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Drug addiction is a scary thing. I remember sitting in class when as a kid and listening to the traumatic stories about what drug addiction did to people. I never wanted to be like that. Besides, I bought into the stigma that drug addicts were a certain type of people. I was not like these “people.” I was an athlete. I had been a highly competitive swimmer since I was five years old and had always told myself there was no way I would ever be consumed by addiction. I was consumed by wanting to be the best athlete I could be. Swimming eventually led me to a sport I loved even more- water polo. I put all my time into becoming great. I practiced six hours a day in high school and never did anything to jeopardize my chances of success. Even though alcohol and drugs were always around, I never used them. I was part of a team that was gunning for the state championship as well as having personal goals to play water polo in college. Addiction was going to be the last thing that held me back.
During my senior year, I injured my shoulder. It was a minor injury, but it was accompanied by a lingering pain that was hindering my ability to throw a ball. I needed a solution. I found this solution in prescription painkillers. I remember getting prescribed them and people around me saying to be very careful. I wasn’t even concerned about the potential for addiction. Besides, I was using them as prescribed to treat my symptoms of pain. Things were going well. We won the state championship and I received All-American honors. I took the next step and started playing water polo at a large university. I had some injuries here and there and always treated them the same way. I would go to a medical doctor and get a prescription to pain medicine. One thing I never realized was that painkillers had a funny way of killing my emotional pain as much as my physical pain.


College water polo was so competitive that I started to use pills as a way to give myself an edge. They also helped me deal with the fact that I was competing against some of the best athletes in the nation. At times, I couldn’t keep up. I was no longer a big fish in a little pond. When I look back, this is where I developed a real drug addiction. The painkillers I was using for a physical advantage were now giving me an emotional advantage. The problem was that the pills were making me physically dependent and when I didn’t have them, it took a major toll on the way I played. This became a vicious cycle. The more drug use hurt me athletically, the more depressed I became. The more depressed I became, the more drugs I would have to use in order to feel emotionally better. I used to think I was invincible when it came to addiction.
Addiction is a disease that can affect anyone with problems. The thing we never realize is that we are all faced with problems. That is a part of life. It is important to be your best, but it is also important to realize that being your best doesn’t mean you need to compromise your integrity. As an athlete I made the mistake of compromising my integrity by using pills. Dealing with athletic injuries properly is important and taking medication isn’t always bad, but it’s important to recognize when you’re not using your medication properly. There is a big difference in treating pain on the outside verses treating pain on the inside. The real medication that I needed to treat the symptoms of my problem was connecting with people and talking about my personal struggles.

By John, a Student in the John Volken Academy

www.volken.org