Healthier ways to cope instead of drugs and alcohol, from a survivor
Updated: Apr 16, 2019
In early 2018, days after my ex-partner violently assaulted me by beating me with his shoe, stomp-kicking me, and nearly breaking my ribs, I went on my first bender of many.
"Bender: A term commonly used to describe a period of time (preferably more than 24 hours) spent escaping life's harsh realities. Consumption of alcohol and drugs is a must. Anything goes." (Source: Urban Dictionary)
After I left him, my assailant framed me for a felony and got NYPD to arrest me. At that point, my bender tally went through the roof. I've lost complete count. Much of the months after turning myself in to police is a complete haze, rife with compulsive escaping via any substance available, embarrassingly atypical behavior, sleepless nights withdrawing, and anxiety.
Pure, unadulterated anxiety.
Folks, I've been through the wringer. And I return bearing sound advice.
For anyone going through trauma: I know it's hard, but please refrain from quick fixes. Drugs and alcohol work wonders, but for a painfully brief period of time. After they wear off, you feel miles worse off than before. But I know you know that already.
The fact that it's so taboo to discuss drugs (not so much alcohol) is directly harmful to the traumatized community. It's empirically supported that people with PTSD have higher risk of developing substance abuse issues and alcoholism. Data show that approximately 36% to 50% of individuals seeking treatment for substance abuse disorders meet criteria for lifetime PTSD.
My doctor warned me about this when he approved my disability leave from work, yet I still spiraled into addiction. I was always honest about my use during our check-up appointments, and he always tried to help break the cycle, but I couldn't stop.
At its core, compulsive drug use was a coping mechanism for me. I couldn't stand being alive—to have to face the truth of the abuse I endured. To feel the strike of his shoe, the cold metal handcuffs clasped around my bruised wrists, the internal turmoil and confusion as I was locked in a precinct holding cell. To smell the alcohol on his breath as he held my neck and told me he was going to kill me.
I needed a way to numb my feelings and flashbacks in order to make it through even a minute of every day.
It's damn impressive that 100% of veterans returning from combat aren't alcoholics and addicts. Up to 20% with PTSD do go on to develop substance use disorders, though.
These days, I'm better. I no longer use substances as a way to quell inner turbulence. I rarely drink anymore, as the smell of alcohol and drunk, sloppy, aggressive men are triggers.
Here are some healthier coping mechanisms I've learned, straight from the horse's mouth.
Self-numb with TV. It sounds lame, but it works. Indulge in whatever genres you like.
Post on social media. Notification bubbles elicit natural dopamine rushes. Probably healthier than getting high.
Eat something sweet. Sugar is addictive for a reason.
Indulge in your flashbacks. YMMV. Sometimes I feel like I'm gleaning something.
Write affirmation & motivational notes to yourself. My walls are covered with post-it notes.
Rub Elmer's Glue on your hands and peel once dry. This kindergarten shit is fun.
Join a shared interest group. League tennis allowed me to feel a connection with other people again.
Purchase shit. Again, dopamine rush. Only if you can afford it.
Have funny videos on standby. My collection includes classics such as Keith Habersberger's Hey Bitch, Let Me Buy You Pizza, Tim Meadows music video (see below), Jon Stewart banter with 2 Dope Queens, Try Guys Ruin ASMR episode, and more.
Candles. I thought this was so dumb when my therapist first recommended, but it's actually nice and helps settle the mind.
Watch standup comedy. Comedians often talk about really personal and dark issues, in a funny, relatable, self-deprecating way.
Try Guys videos. These men will restore your faith in humanity.
Drink some coffee or tea. If your body can handle the caffeine, it's a nice rush when it kicks in.
Put a dialogue-heavy show on in the background while browsing the internet. Not sure why, but this combo is very helpful for me.
Browse Quora. Super easy way to self-soothe and get lost in the absurdity of the site.
Do something repetitive. Like bounce a tennis ball off the wall. Anything.
Have a go-to meal on standby. For me, this is a custom Domino's pizza I've saved in my online account, so I can order it in one-click. Intentionally high in calories because I lose my appetite when I'm anxious. Make it something that delights your palate. Pepperonis optional.
Write. Some days, the words flow out of me. Others, it takes immense effort just to get started. In all cases, though, it helps.
Lastly, remember to cut yourself a break. Life is hard (but also awesome) enough as it is. Relapses are completely normal.