Addiction Survivors Help Spread Awareness About Finding a Forever Recovery

Addiction Survivors Help Spread Awareness About Finding a Forever Recovery

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Article by Cecelia Johnson and Photos by Pixabay


Every September, we observe National Recovery Month — but if you ask me, addiction is a mental health issue that deserves awareness year-round. I have been thinking about the millions of people who suffer through substance abuse. When the drug epidemic is discussed, these people tend to be the forgotten ones, and their struggles are a huge component of this epidemic.


Being a recovering addict is no easy feat. I have great respect for those who work tirelessly to maintain their sobriety. For many — if not most — of these brave souls, it is a daily battle.


To promote recovery awareness, I reached out to several graduates of addiction treatment. Here are some of the stories they shared with me.


‘Before going to treatment, I was lost’

Jeremy, a graduate of alcohol treatment in Michigan, told me that thoughts of suicide were the red flags that spurred him to seek help.


“My life before I got to treatment was pretty hectic. I had just gone through a divorce, so my using on top of that made life a constant battle. Every day I'd wake up, and I’d start drinking just to function. It got to the point where every night I was blacking out. I really didn't feel the need to live anymore. It's the first time in my life that that crossed my mind. It was scary, and I knew I needed help.”


Sober and ready to face the world, Jeremy feels like a new man.


“Before going to treatment, I was lost, and I didn't think a program would be able to give me that. But now I am at peace with myself, and I actually have the confidence to go to the world outside of treatment. I have goals now in life.”


‘I've changed from the moment I got to treatment’

Alex told me he was also at a very dark point in his life when he made the decision to seek help.


“Before I went to treatment, I was doing OxyContin, Opana and painkillers. It was really driving me to a low point in my life, and I decided I needed to change. So I went to [a treatment center], and it has been life-changing. I started to steal sentimental items from my family, and that really started to tear me apart inside. It was not who I was at all, so I knew I needed a big change in my life”


He didn’t know what to expect when he entered treatment, but Alex told me he felt “a hundred pounds lighter” once he made the decision.


“As long as you're willing to choose to make it work for you, and as long as you have the choice to make a change, you will change. I can definitely say I've changed from the moment I got to treatment.”


‘I've realized that there is another way’


Tara’s traumatic experience was the turning point for her to seek help.


“I went to treatment because I had been an IV heroin user for 8 years. I have a 2-year-old son that I lost custody of due to my drug use — that was the last straw. A month before I went to treatment, I was actually shot 8 times. I was shot because I was going to meet a drug dealer and things went bad — things went very wrong — and he shot me.”


Grateful for her newfound tools to manage sobriety, Tara is ready to handle what the world throws at her.


“I've realized that there is another way, that I am capable of living a sober life, and that I can be happy without drugs.”


Join me in recognizing those who make the commitment to live clean and sober. Through their success stories, others can find hope.

Is this Child's Behavior ADHD or Trauma Related?

Many of you appreciated that I shared this article with you, yesterday: ADHD versus Trauma.

I'm glad to connect to the sensitivity in you that can see the importance of this distinction.

In my previous practice as a psychiatric nurse at an inpatient facility in Austin, Texas, this distinction between ADHD and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was as clear as a bell. The former can benefit from medications ("Start low, go slow" is the prescriptive maxim, however). The later, especially severe post traumatic stress disorder, can look EXACTLY like ADHD - poor attention span, distractibility, labile emotions, disassociation from whomever is speaking to them at times, little resilience, and poor goal-directed behavior skills.

All of these symptoms make sense if the world is as dangerous as you know it to be.

If you have been physically, emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually abused - by a loved one especially - your mind map of the world is so fraught with danger that you do one of two things: Shut Down, or Turn Up.

Shutting down is disassociation, falling into the well of one's mind to avoid reality. Turning Up is becoming more hyper vigilant, more easily stressed by small triggers or sounds that remind you of a lack of safety. Rage is your best friend if you are Turned Up - in many ways, anger can keep someone safe (at least in the short term).

Connecting with traumatized children is my passion. Rey, my RN mentor during my RN Residency in Austin, mirrors the kind of calm demeanor - and infinite listening capacity - I have for these children, too. His phenomenal skill set with abused and neglected children have made him into one of the most profound mentors to hundreds of nursing students.

No matter how egregious a child's abuse story, their voice is important to listen to - even if they did just spit at me.

Children and teenagers have often been misdiagnosed with the label of "ADHD" without proper testing (The Vanderbilt Survey tool need to be completed by THREE sources - not one) -- or a proper trauma assessment being performed.

