Dealing with Trauma in Sobriety part 1: The Trauma

When I opened my eyes, I had no idea what was going on. I felt like I was underwater and I couldn’t make out who or what was standing over me. As my eyes started to focus and I began to realize what was going on, it hit me. These were paramedics. I had overdosed again. I coded for three minutes, and was administered three shots of Narcan before I regained consciousness.

After this realization, I was overwhelmed with a shock of intense withdrawal symptoms accompanied by a harsh feeling of regret and anger. Physically, I felt cold as ice then hot as can be. I felt aches and pains from the top of my head, down to the bottom of my feet. I felt like I was going to be sick to my stomach; I felt like I was going to die.

Mentally, I was mad at the paramedics for bringing me back to life... I wanted to die.

I wanted to die... When I say that now, it sounds so harsh. I often try to minimize the intensity of the feeling and rationalize that maybe that isn't what I wanted at all, but the God honest truth is that is exactly what I wanted. You see, this event was so traumatic my mind wants to push it down and forget it. It wants to pretend like it wasn’t as traumatic or severe of a situation as I think it was. My own mind rationalizes the situation. This rationalization is a protectant that our mind puts in place. In the clinical world this is called Disassociation.

This wasn’t an isolated event by any stretch... Unless you consider six straight years without a one-minute break in destructive behavior, near death experiences, multiple assaults, five arrests, being raped, multiple psych unit admissions, 34 detox attempts, a three-year prison sentence, three suicide attempts, two years of homelessness, and the loss of all meaningful relationships.

The amount of trauma I endured during this period of addiction and abuse is almost immeasurable. Addiction has a way of getting worse. This isn't only because of increased tolerance, but also because the experience of addiction brings on many bouts of traumatic experiences. Whether these experiences are self-caused because of living in high-risk environments or because of a willingness to be placed into dangerous situations in order to feel some form of escape by obtaining and taking drugs, it's the same.


Let's rewind the tape a bit...

For years, I thought I had a fairly normal and trauma-free upbringing.

Man, was I wrong...

I was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ and entered this world struggling already. I was induced prematurely because the umbilical cord was wrapping itself around my neck and I had to come out before I died by strangulation. It seemed that the chips were stacked against me even before I took my first breath. I was born into the world by my mother and father’s side, but within two years, my mother would be forced to raise me on her own.

You see, my father was an abusive alcoholic. The last straw for her was a pretty significant one. I was still in diapers and had needed a change, but we were out of diapers so my mom gave my dad the last bit of money they had to go get more so she could change me. He agreed, but he didn’t come back that night. She was forced to change me without the necessary supplies and used an old t-shirt as a replacement for the night. The next morning, he finally stumbled through the doorway. He had spent the night at the bar and drank himself into oblivion instead of buying what was needed for his only son. When confronted, he became aggressive and violent. My father shoved my mother into a towel rod in the bathroom, injuring her back and leaving her terrified. He then walked out. That night while he was out, she packed up her and my belongings and we left for good. At the time, I was two years old and don’t remember any of it.

What I do remember started about a year later. I remember being in preschool and watching the other kids have their moms or dads pick them up. Obviously, for me, it was always my mom. I wondered why I was different and didn’t deserve a dad like everyone else. This was the start of an early belief... two beliefs actually. One that I wasn’t good enough to have a father or that something was wrong with me and two that I didn’t fit into the category of “normal”. This pattern of belief would repeat itself from here on out.


Because I was born prematurely, my growth was delayed and I grew up much smaller than the rest of the kids I was in school with. I was a late bloomer, fortunately or unfortunately I tested into gifted classes. I also had a social awkwardness that brought on bullying like a moth brought to light. At such a young age, this caused the distrust and insecurity in my developing brain to grow stronger. I forced myself to adapt; I had a hard time understanding who I was and tried very hard just to be accepted. Kids can sense this and it often leads to rejection... so it did with me. I struggled with self-confidence issues, had a hard time talking to girls I liked, and had a tough time focusing in class. This was likely because I was diagnosed with ADHD and the prescription meds I was prescribed never seemed to work just right.

As these negative early beliefs in myself continued to solidify, my mother fell in love. He was a great man. He was successful and principled, and I thank God for him coming into our lives every single day. They married six months after their relationship started. I'm happy to say that they are still happily married after 26 years. Unfortunately for me, I already felt this sense that I didn’t belong anywhere and it really was just me against the world. Once they married, my mother and I moved into his house. Overnight, I went from an only child to one of five siblings. This was great in concept, but what it did to my psyche had a long-lasting impact. I felt more alone than I had ever felt. Here I was, a stranger in a full household. I was questioned and looked at warily at times. Other times I was welcomed in and accepted as a sibling, but because of my past traumas and the beliefs that developed because of those traumas, I paid attention to the negative. By middle school, I had a rebellious nature that seemed to be your typical run-of-the-mill teenage rebelliousness. I knew right from wrong; I was raised well by my mom and step dad and followed the rules for the most part.

