This post was originally published on June 18, 2014.
My reflection in the mirror is less than just-got-out-of-bed sexy to say the least. The puffy lip pout is present as usual but the pasty skin and swollen eye bags detract from any seduction a puffy pout could produce. I was already semi aware of the nausea I was experiencing during my nightmare-filled, semi-conscious attempt at sleeping.
With trembling hands, I attempt to grab my toothbrush from the glass I keep it in beside the sink. Shaking with all the professionalism of a seasoned drunk going through alcohol withdrawals, I manage to jam my gum twice with the hard plastic of the brush while putting it in my mouth. “Great!” I exclaim to the wretch in the mirror. “There should be a lovely specimen of a mouth ulcer to contend with in a day or two!”
Then my mind wanders to a place of peace and comfort that’s been toying with me since I managed to convince myself to leave the safety of my bed at 6:30am. The moment I left my semi-conscious state that eluded to sleep, I knew that my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder had managed to take full control of me during the night. It was lurking in the background for a few days and I was trying to ignore its presence, taking care to do the right things in the hopes that it wouldn’t cling onto me like a drowning person but instead kind of shimmy by me at a safe distance so I’d barely notice. No such luck. I should have known better. After any even remotely stressful encounter with my ex-husband, my nervous system takes a dive and I crash with the same catastrophic destruction as a kamikaze pilot’s plane. Later that same day, I find myself in the supermarket not able to remember what I’ve come in for. It strikes me suddenly that I’ve become that slightly disturbed-looking woman you see talking to herself as if there’s someone right beside her. I pull myself together and start putting food into the cart in the hopes that I appear to be somewhat coherent and totally in control of this shopping gig.
So my brain attempts to cope with the panic that’s triggered in me by going to that memory of calm and quiet and numbness—the type of calm and quiet and numbness that drugs or alcohol can bring. This morning, Xanax sounded positively glorious to me. Once upon a time, benzos—along with my beloved alcohol—allowed me to bypass the melodrama. Before I knew that I was experiencing PTSD, I considered myself a giant pain in the ass—a psychotic, selfish drama queen. It seemed like everyone that was close to me had pretty much the same opinion so this became the constant mantra I repeated over and over inside my troubled mind. Sometimes I felt so out of control of my emotional state that death seemed like a logical solution. My alcoholism came in pretty handy at this point. It counteracted my death wish so that instead of throwing myself off a cliff, I drank lots and lots and still more. As a result, PTSD symptoms got to swim around, peacefully being lulled into submission in a warm bath of wine and Jack Daniels.
But one day, I decided that alcoholism was really causing problems and I stopped drinking (though, of course, this part wasn’t easy, either). Then of course, PTSD had the opportunity to come out of its induced slumber and whack the shit out of me, just in case getting sober and getting all my feelings back wasn’t traumatic enough. Put PTSD into the mix and notch the “difficult to deal with” level up by a few megawatts. I didn’t know what the hell had hit me.
My internal turmoil was nothing less than completely and utterly debilitating. I was afraid to tell anyone what was happening to me. We all already knew that I was unstable, but now I was forced to come to terms with the fact that I might’ve possibly been completely losing my mind. Sharing this information with anyone was not going to shine a favorable light on me obviously. Someone was bound to take the kids from me, saying, “You’re not fit to be a mother,” and so I had to control this thing, whatever it was, and keep it well hidden from public view.
So, as my recovery program suggested, I needed to seek outside help. I hauled my reluctant body, mind and soul to the doctor. I sat in front of him, wringing my hands, unable to control the tears that were involuntarily falling out of my eyes. The diagnosis was anxiety with possible depression, textbook benzo-worthy symptoms. And so it made sense to me when I was handed a prescription for Xanax. I was a very happy camper…for about a week.
Clearly, taking Xanax when you’re an addict isn’t ideal but oh, how it helped; oh, how I wanted to remain in that blissful benzo fog. But oh, how my conscience poked me with a big sharp stick. Rigorous honesty, the next right thing, going to any lengths—these annoying slogans screamed at me constantly and so loudly that I couldn’t ignore them. I knew that if I wanted to stay sober, I couldn’t remain on these pills. I was already falling in love with them. The inevitable was knocking. I would have to suck it up and go to therapy and face whatever it was that was causing these panic attacks.
I’d attempted therapy during the breakup of my seven-year marriage. At that time, I was in turbo drinking mode, so who the hell knows what came out of my mouth? I certainly was in dark denial about having any sort of an issue with alcohol or drugs. I guess I must have just bitched and blamed the whole time I saw that poor unfortunate therapist. This time, though, I was doing it sober. In raw reality. No delusions or inebriation to hide behind and Christ was it torturous. It still can be. But it works. After about six months of seeing my present therapist, she told me in no uncertain terms that I had PTSD, and probably have since the age of four. Of course the subsequent and numerous traumas after that age didn’t exactly help matters. Whoopee doo. Now I have a new category of insanity to add to the list that I already had. Sometimes I wonder if I’m going to be able to claim every known mental disorder listed in the DSM.
I guess it’s clear by now that I’m not the alcoholic who claims to never think of a drink anymore. I remember all too clearly the delicious altered state of reality it brought me. Although I have managed to stay sober since the day I decided to enter recovery, I think about how just a little something to take the edge off the anxiety would rock on days when life is splattering crap at me from that proverbial fan. Thankfully though, I also remember where I came from, how far I’ve come and how excruciatingly uncomfortable it has been getting to this point. I am under no circumstances willing to start at the beginning and have to go through all that fixing myself business again. I’m completely drug and alcohol free now (except for insulin shots for diabetes) and I deal with my PTSD symptoms with acceptance, mindfulness, meditation and a lot of self-love. It’s not the instant quick fix that pills used to provide but in the long run, this is the only one that’s going to work for me.