Three important lessons PTSD, addiction and three years of sobriety have taught me

Life’s biggest and most important lessons are almost always learned through tough times. Here are three important lessons PTSD, addiction and three years of sobriety taught one woman.

I was your average small-town girl. McDonough, Georgia, one of those ‘easy to forget’ and ‘hard to spot on the map’ rural towns. This was also the place I called home.

I was your stereotypical Georgia Peach. Manners and proper etiquette were an absolute must. Sheltered from the city life with a grueling 30-minute traffic-ridden drive, I was fascinated by the simplicity of life – or so I thought. Growing up in the Bible Belt, with an Italian father, it would be fair to say I was generously sheltered.

My parents worked hard to make sure my brother and I never wanted for anything. I grew up in the same town and attended all of the local consecutive schools. I was surrounded by the same people my whole life. I lived in a town where everyone knows everything about everyone – yet I still never felt a part of.

In fact, no one really knew me because from the age of five I carried around a dark secret – I was a victim of sexual abuse and this shameful burden became my identity.

I looked for a coping mechanism for PTSD

I spent years blaming my genetic predisposition, my trauma, my addicted biological mother for giving me up for adoption, the display of favoritism my adopted stepmother showed my brother or even the mean girls at school that wouldn’t let me join in on their bullying. But there was always one common denominator: me. 

Retreating from reality – and attempting to subside my PTSD symptoms – I’d indulge in books, writing, and recreate my own story. Eventually, these coping mechanisms failed to produce the desired effect.

It wasn’t long before I had my first sip of liquid oblivion. I spent my whole life with this loud, annoying static consistently hijacking my brain. I remember my very first sip of alcohol – total radio silence. A warmth came over me, like nothing I had ever experienced before. I was invincible, untouchable, and absolute apathetic. For the first time in my life, I had arrived.

I spent seven years chasing the feel of that first drink

I spent the next seven years of my life chasing that first drink. I experimented with every substance imaginable – never to accomplish the desired effect.

As my addiction progressed, so did my consequences. I couldn’t start my day without indulging in some sort of numbing agent. I couldn’t deal with life until desperation hit me in the face – as I detoxed on the cold floor of a county jail cell. 

By the grace of God, I accepted the gift of treatment – where I was introduced to a 12-Step fellowship and my life was forever changed. This act of surrender was only the beginning of my journey to the woman I’m becoming.

Three important lessons my journey taught me

July 29, 2019, I picked up my three-year medallion. I have learned so many new things in recovery, but most importantly I am learning that recovery is a never-ending, ever-evolving process. Here are three of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the last few years.

1) It’s okay to not be okay

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my recovery is it’s okay to not be okay. I have spent most of my life putting a brave face on and chanting “I’m fine, everything is fine.” Meanwhile, I was dying inside.

This self-sabotaging avoidance prevented me from vulnerability and connecting with other humans. I was told, from a very young age, that I was too emotional and vulnerability was represented as a sign of weakness.

Upon getting sober, emotions were the first to return. Uncomfortable and full of fear, I continued to try and avoid any hint of vulnerability in regards to my emotions.

Over the last year, I have welcomed and talked about my feelings more than I have my entire life. Working the Steps with other women has taught me the beauty of allowing myself grace to feel how I feel. Most importantly, I have been able to accept myself exactly as I am – making space to cultivate the most intimately beautiful relationships.

2) Gratitude is a game-changer

I remember the first time I was asked to construct a gratitude list. Reluctantly, I obliged. At first, my list mirrored exactly what you’d expect to see on a list created by someone in early recovery. I am grateful for the beach, cheeseburgers, and RedBull. I did the bare minimum to get by until life showed up.

Over time, this daily homework assignment became a sacred discipline. When life seems to be overwhelming, it’s gratitude that has the power to shift my entire perspective.

When I take the time to look at the multitude of things I have to be grateful for – there is no room for victimization, self-pity, anger, entitlement, or depression. I have become a grateful, humbled, loving, and compassionate woman simply by taking the time to remain grateful. In the realm of recovery, gratitude is a game-changer. 

3) Remain teachable

I spent most of my life convinced that my way was the best way. My experience from addiction to (now) having three years sober has taught me that my best thinking rendered me hopelessly confined to a 33-day stint in rehab.

Maybe, just maybe, I didn’t know everything. Maybe I needed to abandon myself to my old ideas and surrender to an entirely new perspective. I had to adopt an entirely new set of healthy habits that ultimately cultivated the beautiful life I live today.

Over the last three years, I’ve continuously tried to hold onto my old ideas – ultimately falling on my face. “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” This quote has been my mantra over the last year. When I open myself up to the possibility that every situation I encounter has the potential to teach me a lesson, I find myself evolving. Humility is the byproduct of remaining teachable.

Today I am exactly where I an supposed to be

Today, I live a life beyond my wildest dreams. I have taken all of the things I’ve learned in sobriety and recovering from PTSD and applied them to every conflict that arises in my life today.

I am a successful content writer and I have the pleasure of sharing my experience, strength, and hope with other men and women who have experienced similar struggles. I am a blessed mother of two beautiful children and I no longer live in shame.

I refuse to hide my struggles, but rather use each and every single one to propel me into the next chapter of my life as I extend a hand to help others. Every ounce of pain I have endured has landed me here. I truly believe I am right where I am supposed to be.

Photo by Ryan Moreno