How to do a Sensitive Trauma Assessment:

Children sense when an adult is uncomfortable - and if you never want a child to tell you the truth, be uncomfortable. Discomfort with a possible trauma story - even in subtle body language cues - tells a child that their Secret is so large that even an adult can't handle it. They will keep hold of their Secret - perhaps to protect you, but also to protect themselves from certain disaster if they happen to upset another adult.

Children's incredibly perceptive nature demand that we, as adults, show up as solid, present, capable listeners.

How to Help a Child Tell You They Have Been Traumatized:

  • Witness.
  • Normalize the idea of trauma existing (especially since 1 in 3 of us experience severe trauma in our lives - so it a regular occurrence!).
  • Speak to the fact that EVERYONE has a chance of healing - no matter how deep the wound.
  • Emphasize that you are with them, and that they will not get in trouble.
  • Disregard arbitrary, non-vital job functions until you are truly able to make this child feel as worthy, safe, and deserving of help as they truly are.
  • Reassure them that they will live through this - and even become more amazing because of how they decide to heal. Talk about celebrities, authors, friends that have pulled through hard times and still lead wonderful lives.

Note: Whatever you tell a traumatized child at the point of their disclosure will color the rest of their life. If you act as though they will become triumphant after their trauma, they have a better shot at doing so. If you look down at them as poor, "sad little victims" of a crime that must be ever so debilitating...they will take on this belief pattern. Be careful.

My nonprofit, Journal To Save Your Life, is trauma-informed. All of our 52 weeks of mental health curriculum assists people to come to terms with their trauma in an empowering fashion, no matter how deep the wound.

Please donate to Journal To Save Your Life, here, so that we can continue to grow and do the work that we do:

Looking forward to your support - and please leave comments!

Thank you,

~Holly Claire Werstein, MBA, RN, FMHPNP
Founder & CEO, Journal To Save Your Life 501(c)3


Remorse, a Gut Wrenching Affliction

Remorse is a plague of the heart and mind that is one of the most gut-wrenching afflictions. I think remorse can come in innumerable forms and sometimes sneak up on us unknowingly from a dormant slumber.  I have felt remorse over relationships, my own unhealthy habits, the things I never said and wish I had, or even the way I may have glanced at a person. Remorse is a second guess of actions, feeling sorrow that we may have been wrong. Turned inward, remorse eats us away until we are walking carrion, zombies frozen in time. Lived with too long, this walk of regret becomes unproductive, a cycle of self-hatred, self-medicating, and numbing out. As I get older, I am realizing that holding onto remorse serves little purpose other than to keep us paralyzed and tunneling through the past. There is something to be said for having a conscience, feeling a pang of doubt when we make a morally questionable decision, but when your entire being is dripping in regret, you must accept that no one can save you but yourself. Only forgiveness and understanding heal regret and sadness--easier said than done.

Time apparently heals, but if you live with fear, regret, and doubt, time only prolongs and exacerbates self-inflicted pain.  The cycle must end at some point. Some may choose suicide, but I choose contemplation and introspection. This takes work, but it is worthwhile work, and you are not alone in your fears.​

Once I realized that I no longer want to blame myself for the trauma I have experienced, or blame myself for the trauma I inflicted on others, I can be free to create something new and different. This is what I hope for you as well.

If I lock myself in anger and doubt, I will become nothing more than anger and doubt. 

I've found that the most difficult regret to contend with is the sadness that has festered within me for years as I internalized and despised all of the mental health treatment I was receiving.  I’m not sure if this was due to the specific treatment I was receiving, or due to my own misunderstanding, fear, and anger that I needed medication and therapy in order to be “well”.  I always thought that everyone around me needed help—not me. But in truth, I have needed a lot of help and still do. If I despise myself and my actions, then I will despise others and their actions.  So, back to remorse, I’ve learned the only way to deal with my past is to forgive myself and to forgive others.  I don’t think this concept is new in any way, but the depth that I need it now is new for me. I have lived for a long time in a shell that generally saw the world as a bleak and depressing place. My own traumas and difficulties colored my view, and I also learned that I had a condition which made me experience periods of extreme depression, isolation, and chaos and confusion. Understanding my limitations, and also recognizing the limitations of others and of systems, have helped me to accept “that which cannot be changed.”

Another thing: Remorse and anger are not always negative emotions. There are times when contemplating actions and questioning one’s own validity in being upset is useful. For example, “Was I to blame for my employer firing me, or were there reasons beyond my control, and do I need to go back and revisit their accusations and my actions?”  When regret can be looked at not as fuel for self-hatred and criticism, but as a tool for growth, then I can move forward from the disappointment and “remorse” that I have experienced in scenarios like these. Life is not perfect and mistakes are inevitable.

This is an open discussion. Not a final word. 

Heal yourself to heal others. Heal others to heal yourself. 


<3 Becca S.

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