Introducing Erin, a personal trainer, wellness advocate and recovering addict from Chicago, USA.
R: Hi Erin, tell us a little bit about yourself
E: I grew up on the East coast and only recently moved to Chicago with my husband. I love reading, writing, and being able to share my message about my journey through addiction to recovery. I love to help others find the best versions of themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally.
R: Where do you live?
E: Chicago, IL
R: What do you do?
E: I am a personal trainer, fitness instructor, blogger, and freelance writer
R: How long have you been doing it?
E: I started my career in the fitness industry about a year ago when I moved to Chicago. I’ve been writing my blog, Erin’s Inside Job, for a little over two years now and from that I’ve been able to break into several freelance opportunities such as writing for The Huffington Post.
R: What did you do before?
E: Prior to moving to Chicago, I worked as a pharmacy technician and assistant manager, then at a chiropractic and physical therapy office.
Erin at one of her pre-wedding events in 2013.
R: What were you addicted to? and how did it begin?
E: I was addicted to anything that changed the way I felt. In the end, my drugs of choice were alcohol and heroin. It began with alcohol and then when I moved out to attend college, I started experimenting with whatever drugs I could find. I had never done any drugs before going to college and was extremely against the notion until I allowed myself to be talked into trying them.
“It’s extremely difficult to explain addiction to someone who is not an addict, looking back, it’s amazing I didn’t overdose and die alone in my apartment”
R: How long were you addicted?
E: I drank and used drugs for approximately eight years until I hit my bottom.
R: How would you describe being addicted in your own words?
E: Addiction is an extremely insidious thing. At first it was a relief and an escape from the constant stress I would put myself under. Over time it became a psychological and physical preoccupation. Obsession and compulsion. I could think of nothing else and I had to use in order to feel “happy” or even “normal.” Once I started it it was virtually impossible for me to stop.
R: How did you get off it?
E: I lost everything. I was kicked out of pharmacy school, I lost my career when it was discovered that I was stealing prescription opiates from the pharmacy I worked for, and eventually I was sentenced to 12 months in jail. Prior to my sentencing, I decided that I couldn’t handle living that way anymore and checked myself into rehab, but I still served the consequences of what I had done.
“I think the stronger your connections are with others, the less likely you are to even want to start using in the first place.”
R: Johann Hari, in this video says Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong – the opposite of addiction is connection. What do you think about his theory?
E: I had actually seen this talk a couple months ago and I definitely think he makes some good points. While I do think that you can’t completely remove genetics, environment is a huge component in my opinion. Because I didn’t know how to talk about what was going on with me, because I didn’t know how to identify feelings or ask for help, I took the easy road of escaping from all of that with drugs. I think the stronger your connections are with others, the less likely you are to even want to start using in the first place.
Erin’s life today is one of happiness, health and kale.
R: How did Addiction affect your normal day / everyday life?
E: While I was still working, I always made sure to appear normal. Even though I was taking pills before, during, and after work, my performance never suffered. After work I would go out with friends and drink until I almost blacked out and then drive home. They would make comments to me or try and take my keys away, but I always managed to get back in my car. After I lost my job it was all I could think about. I drank alone in my apartment and after I switched from pills to heroin, I taught myself how to shoot up using the internet and my pharmacy experience. It was a miserable existence that I couldn’t seem to break out of since no one knew what was going on with me.
“I lost my career, my graduate school, and my freedom. I was sentenced to 12 months in jail, restitution, community service, and 5 years of probation. I lost the trust and respect of a lot of people I cared about.”
R: Could you participate in normal daily life while under the influence?
E: As long as alcohol wasn’t involved, yes. During times when I knew I would see people or have to show up at work or school, I would take pills. By the end of that phase, the pills were really for maintenance and I wasn’t even getting high anymore.
R: Did you hold down a job?
E: I worked a job for several years while using. I was a trusted employee of a local pharmacy and I think because no one expected it of me, no one was looking for it. I lost my job when the state did a random inspection of the store and found several hundred pills to be missing.
R: How did it affect your relationships with family & friends?