I began skateboarding and hanging out with a different crowd because they were all a little troubled and they accepted me. At 13 years old I tried alcohol for the first time. I remember the initial effect was as if all of my anxiety, fear, worries and frustrations melted away. I was able to think positively of myself. I was able to interact with others confidently, and I didn’t think about all of the negative things that normally consumed my waking day. The things that prevented me from being happy and making quality human connections suddenly were gone.

I didn’t know it by 16, but there were obvious signs of addiction showing up. I had come to appreciate the euphoric effects of mind-altering substances of all kinds. I would take whatever anybody had to offer because anything was better than feeling the way that I felt when I was stone cold sober.


At 16 years old, I was sent off to boarding school in Ensenada Mexico. The facility I went to was scary and not the type of place where positive change occurs. The common mindset of the other students was that of “doing their time” until they turned 18. The school offered growth seminars, but at this specific school, no one took them very seriously. Being so easily influenced by my peers at this time, I also didn’t take them seriously even though I desperately wanted to feel better about myself. One morning, put of the blue, all students were called to line up on the rec yard. This didn’t normally happen so everyone was on full-alert wondering what was happening. Through a small gate, ten to fifteen Federales equipped with AK-47 semi automatic rifles walked onto the property.

I remember wondering what was going to happen to us, and whether or not we were going to jail. After about an hour of confusion and fear, it was announced that the school was being shut down for child abuse and due to the fact that no student had a valid visa to be in Mexico at the time. I was unable to contact my family at the time and I had no idea what was going to happen. I was terrified. We were told that our parents have 24 hours to pick up their children and take them back across the border to the United States. My parents didn’t show up on time, and I was forced to hop on a bus, declare my citizenship, and enter the US as a minor without my parents. When I got to San Diego, I thought I was finally going to come home and I was ready to. My parents, however, told me that I wasn’t coming home and that I was hopping on the next plane to a facility in Iowa with an escort. I was heartbroken, alone, and devastated. I felt abandoned, distrusted, and scared to death. Thankfully, the environment in Iowa was a positive one, so I thrived. I finally found myself feeling happy and free. I was able to graduate from high school and get admitted into Arizona State University.

I did well for about six months after coming home from boarding school and then one of my best friends died in a tragic accident at 18 years old. I was at ASU at the time, and was avoiding old party friends, but this death brought us all right back together. It was all downhill from there...

I spent the next three years of my life trying different drugs until I ended up hooked on Oxycontin and Xanax. These were both prescribed by a doctor that should never have had a license. By the time I turned 21, I was losing my apartment and had to stay at a friend's house so I wasn’t on the streets. (My parents had cut me off because providing me with any financial support would have been enabling behavior at this point). I was 21 years old, about 35 pounds underweight, had no place to call home, and one less friend each day that passed. Eventually I tried detox for the first time and ended up at every halfway house in Arizona. Each time I provided an honest effort to get sober, but continued to fall helplessly on my face.

I was assaulted, raped, lived in abandoned houses and slept behind railroad tracks. I panhandled for change and didn’t shower for weeks at a time. I was completely homeless and defeated. I had overdosed multiple times and by the end of 2011, at 24 years old, I had been admitted to detox 34 times. I didn’t know how to get sober and I accepted the fact that this was going to be my life forever.

At the end of 2011, I was arrested for the last time on a heroin possession charge and was sentenced to three years in the Department of Corrections. I thought that I was broken and there was no hope for me. I was suicidal and I didn’t want to live the life I was living any more, but I was too afraid to break my mom's heart by taking my own life. I had no idea that there was hope in my future.

To be continued...

The next part will be posted in approximately 2 weeks.

Holistic Interventionist thanks this anonymous author for his honest and forthright contribution to the Human Potential Blog. This anonymous author is currently safe, healthy and in long-term sobriety. The views of the individual contributors are their own and do not constitute advice or recommendation from Holistic Interventionist LLC. Holistic Interventionist selects a variety of guest blog writers for their expertise, insight, and willingness to collaborate for the wellness of as many individuals as possible.

Would you like these blog updates to come directly to your inbox?


Subscribe to received a monthly update.