By: Brittany Threatt
US Air Force Veteran/Recovering Alcoholic Addict
June 27, 2019
There are many individuals that suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder throughout the United States. “Seventy percent of adults in the United States have suffered a traumatic event in their lifetime. Of those, twenty percent have developed PTSD from their trauma. Women are twice more likely to develop PTSD than men, and 24.4 million Americans are suffering today with this disorder.” (As More American Suffer, Carney). Many people today associate PTSD with Veterans as more and more of our Veterans are coming home with unseen wounds. I myself, am one of those Veterans.
From a very young age, I came from a household of abuse. I have experienced trauma after trauma through my childhood and adult life. The death of my mother, Linda, when I was seven years old was one of many traumas I experienced. This set the tone for the way I coped and handled events in my life. I think I always felt different, felt this feeling in my stomach I never understood. Certain people, places, or reminders triggered responses I didn’t quite understand.
I went on my first deployment to Camp Bucca, Iraq, in August of 2007. During one of our first attacks, I remember going back to a place I felt as a child. Like I was going to die. This was a feeling I told myself I would never allow someone or anything to make me feel again. I tried to control it, but it continued. I was seen by a doctor when I got back in 2008. I had gone into a basement in the chapel and I experienced my first flashback, feeling as if the room was closing in and turning dark. I had a major panic attack and I had no idea what was going on. It would be the beginning of many.
Shortly after coming home from my deployment, my contract was up with active duty and I joined the National Guard to be closer to my family. I spent the next year suffering from depression, anxiety, nightmares, and flashbacks. I thought this was my new normal and I could get through it. My alcohol use increased drastically as it was the only way I knew to calm my nerves, and as a police officer in the military or just being in the military we were taught to just suck it up. Sharing feelings or emotions especially mental health issues made you weak, so I suffered in silence. Finally, after having a severe panic attack while driving and only being able to drive 20 miles an hour, I knew something was incredibly wrong. Here is where I started to accept that there was something beyond my control and I needed help. With the stigma of mental health, I lied to my doctors about how much I drank. I masked the feelings with alcohol, and it continued to give me a sense of peace.
In 2011, I volunteered again to go overseas, this time to Afghanistan. I wanted to make my family proud. I loved the military, and I loved being with my unit and didn’t want anything to get in my way. I had just lost my grandmother, who raised me after my mother died. I was given the opportunity to decline the deployment, but I knew that my grandmother wouldn’t want me to stop what I was doing in my life because of her passing. I wanted to do this for her more than anything. Little did I know that I was suffering from the deep loss of losing another mother. She was my best friend, and I felt guilty that I felt worse about losing my grandmother than my own mom. During my deployment, I was asked if I wanted to see someone for grief counseling. I started seeing a doctor overseas for combat stress. There were a lot of things that happened during my deployments that I didn’t talk about. Being sexually harassed and threatened, bullying, and being inferior as a woman to men that thought I couldn’t do my job because I was a female. It took a heavy toll on me over the 10 years I served our country. Along with my own personal battles of my childhood and my early adult life, I felt numb. I couldn’t feel for anyone or anything. Two months before coming home, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
When I came home, the battle started. I couldn’t wait to drink. The anxiety was so bad I couldn’t sleep. My anger, nightmares, flashbacks were continuous and those around me didn’t understand that I was just a different person. Any trauma changes you, and after experiencing my 9th trauma in my life, I broke inside. I would drink until I blacked out. I started experimenting with recreational drugs because I just wanted to get outside myself and feel normal. This was a constant battle. I was medically discharged for PTSD in February of 2015. Now the only identity I knew was stripped from me because of a mental illness. I fought the biggest battle of my life for six years until I finally broke. The last two years have been a roller coaster of events. Life was beyond my control, I was scared of my past, scared of the future and couldn’t live for today. I started using opiates in 2016 just for fun. I did not know that those with PTSD have a higher risk of acquiring an addiction than those that do not have PTSD. I was even more likely to become addicted because substance abuse/alcohol abuse ran on both sides of my family. After my child was born in July of 2016, my PTSD became more severe. I was also struggling with Post-Partum Depression, because those that have PTSD have an even higher chance of having Post-Partum. I loved my son with everything I had, but I was scared constantly. Would he wake up? What if I die and he has to go through what I went through as a child? My skin crawled every time he got upset, and I knew this wasn’t normal.
The opiate abuse continued and so did the drinking. I hid it very well, until I had had enough. I wanted to be a better mother; I wanted a better life for us. There had to be more than this. I would try to detox myself, but I couldn’t get through two days and the withdrawals were too severe. I finally reached out for help in May of 2018. I called my brother-in- law, a Veteran himself and a recovering addict. I needed to tell someone, because I just didn’t want to live anymore, but all I could see is my beautiful boy’s face and how I just wanted to give him a better life than the one my mother gave me. I didn’t want to continue the cycle. Treatment was the only option, and on May 21st, 2018 I left for Florida to detox and enter into a Veteran/First Responder-specific program at Transformations Treatment Center called the Help For Our Heroes program. I was so broken, and my way never worked so I just did everything and anything I could. Treatment laid the foundation, but I was still not ready to go home. I was in survival mode from all the traumas I had experienced, I needed more in-depth counseling. I had to make the hardest decision of my life to not go home to my child and family and put myself first.
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In active addiction, I had not lost anything except my mental health and myself. In making the decision to stay to work on myself I lost a lot. I lost a lot of friends, family, and my marriage. I couldn’t go home to a toxic environment, and the people I met in treatment, the staff, my counselor, my sponsor, and the people in the rooms became my family. It was the best decision I ever made in my life. I have been able to use the skills and tools that Transformations had taught me, I was able to work through my steps and let go of a lifetime of guilt, shame, anger, self-pity and self-destruction. It wasn’t until I started one-on-one Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing therapy (EMDR), that I understood fully where my addiction/alcoholism came from. Over the last five months, I have been processing every trauma that ever occurred in my life. Slowly but surely, it has allowed me finally to process fully and not respond as if I was still there. I’m able to recognize feelings and ask myself why I am feeling this way. You see, when you experience trauma, it gets stuck in the left and right side of your brain, never fully processing through to the cognitive brain that allows you to have a somewhat normal response.
Through my recovery of not only my addictions, but my mental health I am now able to live life fully on life’s terms. I am able to live for today without fear, anxiety, and resentments. I am able to be present for my friends, my family, and most importantly for my little boy. There is so much stigma on mental health and on addiction, but I am here to tell you that none of that matters. You have to do what’s best for you. My biggest regret is that I didn’t say something sooner, that I didn’t find treatment or this program earlier. What I am most grateful for is the blessing recovery has given me. I would have never been able to do that without reaching out and asking for help. I am living proof that with seeing a psychologist, psychiatrist, the proper medications and taking the suggestions needed to help my mental health and my addictions, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I always say, “I have PTSD, but I am not PTSD!” I didn’t ask for a mental illness, I didn’t ask for the traumas to happen to me, and I didn’t ask to be an addict/alcoholic. What I did ask for was Help. Today, I am the best mother to my little boy, I laugh, I love, I cry, and I have feelings, but I no longer have to use drugs or alcohol to numb those feelings. I have a life beyond my wildest dreams, and it is possible for anyone willing to do what it takes.