E: They were hurt and confused. No one that I talked to seemed to know that anything like this was going on. I think those friends who did I had cut out long before when they started trying to confront me about it. I think people understood that I drank too much, but they didn’t know to what extent and certainly had no idea about the pills or the heroin.
R: Did you lose a lot?
E: I lost my career, my graduate school, and my freedom. I was sentenced to 12 months in jail, restitution, community service, and 5 years of probation. I lost the trust and respect of a lot of people I cared about.
R: Would your life be different if you didn’t experience addiction?
E: My life would certainly be different, but I’m not sure that it would be better. The lessons that I’ve learned through recovery have made me a better person and I would have none of the life I have now without going through what I did. At the time, I certainly wasn’t grateful for any of it, but I really appreciate everything that’s come out of it through the years.
R: Your platform: Erin’s Inside Job – What was your inspiration for launching it?
E: I was following some other blogs written by people who had overcome issues in their lives and I realised that if I was able to get so much hope and inspiration from their journeys, then maybe someone else would be able to find that in mine. As I continued to write, I realised how important it was for me to help break the stigma surrounding addiction and to show people how to live their best lives possible.
“Erin writes the healthy living blog Erin’s Inside Job as a way to stay accountable and to share her experiences living with the disease of addiction”
R: What is your primary aim?
E: I want to show people that true wellness comes from within. After I stopped using, there was a period of time when I abused exercise and food for the same reasons that I had abused drugs. I was trying to fix up the outside so that I could feel good on the inside. When I got to what I thought was my goal, I realised that nothing within me had changed and I was still unhappy. I want people to know that life can be hard, but they can get through it. Everyone is amazing and enough just the way they are.
R: Have you received any great feedback / response?
E: The response I’ve gotten is amazing. I’ve had readers email me telling me their stories and asking questions for themselves and others. I’ve built such an amazing community of friends who I don’t get to see enough through writing online and the support has been tremendous.
R: And your writing: The Huffington Post – does writing allow you to release some pent up emotion?
E: Absolutely. Ever since I was young I wanted to be a writer, but I assumed that that was one of those childhood dreams that you shouldn’t take seriously. When I started getting feedback from people on my writing, I realised that this was something I may actually be able to do as an adult. Writing is so important to me and is the best way I have found to express my emotions. It’s so much more than words on a page; it’s my heart and soul.
Erin running her first ever 10km race in 2012.
R: How did you get better?
E: As cliche as it may sound, one day at a time. I listened to the suggestions of my rehab and started attending 12-step meetings. I met friends, got a sponsor, and started working the steps. I was able to connect with other people who know what it was like and that made the process much better. I had hit my bottom, so staying clean was something I actually wanted to do. It’s hard when you’re not ready to stop because no amount of rehab or meetings is going to get you there.
“Addiction is not something that is cured and you move on. I have to be constantly vigilant of my thoughts”
R: Was it easy?
E: It was not easy, but I knew that I had no choice but to change how I was as a person and how I was living. I knew I had to do the work to get the life I wanted.
R: How long did it take?
E: I’m never “recovered,” but it gets easier with time. Addiction is not something that is cured and you move on. I have to be constantly vigilant of my thoughts and my motives behind my actions in order not to regress to old behaviors.
R: Did you see a health professionals to get better? or by yourself?
E: I attended an intensive outpatient rehab program that consisted of between 20-30 3-hour sessions. Many of the counselors were former addicts and alcoholics in long term recovery.
R: Did they prescribe medication?
E: As part of the program, I was prescribed Suboxone and Antabuse.
R: Do you / Did you take medication?
E: I took the Antabuse until I was done with the program and I continued the Suboxone until I was sentenced to jail, at which time I was unable to continue due to the prohibition of controlled substances in jail.
R: Have you seen a therapist?
E: This year was the first year that I saw a therapist for issues I had come up. It was the first time I had seen one.
R: How do you best manage the process? medication, meditation, yoga, alternative medicines, or something else?
E: This summer I was diagnosed with clinical depression and started on an antidepressant. It made a world of difference in alleviating my depression and anxiety and I’m very glad that I listened to the advice of my therapist. Exercise is also tremendously helpful.
In 2015 Erin completed 3 1/2 marathons.
