Dealing with Trauma in Sobriety part 2: The Hope

  • This is part 2, a continuation of "Dealing with Trauma in Sobriety." If you haven't read part 1 already, please find and read it before continuing.


For the first year and a half of my prison sentence, I was intentionally and constantly trying to find ways to escape my new reality. I entered prison scared and alone, but because I’m adaptable and forced myself to learn to befriend people, I did. From day 1, I was seeking drugs of some form or another. I didn’t have access to the drug I had desperately craved- opiates. I did have access to other substances... substances I didn’t much care for like weed, spice, and gabapentin. These were readily available so I took them and I spent the next year trying to convince the people that got weed into the prison that they should bring in opiates of any fashion.

No one would hear my cry for help, so for the first time since I found my own “solution”, I would be without it. This doesn’t mean I welcomed sobriety, nor did I face it regularly. I smoked weed and spice in there as much as I could afford, but this forced harm reduction helped me detox for a long period of time from the negative effects of opioid use and dependence. Mentally and physically, I was gaining time removed from the drug that brought me to my knees in a swift downfall.


That first year and a half was filled with an enormous amount of fear. I attached myself as best as I could to those that were feared on the yard. I worked out with those guys every day, in an attempt to feel safe… an attempt to feel a part of.

The trauma I experienced, combined with my attachment and abandonment issues, made me a perfect candidate to really experience the situation I was in. Without my antidote, I was feeling all of the raw feelings that came with these core issues.


I didn’t have much insight into this at the time, and I blamed myself for my behaviors. I thought that it was all my fault and that I was a broken man who was unable to make proper choices.


 

One day as I finished some reading, some insight came to me. This insight was miraculous and showed me a door that I didn’t even realize was there… It was my door to freedom.


I told myself for years that I wanted to be done with drugs for good, but that was a lie. The truth was, I just wanted the negative consequences to stop. I didn’t know how to exist without drugs, but they were causing so many of my problems that I thought that I didn’t want them around anymore. I didn’t realize that drugs weren’t my problem, they were my solution. Being forced to be without opiates for a year and a half made me aware of this. For the first time since addiction became my reality, I was utterly honest with myself. I remember thinking “I don’t want to stop using drugs. I don’t know how, and I’m not ready to. I don’t know if I will ever be.” (This was the first admittance that I had a problem, and for many that are familiar with recovery based groups, this is often the required first step. I didn’t yet realize the magnitude of this that day, but I soon would). This was the first miracle.


The obvious next thought was “I’ve got to do something about this.” So I tried. I went to a few of the 12-step groups they had on site. I heard some nuggets of wisdom there but I continued to try and escape with the substances that were available to me.


Yes, I had an important realization, but that didn’t mean I was ready or willing to walk through the fire and come out the other side.


My substance use continued as much as I could afford, until one day, February 27th 2013 to be precise, I woke up (having smoked weed the night before) and was randomly called down to the correctional officers station for a urine drug test. When I heard my name being called, I thought it must have been a mistake. I asked around to make sure I wasn’t hearing things. I wasn’t. It was my name that they were calling and I had to go test. I drank a ton of water, but I knew that it wasn’t going to solve anything. I needed to accept my fate and realize that I was going to test positive and face the music.


The walk of shame down to the office was next. I peed in the cup, and waited five minutes for the results. It was the longest five minutes of my life.


The Correctional Officer looked at the cup and because I wasn’t a troublemaker he seemed confused by the positive mark under THC. I looked at him and shamefully shook my head yes letting him know the results were accurate and that I had failed. This was the second miracle.


This was a miracle because for the first time, I had shown up with integrity regarding my use. In the past I would have denied it until the end, hidden my shame, and made up an excuse for the results. Instead, I owned it. I was ashamed and I recognized it for what it was and knew I had to take accountability.


I knew what was coming as I walked back to my little living space with tears in my eyes. This time around hurt more than any of the hundreds of times this had happened in the past. I was in prison for doing drugs, and now, while in prison, I was in trouble for the exact same thing. I looked around at the other inmates, specifically the older ones in their 50’s and 60’s and I had the sobering realization that this was going to be my life too. I would be back for a second and third term and I was going to grow old, away from my family and alone. This was the third miracle.


The fourth miracle was earth shattering and if it didn’t happen to me, I don’t know if I would believe it as factual reading this story, but it is 100% true.


I sat down at my bed and was utterly defeated and crying. I had been to some 12-step meetings years before, in an attempt to get sober, but could never wrap my head around the God concept, so I never stuck around.


At this time, sitting on my bed, I described myself as an atheist, but the truth was, I was angry at God and disbelieving was the best revenge.


