When I was young, my parents raised me to be what they thought was strong and resilient. They themselves are strong, hard-working individuals, and they only wanted the best for me. However, if I was upset, crying was frowned upon, and I would get punished further. Strength, at the time, was defined by not showing negative emotions. Regardless of what would happen, I was supposed to be resilient. I was to smile and pretend that everything was okay, even if I was hurting.
This instilled within me a fear of showing my emotions. I didn’t want my parents to see me as weak. After all, I wanted nothing more than to make them proud. I learned at an early age to shove my emotions deep down inside of me but I’m human and could only bottle things up for so long. When I would lay in bed at night, crippled by panic attacks, I was told that I was just overreacting. Why did I have to be so dramatic, my parents would ask.
When I was 13 I got high for the first time. I felt calm – the anxiety in my head came to a rapid halt and I could effectively numb my emotions while putting on an exterior facade that I was okay. In the beginning, the drugs worked for me. I could walk through life as an emotionless person and appease my family.
However, like any person who suffers from addiction, the drugs eventually stopped working. My addiction began to be destructive when I wasn’t living under my parents’ roof anymore. I was 18 and had a full-ride scholarship to college. Everything on the outside still looked great, but internally, I was a disaster. I was a straight-A student with my whole life ahead of me, but drugs were more important. As my addiction progressed, the drugs ceased to control my emotional nature, yet I had turned my parent’s voices inward. If I felt sadness, anger, fear, or anxiety, I would repeat to myself that I was being dramatic. I was overreacting. Then, I would take more drugs in a desperate attempt to dull the pain.
By the time I was 22, this vicious cycle of emotional avoidance and drug abuse caught up with me. I was absolutely exhausted from running from my problems, and I had seen people around me begin to lead sober lives. With the help of a close friend who had recently gotten sober, I checked myself into rehab.
Rehab, for me, was merely a physical separation from drugs. I wasn’t ready to open up emotionally. My therapist gave me a grave warning. She told me that if I didn’t learn to identify and cope with my emotions while in treatment, it would come back to hurt me later on in my sobriety. It took me two years to recognize that she was right.
When I got out of treatment I did everything I was told to do. I formed a support group of women who had more clean time than me, I began exploring my spirituality, and made amends to the people I had hurt in my addiction. I had started to get things back in my life, like a job, my family, and good friends, but I would still find myself experiencing a depressive episode every couple of months.
One day, in particular, I was standing outside of a recovery meeting, overwhelmed by the multitude of emotions that I had been shoving down. I kept telling myself that I was feeling like this for no reason, that I was just being dramatic, but I couldn’t stop crying. I had absolutely no coping skills. The friends around me kept reassuring me that I had a lot going on at the time, and my reaction was completely normal, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe it.
Later that night, with no way to soothe my emotions, I remembered my therapist from rehab telling me the importance of learning how to cope with my emotions. She was right – I was going through these short periods of time where I was utterly miserable because, for the most part, I was avoiding my emotions.
I didn’t get sober to be miserable. I got sober to get better, mentally, physically, and spiritually. In order to not run from my emotions anymore, I put my ego aside and sought out therapy.
In my first therapy session, we spoke a lot about my childhood. We spoke about all of the things I had avoided talking about in treatment. I got vulnerable with another person for the first time in my life. I was honestly shocked to hear my therapist consider the way I was raised to be a form of emotional abuse, but she was right. Although my parents raised me the best they knew how, my voice was invalidated, over and over, to the point where I turned the abuse inwards to become my own voice. My depressive episodes, my self-doubt, and my negative self-talk all stemmed from this emotional trauma that dominated my life from early childhood into my teen years. Most importantly, if I didn’t address it now, I was bound to return back to using drugs and alcohol to find solace.
Through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and trauma-informed care, I began to heal. I began to learn how to show my own thoughts some compassion and how to self-soothe. I’ve learned to love who I am and trust the idea that my emotions are valid and my voice is important.
Just because I’m sober doesn’t mean I’m perfect. It means I am a work in progress. The difference in the person I am today and the person I was three years ago in treatment all comes down to the extent of my willingness to change and grow as a woman in recovery. Throughout this process, I’ve redefined what the words strength and resilience really mean to me.
Shoving emotions down is easy, but sharing those emotions and being completely transparent with others is difficult. That vulnerability is nothing short of strength. Vulnerability is painful, and it takes immense amounts of internal strength, but being able to walk through that and grow from it is resilience. Each day, I focus on being vulnerable, honest, and transparent with others to stay in touch with my emotions and self-soothe in healthy ways. This allows me to not only grow as a person but to become stronger and more resilient each and every day.
Author Bio: Hailey has been sober for three years and dedicates her life to helping others overcome trauma, deal with mental illness, and recover from addiction. She works with Clarksville Rehab to help spread awareness around addiction. In her free time, she loves writing and hiking with her dog.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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