R: How often do you train?
E: Personally, I work out 3-5 times a week. I’m taking a break from running so I primarily do high-intensity workouts and strength training.
R: Have you always excercised?
E: I was always pretty active when I was younger, but as my addiction progressed my eating and exercising habits became very poor. As I previously mentioned, there was a period of time when I began abusing exercise and food after quitting drugs and alcohol and it took support from others and some self-awareness to even realise it was a problem. I started to eat and exercise more intuitively and learning to accept myself the way that I am helped me get into a more sustainable routine.
R: I imagine being addicted was tough on the body, have you fully recovered?
E: As far as I know, there have been no long term effects of my drug use. My checkups come back all clear and since I used by myself, I didn’t put myself at risk of contracting any diseases or infections.
R: Do you feel as if you’re in control of addiction now?
E: I feel as in control as I can. I’ve learned that the only thing I can control is my thoughts, behaviors, and reactions and that everything else in my life is out of that control. That means people, places, things, and situations. As long as I’m working on myself and my recovery, I know that I can get through whatever life throws at me.
On set for a fitness photoshoot, January 2016.
R: Where does your Addiction come from?
E: I think my addiction comes from a combination of genetics and environment. I was unable to talk about a lot of my feelings or stresses that I had going on, so when I found drugs it was much easier for me to escape into that world than to do the hard work of learning how to communicate with others.
“I was pretty well versed in medicine and psychology (my major), so I was able to understand [where my addiction originated] for myself.”
R: Did any health professionals explain where your Addiction originated?
E: Not specifically that I can remember, but I was pretty well versed in medicine and psychology (my major), so I was able to understand that for myself.
R: Any family history of Addiction?
E: I do have some family history of addiction, although I’m not sure how far back I can trace it.
R: Do you tell friends, family and colleagues that you went through it all?
E: Before moving to Chicago, I kept what I’d gone through quiet at work. I told a few friends I had there, but I didn’t want to make a display of it. I used my blog and my meetings to talk openly about the struggle and the process. Friends and family knew and once I moved here I opened up more about it. I don’t immediately tell everyone I meet, but if it comes up I don’t mind talking about it. It’s all about helping to break the stigma.
“Addiction is usually blown out of proportion or romanticised in film, so I can’t think of any off hand that I found to be particularly honest and accurate.”
R: Do you know others who are/were addicted?
E: I’ve met many people throughout my recovery through meetings, online, and my blog. Everyone has a story, but at the bottom of it, many of the feelings and behaviors are the same. Hearing that, I have no doubt that I’m an addict.
R: How do you educate yourself on management and resources? Do you read specific blogs, magazines or news articles?
E: I attend twelve-step meetings, talk to others in recovery, and try to read the latest news about addiction research and theory.
R: Have you read any great books about addiction?
E: 12 step literature has been helpful as well as anything by Brene Brown (not specifically addiction-related, but very helpful for me)
R: Or seen any movies?
E: Addiction is usually blown out of proportion or romanticised in film, so I can’t think of any off hand that I found to be particularly honest and accurate.
R: Can you recommend any therapists / doctors / specialists / coaches / mentors / clinics / foundations?
E: The rehab I attended was the Kolmac Clinic in Gaithersburg, MD and I found it very helpful. Here in Chicago I began seeing a therapist at Millenium Counseling which has also made a huge difference in breaking through some barriers and life situations.
R: What’s on your horizon for 2016?
E: I’m working on finishing a book about my story and the lessons that I wish I had learned growing up. I’m also working on lining up some more speaking opportunities and growing my blog to help present a blueprint for a well-rounded and healthy life.
R: What next for your health and overcoming addiction?
E: For my health, I’m continuing to teach classes and maintain my exercise level which is anywhere from 3-5 times per week. My love is high-intensity interval and strength training and always keepiny my body guessing! For addiction, my goal is to maintain my recovery and continue to work towards breaking that stigma.
R: Thanks Erin!
Mid-crossfit-workout, January 2016.
Follow Erin’s journey to recovery here:
Rodger Hoefel in conversation with Erin Badahur
Cover Photo & other images supplied by Erin Badahur