From Trauma to Addiction and Back

From Trauma to Addiction and Back August 20, 2019

(This post is part three in a planned four-part series by my courageous friend Celia O’Keefe. The first two posts can be found here and here. Let the reader beware, Celia is speaking honestly about sexual assault, the resulting trauma, and how they led to drug addiction and prostitution, so this post comes with a content and language warning. ) 


In my last post, I detailed some family history and traumas which all worked together in shaping the mind of an addict; my mind. The responses I received from people who went through the same kinds of things, was overwhelming. I knew I wasn’t alone in my story, but it’s no wonder 60% of the 21 million Americans who struggle with substance addiction every day suffered through trauma during their childhoods. In this post, I’ll explain some of my personal story and how trauma created the perfect bridge into a full-blown, adolescent-into-the rest of my life, addiction to anything.

By the time I was 12 my family moved back to a fairly familiar neighborhood- but it seemed my parent’s attempt at moving me to a safer neighborhood backfired in a big way.

I was aching to the depths of my soul. No amount of God-given grace washed away my pain. At church, we were taught to “offer-up our suffering” and God, I tried. I really did. But what my early childhood therapist had said to my parents was true: I’d started to process everything that happened. It hit me like a truck; though I had been running from the pain of what was going on for so long that I was just simply worn down. My guilt and shame had done nothing but fester, and I was so tired- tired of abuse, tired of pain, tired myself, tired of life- and no amount of faith alone was enough to save me. 

I started self-mutilation. This was probably my first real addiction, party pills and booze aside. It was one-part wanting to feel anything besides the weight of my soul and one-part punishing myself for being so unclean. I went back to therapy after a suicide attempt and began trying to work through my trauma but kept self-harming. It’s not that I necessarily wanted to die or still felt like I was punishing myself- after a certain point, I was just addicted to that sting and the cool numbness that followed. Years would crawl by as I tried to work through what had already happened to me, but I kept sneaking around- sneaking out in secret, looking for distractions. Random psychotropic (and other) medications all going down the gullet or up the nose, never taken as prescribed. Alcohol was fun, though it was mostly disgusting; Hello, Four Loko! The taste almost reminded me of my old friend, Benadryl. I would meet people and try things I knew nothing about. I’d get so high and/or drunk, most of them could do whatever they wanted with my body and I’d stay safely outside of myself, focusing on the buzz.

Two pivotal things would happen at this point, which I believe solidified my path directly into an opiate addiction.  

My new boyfriend’s brother would lure me to a public pool after dark, with 2 watermelon Four Lokos and the assurance that his brother would be there, too. No one was there when we got to the pool, but half-a-Loko later, I climbed over that fence and got into the water anyway. What wouldn’t I do for just a little bit more Four Loko? In the water he started getting handsy and I actually said “Stop.” But he got angrier the more I resisted. I fought so hard, like I never had in my life. I escaped by pulling hair out of his armpit in a blind attempt to get him to let go of my throat. I dragged my naked self out of the water as fast as I could, and he followed. He hugged me- it was sickening- then asked what I was crying for. I said “What the fuck?! You just tried to kill me.” He replied coldly, “No. I didn’t.” slumped away, climbed back over the fence and left on his bike. 

Again, we would go through the motions of trying to press charges, and again the police would do nothing. I fought, though. I fought him off and I lived. I took control and I made it out alive. It took a while to see the upside, but I’d found it and wasn’t letting go for the world. 

I met a man, 26 years old to my 14 years, who knew my attacker. He was their neighbor and he swore vengeance while pointing to the “OMERTA” tattoo emblazoned across his collarbone. Ridiculous to me now, but then…He had guns and he had knives and he was so strong. I felt so safe with him- he became my hero in promising to do what police had always failed to do for me, and we started to hang out every day. I would skip schooling to go sit in his apartment where he always had “party favors” to share. So much cocaine and so many pills (I didn’t understand at the time, that they were 30mg Percocet which is a very strong opiate drug.) We’d sit and do his drugs all day, talking about music and plotting vengeance, and I’d try to hold on to my new sense of self. His roommate would occasionally question what was going on- he’d make sure I was alright, but I assured him I was doing what I wanted to. 

The endless, free-drug-utopia was too good to be true- as my tolerance increased and I needed more, I would have to start paying or making exchanges if I wanted to continue using. Whenever I waited too long to get to his house and dose-up, I’d be sore, sick, more depressed, angry and on the verge of suicide than ever, so even though I didn’t get exactly why, I was sure that quitting wasn’t an option. I didn’t have the money, so I opted for the exchange. This is where I would begin exchanging my “unique skill set” for things that I wanted. In my mind, I was finally taking control and he groomed this mindset. Time would pass and I would get sicker, faster. He left without warning one day (I later learned he was picked up on a warrant) and I was left to find my fix alone. People slowing down and chatting me up from their cars was nothing new to me by that point, but until then, I’d had a twisted sense of loyalty toward my “hero.” Now, however, I was free to earn whatever I wanted with whoever I wanted. I’d start to take these men up on their offers. The money wasn’t great, but I would find a couple leads on where to get my drug-on; and continue lying to everyone about my secret.

 This went on for quite a while. 

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