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PTSD and Substance Use: How Trauma Fueled My Addiction

PTSD and Substance Use: How Trauma Fueled My Addiction

And all the while I feel like I’m standing in the middle of a crowded room, screaming at the top of my lungs, and no one even looks up.” I remember watching Titanic as a kid, empathizing with Rose and her emotional turmoil. Growing up, I always felt like I was drowning and desperately waiting for someone to come rescue me. It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I would realize that I was the one refusing to get into the lifeboat…

I was 5 years old when I had my first encounter with trauma. Too young to comprehend the magnitude of the situation, my first grade class participated in a “Good Touch/Bad Touch” workshop and I found relief in finding a safe place to lay down the burden I had been carrying. I went straight to the school counselor and told her, in vivid description, the intimate details of my unwarranted experiences. I remember the grueling interview process that resulted in a conference with my parents. Finally, someone could validate my pain, or so I thought. This resulted in complete denial and avoidance from my parents. Looking back, perhaps it was too painful. I like to think they did the best they could with what they had. I would spend the next 20 years of my life wearing victimization like a warm blanket, hopelessly seeking relief and validation.

Throughout my childhood/adolescent years, I was subjected to consistent emotional abuse from my stepmother. Struggling with untreated bipolar disorder, she was anything but predictable. I never knew who to be or how to act and this prompted my chameleon act. Survival meant I would attempt to fit the mold of being the “perfect daughter” based on her mood of the day. Trying to win over her validation and affection was seemingly impossible. I would cry and then the critical responses – “You’re too sensitive. Stop crying or I’ll give you a reason to cry!” would echo down the hallway. Trauma from the emotional stress of this relationship fueled my feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, and fear of failure. Isolation became my remedy. Alone in my room, I was always safe. I would escape my own reality by living vicariously through characters in the book collection I stashed in my room. I remember riding to church with my father and him explaining to me that I had to be the adult. I was 9 years old at the time. From then on, that became my new identity: the 9-year-old grownup. After all, Daddy wasn’t coming to save me. Maybe I could receive unconditional love from my mother if I followed after his careful instruction.

Disassociation became a coping mechanism. Life became tolerable for a while. I stopped allowing myself to connect with my emotions. This method worked for a while, and then my mother passed away unexpectedly and I found myself overwhelmed with grief and unresolved resentments. Frantically searching for relief, I outsourced my avoidance. Drugs and alcohol became my first reprieve. I finally found the solution, complete oblivion. I spent 4 years of my life drowning out pain, anger, fear, even happiness. I traveled down a dark road, one that ultimately led to my demise. Relentlessly pursuing after things that never served me, credible force propelled me into facing my fears head on.

Walking out of the local county jail, I felt complete apathy. My father finally came to my rescue. He offered me the gift of recovery. I attended a 30-day dual-diagnosis treatment center. At first, I was convinced I was entering the initiation into a cult. The idea that I would walk through the trauma I experienced, completely sober, was insane. I’m not like any of these people. Again, my comforting desire to be the isolated victim crept in. You see, drugs and alcohol were never the problem; I was. After weeks of intense group and individual therapy, I came to the realization that not only was I healing from my addiction but from undiagnosed PTSD and anxiety. This was the turning point in my journey to recovery.

At the root of it all, I was the scared little 5-year-old girl that never healed the wounds of her past. Without drugs and alcohol, my resources were severed. Aside from the common withdrawal symptoms, I found myself struggling to eat, sleep, process emotions, or engage in any sort of vulnerability. During one of our self-demolition sessions, I remember my therapist asking me “Colby, how much pain do you want to be in today? Only you can lay it down and start to heal.”  No one ever validated my trauma, until that day. In recovery, many people speak of spiritual experiences and this was my first encounter. I remember sobbing and yelling throughout the remainder of our session, unloading years of guilt, shame, and unadulterated pain. I slowly started to welcome the idea that I had complete control over how much I truly wanted to recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind.

Today, I gravitate towards things that make me uncomfortable. I know that through discomfort comes adversity, but ultimately comes growth. I continue to seek ongoing therapy for my PTSD and I am actively involved in my local AA community. I stay connected to the women I’ve met in sobriety. Some days, they carry me when I cannot carry myself. Sharing my experiences with other women struggling with co-occurring disorders gives me hope. Pursuing the things that set my soul on fire has been my saving grace. I have finally found my purpose and this has been the driving force for me to continue the good fight.

For anyone struggling with addiction or any mental health disorder, take heart. There are unlimited resources waiting for you. I never imagined my life would be as amazing as it is today. Don’t give up; there’s always hope.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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Author Bio: Colby now has 3 years sober. She works for Recovery Local, a digital marketing company that advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction. She’s actively involved in her local recovery community and has been blessed with an overwhelming amount of support from friends and family. Colby is passionate about sharing her experience in hopes of helping the next addict achieve long-term sobriety.

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