Updated: Jun 11
How I started the process of shattering my own stigmatized beliefs, healing my trauma, and learning what it meant to accomplish true freedom.
When the Stereotype Doesn’t Fit...
When many people think about addicts or alcoholics, they think homeless “junkies,” lazy men and women who come from bad homes, or individuals living off of welfare checks. These stereotypes are far from the truth. As a recovering addict and alcoholic, I don’t fit in any of these categories.
For the longest time, I felt I couldn’t be an addict or alcoholic because I didn’t fit this societally made bill. I shied away from these diagnoses due to what the world would see me as if I internalized these labels. Then, when a therapist at my first treatment center brought up the idea that trauma could be behind my substance use, I immediately rejected her observation.
I couldn’t have trauma! I grew up in a middle-class family in a safe neighborhood. I was Jewish for goodness sake. And 'Good Jewish Girls' aren’t supposed to experience the type of trauma I had.
But what I didn’t understand at that time was that the stereotypes that society adopts from television, Hollywood, the internet, and what they see on the streets are rarely an accurate depiction of what happens in the real world.
“Trauma and addiction are often hidden away behind closed doors, masked by money, nice clothing, and outward affection used to cover up what really happens in a struggling family or abusive relationship.”
This article will explore my own experiences of trauma and substance misuse. Each individual has their unique life experiences and emotional triggers that cause them to experience hardship and suffering. So, a disclaimer as we move forward: If you do not identify with my particular story, that does invalidate your trauma or other struggles.
Healing Trauma is Lonely. It Doesn't Have to Be.
Trauma can affect someone in many different ways - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. According to a study cited by a nationally recognized rehabilitation center, the Recovery Village, 46.4% of individuals diagnosed or that meet the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, also meet criteria for a substance use disorder. Meaning, the number of people experiencing both co-occurring disorders roughly equals the population of Texas.
When I read this statistic, I instantly felt less alone. I felt validated...as if my addictions and traumatic stress were interrelated.
For far too long I chased for answers on why I am the way I am. My therapists and psychiatrists weren’t treating my real problems, but rather singularly isolating and addressing either my alcoholism or my drug addiction or the eating disorder I have lived with since middle school.
“I understand now that if I had been honest about the cause of my need to self-medicate - the trauma underlying it all - I could have reached sobriety and recovery much sooner. However, I wasn’t ready to be honest with myself about my traumatic past, never mind tell another person.”
Somewhere deep down inside of me, the wounded girl who still felt abused and mistreated needed to keep drinking and drugging to survive. She needed to find some substance or behavior that would allow her to forget what had happened to her. Today, I understand that little girl's desperation and no longer judge my journey to recovery.
Recovery Requires Bravery, Honesty, & Vulnerability
Recovery from drugs and alcohol takes extreme courage, hard work, and bravery. Add onto that PTSD treatment, and we’re faced with an incredibly daring vulnerability that’s necessary to begin processing the horror that can make a person drink or drug to their death. Recovery is overwhelming but not impossible. At first, I didn’t believe I was strong enough to recover.
I truly thought I would rather die of this disease than be honest about what I experienced as a child and as a college freshman.
“I felt frozen in fear, like I was that little girl again, forced to be around grownups I could not trust.”
It took 9 years of substance use, psychiatric, and eating disorder treatment to put a dent in the thick brick wall I built around my trauma. Once the initial opening into the world of trauma treatment and processing began, I immediately felt relief. It only took a few sessions with a therapist I trusted to convince myself that I needed to fully open the flood gates to recover. I wanted more than anything to never pick up a drink or drug again. I wanted to tell my family I no longer romanticize binging and purging, but internally I could feel with every cell of my being this would never be possible If I don’t open up about the abuse I had endured.
This article is a testament to my own work on my trauma and addiction and to prove to anyone struggling alone - anyone fearing that recovery isn’t possible because of their trauma - that healing from addiction and trauma is 100% possible.
Recovery is Freedom.
I will not lie, beginning this process was the scariest thing I have ever done. Continuing it was also hard, but the end results have been worth it. As someone who has thoroughly invested in this process, I compare the trauma recovery journey to the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Of course, there are different trauma therapies and not everyone has to work a 12-step program to heal PTSD.
But I am especially drawn to the similarities between 12 step work and trauma therapy. The end results are both the same: freedom.
“If you are like me, both your substance of choice and your traumatic memories controlled you. But just like alcoholics and drug addicts, people with traumatic pasts can recover, and recovery always involves freedom.”
With June being Post Traumatic Stress Disorder awareness month, I want you, the reader, to do one of two things.
Share your own story of recovery from trauma and addiction with a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional.
Tell someone you know struggling with PTSD and/or a substance use disorder that they are not alone, and recovery IS possible.
Let’s Continue Shattering the Stigma of PTSD
Certain types of trauma and the idea that PTSD affects people other than military members are still very taboo. My goal this month is to talk about how PTSD affects people of all gender identities, ages, socioeconomic statuses, races, religions, and so on.
I will use my voice every chance I get...even scream if need be...so that my audiences can understand it is no one’s choice to develop post-traumatic stress disorder or a substance use disorder. This month, I urge you to do the same.
“Let’s break down the stigmas that force people to hide their struggles, and help pave the way for healthier, happier communities.”
If you need help and are experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration 24/7 helpline at 1(800) 662 – HELP (4357).
Sarah Tedesco is a 26-year-old writer and marketing professional in her early stages of
recovery from alcoholism and benzodiazepines. She is also recovering from an eating disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She lives on the west coast of Florida near her biggest motivator: her 3 ½ year old nephew. Sarah is passionate about helping women and men affected by sexual violence and hopes to one day work in this field.
For more information on contributing the CCSA blog, please out to Ellie Forman at firstname.lastname@example.org