HAVE TRAUMA, WILL NUMB.

HAVE TRAUMA, WILL NUMB. Reading Time Approx: 25 minutes

Does anyone else out there sometimes feel that the further through the year we get, the faster time seems to travel?

Yep?

I feel you. I do.

After the general excitement and pride of Recovery Month, here at R3C0VRY.WRX we’ve been diligently making friends and tracking down inspiring stories for the site.

You’d expect nothing less.

It was whilst doing just this that I found Tracie on Instagram. After following the links to her blog, several hours seemed to fly past as I read her stories, her insight and words about her newly found sobriety.

One article, in particular, struck me: “Have Trauma, Will Numb” describes a situation so common, so day-to-day and so apparently normal as to not warrant writing of any kind. However, throw into the mix intense cravings, self-doubt and fear and you have the kind of day many of you will have experienced and have deep empathy with.

Having reached out to Tracie, she was only too happy for us to re-publish her work, and answer a few questions along the way… she’s nice like that! Read on!!

Tracie… you are an inspiration! (What is it with you North Carolina types?) Thank you so much for this. Keep up the good work!

*****

Tracie, hi… let’s start with finding out a little bit about you…

The quick of it is that I’m a mid-forties woman, married, no children (by choice), one cat and a corporate job that never slows down. Growing up, I moved around the country a ridiculous amount, thanks to an alcoholic and drug-addicted father who could never settle or slow down. I currently call Charlotte, North Carolina home and have for nearly twelve years.

© Tracie (The Truth of Being Us)

So what brought you here? I mean, you must have some kind of “drinking/ drugging/ addiction story”… care to elaborate?

Alcohol was my thing, and in the last few months of my drinking, Xanax was also in the mix. Given my family history, I always knew I had to be careful, but classified myself as just a social drinker and ignored what was really going on. Prior to quitting in February 2018, I cannot recall a time that I didn’t drink every single day, with the only exceptions being my brief attempts to moderate and one go at a dry January a number of years back. I think I lasted close to three weeks before giving in. That was the most I had gone without a drink since I was about 18 years old.

What was your drinking/ addiction like at the point you decided to quit?

It was initially a slow and sneaky progression, but my drinking took a pretty significant leap during the two years prior to quitting. No one really knew to what extent I was drinking. I was never the woman that people saw with a problem. I wasn’t falling off bar stools or picking fights arrested. I was holding it all together and presenting the picture-perfect image that I believed was expected of me. Meanwhile, I was numbing. I was alone most nights and coming home from a stressful job ready to unwind during my first few steps through the door.

Some days I stuck with just a couple of glasses of wine at night, but most days were closer to a bottle. That bottle was usually preceded by a vodka martini or followed up with straight whiskey. Maybe all three. Then I started adding Xanax as a final step in my concoction to try to help me sleep. Late in 2017, I started sneaking alcohol when my husband was home. I was grabbing an extra swig or three out of liquor bottles when he wasn’t in the same room, which I knew was a terrible sign. On the weekends I started looking for any excuse to crack open a bottle of champagne earlier and earlier until I decided the only excuse I needed was that it was Saturday morning. Then came the handful of mornings that I poured rum in my tea as I headed out to start my workday.

That terrified me, but I did it anyway.

…and the final straw, for you, was what, exactly?

I didn’t have a low rock bottom. There were no arrests, no jobs lost, no friendships destroyed. But there was a voice inside that was screaming at me to take a long look at what I was doing. I was well aware that I was headed on a fast downward spiral when I started feeling the need to hide booze from my husband and when I splashed that rum into my morning tea. I knew that this was going nowhere good and that it was a matter of time before this ruined parts of my life. I thought that a serious attempt at moderation would do the trick. I tried everything. No alcohol during the week: fail. Only one drink a day: fail. Only drink every other day: fail. I gave up trying for a while and just gave back into the booze. Then one morning I was listening to a podcast interview with a sober creative woman and I had a bit of an “a-ha” moment. I have always had a creative side, nothing outrageous, but I’ve had a passion for writing since I was about seven years old. No matter how much I tried over the last couple of years, I kept losing the energy for it.

