15 Years Sober But How Much Longer Can I Stay Strong For?
The Relationship of Addiction And Trauma
Often times addicts are ridiculed and made the focal point of jokes. It is really easy to run away from our problems or to try to escape our reality via alcohol and substance abuse. Today I am 15 years sober and I have decided to unpack just what all that means. Sub Cultures have often glamorized using while the Alcohol industry is quick to show support and inclusivity to marginalized people. Have we ventured far enough into what self-medicating looks like? Have we overlooked people’s survivalism and seen them as problematic people, just another lost cause? Makes sense why there was such an urgency to put liquor stores on Reservations because Native people are born into trauma i.e. Colonialism. Trauma Survivors make excellent candidates for becoming addicts.
The year was 2000 and I was just a sophomore in High School. I had already experienced condemnation most of my childhood, to the point that I didn't get to enjoy much of it. I had already been outted in middle school by a friend’s parent that used to substitute but I couldn’t hide my femininity or who I’ve always been. An old friend from middle school had convinced me into going to a party with my peers. This party ended up being a bible study group that pinned me down and gave me a forced exorcism. Being physically assaulted and a target of everyone’s aggression is something I had grown accustomed to. The school faculty rarely defended me and often times teachers would encourage the students to make fun of me. I had a Home Ec teacher who we will call Mrs. S. This teacher would regularly ask me to stand up and give the class a whirl. She encouraged the students to constantly laugh at what I was wearing, even if much of what I was wearing was being worn by my peers. I had a Math teacher who we will call Mr. J and he singled me out from day one. Our first day in his class, Mr. J had asked all students to give them the name we would prefer to be called by. He refused to call me Marcy and instead used my dead name. My family has been calling me Marcy since I was just a few days old, without having much of an idea of how much it would suit me. My junior year I had a teacher named Mrs. Bradley, a walking angel. Mrs. Bradley taught Sociology and she looked for the good in everyone. She was born before her time and I was one of her favorite students. The students would regularly mock me for being Visibly Trans/Feminine on a regular basis and she never wasted her space or any incident. These incidents could become very helpful learning experiences for her students. One day, a male student was mocking me as he usually did. She asked both he and I to stand up to conduct a ‘ Mind Over Matter ‘ experiment. She had us stand next to each other before the class while two students piled up textbooks in our hands to see who could carry more books. To see who could carry these books the longest. I must have had like 12 textbooks, maybe more but whatever number it was - it was 3 more books than he was able to carry. He gave up just after two minutes and I made sure to hold those books in my hands for at least an extra minute and a half. I was Trans, not weak and I had so much to prove. Mrs. Bradley’s eyes lit up as I put him to shame before the other Cis Het students. I remember one day Mrs. Bradley had asked me to dye her hair the same color of purple that I had. She walked around school with the same color of purple the same way that an ally wear’s a rainbow shirt. Mrs. Bradley made it a point to show that visible support in a small town school with many disapproving eyes. I had put myself in counseling for a whole year, the regular trauma I experienced every day was beginning to be too much. I was starting to isolate myself at home, I was having trouble eating. My grades were terrible because I could never focus and I began cutting myself regularly. No one really understood why I wore a sweater every day during the hot months. I was very suicidal. One day as I was leaving the counselor’s office, I crossed paths with the P.E. class. 9 students grabbed stones the size of my fist and began to throw them at me. They tried to murder me and I am lucky to have survived. I went straight to the principle's office, my Mother had gone to pick me up. My Mother made the only logical decision a parent could have made in a small town during 2001. She pulled me out of school and our principle spoke to us with such guilt, he felt like he failed us.