I was told what needed to happen if I were to find and maintain long term sobriety, so I prayed to whoever was out there for the first time since I was a kid. I prayed for a sign that something or someone was out there. I borrowed a Bible and opened it to a random page. I put my finger down on that page and the sentence I was on was when God set a bush on fire for Moses to see that he existed.


I was in disbelief and had to ask around to make sure that I was right about this story. That this was a story of God showing him/herself. I had my sign… I had hope and I knew the rest was up to me.

 

This incident didn’t turn me into a religious fanatic. I believe every human being is born with the right to their beliefs and I’m not here to push any belief system on anyone. In fact, I don’t identify with any single religion and I choose to follow my own beliefs. It works for me and that’s what matters.


I smoked one last celebratory joint that day so my sobriety date became the following day. February 28th, 2013.


Since that day, I haven’t had an urge to use anything to cope. I followed the 12-steps for years, but I believe many paths can bring you there… (I’m not here to identify a single pathway to recovery, just sharing my personal experience.)


I got out of prison in 2014 and never looked back.


I dedicated my life to working and volunteering in the line of helping others try and overcome their addiction. What I still lacked was the insight into trauma that drove my addiction originally, and had been driving my fears, anxieties, and self-limiting beliefs about myself. These things had not just gone away, they just seemed to be more manageable because I had a support system.



I had a new life. On this new path, I kept hitting a ceiling with my happiness and personal success. I knew I wanted and deserved more. However, depression and anxiety was a constant. Not to the point of needing to take a substance, but there were definitely times where I had the fleeting thought of not wanting to be here anymore and that scared the living hell out of me.


I kept asking my sponsor and other AA’s for answers and they kept parroting the same response… Do more AA.


So I did.

The problem was, my experience remained the same. AA was helpful with some stuff, but at the end of the day, it was my trauma causing my issues, and AA is not a solution for healing trauma. A sponsor is not a therapist, and without serious clinical help, this was going to be a repeating circumstance for the rest of my life.


So, in the beginning of 2020 I had another realization as profound as the one I had 7 years prior, while sitting on my bed in prison. I needed help and it was up to me to seek it out and do something about it.


So I did.


I sought out a therapist to treat me. Highly recommended, the best in town. I started telling him my life story and made it to about 18 years old before he stopped me and said “We can’t continue, there’s too much trauma, you’re going to have to do EMDR first.”


I was shattered. I was again defeated.


I felt hopeless, and I felt like I was never going to be okay. (My trauma was the reason I was thinking these terrible, incorrect thoughts). I stewed in it for a little, but I didn’t stay there. I could have let this defeat me, but that’s no way to live.


The therapist that broke this news to me gave me a list of 7 highly recommended EMDR therapists to choose from. I called one after another and the first six had no availability… I was sweating. The seventh answered and told me she could see me as soon as the next week. I cried and said, “let’s do it.”


The form of EMDR I went with is called Structural EMDR and involves a heavy amount of prep work, a lot of reading, and a lot of preparation for the reprocessing portion of this modality of therapy.


EMDR is easily searchable and is a wonder for dealing with trauma. When we experience heavy or complicated and consistent trauma, our neuropathways can wire themselves in a way that works in the moment but will cause us to think we are in real danger later in life when circumstances remind us of this initial experience. It is this that causes us to shut down, feel intense anxiety, or want to avoid life in general. This misfiring is what was making me suffer and I had finally found a solution that is backed in science and was going to bring me peace.


I was 7.5 years sober and still dealing with this struggle, but I recognized that I didn’t have to feel this way anymore. I started EMDR and talk therapy and I can tell you it’s worth it… more than that, it’s imperative. It felt like a new form of sobriety and filled me with hope.


If you’re carrying trauma, seek out the help. You may not even know how much freer you could be. It’s hard to see the reference point until you come out on the other side.


I stayed in EMDR for months and months, and the progress was sometimes slow and grueling, but it was consistent. I started noticing that the little stuff that used to get to me didn’t matter anymore. I could talk to people I was intimidated by previously without an issue. No anxiety, no fear, just me. Showing up as I was intended to.


Now that I’ve been through this process, I can gladly say that I am free. I am free from my past, and I am free from false thinking that has kept me from shattering the ceiling I mentioned prior. Stuff still comes up. Such is life, but without this healing, I don’t know if I would be here today.


Reach out.


Take action.


Show yourself and show the world who you were intended to be.



I would like to add a few resources in case you’re interested in, and want to learn more about EMDR.



www.emdria.org – This is a helpful website with all of the information you may need in your search, including where to find an EMDR therapist


Two books that I would highly recommend as well:

1. The Body Keeps The Score by: Bessel Van Der Kolk M.D.

2. Getting Past Your Past by: Francine Shapiro


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.