That interview woke something up inside of me. I realised that I was not only numbing my anxiety and pain, but I was also numbing the best parts of me. I was losing touch with my creativity and as a woman hitting mid-life when passions become fiercely important, I was crushed to think I was throwing away any possibility of creating something wonderful. That’s when I finally admitted that I had a problem and drew the hard line in the sand. I knew that the only way I could do this was if I committed to never drinking again. I couldn’t leave anything about it open-ended.

Do you see yourself as being in recovery… If so, how? What do these words mean to you? If not… how so?

Absolutely. I am not just in recovery from alcohol, but also anxiety, perfectionism, workaholism, trauma, abuse and codependency. There are probably others, but you get the idea. My journey started with going to therapy to work through issues with anxiety and it all led me here. Recovery is self-analysis and self-improvement. It’s facing pain and feeling emotions without shoving them away or hiding behind an addiction. It’s going deep within yourself and putting in the gruelling work to rebuild your life and create new pathways towards a better and more fulfilling way of being. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it likely never is, but I believe recovery is about being brave enough to stand in front of the mirror and recognise that you are worthy of something better.

So, you stopped & changed your lifestyle, congratulations!… how did you do that? How did you manage after you stopped? What did you do to motivate and maintain your abstinence? Any hints or tips, sources of inspiration for people seeking to do the same?

Stopping drinking was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. I didn’t go the traditional route of attending AA or another recovery group. I considered it for a long time but was honestly terrified of taking that step. There were a few go-to tools that I used and still do.

First, podcasts. Those early days of fighting the relentless cravings were filled with sobriety-related podcasts. The Bubble Hour became one of my favourites and I used it like one might use going to a meeting. The moment a craving would strike, I would pop in my earbuds. Because my habit involved drinking as soon as I walked in from my work day, I instead started going on long walks with a podcast when I came home. I also read every recovery or self-improvement book that I could get my hands on. Although it isn’t recovery specific, one of the most life-changing books that I read was The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. I’ll warn you, it gets a tad “woo-woo” in the final chapter, but the meat of the book is incredible at helping with the mindset around the recovery process. While I didn’t attend meetings, connection is incredibly important. If someone does not attend a meeting, I would encourage them to seek out connection somewhere.

I started a Meetup group for women in recovery in my area because nothing like it existed, but they do exist in many locations. The friendships I have been developing through that group have been so helpful through this process. I had to limit my exposure to my usual friend base during the early days because it could be incredibly triggering to be in their company, as all of my friends are drinkers. Having others to connect with that can relate to the struggles and challenges that we go through in recovery is huge. If someone cannot find a way to make an in-person connection, there are meetings online at In The Rooms and another fabulous resource is Twitter.

Call on the #recoveryposse any time of day or night and they will be there.

Not drinking alcohol can be a very stigmatising thing… were you prepared for that? How did you deal with it? How did others around you deal with it?

I didn’t completely realise how uncomfortable it would be initially to decline drinks at corporate events or when out with friends, but I knew there would be awkwardness. I knew that I couldn’t hide my decision not to drink as I had always been a big partaker in the alcohol scene, so I opted to “come out” with it when I hit 30 days. I wrote a blog post about my problem and the decision that I had made. I posted it on Facebook for all to see. While this action isn’t for everyone, for me, it was the best way to just be out with it and not have to worry about all of the weirdness. Oh, it was still weird and sometimes still is, but after my terrifying coming out to the world, some of the pressure was taken off. I’m happy that most people have been incredibly good about it and I’ve heard from so many friends about how my story has impacted them in some way. I will say this, I still have friends question me about it. I cannot tell you how many times people have expressed doubt about my having a drinking problem because they feel they drink more than I did. I respond the same every time, this is different for everyone. They didn’t see how much I was drinking and it isn’t always about the amount as much as it is about the reasons behind the behaviour.