I had already been attending Raves before dropping out. I also started to experiment in heavy drugs. Sadly, I do not know where I would be without the times I used ecstasy directly after experiencing such harsh trauma. I had already been smoking marijuana for a year. I needed something harder to numb the pain, to make the pain okay. Going to Raves saved my life but taking on that lifestyle 24/7 after dropping out nearly destroyed my life as well. I needed a place to feel human, a sanctuary. For years, I had a place of refuge. The scene was a place with no judgement, where all of the misfits escaped to because society has always been so mean-spirited, judgmental and cruel. In this scene, I had friends that were heterosexual, bisexual, gay, pansexual, black, white, native, asian, middle eastern, non binary, trans, cis, rich, poor, comfortable, homeless, disabled etc. These details didn’t separate us but gave us incentive to maintain a welcoming space. It is really easy for troubled kids to build kinship with each other, to create chosen family and the community we always needed. Unfortunately, the drugs that we would partake in to enhance our time together were also responsible for great loss in our communities. Every time someone from our scene died from a drug overdose or a car accident with someone under the influence - we’d have an event. We would celebrate their life and play a song in their memory, to remember who that person was to us. I had entrusted so many Cis Het folks as chosen family. I didn’t realize that I allowed myself to become tokenized. I would overlook anti-lgbtq2s jokes that occasionally slipped and sometimes out of desperation to maintain these connections, I would join in. I have not always been the best person. I was so hurt by this world that occasionally I lashed out at people that didn’t deserve what I was dishing, for that I apologize. However, in many instances - much of these very people turned out to hate trans as adults. I have also learned to somewhat trust some of my misguided behavior and judgement while inebriated in the past. Since I had dropped out, It was impossible to mention the traumas that happened to me. Everyone knew I was a mess but no one knew why. You would think your friends would want an explanation as to why you’re always trying to overdose on purpose, why you’re always trying to jump out of moving cars or burning your thighs with cigarettes. My parents were constantly filled with fear because they didn’t know where I was half of the time. I would go on benders and be gone for days at a time. I had been sober a handful of days since dropping out of high school. I mean that, a handful of days for nearly 7 years. I needed to have unprescribed anxiety pills to take on sober days, unless I was smoking pot or drinking for the anxiety. I also had bottles of liquor and a case of beer in my closet at all times. I used to struggle with insomnia and would stay up sometimes for 2/3 days at a time and would have to get high or drunk to the point that I would be able to sleep. My parents were also accustomed to trying to stop me from jumping out of moving cars, taking me to the hospital for suicide attempts and sometimes having to pin me down in the yard. Sometimes I would start screaming and crying uncontrollably, trying to run down the street barefoot with no destination in mind. I didn’t know how to escape the pain. It also doesn’t help that at 19, I was drugged and raped by a guy that was the roommate of my friend’s boyfriend. She had no idea and I was out of it mentally, I didn’t even realize what happened until years later. I just remember him sliding me drinks. I had a high tolerance and things didn't add up. He passed me a shot (my third drink, the other two were beers) and watched over me as I was beginning to lose consciousness within a few minutes. I remember him throwing me over his shoulder and the next day waking up face down in his bed. I had been out for 14 hours and in my underwear. He wouldn’t look at me in the eyes. Of all the trauma I have experienced - that sadly was not the worst of it. I was almost relieved that I couldn’t remember it but my body remembers it. It has caused problems in some of my past relationships, areas of my body that don’t like to be touched without me being notified first. Some people very ignorantly think that rape doesn’t happen to Trans or Two Spirit people but it does. I know because it happened to me.
In 2007, my addiction had reached it’s peak and I nearly reached my demise. I was doing hard drugs a few times a week and I was filled with nothing but grief. I couldn’t escape my trauma anymore, being under the influence had amplified my suicidal ideation and the struggles I was experiencing. I had one last long bender, a 14 day bender and I lost my mind. I remember telling my parents that I wanted to take my life and I was hearing voices. They rushed me to the hospital. I had been to the hospital so many times over the years for drug overdoses and suicide attempts, they finally decided to keep me because of my medical history over the years. I was put in the psych ward for detox and monitoring. June 2, 2007 was my first day being sober. My first roommate had Bipolar Disorder and had gone off his meds to go on a drinking binge. He was having seizures every 15 minutes until he eventually died. Luckily, we were no longer roommates when he died. I would sit during the day looking out the window of the 5th floor, listening to the man down the hall bouncing off of padded walls. They eventually gave me a psychiatric evaluation and I received my first diagnosis of having Bipolar Disorder. It explained quite a bit but not enough. The head psychiatrist was out of town and left a resident doctor overseeing the psychiatric unit. It was that horrible stroke of luck that led to me being put on the wrong medication. I was given a medication used to treat Schizo Affective when I don’t have Schizo Affective Disorder, I have Bipolar Disorder. Within hours,I noticed my mobile skills being off - I couldn’t even write on the paper, I had lost