When I was a young girl I remember lying in bed when suddenly it felt as though time was passing faster than I could keep up. I felt like I was so small in my bedroom as if it would swallow me whole and my heart was racing faster than I had ever experienced. My chest became tight and it was as though I was paralyzed. I had no idea that it was a panic attack – I simply thought I was losing my mind.
Trying to put my finger on exactly what was causing me to have panic attacks only gave me more anxiety. I was afraid to tell my parents what I was experiencing due to an innate fear of being judged. We didn’t talk about anything in my family, we simply acted like everything was perfect. This caused me to bottle up my emotions and fears until they became too much to bear. As I got older, I sought escape from anxiety through prescription pills that I bought from a classmate.
At the time, taking a couple small peach colored pills each day seemed like such an innocent thing. It allowed me to go to class and sleep well at night. It allowed me to relax and feel comfortable in my own skin. These tiny pills were my solution and they worked for a while – until they didn’t work anymore.
By the time I was 18 I was completely addicted to xanax and alcohol. Without it, I went into withdrawal and my panic attacks would return. I depended on a substance to get me through each and every day. I had cut off contact with my parents and siblings as I began to lose my will to live. I was utterly hopeless and defeated the morning that I decided to try and take my own life. When I woke up, a nurse in the emergency room pleaded with me to get help.
The next day my parents were called and I agreed to let them take me to a treatment center while they scolded me for doing drugs.
“Why would you do this?”
“What makes you think this is okay?”
“I don’t understand what your reason is for using these drugs.”
The questions went on and on. To be honest, I didn’t know the answers to any of them. To the best of my knowledge, I had lived a normal, happy upbringing. I had no reason to have these panic attacks that led me to self medicate and no reason to become a drug addict – but this was my reality.
In treatment, a lot of hidden emotions I had been experiencing began to crop up. Anxiety, depression, fear – all things I usually dealt with through substance abuse. Memories began to come back from my childhood as well, as my therapist did a lot of inner child therapy. Eventually, glances of memories began to come to the surface of me being touched inappropriately by a babysitter I had when I was young.
I did a lot of work with my therapist on this and it was immensely painful. We came to the conclusion that my anxiety attacks were a result of fear due to the trauma and abuse I was pushing down for so many years. It was also why I feared to tell my parents anything as a young girl. I had a brick wall built up around me ten miles high. I didn’t want to let anyone in.
Before I could be released from treatment, I had to begin to let these walls come down and start letting people in. To my surprise, I found solace in trusting in others and talking about the way I felt. I wasn’t judged. People seemed understanding and compassionate.
It has been over two years and I haven’t picked up a drink or a drug since I went to treatment. Instead, I have continued to build and grow my support group. Regardless of how difficult it can be to be vulnerable with other people – I do it anyway. Today I believe that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.
Not only is vulnerability a strength, but I have learned how it can save lives.
I frequently visit the treatment center I went to and bring speakers in to speak to the clients. I stay afterward to talk with the women there and share my experience with them. One woman, in particular, had the same experiences as I did, and I took her under my wing as she began navigating a new life in sobriety.
When I first met her, she had a nervous, shaky demeanor. She was constantly biting her nails as she was riddled with anxiety. However, I was there to watch a profound change come over her. I asked her to present me with my one-year medallion when I got sober, and she stood up on a stage with her head held high and hands by her side. She spoke with confidence and grace. It was as though she was a completely different person than I had known before. She had overcome all of the terrible things in her past and it was miraculous to watch. Watching others recover from abuse and addiction is nothing short of a blessing.
Kate is a writer from Memphis, TN. She enjoys yoga, hiking, and spending time with her dog, Jake. She is in recovery from addiction and enjoys helping others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.
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