As for my workplace, it’s a very heavy drinking environment. However, I decided to jump right in and not hide my decision. I didn’t make any big announcement, but I did quietly share the decision with a few people and over time, I’ve owned it even more.

It is unfortunate that some people do still look at me strangely when I don’t order alcohol or say that I don’t drink. No one bats an eye if you say you don’t eat meat or wheat. But when it comes to booze, I must be crazy for cutting it out. I take solace in my clear head and healthy liver.

© The Truth of Being Us

Were you successful from day one? Any relapses? How did you cope, emotionally, with all this?

I did have a very early relapse. I initially quit on February 5th. I was sober for 12 days before deciding to have just one. One turned into many over the span of several days. On February 20th I was done for good and have not had a drop since.

As far as coping emotionally, it’s still a work in progress. I’m nearly 8 months sober and it’s so much easier, but therapy is my saving grace. I’m feeling all the feelings I’ve numbed out during my whole life, which can be a challenging and arduous process but having mindfulness tools to turn to helps with the coping.

Now that you’re sober, are there any manifest benefits in your life that not drinking has afforded? What are they? Any advice for people reading this… heh, can we learn from any of your mistakes?

I’ve been sober for nearly eight months and the benefits of sobriety are vast. First, time has expanded exponentially. I used to be in such a fog that the days flew by without much to show for them, but now I find that the clarity brings with it more time to explore. Now, this also means that I have to be aware to not fill that time with other unhealthy behaviours. I had the tendency to spend more time working and it can be hard to pull myself away because I have such a demanding job. However, if I only work all the time, then the stress continues to increase and my desire to relax with a glass of something increases. That’s a cycle that I’m forced to pay very close attention to.

My creative side is back and I’m enjoying it immensely. I am a morning person in the best possible way because I’m no longer hungover, which means my weekends are especially beautiful times. I just feel better overall. I love having a clear head and remembering conversations. I also enjoy real conversations and not the repetitive drunken ones that were filling my world in days past. There seems to be so much more meaning in my relationships now.

As far as learning from my mistakes, I have not been perfect in my sobriety, but I have not had a drink. I’ve had bad days, sometimes just bad moments, but I learned early on that is was vital to break free from situations that might trigger me. I’ve come so close to giving in on a handful of occasions because of triggers – usually unexpected, but sometimes avoidable. I never want to offend my friends, but I’ve been clear with people that some days may not be so easy for me and I may cancel events or take another escape route. My well-being and ability to maintain my sobriety is number one. I believe anyone in recovery should make that a priority.

So… your blog “The Truth of Being Us“- what’s THAT all about? 

I started out some time ago blogging about being an adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA) and the challenges arising from that dynamic. Since then, I’ve gone through this transition and awakening of my own issues with substances. Along the way, it became overwhelmingly clear to me that I not only wanted to write about recovery, but I wanted to create a space where others could share their stories, particularly, but not exclusive to, women. Leading up to my sobriety decision, it was the stories of others that spoke to me and moved me forward. It was the knowledge that I’m not alone that solidified the support that I so desperately needed and that continues to keep me grounded.

Out of this was born the idea for The Truth of Being Us.

The written word has an undeniable power. A power to connect with others and a power to heal. My mission is to offer the site as a safe space to share our addiction and recovery stories. Many of us are in the thick of, or recovering from, something. Others of us are impacted by someone else in this position. This isn’t only about alcohol or drugs, either. Perfectionism, workaholism, anxiety, depression, codependency, trauma, eating disorders, abuse – these are just a sampling of what impacts our lives. In this space, women can choose what they wish to share and can do so with anonymity.

Sharing our truth will create a connection with others who need our words. I have no doubts that these stories will help others and if just one person benefits, that is enough for me.

“Have Trauma, Will Numb” is a very personal reflection – could you tell us how & why you wrote this?

That day completely caught me off guard. I spent time trying to self-analyse and combat what was happening, but it was relentless. So much of my numbing out with alcohol relates to traumas from my life, situations that I never identified as trauma until recently. I know that so many other people have experienced such situations and are impacted when they may not even realise it. Once I made it through without taking a drink, I knew immediately that I had to share this day with others. It is important for me to be real and to expose the tough stuff. Recovery isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, recovery is a process. It’s as difficult as it is beautiful. I thought by sharing the struggle, it might remind someone else to know that they are not alone.

