How Did This Happen To Me!

Posted 2/22/2010 8:20 AM CST on Community

I am a survivor of childhood abuse. I fell into substance abuse (alcoholism) as an adult, made it into recovery and have been sober for nearly 4 years. I stared down death a couple of times during this dark period of my life. Today, I feel very fortunate that I am alive and standing on solid ground. I cannot put into words how grateful I am for the unwavering support of my family, friends and psychotherapists. I have been on a journey of recovery and self-discovery for the past four years and could not be any happier with my opportunity to live a more enriched life, going forward.

I estimate that I have put over 200 hours into reading, researching and studying science and medical papers on the subject that I would like to share in this post. I find it tragic that with all the recent discoveries in neuroscience and the associated links to addiction and substance abuse; the medical community and, peripherally, the addiction treatment community, have yet to gain any sort of deep understanding that would allow them to adapt and deploy treatment options.

There is an age-old debate whether alcoholism is a disease. I ponder the thought that any evidence of this claim has not been found conclusive. With all the research money and time spent by drug companies, employing molecular biologist to hunt for genetic markers tied to alcoholism, it seems likely that any evidence would have emerged by now. I have read that drug companies have invested in excess of a billion dollar hunting for any sign of genetic markers that show a link to alcoholism.

To me, it seems more likely that some sort of “psychological stress”, seemingly leading to a wide spectrum of mental illnesses, is more aligned on a path that is conducive for substance abuse and addiction. I have read that there is an undeniable association of childhood stress, or varying degrees of abandonment, that link those who predominantly fall victim to substance abuse and addiction. In my readings, abandonment defined is a trauma experienced in the developmental years of our youth. Examples noted were childhood abuse, broken homes, domestic violence, molestation, incest and so on.

There are many forms of childhood abandonment that I read about. Pertaining directly to me, I was physically and emotionally abused by my father. I grew up in a corporal punishment environment that many times, went beyond spanking or your garden variety head slapping or ear flicking. For as long as I can remember, tracing back through my youth, I always had my guard up. I lived in a hyper-vigilant state of always being on guard. After much work, that internal churning is now gone. Free at last, after 48 years!

I have read a great deal about the devastating impact that a constant state of arousal (hyper-vigilance) can deliver to a developing brain. I learned about the HPA-axis, also called the “negative feedback loop”. The HPA-axis defined, is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis that is part of the endocrine and autonomic systems within our body. In a nutshell, the HPA-axis gives us that “fight or flight” ability by producing the necessary amounts or more of adrenaline and cortisol hormones that will move us away from any real or perceived threat. There is evidence linking the constant state of arousal to mental illnesses that will never completely leave us. Here is an excerpt that I pulled from a study done on the neuroendocrinology of stress.

* Comprehending the mechanistic of the stress response and the increasingly serious sequelae of its deregulation is pivotal to recognize and combat any abnormalities in the stress system. To overcome pathologic hyperactivity of the stress response, it is essential to protect juveniles from trauma and abuse. The more secure the environment, the less likely an individual will experience a stress-related illness. A secondary measure is training stress-prone patients to improve their coping skills, minimizing their reactivity to future stress. In-depth understanding of the neuro-circuitry of stress has provided novel tools to manage hyperactivity of the stress system. Hundreds of original articles and many laboratories have repeatedly implicated corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) in enhancing the organism’s sensitivity to nocuous stimuli and in mobilizing almost the entire cascade of the stress response. By virtue of its broad interactions with the endocrine and autonomic systems, CRH virtually influences every cell in the body. Hyperactivity of CRH is a serious condition that is likely to underlie the pathophysiology of melancholic depression, anxiety, psychosexual disorders, diabetes mellitus, and functional gastrointestinal disorders.

Serotonin is important for adequate coping with stress. Aberrant serotonin function is implicated in the etiology of major depression and anxiety disorders. Dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis, involving raised corticotropin-releasing hormone activity, also plays a role in these stress-related illnesses.

I use to have a terrible problem with giving presentations to an audience or even just impromptu talks in front of a group. My problem and symptoms went well beyond the normal nervousness and presentation anxiety that are often present before speaking. The physical symptoms that I experienced were rapid heart beat, abnormal sweating, shortness of breadth and an overwhelming sense of confusion. My autonomic system went into overdrive. One day, after describing this scenario to a psychiatrist, he prescribed the drug Inderal to see if it made an impact toward combating my symptoms.

