“I walked through not only recovery from my addiction, but from my trauma. Today, I gravitate toward the things that make me uncomfortable. I know that through discomfort comes adversity, but ultimately comes growth.”
The above quote is from Tricia’s inspiring story below. If you have experienced sexual abuse or an addiction, her words are written just for you. Healing is indeed possible. Like Tricia said, recovery can mean getting uncomfortable. Ironically, it can be through this discomfort that healing happens. Never give up.
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Against All Odds: Sexual Abuse and Addiction
by Tricia Moceo
“And all the while I feel like I’m standing in the middle of a crowded room, screaming at the top of my lungs, and no one even looks up.” I remember watching Titanic as a kid, empathizing with Rose and her emotional turmoil. Growing up, I always felt like I was drowning and desperately waiting for someone to come rescue me. It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I would realize that I was the one refusing to get into the lifeboat…
I was five 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.
Sexual abuse is confusing, but not as perplexing as facing it alone as a child with no support nor direction. I learned, early on, that my experiences were mine to carry alone. No one came riding in on a white horse to protect the innocent but violated little girl. I was left, alone with my thoughts, trying to avoid the reality of the abuse. Falling on deaf ears, I carried the cross of shame and kissed the feet of fear daily. Wearing a brave face, I never got the chance to truly experience my childhood. Memories from that time period come in waves but I realize I dissociated from the majority of my earlier years.
As I got older, I started to shove every uncomfortable emotion into the deepest pit within myself. Self-loathing mixed with false confidence cultivated my identity. I attribute my utter inability to engage in any form of intimacy on my inability to be honest with myself. I was a chameleon of all sorts. I never felt like I fit in. Emotions were downplayed and I was always “too much” or “not enough.” Inadequacy pleaded my cause and I didn’t object. I spent most of my life changing shades and never identifying who I really was. My relationships were codependent and unhealthy.
Codependency is defined as “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires support due to an illness or addiction.” This definition brings back an unpleasant nostalgia that I’d prefer to ignore. In fact, for me, codependency is an ever looming defect that I combat daily. The grips of codependency brought me to my knees long before I indulged in any mood/mind-altering substance. Before I ever picked up a drink/drug, my addictive nature preyed upon validation and approval. Maybe trauma and the environment of my childhood propelled my incessant need to please, or maybe I was always a glutton for punishment. At the root of almost every human heart is the desire to love and to be loved. I was no exception, in fact I clung to validation for survival. From an early age, I never learned how to validate myself. Perhaps it was the lack of emotional safety I experienced or maybe it was the fundamental inability to deal with life on life’s terms. Either way, I was spiraling out of control with no safety net in sight.
Fear of rejection/abandonment was the leading cause of my incessant need to please. Thinking back to my childhood and the absence of my biological mother, I experienced feelings of inadequacy, rejection, and abandonment from a very young age. I was left to navigate through my adolescent years, and quite honestly I never had the proper tools. I was like a tourist in a foreign county, unfamiliar to the language, without a guide, and completely lost.
Based on my experience, avoidance was the only way to heal. The insanity of this idea would later lead me into the trenches of full-blown addiction. The first time I experienced oblivion, I finally felt “a part of.” All of the pain, trauma, and fear disappeared. Drugs and alcohol became my solution. If I didn’t like how I was feeling, I sought out oblivion. If I did like how I was feeling, I sought out oblivion. If I wanted to celebrate, oblivion. If I wanted to mourn, oblivion. You see, eventually oblivion became my reprieve. Just as I dissociated as a little girl, I learned how to achieve the same desired effect with opiates. Eventually, I couldn’t worship or sacrifice enough for King Opiates and I was begging for relief. Legal consequences caught up to me and I was left with no solution. I was buried alive with no idea of how to revive myself.
Gift of Recovery
Walking out of the local county jail, I felt complete apathy. 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 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 who 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 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.
Here we are, 2½ years sober and I finally feel like I’ve made my way home. I am able to look myself in the mirror, without self-deprecating thoughts or comments clouding my vision. I walked through not only recovery from my addiction, but from my trauma. Today, I gravitate toward the 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 Twelve Step community. 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 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.
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.