on the other side

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit this, but I was addicted to kratom for a year and a half.

I’ve come to find out that most people don’t even know what kratom is. The easy way to answer the question, “What’s that green gunk in your coffee!?”, is … “Oh, it’s just a natural herbal supplement.” That description isn’t entirely wrong, but it’s not entirely truthful either.

It’s completely legal (in most states.) You can drive to any local smoke shop and buy it. You can order it online. You can find hundreds of people online raving about how it saved their life and has improved their chronic pain, mental health, or previous addictions. But do you want to know what I think? After a year and a half of being on the stuff, it’s A) not “just” a herbal supplement and B) a sure-fire way to experience addiction transference. It gets you off one thing, just for you to be a slave to another thing.

However, I did come across my fair share of warnings and horror stories when I was first exploring the world of kratom. But let’s face it, when you have addictive tendencies or are somebody who struggles with emotional/mental health in general, you’re always looking for the next best thing that’s going to make you feel good. I ignored the warnings. I wanted this shit to work. I abused alcohol for years and even though I was sober when I first tried it, I still had major anxiety in social situations. I had low self-esteem and trudged through social events feeling uncomfortable and insecure. I felt like I was missing out on life, but I didn’t want to go back to alcohol. I wanted to find a “healthier alternative.”

I will never forget the first time I tried kratom. I went out to breakfast that morning with my fiancé and I was in a naturally great mood. I remember saying to him, “I’m in a really good mood today for some reason. I feel so good.” Maybe it was because I had been sustaining from alcohol for months and my brain finally didn’t hate me anymore. So, what did I decide to do after that? I curiously (and stupidly) walked over to the smoke shop across the parking lot just to peruse around. I thought that maybe I would find some CBD, since I heard it was non-dependency forming and helps with anxiety. But then I saw some kratom behind the counter. I thought, “Ooh! I’ve heard about this stuff! But what is it?” I knew nothing about it and I still bought it. I truly had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. I popped some capsules in my mouth when I got home and once it kicked in, I turned to my fiancé and said, “This stuff works. It feels like drugs.” I wasn’t genuinely, naturally happy for a year and a half after that.

I immediately wanted to use kratom all the time. There were so many mixed reviews over whether or not it was safe, but deep down, I didn’t care. How could it be bad for you if it’s sold legally at every smoke shop on the corner? How could it be bad for you if it comes from a plant? How could it be bad for you if I don’t act impaired when I’m on it? It was definitely better than drinking alcohol, so I justified my use easily. I took it before work, during work, after work, before bed, and I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning to take it again. I felt euphoric, grateful, anxiety-free, motivated, and very social when I was on kratom. This was new for me. I’ve struggled with anxiety and bouts of depression since I was 11 years old, so I felt like this “natural supplement” was changing my life for the better. But now, I can look back on this phase of my life and realize that it was all a lie. I was addicted to kratom and it didn’t take long for it to sink its teeth into my back.

The only place I could find people who I related to was on Reddit. There were basically two sides of the Reddit kratom community: r/kratom and r/quittingkratom. The r/kratom people loooved kratom. I loved it too … at first. We all justified our kratom use and thought it was really helping us. Then, there was the r/quittingkratom thread, where hundreds and hundreds of people wrote about their grueling experience getting off of it. People wrote about how after a while, they lost their joy. They lost their emotions. They lost their motivation. They were tired of carrying around a baggie of green powder everywhere they went and depending on it for a short-lived boost. They started experiencing health problems like hair loss and horrible constipation. I became this person after a few months. Even though I can be an idiot sometimes, it didn’t take too long for me to become aware of the situation. I was becoming dependent on a substance that was helping me less and less. I was building a tolerance, the high wasn’t as strong, and I became extremely angry and irritable when I was coming down. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Most importantly to note was that I couldn’t go a day without it even when I really thought I should.

The worst part about my kratom usage was always needing to have a stash in my purse and running into public bathrooms everywhere I went to toss a dry scoop in my mouth and wash it down with sink water in my hands. I remember being at a furniture store with my fiancé and leaving him with the sales associate mid-conversation so I could take some kratom in the bathroom. I was a slave to the stuff because I started to feel like I couldn’t enjoy anything without it. I couldn’t just be “content” anymore. I had to feel euphoria in every single moment or I was dangerously irritable and annoyed. I swore I wasn’t going to be like the people in the r/quittingkratom thread who let their usage get out of control, but I did let it get out of control.

I can’t forget to mention the physical withdrawals. I would tell myself that I wasn’t going to take it on a particular day, but I would have a persistent runny nose the second I woke up and be in an absolutely terrible mood. I would get through maybe an hour or two of the work day before I inevitably gave in. Just a scoop of kratom would transform me into a happy, chipper person. I convinced myself that I was doing everybody around me a favor. That negative voice in my head told me that people liked me more when I was happy and talkative, not sickly and antisocial. At night, absolutely excruciating RLS would kick in the second I laid down if I didn’t take kratom before bed. I literally would not be able to sleep if I didn’t take it.

If you’re still here, I’m going to tell you about why I finally quit. First and foremost, it’s a very guilt-ridden and depressing experience when you depend on any substance to feel like a functioning human. I was happy before I tried kratom, yet I was still reaching for a quick fix and a shortcut to bliss. I had to remind myself that the “happiness” kratom gave me was artificially engineered and fleeting. I felt very empty towards the end of my usage. Kratom didn’t “work.” It didn’t get me to where I wanted to be. I accepted the fact that no drug or outwardly substance is going to grant me my wishes and satisfy my soul. It’s just prolonging real growth and distracting me from who I really am. For me, I experience real happiness when I’m taking care of myself and living a life that I don’t feel ashamed of. When I’m exercising, writing, reading, meditating, being in nature, painting, crafting, going to spiritual workshops, whatever it may be … that’s when I feel whole.

I realized that I could be still a slave to kratom for years to come if I don’t jump off the crazy train. I felt like I had to quit and face the music at some point, so what better time than now. I’m still in the beginning stages of sobriety and I tapered down my usage for a very long time before quitting completely. I feel weird, but I feel hopeful. Even while writing this and reliving those beginning days of kratom, I felt nostalgic … but I can’t say honestly that it was the “happiest” I’ve ever been. It was like putting a sparkly bow on a pile of shit. I was essentially high on drugs and escaping the reality of the situation — I really needed to heal. So that’s what I’m focusing on now, healing. I hope my story helped in some way and I hope that I can continue to stay off of kratom in the future. Anybody who has struggled with addiction knows that you can only focus on staying sober one day at a time and thank God for the strength to face life head-on even when you don’t feel strong enough.

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