“The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.” ― Judith Lewis Herman
Growing up, I always felt like I was drowning and desperately waiting for someone to come rescue me. It wasn’t until my mid 20’s that I would realize that I was the one refusing to get into the lifeboat … I was 5 years old when I had my first encounter with trauma. Too young to comprehend the magnitude of the situation, my first grade class participated in a “Good Touch/Bad Touch” workshop and I found relief in finding a safe place to lay down the burden I had been carrying. I went straight to the school counselor and told her, in vivid description, the intimate details of my unwarranted experiences. I remember the grueling interview process that resulted in a conference with my parents. Finally someone could validate my pain, or so I thought. This resulted in complete denial and avoidance from my parents. Looking back, perhaps it was too painful. I like to think they did the best they could with what they had. I would spend the next 20 years of my life wearing victimization like a warm blanket, hopelessly seeking relief and validation.
Every little girl dreams of getting older and relishing in spa days and shopping sprees with their mom. I was no exception, but my storyline played out a little different. My father left my biological mother when I was two years old. He shipped me off to south Florida with my grandparents to spare me the heartache of the divorce and to shelter me from the reality of my biological mother’s relentless drug addiction. A couple of years later, he met Sandie. Sandie quickly fell in love with not only my father, but me as well. She adopted me and became not only my mom but my best friend. Never once, did I challenge her love for me. I was left with unanswered questions of my biological mother and why I was never good enough for her and it fueled my insecurities for as long as I can remember. I’d find myself isolating and changing shades like a chameleon, adapting to every new group of “friends” I’d encounter. Life continued to unfold and at 20 years old, I found myself as a single mom to the most beautiful baby boy. I felt like my life’s purpose had finally been fulfilled. Things finally came around full circle. Never could I have fathomed unconditional love like the love a mother has for her child.
January 10,2013 I was reunited with trauma. My mom had a massive heart attack. Without taking a second to process the information, I called up a local drug dealer to meet me at the hospital with my analgesic of choice. After all, how could I possibly be sober and emotionally available for my father, brother, and son? My worst nightmare became a reality, Mom passed away two days later and life as I knew it had been completely dismantled. I felt as though I had been stripped of every ounce of oxygen in my body, and the only relief: Opiates. I didn’t spend an hour without some form of mood/mind altering substance in my body. I dove head first into running my parents’ restaurant. Without skipping a beat, I was working full time, raising my son alone, and compensating for all of the responsibilities my mom once held. As the pain of her absence grew, so did my unrelenting addiction. Plagued by the stigmas of addiction, I thrived off of my own denial and lived a double life. I maintained the picture perfect life on the outside, but emotionally, I was dead. Grief swept in like a tidal wave and I was drowning. I remember waking up to indulge in my vices before I’d even kiss my son good morning.
Immediately disassociation became a coping mechanism. Life became tolerable for awhile. I stopped allowing myself to connect with my emotions. This method worked for while, and then my mother passed away unexpectedly and I found myself overwhelmed with grief and unresolved resentments. Frantically searching for relief, I outsourced my avoidance. Drugs and alcohol became my first reprieve. I finally found the solution, complete oblivion. I spent 4 years of my life drowning out pain, anger, fear, even happiness I traveled down a dark road, one that ultimately led to my demise. This spiraled out of control, until one day I was brought to my knees. Eventually, I found myself in handcuffs on the side of the road, in the small rural town I grew up in. Unaffected, I spent 3 days and 2 nights confined to a place I didn’t belong. Upon getting released, I was faced with the reality that everyone knew my secret. Everyone knew I wasn’t handling things so well, I wasn’t handling anything at all. I was numb. Relentlessly pursuing after things that never served me, credible force propelled me into facing my fears head on.
Walking out of the local county jail, I felt complete apathy. The superwoman act was a fluke. I hopped onto a plane, desperately seeking relief. To this day, the hardest moment in my recovery was kissing my son goodbye, the morning I left.
