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I always felt that something wasn’t right with me but I never understood exactly what. My earliest memories are of feeling different or not the same. I first sought help independently for my “wrongness” when I was nineteen years old. I spoke about how I felt in utter desperation and left that day feeling like I had been heard. It was my first introduction to alternative health and healing. Previous to that, I was the rebel child, who was taken to the doctor for my anxiety and depression at the age of fifteen. Subsequently, I was prescribed anti-depressants. I can’t say if they worked or not because I can’t remember. What I do know is that things continuously got worse throughout my life, probably because I had been misdiagnosed.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Eventually, after decades of self-medicating with drugs and alcohol treatment, I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) and addiction. In hindsight, it was pretty obvious what my issue was, but I had to be honest with myself about the reality of my life before I could get honest with professionals trying to help me. The understanding of this condition wasn’t understood thirty-five years ago as well as it is now either. It was a long and arduous journey to healing though.

Nobody ever explained that my nervous system was shot and I was in constant fight or flight. In short, this means that my body was drowning in stress hormones, so I could never relax, sleep, feel safe, or function normally. I never fully understood that my past trauma had caused extensive physiological damage to my body and brain and I needed to heal that before I would see even slight improvements.

Road to recovery

After years of living in an extremely stressed state of anxiety and addiction, my body needed to return to a parasympathetic state. In simpler terms, we understand this as a state of peace and normal functioning. I believe that I had never experienced this peaceful state so even recognizing what that felt like was difficult. As a result, I didn’t understand what the end goal was, so how was I going to get there? Where would I even start with this healing and how would I know when I got there?

The process sounded pretty simple. It meant simplifying my life. Easy right? Not really! My life was in perpetual chaos from living with ill health, a traumatic divorce, living in poverty and having no support. Putting out fires was a daily occurrence and I felt completely vulnerable trying to raise children alone. But the seeds had been sown. Just understanding that there was another way of living and being spiked my interest. I began reading everything I could on healing and health and slowly the end goal seemed like somewhere I could get – eventually!

The process

Even during the process of getting well, I wasn’t sure where I was going. There were many breakdowns and a lot of disillusionment. For a long time, I didn’t recognize that I was healing. I just thought I was perpetually failing. Each time I crashed, I learned something new about myself and my situation. Each time I picked myself up and moved forward. I had no choice. My children had only me to rely on and I wasn’t prepared to give up on them. Each time I entered my therapist’s office I understood a little deeper and with each session, I released another layer of trauma. I lived to serve and people please and had to learn about self-compassion and saying no. I couldn’t even read my huger signals or feelings of tiredness. My whole being was in chaos and I had to relearn how to live and be in the world.

My previous understanding about ptsd and substance abuse was to push myself to unbearable limits, accept anything people said about me as truth, barely eat and make everything and everyone a priority. I lived outside my body my entire life and to get to know myself deeply for the first time ever. Once I connected with my body and understood its basic needs, I physically crashed like never before. I literally spent two months sleeping, eating and breathing life into myself. Something had changed though. The panic internally had lessened and my mind had slowed down. Functioning calmly and rationally began to become normal and I knew I was on my way to that end goal people kept talking about.

Where I am at today

I’m still healing and have a way to go yet. I’ve caught a glimpse of what normal feels like, and a lot of things have changed inside me. Moderation for example; I now know its true meaning and balance is becoming a joyful experience. Feeling fear constantly has subsided and I can recognize when I’ve been triggered and I’m behaving irrationally. Kindness to myself, oh what a revelation, and the practice of doing nothing has changed my life. Shame is no longer controlling me and most of my days are spent making choices instead of reacting to my internal pain. Of course I slip back into my old ways but I can recognize that and bring myself out of it with love and compassion.

I am also dealing with grief for the life that could have been for me. I wonder often where I’d be if my entire existence didn’t consist of one massive trauma after another since childhood. I’ll never know of course, and these days I try to focus on peace instead of trying to make up for lost time. It’s working so far.

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