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Quick: what’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think of PTSD?

Is it domestic violence? Substance abuse? Probably not. You probably thought of soldiers, which isn’t wrong, but it’s far from the complete picture. Survivors of any type of trauma may exhibit symptoms of PTSD, and it’s super important that we recognize all of them. Because if we don’t, as Elizabeth will tell you shortly, sufferers will find their own ways to cope. It may be strange to read Betty’s quote, “heroin saved my life,” but as you’ll see, substance abuse was her way of coping with the domestic violence and trauma that slipped through the cracks. She couldn’t get help, so she found her own. But she doesn’t want you to do it the same way.

Mental Health Monday is all about helping people in their twenties learn how to take care of themselves. Every week, I feature someone else’s story that I think will inspire readers to eliminate stigma, be proactive in staving off their own potential mental illness, or give hope to someone who is suffering. Elizabeth’s story today, in my opinion, does all three.


Like Elizabeth’s story? Check out Grace’s story about battling substance abuse here!


Heroin Saved My Life is about how Elizabeth’s trauma went unnoticed by the people in her life, which led to her substance abuse.

As you’ll read, her loved ones and other trusted adults didn’t seem to want to touch her mental illness with a ten-foot pole. That’s because of the stigma, or shame attached to mental illness. And this happens all. the. damn. time. But stigma comes from fear of the unknown, and I’ve gotten to know Elizabeth a bit through our conversations and her beautiful writing on her blog. She is intelligent and caring and endlessly brave, and you’ll see it all shine through in this piece. I swear, you’ll physically feel stigma about people with substance abuse issues melting away as you read.

I hope that Heroin Saved My Life will also help others stay out of similar situations. Betty writes about many of the points where things could have gone differently; where there was potential for her to get help. If your story looks anything like Betty’s, I hope you’ll pick out those points where you can break the cycle of your addiction, and/or your PTSD by getting help.

Finally, I hope that if Betty’s story doesn’t resonate with you personally, that you’ll share it with someone who might be struggling with trauma or substance abuse, or both. This is how we give others hope. If someone had reached out to Betty even just with a simple message of hope, things may have turned out very differently.

Without further ado, here’s Elizabeth.

"Heroin saved my life" might sound crazy initially, but for many PTSD sufferers, substance abuse is an all-too-common way to cope with trauma.


“Heroin Saved My Life When I Was Diagnosed With PTSD (But It Also Almost Killed Me)

Elizabeth Brico

When I was a new mom, heroin saved my life.

The year after I sent my abuser to prison was one of the loneliest of my life. I missed him. I know how strange that must sound to someone on the outside: How could I miss the man who near-fatally strangled me on more than one occasion, beat me up, raped me, called me names, estranged me from friends and family, and forced me to become a mother midway through college? How could I miss a man I hated?

The human heart is disastrously complex. It somehow holds hate and nostalgic regret together in a painful, malignant balance that neither our sciences nor poetics have yet been able to fully comprehend. My abuser was my abuser, the man who caused me to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but he was also my fiance, the father of my first child, the man to whom I lost my virginity, and my friend. Once he was gone, his loss consumed my life. And with it came all the trauma responses I’d been repressing as a means of saving myself while it was still happening.

Nightmares dominated my sleep, and loneliness excavated all joy from my days. Even when I was with friends, or lovers, I felt alone and unloved. My PTSD worsened each day. My son spent more and more time with family. Then I met heroin.

It doesn’t matter how I started or who was involved. Once I was fully immersed in my addiction, nothing else mattered. There was no beginning, and no end in sight. Each day was the same, dark, unblinking copy of the last; saturated with sweat and cravings, long shivering walks to the cash machine. Or, as things got worse, the pawn shop, the street corner. They were idle hours waiting for the dealer, then the irresponsible, demonic joy of having a bag in hand, the long search for an injection site on the ever-shrinking map of my veins. The stick, the pull of blood, the push of drugs, the rush. The incomparable oblivion.

PTSD and substance abuse are intimately connected.

It’s hard to know exactly how many people with PTSD struggle with a substance abuse disorder, but one study of Vietnam veterans estimates the number between 60% and 80%. Anyone who has walked down a city street has undoubtedly seen the bearded man in worn, stained fatigues, nodding out from dope or reeking of alcohol while he holds a dingy cardboard sign asking for change. I am not alone in my addiction.