More broadly, what does writing a blog mean to you as part of your recovery and more widely in terms of the subjects you tackle?

Writing a blog is therapy. Sharing my story in such a public forum is a way for me to finally lift that mask that I’ve kept on my entire life and show who I really am. I’ve been able to tap into some difficult memories through the blog and to share how they’ve impacted me. When I first started to question my drinking, I wrote about it in a different, more private space. Releasing my thoughts helped me to work through and process what was really going on, and it still does. It has connected me to others that could relate and eventually supported my decision to quit. Knowing that I’m now helping others through my truth-telling makes me feel like I am finally finding my place in this world. I believe that I am meant to be of service and that this is a part of how I need to do it.

If any of our readers are thinking about writing/ starting a blog – what advice would you give them?

I would say that if you intend on blogging, think through the process and decide if you prefer to remain anonymous or in the open. It’s a big decision to put things in the open and by remaining anonymous, you may feel more free to express your true self. I started out anonymous but knew that if I was going to truly be of service, I needed to just be me. I had kept parts of myself hidden for too long and was exhausted by it. Whether through a blog or a personal journal, I would strongly encourage someone in the recovery space to write.

There has been research that shows that writing is healing and it is a powerful way to work through and process feelings and thoughts.

I believe it is a vital part of our recovery and wakes up a part of our being.

*****

Have Trauma Will Numb.

By Tracie.
Originally published July 18, 2018

Nearly two weeks ago, I encountered a strange Saturday. Anyone who follows me on social media may have seen a piece of what I was struggling with, but allow me to shine the light on what was happening behind the scenes. I was at the tail end of a vacation week, which I had entered fully anticipating that there could be some moments where the thought of drinking would come up. Given how infrequently I considered it these days, I thought the worst was over.

This wasn’t my first vacation, I spent a week travelling in Arizona back when I was barely one month sober, but this was the first one that involved a good deal of downtime. A few quiet days in the mountains would start out the week, followed by time spent at home. The urge first struck me as we unpacked our car at the mountain house. While I lingered over our supplies on the kitchen counter, I told my husband that I wanted nothing more in that moment than to crack open a beer and sit on the porch. Inside my head, I was having the thought that maybe I actually could do just that. I was on vacation. I was away from everyone else and it wouldn’t be a big deal, right? We talked a bit about how natural this would have been in the past. With so much free time staring me down, there would have been zero hesitation to fill all that space with alcohol in my former life. This time I had to hesitate, and I was able to quickly connect the dots about why I couldn’t have that beer and decidedly didn’t want to spend my vacation in a numb state. I settled for a fizzy water and a cigar on the porch instead. It turned out perfect. There were a handful of moments like this one during the week, even after returning home, but fortunately, they were all brief. I was able to squelch the urges with other distractions or tools from my sobriety kit. In general, things went pretty well, until Saturday.

There was no trigger to pinpoint, this was an out of the blue, mucky mess of a feeling.

I woke up to a seemingly normal day, but within a couple of hours, I was carrying a thick, heavy sense of dread and sadness inside my gut. I tried to figure out what it was and why I was feeling so down on myself. The predominant notion that kept popping into my head was how ugly I felt. Downright ugly and unattractive. It wasn’t a body thing, it was just an overall sense of ugliness. That is the only way I can describe it and even that doesn’t do it justice. I was at a complete loss as to where this awfulness was coming from.

There was no trigger to pinpoint, this was an out of the blue, mucky mess of a feeling. With this came the severe urge to drink right behind it. I consciously knew the reason I wanted to drink was to chase away whatever this feeling was. While my awareness of the situation and behaviour may have been spot on, my heart wasn’t fully on board, so the battle carried on. I immediately turned to my tools and went off to my woman-cave for some yoga. Yoga usually does the trick, but it didn’t cut it this time. I then gave a go at meditation, taking some time to breathe and sit with what was happening for a while. But the hefty feeling was relentless.

