Navigating Through PTSD in Early Recovery | Guest Post by Tricia Moceo
Navigating through my unrelenting drug/alcohol addiction has been quite a daunting task, but not nearly as intimidating as facing the emotional aftershock of my untreated PTSD. When I first made my way into treatment, for my addiction, I believed I was headed for a much-deserved vacation from reality… I couldn’t have been more misled. I was actually taking a permanent leave from the delusion I so comfortably reveled in. Long before I ever indulged in my vices, I exhibited all of the behaviors of an emotionally inept addict. My actions were driven by my emotions, self will run riot. I was a tourist, in a foreign country, with no map.
I entered a dual diagnosis treatment center, on a pink cloud. After all, I was two weeks ‘sober’ after detoxing from home and I had the advantage over the other clients. The hopelessness was fleeting day by day… or so I thought. As time passed, I came to realize that I was drowning in years of unacknowledged PTSD. I was only 5 when I had my first encounter with trauma. My trauma was never addressed, much less validated. I survived by way of complete and utter avoidance. PTSD reared its ugly head throughout my adolescent years and I continued to dissociate completely. I self-medicated with unhealthy, codependent relationships and total self-victimization. You can imagine my defiance when my old ideas and behaviors were challenged. I was asked to recount my childhood trauma and I remember panic sweeping over like a tidal wave. At first, was paralyzed with feelings of disgust, inadequacy, guilt, shame, and fear. Then came dissociation. I wore it like a warm blanket, comforting my tormented inner child. Fortunately, the group facilitator was no stranger to trauma therapy and he immediately continued to poke the bear. I remember getting more and more agitated as he continued along with his line of questioning and eventually I exploded. Tears and sheer panic became me. That’s the problem with trauma, it demands to be felt.
Upon leaving treatment, I had only scratched the surface of my trauma. I remember having a sense of impending doom looming in the back of my mind. I made it through my first year of sobriety indulging in total chaos. Chaos was all I had ever known. I pursued after complacency and eventually, I was at a crossroads, again. I could either deal with the trauma, I spent my whole life avoiding, or I could self medicate and continue wreaking havoc. Thankfully I was connected to so many amazing women, within the fellowship, that not only held me accountable but also relentlessly supported me.
I experienced enough pain and it was time for a change. After all, I didn’t get sober to live in misery. I created misery my whole life, I was seeking freedom from the emotional bondage holding me captive. I jumped back into AA and put myself into therapy. I will never forget the session when I made the decision that it was time to “pull my trauma out by the roots”. The thought of this terrified me, but I also found solace in knowing that I could find purpose in my pain. I started to unravel the webs, I so delicately weaved, and I hit the ground running. I started opening up about my trauma, the nightmares, panic attacks, and the involuntary reactions to my triggers. Finally, someone validated me. It was explained to me that approximately 50-60% of individuals struggling with PTSD also suffered from co-occurring substance abuse disorder. My entire perspective shifted. Millions of the bravest men and women, our veterans, suffer from PTSD. Many of them do recover if they have the desire to do so. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone and I was no longer a victim but rather another individual navigating through a mental health disorder alongside with many other valiant men and women. The more I shared my experience, the more I found myself covered with grace. Hope found me in my despair and my pain was met by redemption and purpose.
Today, I gravitate toward the things that make me uncomfortable. I know that through discomfort comes adversity, but ultimately comes growth. I continue to seek ongoing therapy for my PTSD and I am actively involved in my local AA community. For the first time in my life, I pulled myself up off the floor and I met fear face to face. I valiantly walked through the fire, but not without the help of the people who loved me the most. I believe the phrase “don’t let your past come back to haunt you” was coined from situations like this one. The truth is, unhealed trauma resurfaces and from my experience, I kept seeking out what I was familiar with: abusive chaos. The life I live today is so liberating. Breaking a grueling generational curse, I make decisions today that harvest the future I want for myself and my kids.