It has been said that not everyone who experiences trauma goes on to experience addiction, but everyone who has experienced addiction has experienced trauma. And that makes a lot of sense to me. I know that there are many out there who have and will say that when I speak about trauma or mental health issues that I am attempting to play some kind of victim card, like the guy on my Amazon reviews that claims I am attempting to cultivate sympathy or some bullshit by the way that I write and speak and that couldn’t be any further from the truth. You wanna know how I feel about my truth and story? I made a CHOICE to pick up drugs and alcohol. But at the same time I was a vulnerable weak minded immature 15 year old. No body wants to be nailed to the cross over and over again about the decisions they made when they were 15. We all make mistakes and we all fail and sin differently. But anyways. I have said all that before.
It has also been said that a very high percentage of us who suffer from SUD (Substance Use Disorder)/ Addiction also have underlying and undiagnosed mental health issues. This also makes sense to me. But which comes first here? Certainly using drugs can and does alter my brain chemistry and my brains pathways to operate a certain way and stunts my mental and emotional growth.
It is very interesting to me this morning, this train of thought. I have always said that I believe I was an addict long before I ever picked up drugs to begin with, but now, I am not so sure. Perhaps when I picked up chemicals, it was just self medication and I had no comprehension of that Idea. Maybe it was kind of like the old adage, “In a storm, any port will do.” Maybe, I was experiencing a storm of chemical misfires in my brain for so long that finally I just caved in to it, and picked up a cigarette, a bottle, a pill, or even acted out for attention to get some sort of validation for a dopamine hit to make my brain chemically reward me and make my system feel good. As I think about it this morning, I believe that is the case. After all, they say that Drugs and alcohol are but a symptom of the disease model of addiction. But there are many symptoms that come along with it, or maybe Addiction itself is the symptom…
One of my earliest memories looking back was when I was still just a little guy and mom was pregnant with my little brother. I was so excited to have a little brother, and really, if not more so- to be a big brother. I had and always will have in my heart the best big brother, My Late Brother Josh. But becoming a big was so special to me. I would feel mom’s belly and feel him kick and couldn’t wait for him to come. But when he did, he was very sick. He spent his first month I think it was in some kind of incubation tent in the hospital with Pneumonia I think it was, and I never left the hospital. My parents and I stayed the whole time until we were able to bring him home and I was in awe. But, could that have been trauma for me? Can Life itself be trauma? Can the event of being born and getting all wild eyed in wonder as we become conscious to other human life begin wiring our brains and molding us for the next 80 years to come? Can we be born with chemical imbalances? Can we be actually born with underlying mental health issues, and then become accustomed somewhat to living life, just kinda, feeling like shit? I think so.
Another one of my early memories was myself and my next door friend and his mother in Peach Tree City, I think I was in like fourth grade. We were sitting in his mother’s car, the three of us, in front of what I believe is now a Kroger. And I remember sitting there just feeling unloved, and unwanted, and like a failure; just for being born. And I remember randomly speaking out to my friend and his mom, “I have no reason to live.” Think about that. A Fourth grade little boy, who is supposed to be so full of dreams, hope, love, and wonder. Feeling like he has no place in the world, and that He has no reason to even be alive. It’s really heart breaking to me and I wish I could go back and just hug my little self and tell him that He is Loved and he is worthy of love and that he is a GOOD boy. I wonder what in the world could have ever triggered such negative self image and self worth in such a tiny little heart….
One of the world views as it pertains to addiction, recovery, and the long thought idea of a rock bottom, is that a person must reach a bottom, or some type of harsh negative consequence before they will be willing to stop. And that may be true in some aspects, but we also must remember that I/We use to AVOID consequences, uncomfortable situations, and to escape reality. And So we must remember that it is cyclical. Feeling, Use, Avoid, consequence, avoid, use, feeling. And so on. So yes, a harsh consequence may open the window of willingness briefly, but we as by standers and participants in someone’s life must be ready, willing, able and equipped to capitalize on the open window of willingness, or we will let it slide by and keep “pandora’s box” open for yet another unknown amount of time. I believe and have said this numerous times, that we don’t actually hit a firm/rock bottom, or true stopping point until we have been clean for a while. And I say this because, we must be able to get clear minded long enough; for me it was about six months with ZERO chemicals, to fully recall and reflect on the damage and pain that we have inflicted to ourselves, our loved ones, and society. We must be able to “Think long and hard about what you’ve done young person!”(And I say that in my most stern-good-ol-talkin-to-dad-voice). And I just simply will not do that with the access to chemicals. As soon as I start thinking about what a Dirtball I’ve been, it’s gonna make me feel like shit, and then I’m gonna go out and do some dirtball shit. I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s what we do. But anyways.
