person and become more stable in the way that I take care of myself and strive to be healthy and well-rounded. I have struggled with alcoholism and depression and it hasn’t been until the last couple of years that I have felt comfortable talking openly about these things. I am currently 3+ years sober and in recovery and now work in drug and alcohol recovery helping others who are dealing with the same hurdles that I went through. 

I had a long history of using drugs and alcohol to cope with my depression and the inability to be comfortable with myself. When I was 3 years old my dad killed himself. He was someone who struggled with alcoholism so there was a big chance that I was going to get that gene, it was just a matter of time. Growing up I was always the quiet,  reserved child who seemed like they didn't need much attention. Once I hit about 13/14 years old I started acting out and feeling symptoms of depression. I was cutting myself, and fighting with my family, acting out sexually and I was using alcohol as a way to get out of my own head. I started drinking to the point of blacking out and that level of alcohol abuse continued and escalated until I was 22 years old. 

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I  truly believe that a huge reason I  was able to get through a lot of this was because of dance. I was able to lose myself in a similar way that alcohol let me run away but I was on stage or in the studio doing something good for my well-being. I  had a passion for something that kept me occupied in times where I couldn’t stand being in my own head. I was never someone that had an easy time articulating how I was feeling inside so it was helpful to use my body and move. Although I had dance as a way to express myself, I kept a lot of my feelings bottled up inside me and never felt comfortable opening up. I hated myself and had such a hard time enjoying life. I didn't know why I  felt this way. I had a loving family, dance, friends and what seemed like the perfect life but I was miserable. Unfortunately it had to get to a life threatening dark place in order for me to finally get help and realize that a change needed to be made.

Recovery has been the most amazing and most difficult thing I  have ever done and it will forever be a continuing journey. Since I have taken away all mind altering substances I have been able to actually feel my feelings, learn to sit in them, and have built a list of healthy ways to cope. I  have been extremely fortunate to have such a big support system throughout this process. This is something I  wouldn’t have been able to achieve without the people around me holding me up. I have been able to move past the shame of being an alcoholic, the shame of being someone with depression, and the shame of having trauma in my story. There is still such a stigma of what depression, anxiety, ED, alcoholism/drug addiction, etc. looks like and I am working hard to fight that. I currently work with people who are in early stages of recovery to help normalize what they are going through and be there as a person to support and relate to. It is so important to have an ongoing dialogue on the topic of mental health so that people know that they are not alone and that they are not judged. 

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