How To Cope With Difficult Life Situations In Recovery

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Dealing with trauma is tough. It’s more than tough, it’s heartbreakingly challenging and it shakes the foundation of your recovery.

“Joy and woe are woven fine.”
— William Blake

While I’ve never felt so emotionally aware and free in my heart, I’ve also never felt so broken. Dealing with trauma is tough. It’s more than tough, it’s heartbreakingly challenging and it shakes the foundation of your recovery. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. But there comes a time in one’s recovery that you have to face your demons. My body has kept score over the years and it has told me face my trauma.

I wish that were all I’ve had to deal with the last two years, but in usual style the universe seems to give me a whole heap of challenges at once. Since I’ve been four years sober, it has felt like I am scaling one large mountain after another.

  • I lost my brother to suicide 18 months ago;
  • I moved to America when I was five years sober and while it was my choice, I grossly underestimated the challenges that would present in starting a life from scratch;
  • I have been sick for over six months, with stage 3 adrenal fatigue, and am only just beginning to recover;
  • Moving away from my family has given me the space to realize I have untreated complex PTSD;
  • I’ve had to have intensive dental surgery to fix the chronic pain I’ve been feeling in my mouth for years; and
  • I’ve had to spend over $8,000 on my health this year.

These life challenges have been tough and have shaken me to my core. I have never cried this much in my entire life. Some days feel like the pain of being in early recovery: I don’t know who I am, I can’t think straight, and I don’t know what to do next. I also lose hours disassociating and overplaying traumatic events in my mind. My brain has been in overdrive.

I have woken up. And waking up is painful.

“ I knew in my heart that I could weather the storm—I’ve been through much worse things and I still live to speak up and tell my story. ”

There have been times when I’ve found myself sobbing uncontrollably. I’ve felt at times at the brink of doing something disruptive to take away the pain, but I know how futile that is; at six years sober numbing stops working. I knew in my heart that I could weather the storm—I’ve been through much worse things and I still live to speak up and tell my story. The only way for me to be able to cope, for me to heal, was to get effective and holistic help. I have had to work incredibly hard to juggle time and resources to get this help. This is how I have coped:

  1. I began working with a naturopath who could help me determine exactly what was going on in my body and help me to heal fully, rather than prescribe me endless medications and not treat the root cause;
  2. I had acupuncture every two weeks to support my healing and pain relief;
  3. I began working with a therapist every week to process my trauma, help me to stabilize and recover self-regulation, as well as provide the emotional support that I desperately needed;
  4. I removed toxic relationships from my life;
  5. I placed boundaries with family members to try and limit traumatization;
  6. I cut ties with my father, who still lives in the throes of active addiction;
  7. I stopped allowing people to tell me what to do, what role to play, and how to live my life;
  8. I ramped up the healthy food that I have eaten;
  9. I nurtured my body by learning how to calm and heal my nervous system through: craniosacral therapy, massage, massive amounts of yin and restorative yoga, limiting technology in the evenings, listening to calming music, respecting that I’m an introvert by giving myself alone time and not overexerting myself socially, going to workshops to learn about somatic experiencing and calming the nervous system, talking walks in nature, getting sunshine, slowing down rigorous activity to a more gentle movement.

Even though this has been incredibly painful, I’ve never felt so free in my heart. I have space opening up in my body that I’ve never experienced before. I have days without chronic pain or a racing mind. I have sweet unadulterated joy. Perhaps to experience pure joy you have to walk through your woes.

The poem by William Blake, Auguries of Innocence, was mentioned at a Heavy Metta Class I attend. You can read the full poem here.


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Olivia Pennelle is a writer, journalist, and recovery activist. Her work has appeared in STAT News, Insider, Filter Magazine, Ravishly, The Temper, and Shondaland. She is the founder of popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen. She lives near Portland, Oregon. Follow her on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter

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