“Downers” like heroin, opiate pills, benzodiazepines, and alcohol help temporarily reverse some of the brain changes caused by trauma, such as hyper-arousal. Unfortunately, they also exacerbate other issues, like emotional reactivity, and violent behavior. In my case, it provided me an avenue to escape an unbearable reality without committing suicide, but it also ravaged my life and nearly killed me on it’s own. I’ve overdosed nine times that I can recall. Twice while in recovery. A few times on purpose. Once alone– I still don’t know how I survived.

I am still recovering from my trauma and addiction to heroin. Crawling out of the hole of poverty, shame, and depression that it carved into my life has been almost as daunting as recovering from domestic violence. My son lives with my mom- when he was two years old, I placed him in the care of my family because I knew that my PTSD and addiction issues were so out of control that it would be impossible to keep them away from him otherwise. Our relationship is strained; far from the close, loving bond we shared during his infancy. I expect that is an ache that will never ebb.

When I say that heroin saved my life, I mean only to be honest, not to offer a positive or glorified perspective of chemical dependency.

Heroin addiction is a harsh, grueling existence. One that guts you right down to the soul. I would never recommend it to anyone, and I wish I hadn’t needed it. There are healthier interventions that could have helped me. Should have helped me. I was a kid, in college. I wrote about the abuse, and talked openly about the ex-boyfriend in jail. No one stepped up. No professor referred me anywhere, or expressed an interest in my well-being. As I showed up on campus increasingly thin and wan, no one said a thing. When my grades dropped from As to Cs, and I began showing up late or skipping class altogether, teachers labeled me a bad student. No one offered support. No one suggested care.

My family took in my son, but abandoned me. My friends slowly dropped contact with me. I became a pariah. Those friends who remained either didn’t notice my pain, or ignored it because they didn’t know what to do with it. I tried a couple therapists, but because my son was still in my legal custody, I feared intervention from child services. Eventually, I just stopped seeing them, and none of them pursued the matter beyond a single phone call.

Heroin was available for me when nothing else was. It eased my pain when no one else would even look at it. Heroin saved my life because nobody would help me save myself. I don’t blame all the people who could have done something, not entirely. It’s easy for someone like me to slip through the cracks. By the time I developed PTSD, I was estranged from friends and family because I’d been with a controlling, abusive man for four years. But I do believe, strongly, that it should not be so easy for someone to slip through. It should not take a serious addiction for domestic violence survivors to be noticed; we should not be offered treatment only after being labeled a burden to society.

PTSD is correlated with substance use disorders.

This is a known fact. As such, we as a society need to do more to support those diagnosed with PTSD, so survivors like me don’t have to turn to heroin and other dangerous alternatives to keep from committing suicide. So many policymakers are looking at strengthening the regulations around opiate prescriptions, and “cracking down” on doctors. Almost nobody is looking at strengthening the community supports and screenings for trauma survivors. Heroin saved my life, and unfortunately, this is the case for many others out there. Maybe if we start basing our interventions on loving support rather than laws and fear mongering, we would effect some actual change in this big, scary, opioid crisis.

Bio: Elizabeth Brico is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She holds an MFA in Writing & Poetics from the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University. Her blog, Betty’s Battleground, was recently ranked #26 on Feedspot’s list of top 75 PTSD blogs. She is also a regular contributing writer for the trauma blog on HealthyPlace. Her writing has appeared on VICE, Vox, Stat News, The Fix, and Racked, among others. You can also find her on her Facebook page, or her website, e.b. writes. During her rare moments of free time she can usually be found reading, writing, or watching speculative fiction.”

Learning how to get sober is not a topic not often considered among the twenty-something population.

In fact, learning how to get sober is almost unheard of to be in college. Why would you want to practice sobriety in this kind of environment? How else would you socialize? What would you do on the weekends if you didn’t go to bars or house parties literally flooded with booze? I’m sure a good number of you aren’t quite sure.

Because drinking is one of the main social activities for twenty-somethings, it’s also much more difficult to uncover whether someone is actually suffering from alcoholism, or if it’s a phase that will end when they graduate.

These are the reasons why I thought Grace’s post on sobriety would be a perfect one for this week’s Mental Health Monday.

As you guys know, mental health is an incredibly important part of learning how to be a great adult, which is what Uninspired is all about. In the past, we’ve talked about finding your support group, dealing with uncertainty, how to process pain and negativity, and more. Today, Grace talks about how she drank a lot in college, but she blended right in with her friends because that’s the thing to do there.