With no real timeline for when I’d see him again, this is a painful memory that continues to ignite the flame of perseverance into maintaining my sobriety. How could I possibly raise my son and stay sober without my mom here? I was crippled with fear and self doubt, but one day that all changed. My father finally came to my rescue. He offered me the gift of recovery. I attended a 30 day dual-diagnosis treatment center. At first, I was convinced I was entering the initiation into a cult. The idea that I would walk through the trauma I experienced, completely sober, was insane. I’m not like any of these people. Again, my comforting desire to be the isolated victim crept in. You see, drugs and alcohol were never the problem, I was. After weeks of intense group and individual therapy, I came to the realization that not only was I healing from my addiction but from undiagnosed PTSD and and anxiety. This was the turning point in my journey to recovery.
At the root of it all, I was the scared little 5 year old girl that never healed the wounds of her past. Without drugs and alcohol, my resources were severed. Aside from the common withdrawal symptoms, I found myself struggling to eat, sleep, process emotions, or engage in any sort of vulnerability. During one of our self demolition sessions, I remember my therapist asking me “How much pain do you want to be in today? Only you can lay it down and start to heal.” No one ever validated my trauma, until that day. In recovery, many people speak of spiritual experiences and this was my first encounter. I remember sobbing and yelling throughout the remainder of our session, unloading years of guilt,shame, and unadulterated pain. I didn’t have the “white light” experience, my spiritual awakening was one of the more educational variety. I blame that on my stubborn, Italian genes. Through hard work and pain, I managed to incorporate real recovery into my life. I could finally breathe again.I slowly started to welcome the idea that I had complete control over how much I truly wanted to recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind.
A year sober, and I met him. He was charming, attractive, spontaneous, and seemed to be everything I wanted. Truly sober, for the first time ever, I really had no concept of what was best for me. My shallow standards made it easy for him to enter in and wreck my world. I’ve always been the giver and I’ve always gravitated towards the takers. Again, a glutton for punishment I assume. Infatuation set in, and I was all in. My entire world became him. We never spent any time talking about anything other than him. I remember him apologizing but always ending the apology with some form of “but you or because you”. He always wiped his hands clean from any sort of accountability. Yet again, another red flag. We were maybe 8 months into the relationship when the verbal abuse started. Slowly but surely then came the financial abuse and crazy control manipulations. Physical pain would eventually subside but the emotional trauma scarred me. I remember being 9 months pregnant, scrubbing bathroom floors to bring in some income and avoid the abuse. Just like the 15 year old girl trying to earn love through obtaining impossible perfection from my stepmother, I was sure I could win him over if I could just play my part. We moved into a new place and per usual, the ups and downs ebbed and flowed like the sweet but piercingly cold mountain stream. The abuse continued and the severity of the total demoralization was incomprehensible. I couldn’t separate delusion from reality, just like when I was actively using drugs/alcohol. So here I was, a year and a half sober and living in mirroring insanity.
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 told everyone the truth about what had been going on and I swore to myself that I would never go back. We have children together so this relationship continues to be a work in progress. I have set boundaries and I hold firm to the consequences when he doesn’t follow suit. 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. I continue to seek out therapy for my PTSD, addiction, and trauma. I am constantly surrounding myself with women that have my best interest at heart.
About a year and a half into my sobriety, I was blessed with a beautiful little girl. A whirlwind of emotions flooded my thoughts. How could I possibly raise a little girl without my Mom here to help lead the way? I couldn’t have been more misled. I found myself walking into two years of sobriety, with two kids and living a life beyond anything I could’ve ever hoped for. It was as if my mom was carrying me, when I couldn’t carry myself.
Every experience that led up to my recovery and the structure of my family, played a part in shaping me into the woman I am today. I became this courageous, unstoppable force. Today, I gravitate towards 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. I stay connected to the women I’ve met in sobriety. I pause before responding, impulsivity no longer controlled my actions. Meditation and spirituality have become my stress relievers. From the motherless, hopeless drug addict to the graceful woman of integrity I am today, there is no doubt that “everything happens exactly as it should.”
Tricia Moceo is an Outreach Specialist for Recovery Local, a local addiction/recovery based marketing company. She advocates long-term sobriety by writing for websites like detoxlocal.com, providing resources to recovering addicts and shedding light on the disease of addiction. Tricia is a mother of two, actively involved in her local recovery community, and is passionate about helping other women find hope in seemingly hopeless situations.