Trauma and Addiction: A Futile Attempt to Escape the Pain

It’s been six months since I drank alcohol. I never really thought I had a problem with it, until it almost killed me. My alcohol abuse wasn’t as obvious as some people’s. In clinical terms, I never got to the dependency stage. I wasn’t the obvious alcoholic who is always drinking. I didn’t need medication or medical supervision to quit like people with severe alcohol addiction. (Alcohol is one of the few drugs that can kill someone if they drink regularly and detox on their own without medical intervention). Alcohol is extremely damaging to the body. Even in moderation, it increases the risk of many cancers, cardiovascular disease, and other fatal conditions. I had a client who’s best friend died at 43 from pancreatitis from excessive alcohol use. I personally know people who have had severe physical health issues that almost killed them thanks to alcohol. It’s poison. It’s a nasty thing to consume in excess, and yet it’s been legal in most societies forever while other drugs are criminalized, thanks to hypocrisy, politics, racism, and lobbyists. It’s ridiculous that my state considered liquor stores an essential business and kept them open during the pandemic while marijuana dispensaries were closed. Marijuana has very few physical side effects, and we’re finally legalizing it and researching more about it’s medical benefits. Funny how politics work. The systems are trash.

Just to play devil’s advocate for a minute and look at all sides of something, I do think marijuana can be harmful to young people because their brains are still developing. It can also kill motivation and add to depression if overused. I use it for medical benefits, it helps my nausea and insomnia. Using any substance, including prescription medications from your doctor, requires you to reflect on side effects and decide what is beneficial or not. I find that it helps me, and I have rules about when I use it and how much. A warning to people with DID or complex PTSD, I find that marijuana sometimes breaks down the amnesiac barriers in my brain. If you think of DID as compartmentalizion, and that all my trauma is kept in boxes or separate rooms away from my conscious mind, marijuana can open up doors that are usually closed. This means if I’m not careful, I can experience more flashbacks. However, I’ve learned how to dose it so that doesn’t happen. Other drugs have done this to me too. Alcohol makes it harder to control my switching.

All addictions are medical illnesses like diabetes or epilepsy. They require medical intervention and maintenance to stay healthy. Although I don’t like the word “disorder,” addictions have been classified as such in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for decades. They’re medical conditions, not evidence of someone’s weakened willpower or morality.

In clinical terms, trauma and addiction are often comorbid (occurring together). I was given this dual diagnosis a lot when I was younger. When I was a kid, I saw nothing wrong with drinking and experimenting with drugs. Teens think they’re invincible. You mix trauma that made me suicidal and gave me low self esteem with a lack of impulse control that all young people have due to developing brains (our pre-frontal cortexes don’t fully develop until our early twenties), and it’s clear why I found myself in a lot of ridiculous situations. Before I ever smoked weed, I stole alcohol from adults. Once I got into my parents’ liquor cabinet and drank too much whiskey. My mom found me passed out in my vomit on my bedroom floor. Of course she gave me hell for that, but it didn’t stop me. I liked finally having freedom from my pain when I drank. A part of me became very attached to drugs and alcohol as a way to escape. Soon after that, I started smoking and doing any drug I could get my hands on. I used to steal cigarettes sometimes from the local convenience store. I’d get drugs from older friends and boyfriends. I wasn’t afraid to try anything, and I’m really glad no one offered me heroin until I was 19, because I probably would’ve done it when I was a kid and impulsive. Anyone who’s read my blog knows I had a death wish, and for good reason. Alcohol and drugs helped us avoid the misery for a while. A part of me took over and was always up for partying. I was that friend who had a high tolerance, stayed up all night, partied harder than most, and tried almost anything once. People had sympathy for my suicidal ideation but not my drug use. When I was 19, my DMH caseworker threatened to take my disability payments away because I was drinking too much and hanging out with other addicts. She forced me to go to addiction counseling. I sat down with that counselor and was honest about my alcohol and drug use. She said I didn’t have dependency issues, and I didn’t need to see a counselor for drugs or alcohol. I happily threw that in my DMH caseworker’s face because she was trying to punish me more than support me.

That addiction counselor I saw 20 years ago was right and wrong at the same time. Treatment of addiction has come a long way since. I used what she said as an excuse to continue down a destructive path. I was living in a really bad city, one that was filled with drugs and addicts. I saw a lot of violence there, including a drive by shooting. In my search for my next high, I found myself standing in some nasty places. I’d look around at a dealer’s house and wonder how anyone could live like that. Some places had dirt everywhere, trash all over the floor, and lots of people in pain.

In high school I preferred smoking weed, tripping, and rolling. Sometimes I’d do coke, but my brain liked it too much, so I was wary of it. I knew it would destroy my heart and cost too much. I’d usually only do it if it was free. My friends and I could barely afford anything. It’s funny looking back on it, they’d always send me to the drug houses to pick up. They were grown men, but they’d send the short, quiet woman to pick up their drugs in some really shady places because they were afraid. They’d drop me off down the street and come pick me up later. I’d walk there in my stupid pants with the stash pockets feeling invincible and on a mission. They always argued that if a cop showed up, I could hide the stuff in my bra because they can’t search there. Yeah right, they’d just call a female cop to do it. My friends just knew I was fearless and didn’t care. I’d go into houses with people I didn’t know, people who probably had guns and were being watched by police. Once I was standing in a dealer’s house, and I noticed their kid on the floor by the tv. I felt so bad, he must’ve been about 18 months and was extremely obese. He couldn’t even walk. I’d go there a lot, but one day I walked up to their house and all their belongings were lined up on the sidewalk. I stood there for a second looking at their smashed up furniture and thought oh shit, glad I wasn’t there when they got raided. I hope that kid is ok.