Inderal is a beta-blocker that temporarily shuts down the adrenaline response. The impact was profound. When I take a very small dosage (5mg) before public speaking, I no longer have any problem nor suffer any of the symptoms that I once did. My “pathologic hyperactivity of the stress response” (but of course) is under control today, thanks to the drug Inderal. I just wish I would have figured this out 20 years earlier in my sales career.

Furthermore, during a routine CT scan of my abdomen, for an unrelated matter, doctors discovered that I have an adrenal cortical adenoma (huh), (benign tumor..oh!) on my adrenal gland. I have read evidence that an adrenal adenoma can develop as a result of over stressing the HPA-axis due to the constant hyperactive and prolonged exposure to cortisol. I believe that the environment that I grew up in had something, if not everything, to do with this adenoma.

Referencing a paper prepared by The Office of Trauma Services, Maine Department of Behavioral and Developmental Service’s State House Station, gives further illustration to the harmful and lifelong impact of childhood abuse:

Childhood abuse can result in adult experience of shame, flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug use, feelings of humiliation and unworthiness, ugliness and profound terror. (Harris, 1997; Rieker&Carmen, 1986; Herman, 1992; Janoff-Bulman & Frieze, 1983; van der Kolk, 1987; Brown & Finkelhor, 1986; Rimsza, 1988)

Adults abused during childhood are more than twice as likely to have at least one lifetime psychiatric diagnosis almost three times as likely to have an affective disorder almost three times as likely to have an anxiety disorder almost 2 ½ times as likely to have phobias over ten times as likely to have a panic disorder almost four times as likely to have an antisocial personality disorder (Stein et al, 1988).

It appears conclusive that child abuse affects the neural pathways of a developing brain. The resulting effect appears to be damaging to the neuro-circuitry that can no longer efficiently carry the neurotransmitters that travel the connected network of the brain. In the neuro-circuitry, three mono-amine neurotransmitters cited as being affected were serotonin, dopamine and nor epinephrine….neurotransmitters that play a significant role in depression and anxiety.

On a personal level, I have worked with two doctors to come up with the right mix of therapy (Cognitive Beharioural Therapy – CBT) and medication. Currently, I go to therapy sessions with a Psychologist and I have a Psychiatrist that has worked with me to prescribe the right mix of medication. I take the antidepressant Pristiq, Deplin – which is a prescribed “medical food” that helps regulate all three mono-amines neurotransmitters, a GABA supplement, a highly concentrated form of Omega-3 supplement and a high-potency multivitamin supplement. All pills are directed at improving brain function as it relates to neurotransmitters. In addition, I exercise daily, manage my nutritional advice and make sure that I get plenty of sleep. It’s not easy. Working this regime has been a challenge. But, I am committed to it.

The results so far have been awesome. I have never felt better in my life and I have been depression free ever since going on the regiment that I described above. As I travel my sober journey, I look forward to living each day knowing that I am doing all the right things to support a healthy mental balance. I also take part in maintenance visits for psychotherapy, which I highly recommend adjunct to medical treatment.

* Neuroendocrinology of stress by Habib KE, Gold PW, Chrousos GP. Clinical Neuroendocrinology Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.
Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am 2001 Sep; 30(3):695-728

Author: iceman18

For many years, I worked hard to build a charmed life. I had been living that life to the fullest until the time came when I took a precipitous fall into the abyss of alcoholism. Unwittingly, I claimed my family as hostages and took them right along with me. I survived addiction and have been in recovery since February 9, 2007. Since that time I have been working courageously to face down "the ghost" and eliminate the demons of my past. I find that writing My Story has had great therapeutic value. If along the way, my experience can help one person, or maybe even more, well....that would be pretty awesome. I also pray that my blog will help illuminate the generational cycle of child abuse that continues to plague our society today. By bringing awareness to what is often called "Our Nations Shame" I have faith that one day soon we will witness real progress toward the illumination and understanding of child abuse, followed by its eradication from the under belly of mankind. I have faith! But, faith without works is dead. I pray everyday for the strength, the courage, and the resolve, to take action!

9 thoughts on “How Did This Happen To Me!”

  1. Reblogged this on Step On A Crack…Or Break Your Mother's Back and commented:
    My Story: A Place to be Mindful a Place to Heal
    Is an incredible blog about one woman’s recovery.

    I find THIS post to be very interesting: There is a lot of information in this post on how the effect of stress and trauma in childhood can impact the human body.

    I LOVE this information and I am grateful to this Blogger putting so much valuable information in one place.

    I encourage you to stop by this blog. It is full of amazingly helpful information!