So. I was in fourth grade, and didn’t feel like a had a reason to live. I had no self love. I experienced trauma in some form or another, as we all do. Life is difficult, and it kicks our asses in various ways from time to time. I craved acceptance and tried to fill a void with chemicals for a dopamine/chemical hit to feel better. And I didn’t hit an actual firm physical/rock bottom until I was six months clean sitting in jail, because I was forced abstinent and couldn’t access drugs to escape. And although I went on to do well with my recovery journey and life itself thus far, and God willing, some thing still didn’t feel exactly right. I would have good days and bad. As we all do. But they were VERY much contrasting, my days. I would be so up or so down that it was almost like I was a different person every single day. Some days, I would be so down that I could barely even function normally but you wouldn’t have known it unless I told you, which I am doing so now. And some days I would be so up that you would think that I just hit the lottery, even though my bank account was over drawn and I had 3$ of gas in my car. My days were very inconsistent. And I would have these explosions of emotion toward people, in either direction. Almost a Love Bombing or a Hate/Negative/Doom-and-Gloom Bombing of sorts. I was very much all over the place. And maybe not to the extremes that you think. It was a constant see saw of emotion, thought, belief, worry, doubt, hope, expectation, anticipation, and etc in my head at all times. And I would lose myself by getting out of my self for a long time. Helping and working with others, working out, going for a drive, etc. And all of this was going on while I was supposed to be recovering and getting better. So why wasn’t I FEELING better? Why was it such a constant whirlwind? Why could my entire day change on a dime, because I had one negative intrusive and unwanted thought, which would then trigger emotional responses and lead to a belief? First thought wrong, I know this. That’s day one recovery stuff. *And I’m not trying to sensationalize things here, but it was quite intense sometimes, and I’m trying to tie some ideas together here, so bear with me please* Things were chugging along and life was going so well, so why was I either on cloud 9, or down in a hole like Alice in Chains? I just could not for the life of me figure it out. I would use the phone, I would make 10th step calls, I would talk to other recovered addicts, I would talk to my brother and cousins, my mother in law, my wife, my therapist friend. And that would help for a moment, but something was seriously up here. It was like some of these thoughts and ideas actually had a physical presence in my brain. I could feel my brain swelling when they would come and no one could talk them out for me. The only thing that actually helped was when I would go to sleep at night. I was literally stewing in them. Like a Hot beef sandwich roast, just soaking in that shit all day, until I slept it off and woke up the next day. But come the fuck on man, this shits gotta change. So I made some appointments and followed up and got some outside help. The first time I was mis diagnosed and mis medicated. So I tried again, and found the right therapist, and the right Doctor and got on the appropriate medication and things, and life actually feel like they should. And now I’m thinking back on things, like, well shit. I bet you that’s what was going on ALL ALONG. That fourth grade little boy, back in the Kroger parking lot was showing signs of clinical depression, and NO ONE saw it. And it “Chameleons” It’s way through our adolescence, and early adulthood, and some of us end up turning to chemicals, and we never see the wreckage or consequences until were stopped and “Clean slated” enough to actually reflect and get some outside perspective and holy shit my brain is spinning. I can see it all through my minds eye right now. We were all just self medicating. We were all just looking for some relief from something we didn’t even know was there. We were all just looking to feel better, because we had some type of something going on. Maybe not depression, maybe not anxiety, maybe not bi-polar, but something. Maybe trauma, maybe painful memories, maybe a combination of things. After all, we only use drugs for one of two reasons: To increase pleasure, or to decrease pain. There is no third reason.
And for this very thought, the idea at the end of this psychobabble, I truly believe that 1: every child should be screened for possible depression and underlying mental health issues by the time the’re in 5th grade. And 2: every person who has ever been suspected of SUD/Addiction/Alcoholism should be screened for the same. I truly believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and if we can get Emotional, Mental Health, therapists, and the appropriate clinicians in front of our children early enough, were going to once and for all turn the tides of addiction in this country, and no, not all children will need to be put on a medication like an SSRI, like I am. But we can offer coping, REAL coping skills and and outlet for our children to communicate and process what they’re going through so they wont have to turn to the things that I did later on in life.
We can deal with the chicken now, or we can deal with the Egg later. Or vice versa. What the hell came first anyways?
We need mental health reform in the United States of America.