control over my body. Later that night I had a seizure. I had been on the wrong medication for the following 9 months and I was in horrible shape. The medication began to make me feel apathetic, I couldn’t even feel that warm feeling you get when your Mother is in the same room. I felt like I was awake for my own death and spent 9 months in purgatory. There was a feeling there, I felt Creator or Ussen as we call God in our Apache language. I knew that I just had to stick it out and I would make it through that. I hardly spoke, rarely showered and my head would shake like a patient with Parkinson’s disease. I finally got a second opinion. The new doctor took me off of that medication immediately and she said I would be lucky to get 40% of myself back. That is what horrible shape I was in. She also explained that anyone who was on a 14 day bender using the drugs that were in my system would have heard voices too, that was not a part of my disorder. She finally put me on the right medication for Bipolar Disorder, I began to notice lower anxiety and the ability to focus on one thing rather than the constant racing thoughts. That was only a step in the right direction. She also diagnosed me with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for my ticks and Seasonal Affective Disorder. However, that was just treating one of my disabilities. By the time 2013 rolled around, a stressful issue had finally broke me completely. My anxiety/constant fear was at it’s highest point and I became Anorexic. When I finally found a Therapist that was good for me, I walked in at 114 lbs. At that point, I was eating about a handful of food every other day and was smoking a pack and a half of cigarettes daily. I had lost so much weight, my general physician had me screened for cancer. I was finally diagnosed with PTSD, which was later upgraded to Complex PTSD. My biggest struggle of all my multiple disabilities has long been my Complex PTSD but how does one heal in a world that hates you? How does one heal when Transphobia & Colonialism are systemic issues? Since getting my first disability diagnosis in 2007, 90% of any new Trauma I was experiencing wasn’t from ordinary people. Most of my new trauma has been coming from people a the Social Security Administration, Board of Medical Physicians, at doctor’s offices, from Medicaid employees, at Human Resources and other federally/state run agencies placed to help disabled people like me. I have had to fight for the smallest of accommodations when these programs already meet the very bare minimum of my needs as a Disabled Indigenous Trans Woman. These federally run agencies have non-discrimination policies that they rarely ever abide by. These Federally run agencies and doctor’s offices have regularly stomped all over my Americans With Disability Act rights (federal law) time and time again. It is 2022 and I have experienced thus far, very little justice and only hardship. I have to struggle making ends meet as a gig worker, even after qualifying for monetary assistance which I stopped receiving after 2 months because of how I had been treated regularly by that federally run agency.
I wanted to focus very little on being Trans and mostly on my trauma in this piece. However, those details are integral parts of my story and my life - so is having Non Visible Disabilities. You see, there are many other people out there like me. People that had to drop out for their own safety. People who will spend the rest of our lives living with trauma as the people who traumatized us will flourish in their lives as if they didn’t permanently ruin someone else’s life. My victimizers have good paying jobs, healthy relationships, they were able to get a college degree, they are able to create stability for themselves - things I wish I could do. I don’t want to be disabled, who does? People act as if I made a decision to be traumatized, I didn’t. I had to get a GED and have only been able to complete two semesters of college. My Complex PTSD is so bad that I can’t work a 9 - 5 job, I have to work from home. At home, I can only work on my good days. There is no telling what days are going to be good or bad days with PTSD. Being in school is very triggering for me because that’s where I received most of my trauma. Just because someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, doesn’t make them a bad person. Many have just found an unhealthy way to cope. Many addicts are just traumatized people trying to self-medicate themselves. This is why I’ll always consider myself a recovering addict, even after 15 years of sobriety. It wasn’t easy getting sober. However, here I am doing my part. I am sober, I take all of my medications on time without anyone telling me to. I try to have healthy coping mechanisms. Most of my struggles as a disabled person are Federally run Agency Employees making things personal, acting unethically, bigoted and playing God with disabled people’s lives. I have reached out multiple times to my New Mexico State Governor, Senator and New Mexican Congress People - they have made no such efforts in meeting with me. As a constituent, I deserve to have my voice heard and I have tried multiple times to reach out to work with them on these issues in New Mexico. I am doing my part as a disabled person but these agencies and doctor’s offices are not doing theirs. I am doing my part as an advocate but if our own Elected Officials neglect people like me when reaching out, then who keeps these agencies honest?
I look back at what I have been through, what I've overcome and I am filled with gratitude. My Mom never gave up on me and somewhere in all of that, I started to advocate for myself. I hope my life improves some day. I hope that our laws like ADA and non-discrimination policies within agencies start to become honored some day. It seems like these laws and non-discriminiation policies are just for show sometimes. I wasn't sure if I wanted to write something so personal but brutal honesty is what brings real change.
by Marcy Angeles: Artist, Writer, Musician, Journalist & Public Speaker