    Peace, Jen

  2. Fantastic post! And so much necessary information. Thank you for the time and effort that went into this and for sharing it with others. I have written a few things on my blog in regards to my recovery. I have been clean and sober for over 6 and 1/2 years and relate to a lot of your story. I would truly appreciate your feedback on my Reflections of a Recovering Addict; there are 8 of them so far and can be found under “Recovery Detours” in my categories @ I will be back to read more of your own postings. Again, very helpful and insightful and I thank you!


    1. Hi Cindy. I found your Recovery Detours and read through them. Thanks for sharing your journey. Although our stories are different, I recognize a number of interspersed psychological elements that most likely made us vulnerable to the trappings of addiction.

      For me, it was the childhood trauma that I lived and the resulting byproducts of low self-esteem, self-blame, self-loathing, distrust, anger that I was blind to and visceral self-hatred that ultimately put me on a course of self-destruction as an adult. Reading about your marriage made me cringe when thinking about how someone could ever let themselves be subjected to that kind of treatment. But in other ways that were more subtle, I fell prey to the same things.

      Narcissism ruled the day for me. Defined as a mental illness yet broken into two parts, one part good and one part bad. My journey into recovery has reached a stage where the destructive narcissism has vacated, for the most part, and joyfully has been replaced by healthy narcissism. It is the healthy narcissism that is new ground for me and extremely motivating to stay on a recovery path. The benefits of hard, fear inducing and sometimes very lonely work, is beginning to pay off in ways I never could have imagined.

      “Learning to love yourself, is the greatest love of all”. RIP Whitney! Baffling to the masses it is, but we know how easy and second nature it is to put toxic levels of chemicals into our bodies. Its not about the addiction. Its all about the relief and avoidance from the pain. If for just a short time.

      A little over a year ago my sister sent me an inspirational ensemble called “Forty-five Lesson on Life”. It was #38 that leapt from the page and remains etched in my mind. Eleven words arranged in perfect order…”All that truly matters in the end is that you loved”. And that of course is not possible without love and respect for yourself.


      1. Hi,

        Thank you so much for reading my reflections and for sharing so much of your own journey with me. Recovery is, by far, the best thing that has happened to me and as a result, I get to go to college, am working on earning a degree in Psychology and looking forward to my goal of giving back as much as I have to offer. It is wonderful to have others that we can relate to and who will support us and we can support back. That old saying, “I can’t, but WE can” really does have a lot of truth in it. We do have to do our own work, but we really are never alone. I am so grateful to have found your blog and look forward to a lifelong friendship! Have a wonderful day!


  3. Very interesting. I have long believed my brothers have been self-medicating their depression. I do not understand how I was able to avoid becoming alcoholic. For my depression/anxiety, I take Wellbutrin, Deplin, and Viibryd. I’ve been on this regimen nearly a year now, along with therapy, exercise, good sleep, and healthful diet. I don’t follow it perfectly, but much better than in the past. I feel pretty darn good. The inderal sounds interesting. As does the GABA. Thank very much for this informative post!

    1. I can only conclude that someone’s been watching over you. One of my best friends has a background similar to mine. He battles all the trappings and challenges of “alcoholic thinking” and yet has never fallen victim to self-medicating.

      If I were forced to guess as to why my friend never tumbled into the clutches of substance abuse, I would say that “Love conquers all” And, although he can run down a pretty long list of childhood abuses, the enduring love that was shown to him by one parent, his mother, may be the buffer that has prevented tumbling into a self-medicating state. Don’t know, and its probably best to leave any definite conclusions up to the healthcare professionals.

  4. This is an excellent post, thank you for so much worthwhile information.

    My husband and I both suffered childhood abuse, me by my father and him by his mother. In addition he suffered neglect from his father. We are both children of alcoholic parent and a co-dependent parent.

    In therapy we recently talked about adrenalin. My body produces to much, keeping me in a constant state of fight or flight, I have a heart condition as a result and take a beta blocker daily to regulate my heart rate. My husband does not produce enough natural adrenalin so he is/was constantly seeking a way to get more. Drugs, alcohol, illicit sex, extreme and dangerous adventures, whatever he could obtain to get that high.

    We were drawn together by life experiences and deep attraction. Then we butted heads because while I was trying to suppress my adrenalin he was seeking to get more. Since he’s been on medication and gotten sober he no longer constantly seeks that adrenalin high. He’s “normal” even keeled. He has balance now, he seeks normal healthy adventure.

    Thanks again for a great post.

    1. I am sorry to hear about the trauma that both you and your husband experienced as children. My heart goes out to you both, then and now!

      Are you familiar with Alice Miller and her work? One of my favorite books by her is The Drama of the Gifted Child. Check it out if you get the chance!


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