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Dealing With Trauma in Sobriety

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Coming into this sober lifestyle, and gaining a new group of like-minded friends, the word “trauma” comes up all the time.

Trauma is defined as deeply distressing or disturbing experiences. Physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse are what we commonly associate with trauma, but this also would include loss of a loved one, a car accident, a natural disaster, and even just receiving bad news.

Seriously, who hasn’t dealt with trauma?

It’s a fact of life. With that definition, it is easy to see how trauma impacts the majority. For myself, I have dealt with many types of trauma. I have experienced physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. The impact this had on my psyche is overwhelming. I had this continuous nightmare, intense snippets from my past, throwing my thought process into a screeching halt. This brought on an extreme case of PTSD, panic attacks, and a tremendous amount of wild mood swings. I found the answer to all my problems: Drugs and alcohol! It helped me numb my mind, body, and lack of spirit. It took me out of that mental hamster wheel nightmare; It became my quick “duct tape fix.” Even though the substances brought on car accidents, jail, hospitalizations, money, and most importantly the identity of being a victim. When my addiction finally spiraled me into rehab, I was adamant in fixing my PTSD from my assault. I also new my kryptonite was ANY substance to make me feel different.

On 4/6/2013 I overdosed. I was put on life support and in an induced coma in a military hospital. When I finally came out of it, the doctors asked why this happened. This was the first time I was completely honest and open. I explained to them I was a victim of rape and sexual assault and drugs and alcohol were my answer. They explained to me what PTSD was, and it was very apparent to them, as well as myself, that I had all the symptoms. They decided to place me in a PTSD unit at the military hospital. They felt It would be a great way for me to learn more about it and moreover how to cope. All of the men I was in the unit had PTSD from combat. This was my real introduction to PTSD falling into different categories. Although our traumas and symptoms were different, we were all able to bond on feelings. I felt comfortable talking about what I had gone through, what I felt, and how it had influenced my decisions. Unfortunately, the curriculum was driven for them and I had a hard time applying it to the trauma I had endured. 

Although I still had PTSD, I was able to acquire four-plus years of sobriety. Just as many of us have experienced I relapsed. That last run brought me to my knees. I was broken, sad, afraid, and my PTSD was savage. I worked harder than I ever have on my recovery. I went to an inpatient facility for three months. I attended classes on addiction, group therapy, and twelve-step meetings. In early sobriety, my PTSD grew even more. I was constantly working my brain and talking about my past. After two months my anxiety and panic attacks dissipated. For once I felt whole. I felt like I had conquered my demons and was not looking back! I became very active in the recovery community. I spoke frequently at twelve-step meetings about my trauma and how I had overcome all the obstacles life handed me. 

Surprise! Just because I’m sober doesn’t mean life is all glitter, rainbows, and puppies. At six months sober I started to become very anxious about everything, which quickly turned into depression and catapulted in full PTSD. Night terrors were the norm. Panic attacks were daily. Memories of all my past trauma resurfaced in depths I never thought imaginable. Sanity left me completely. My support groups were on high alert. I knew I had to dig deeper and face my past head-on. In desperation, I started sexual trauma therapy. I had never done this before, but it was apparent I needed help. I went once a week and physically shook like a leaf every day. It taught me how much I considered myself a victim in all aspects of my life. It taught me not only survival but how to thrive with the disorder. Slowly the nightmares and panic attacks lessened in intensity and frequency. I completed an eight-week program I was symptom-free. I felt amazing. I was myself again. After a couple of months, I had a night terror. This brought me to a crashing halt. I was so depressed. “I am a failure. I did all this hard work for nothing. I’m terminally ill. I am better off dead.” Trauma therapy taught me to change my perception of thinking. “The panic attack wasn’t as intense. I did do a lot of hard work. I did learn a lifetime of information about myself and how to live through the rough moments. I am loved by many. I deserve and want to live.” I instantly started keeping myself busy. Constantly reaching out to my support group. I started being more active in twelve-step programs. I listed every single accomplishment I did. Some days getting out of bed is an accomplishment! After a week or so I came out of the funk.

PTSD has no finish line. There is no cure. We have to learn how to balance ourselves. In a blink of an eye, we can go tumbling down. I still struggle still. Becoming sober makes changes to our brains make up. I’m always learning new things about myself and seeing my past with a different perception. Being open and honest to yourself and others is the most helpful. By opening up about your trauma it can start a conversation for someone who always felt alone. We all know that can be a horrible feeling. Be kind to yourself. Stay Strong. Be a Survivor!

Chris McMullen is an advocate for the LGBT community, sexual assault awareness, and recovery. He uses his own experience, and wisdom as a platform to help others.

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