"Are you OK Lara?"
I hear her outside the bathroom stall. It's Katie, my supervisor. The woman I adored and considered my mentor at one time. I hear the concern in her voice. I think "just leave me alone."
"Yup. Everything's fine"
In reality, everything was not fine. Nowhere near fine in fact. I was wearing a bandage around my wrist because I had torn through my walls the night before. Thinking someone was spying on me. Wires in the wall. A framed picture fell and glass went through my skin.
I imagine she wonders if my boyfriend is physically abusing me, with these bandages around my wrists and scars on my arm. I've changed. I am not the same as when she first met me. Friendly. Diligent. Hardworking. Ambitious. That’s not me anymore. The drugs have turned on me again.
She hired me because she knew I would succeed and I did. In my first month, I exceeded my sales goals, just as expected. People clap for me. Celebrate me. I don't tell them I am only 4 months sober and living in a sober living home for women who are recovering from substance-use disorder somewhere outside of west LA.
It starts innocently enough. I work hard. I stay late. I land some accounts. I think I can have a drink. I start buying mini-wine bottles after work and hiding the bottles in a brown bag in the back of my car. My boyfriend smells it. He is sober too. We met in rehab. I lie to him. He pretends to believe it.
It doesn't last long. 2 months later he is bringing me heroin after work. But, heroin is not my drug of choice. I turn to amphetamines. Adderall isn’t as easy to get now that my parents have threatened my doctor and told him to never prescribe this drug to me again, ever.
I can't find Adderall. So, my boyfriend and I search the streets of Hollywood for a synthetic drug known as bath salts. We can't find that either. But, he finds crack. And I think that's good enough for now.
I smoke it before work. I sleep about 3 hours the night before. I fall asleep during our weekly sales meeting because the crack wears off. I notice this. People are looking at me. My eyes are rolling back in my head. I excuse myself after the meeting. Go to the bathroom. I smoke more crack.
I don't like crack. It's only the 3rd time I've smoked it in my whole life & it doesn't last long enough. But, I have to wake up. I return to my office, a little bit better. A little bit more awake. I make calls. I do my job. I can function. But, not to the degree I used to.
I increasingly become more odd, more off-balanced. My colleagues avoid me. I avoid myself. I end up discovering meth and start abusing it.
Eventually, I stop showing up for work. If I do go to work, I bring my drugs with me. Work is more fun now that I carry meth in my purse. I take breaks every 2 hours to go to the parking garage and I smoke it. I can't keep up with this drug. I turn psychotic and I have to put it down. Eventually, I am fired and I return home to collect unemployment and live the way I never thought I would live – in active addiction, dark and merciless. This cycle will continue for a few more years.
My resume doesn't show my addiction or the fact that I've had a substance use-disorder for the last 3 years. My resume shows that I have an MBA from a prestigious university and over 4 years of experience at one of the most well-known cable television networks in the world. My resume doesn't speak addiction, nor do I.
I hide it. Ashamed. I used to be someone. I want to be someone again, but I don't know how to get there.
Abusing drugs at work started very innocently and it was never obvious to those around me. I would take my prescription opiates here and there. It was a way to unwind, to get things done – to accomplish more. I could take them or leave them and I very rarely used them at work. It was a weekend thing.
I still have my apartment by the beach, the Mercedes, the fiancé who is a lawyer. I have 2 dogs, friends, family and a full life. I don’t look the part of addiction. It is likely because I am not yet addicted nor do I assume I will ever be. I don’t imagine that substance-abuse will become part of my DNA and that a few years after my car accident, after I am prescribed more pain killers than imaginable, I will turn to crack, and meth, and live in and out of psych wards and sober living homes. I don’t picture my life like this.
The unfortunate truth is that more and more people are becoming addicted to prescription pills. More and more people are using these drugs for non-medical reasons and they are turning into active users who become caught in a merciless addiction that they never would have thought could happen to them.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 76 percent of people with drug or alcohol problems are employed, and about 19.2 million U.S. workers (15%) reported using or being impaired by alcohol at work at least once in the past year. Also, more than 20% of alcoholics are high functioning and well educated. The likelihood for substance abuse in the C-level suite of executives is incredibly high. Most executives are driven very, very hard to succeed and that same level of drive is often applied to their addiction as well.
High-achievers are able to still perform at work and thus, their substance abuse can go unnoticed for quite a bit of time. This was my story, until it wasn’t. Addiction usually gets worse, not better. And over time, I found myself abusing more medications and always crossing a line that I said I would not cross.
I didn’t see myself using crack, meth, pills, and booze at work, but that is what happened. That is how it occurred. I hope more people wake up to the fact that substance abuse doesn’t just effect the less fortunate, it effects all of us. Some can just hide it better than others.