I always found a new dealer. Eventually they’d get busted. Once I left my friend in the car and went up to buy a dimebag, and the guy told me to leave because he was being watched. I left right away, and sure enough a cop pulled me over down the street. I said I was visiting a friend, but he said he knew what I was doing. He threatened to pull my car apart to look for the drugs, and at that point I had switched, so a fearless part just laughed at him. We told him to go ahead, the car is old and crappy anyway. He could see it would’ve been a waste of his time and I wasn’t scared, so he wrote me a bullshit ticket for my license plate light being out and let me go. If I wasn’t white, that would’ve ended a lot differently. The fact that I never got arrested is definitely my white privilege. (Except for the time we outran fat, old cops in a graveyard. They were definitely going to cuff me if they caught me. A part told my therapist that story, and she said to them, you look so proud that you evaded them. Yep). Most parts of me can’t stand cops because one abused me. The only cops who were ever nice human beings, including my DARE officer, were black cops. (He was awesome and got me into basketball).

Does anyone else remember the useless DARE program from the 90’s? It clearly didn’t work for me. Why? Because DARE didn’t get to the root of most addictions. It didnt help anyone’s mental health issues. I had PTSD and DID since I was a baby, and it wasn’t treated until I was 15. By this time I’d already stolen lots of alcohol and smoked weed, and I was too scared to talk about my trauma anyway. My mind was shattered by extreme dissociation, and it would take a long time for me to see how trauma and addiction affected my life. I look back on a lot of the things I did to get high and escape my pain, and I cringe. As I said before, I’m lucky I refused heroin, because it could’ve been a lot worse. The only reason I told people no way when they offered it to me was because I knew you just chased the high forever. I wasn’t interested in that. I absolutely loved hallucinogens and ecstacy. I learned at a young age that those really great highs you get from your first few times with a new drug never come back. It was disappointing and frustrating to take higher doses and still not get that first high back. I wasn’t about to chase that dragon until it killed me. I’m also lucky I wasn’t extremely suicidal when I was offered heroin. Had I been, things might’ve turned out differently. That’s why it angers me when people judge people addicted to heroin and call them junkies. Who are you to judge? You never made one bad decision your whole life? Please. I have many friends who died from heroin overdoses. Guess what they had in common? They all had PTSD and depression. One of them battled with schizophrenia. Most of the homeless addicts out there were battling mental illness long before addiction added to the misery. I have a lot of friends who were killed by drugs because I gravitated to others who had been traumatized. They understood me. They were real and knew that life was struggle and pain. I was young and that’s all I knew, I didn’t have much hope. All these people came from shattered and abusive homes, and they never had hope either. An addict deserves love, hope, and support. They all need medical and mental health interventions, not shame and prison bars. As I said before, the system is trash. The war on drugs was a war on minorities. It was also a war on traumatized people living in poverty. I don’t blame people for trying to find even one night of peace in a drug induced haze after being born into such a painful existence. Portugal decriminalized most drugs and has seen a reduction in drug use. It doesn’t take a genius to see that our bullshit war on drugs only made things worse. People need support to overcome addiction.

I have never been to AA willingly. They made me go to a few meetings when I was in the hospital, and I loathed it. If it helps other people, that’s awesome. For some reason, it seems like although people with DID often have addiction problems, we also do well in recovery, as long as we have therapy and support. I tried a recovery coach, but I didn’t like it. She just wasn’t a good fit for me. She probably helped lots of other people, but it wasn’t what helped me. The guy in my NAMI support group who I suspected had a dissociative disorder had a history of drinking daily, until one day he developed a health issue and just quit. He went to AA but then decided it wasn’t for him. He maintained his sobriety with therapy and support from friends. That’s the weird thing about DID and DDNOS type 1, we seem to be able to quit a long time habit with little effort. It’s a battle inside of us like it is with most people, although we have many other personalities committed to sobriety. We often have a part or a few parts that maintain the addiction, and when they are less active, we are able to stop our addictive habits. This doesn’t mean it’s easy, because that part has to heal and learn that it’s not a good coping skill. I often get impulses to drink like other people in recovery, although it’s combined with a voice that pleads to go buy beer or wine. I tell them no, they’re doing well, it’s too dangerous to drink and remind them of why we quit. This is why people with dissociative disorders confuse therapists. We can present with serious eating disorders and addictions, and then seemingly out of nowhere these behaviours dissipate. I remember when we first started to reduce our alcohol consumption. It didn’t work, and I slowly started to realize I had to get all parts on board with temporary abstinence. I remember being in a grocery store battling with them internally (which sucks if you have an issue with alcohol because you are trying to buy food and you see your favourite beer on sale in a display at the end of an aisle). They picked up a bottle of wine when we were shopping for food, so I put it back. There was an internal struggle, they were trying to justify buying it. I said, it’s Tuesday night, we just drank on the weekend, and we only want it because we’re lonely and in pain. They knew it was true, but they wanted the pain to stop. They went back and got it. I must’ve walked back and forth quite a few times, and in the end they won. That was almost a year ago. Now we have been sober 6 months, and I know they are proud of themselves.

The parts that like to drink still ask me, and I said maybe we can if we’re careful about only drinking once in a while and not alone. But I think it would be a slippery slope. They understand harm reduction, and I’m hoping they will be on board with the new rules if we ever decide to drink again. They also know that other parts and I will go back to abstinence if they don’t follow the rules. For now I am in no rush to drink. I already have an increased risk of breast cancer, and alcohol increases this risk. It also gives me heartburn, leaves me feeling depressed, and makes my insomnia worse. I remind them of all the reasons we quit, and it quiets them. I tell them I’m proud of them, and I know it’s a testament to how far we’ve come that we can work together to be healthier and safer.

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