It is so easy for someone suffering from alcoholism to slip through the cracks when the norm in our society is to spend all of our social time around alcohol. If someone who might benefit from practicing sobriety is out there reading this, I hope that seeing this post gives you the strength to get help. There are young people out there who are suffering from alcoholism. Alcoholism is not just an affliction suffered by older people, as Grace points out. It can affect anyone, and can be even more ruthless on younger people because it goes unnoticed.

Grace’s personal experiences with mental health have led her to write passionately about the subject. She is a blogger at Healthy Place, and she also has a personal blog called Wisdom, Courage, Acceptance. She has a lot of wisdom to offer, and I hope that even if you aren’t suffering from alcoholism, you’ll still learn to look for signs of it in other people. Even if they’re young and in college.

Today for Mental Health Monday, we're talking about sobriety. Grace is here to talk about how to get sober, because even though it might seem like the hardest thing in the world, stories like hers give us hope.


“My Name Is Grace And I’m An Alcoholic….

My story with alcohol starts back in the college years. Of course, then I had no idea I was beginning to exhibit problem behaviors because ‘everyone drinks in college.’ However, not everyone drinks for the reasons I was.

I was drinking to relieve pain, to numb emotions, and to get away from all my anxiety. I drank to forget anything and everything I was feeling. Since by this time I had been dealing with depression and an eating disorder for years, finding alcohol was like finding a new friend.

I loved this friend. It made me more outgoing, more fun, and more able to relax for once in my life. I wish I had known at the time that this friendship would soon tear my life into pieces, leaving me alone to clean up its mess.

The real problems began soon after my gradation from college.

I can remember the first night after returning to my hometown. I bought a bottle of wine and sat alone only to drink the entire thing by myself. This turned into a nightly ritual, which turned into a day and night ritual, and soon I was intoxicated for most of my days. With no job and few friends at home, I felt like my life was empty. This is what I thought would fill the void.

Soon, I was going out every night, staying out til morning, and drinking more than I thought I could in a lifetime. I used to think I’d look back and see these as the greatest times of my life, but now looking back, I see there was a veil over my eyes keeping me from the truth. The truth was, I was a miserable individual and a drunken fool 99% of the time.

When I ran out of money from going out so much, I resorted to drinking the contents of my family’s liquor cabinet. I’d sit outside all day drinking my drinks and smoking my cigarettes (that is, if I wasn’t passed out in bed or puking my guts out). Even at this point, I did not entertain the idea that I might have a problem. Denial has been a huge part of my recovery journey, and the most difficult wall I had to break through.

Time passed, I drunkenly interviewed for and got a job, and so my mornings were blessed with hungover drives to work. This didn’t stop me, didn’t even make me question my behavior. These mornings just became the norm for me.

Eventually, enough time went by, and I began to realize I could not stop drinking.

I had tried learning how to get sober on my own. I never cried more than when I finally confessed to my mother what was going on. Shockingly, she had no idea. I met with my doctor, who gave me a medication to help with withdrawal symptoms. I think this plan lasted maybe two days.

Then, the day came when I finally knew I needed more help; learning how to get sober was not a demon I could fight on my own. I was taking my medication as prescribed, but then I began drinking on it, which was an awful combination. One day, I had finished whatever booze I was drinking and decided I needed to go out and get more.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve regretfully driven drunk many times, but this time was something completely different.

After driving for a few minutes, my vision doubled and I couldn’t see straight for the life of me. Do you think that stopped me? Of course not. I continued on, a little shaken, but I got what I needed and returned home, still seeing blurry.

Later, my mom got home to find me completely trashed, and I had an emotional breakdown. I sat on the kitchen floor, bawling my eyes out, embarrassed but unable to stop. This is about all I can remember. Days after being in detox, I finally felt safe from my crazy self.

I followed detox up with an outpatient program to maintain my sobriety and was soon doing pretty well.

Unfortunately, like I said before, recovery is in no way linear, and sobriety may not stick the first time. After more denial and many more relapses, I was finally able to say no more.

I have been sober since November 17, 2014, and could not be more proud. Yes, there are struggles. Learning how to get sober is not easy and I give props to anyone who is living an alcohol free life. There is so much temptation, and being young doesn’t help because much of being social includes being at a bar. However, things are getting easier, and every time I want to drink, I remind myself how much better off I am these days. I am at every moment grateful for my sobriety.

If you think you may have a problem with alcohol and want to know how to get sober, talk to someone. Don’t dig yourself further into that destructive hole. Remember, you don’t have to have had this problem for 50 years to ‘deserve’ help. If it’s an issue, it’s an issue no matter the length of time it’s been going on. Don’t let denial get in your way.”


Get trusted mental health information at https://www.healthyplace.com/