My mind was scrambled and my mouth was following suit

I played a delicate game all day of trying to understand what this feeling was and where it was coming from, but without giving it too much weight so that I didn’t feed into it. That was nearly an impossible task. I applied every tool that I’ve learned in therapy and kept coming up short. When I finally tried to open up and explain to my husband what was going on, I could barely form sentences. My mind was scrambled and my mouth was following suit. I had to walk away from him with tears forming in my eyes when I couldn’t clearly define what was happening. It was then that I recognised this muddled sensation as a sign of trauma. I had experienced it before when something triggered me or during difficult therapy work. The problem here was that there was no identifying where it came from. This was just the feeling suddenly upon me without any memory or incident to connect it to. It was stuck and I was frustrated.

It was scary to feel its powerful squeeze tightening around me again.

As the hours went on, every time I would pass the cabinet where there is whiskey, I would pause and consider how a few drinks would take the edge off. If my husband was out of sight, I thought about how I had the chance to grab a quick swig from a bottle. There was this internal dialogue going on about how the alcohol would make it all better, followed immediately by all the reasons why that was the worst idea ever. The frustration wasn’t just about the awful feelings that were sitting in me, but the fact that I was four and a half months sober and this craving was so strong. The hold that alcohol had on me released its grip so much in recent months that it was scary to feel its powerful squeeze tightening around me again. It was maddening.

Late that afternoon, after trying everything else, I turned to social media. I put out a tweet to my favourite recovery hashtag and then connected with some of the women on a private Facebook group I belong to. Just one simple statement about my struggle and messages came back my way to show support and let me know that this does still happen sometimes, even years into recovery. While I knew this logically when I sent that message, I’m not sure I fully knew it in my heart and to have those reminders meant so much. Hearing a few words from others who have been there, sometimes even in just one sentence, made all the difference.

After finally experiencing some relief with the feelings and cravings moving on that evening, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what happened. I’ve also spent some time talking through it with my therapist. It’s entirely possible that my brain was trying to work something out. In addition to that day’s events, I had some terrible and vivid dreams that night related to some difficult events from my life. It’s equally possible that I had experienced a trigger earlier that day that I may not have been aware of, but that my brain picked up on and sent me spinning. It could have been as simple as a phrase, sound or smell that started it all. There is this thing that happens with trauma and your brain that I find fascinating. It can separate the feeling from the incident or memory and your neural pathways hold onto that pattern.

Part of the work (and it’s hard work) is to connect those paths together in order to move through the trauma and reach release. It’s more retraining of the brain as a part of the healing process.

Until this particular day went down, where I was stuck with only the feeling without the memory to apply it to, I didn’t fully comprehend this idea that we’ve been talking about in therapy for so long. Suddenly it all made sense. It continues to amaze me how many breakthroughs come from difficult moments.

Numbing is only temporary. It does get better.

It’s no secret that trauma drives so many of us to numb. It took me some time to recognise that some of what I have been through in life was defined as trauma, as I typically equated this to soldiers in war or car accident victims. It took even more time for me to see that I was numbing it. I wanted to take those same, familiar steps on Saturday and I knew that alcohol would make me feel better in those moments of anguish. If you are reading this and ever find yourself in a similar situation, please let this be a reminder that numbing is only temporary. It does get better. I was miserable for most of that day, but by the evening things were drastically different and when I woke up on Sunday I was so grateful that I didn’t put the bottle to my lips. If I had, the vicious cycle would have started all over again and the feelings would only be worse.

It’s a process, sometimes a long and arduous one, but worth every difficult moment. From those difficulties, we can grow, and we will thrive.

 

*****


About our author, Tracie.

 

Tracie describes herself as a 40-something adult child of an alcoholic, anxiety sufferer, corporate drone, tribe builder and recovery coach in training. A left and right brain thinker facing mid-life head on with sobriety.

You can read more from Tracie on her blog The Truth of Being Us, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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