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Peter’s Story: From Panicked and Traumatized to Courageous and Healing

Written by Samantha Carter

In college in the early 1990s, Peter did his fair share of recreational drugs from a young age. That was until he had a life-changing acid trip at a Grateful Dead concert. The result of that traumatic experience would culminate in decades of mental health issues that would prevent him from living a normal life.

In the APN podcast episode, I Don’t Have to Deal With My Trauma Alone: Recovery x Peter, Peter opens up about his unique mental health manifestations as well as his healing journey that started at APN Lodge. To find out more about Peter’s story, continue reading the article or check out the full podcast episode below.

Big Trauma and Little Trauma

Something that was extremely important to Peter when he realized he needed help was finding a treatment center that dealt with trauma and mental health, as opposed to many treatment facilities that are strictly for addiction recovery. APN is a unique place in that it’s a comprehensive destination for mental health, trauma, and addiction treatment. APN podcast co-host, Dan, further elaborated on this aspect of APN.

“We’re not just a substance abuse treatment center,” Dan said. “We have the ability to focus on clients that are struggling with mental health as well. I think APN is so unique because it has the ability to work with a dual diagnosis but also brings people together [to] see how common they are. At the end of the day, it’s all about community and being there for each other. It’s like, yes, you’re here for mental health or trauma; I’m here for addiction; but, we’re still in it together and we still can support each other. It’s a unique environment that APN has.”

Andy, APN podcast co-host, also chimed in to discuss the importance of trauma treatment in recovery, whether it be from mental illness or substance abuse or both.

“I worked with a therapist in the past and they described trauma as if I take a sledgehammer to a wall and swing at it, it’s going to put a huge hole in that wall. Right? Which is big Trauma. It’s a car accident. It’s an intense situation. [But], if I took 80 grit sandpaper and I rubbed the same spot of the wall, both walls are going to look the same. There’s going to be a huge hole, right? But, those small traumas are very difficult to identify without help and they are running our lives today.”

For Peter in particular, big Trauma was definitely a contributing factor to his ongoing mental health issues.

“You know, talking about big T / little t … I’ve definitely had had my share of both,” Peter said. “But there’s definitely a moment I can look back in my life and say okay this was a pivotal moment that really steered my ship and kind of dictated where I went.”

Peter went on to describe a time in his early 20s when he had a bad acid trip at a Grateful Dead concert.

“I had the quintessential bad trip, like no joke,” Peter said. “I [was] at a Grateful Dead concert two days before my 22nd birthday. About two weeks later I was on spring break back on campus at school smok[ing] weed and all of a sudden I’m tripping again.”

Even though Peter stopped smoking weed after this occurrence, he would still be experiencing a nearly perpetual “trip” over the next 90 days.

Peter’s Trauma Continued

For Peter, this was an extremely traumatic experience and a pivotal moment in his life.

“I basically went into a flashback state and I didn’t know what to do,” Peter said. “It was literally the closest I’ve ever come to understand of living hell. This [was in] 1993 [and] mental health at that point [was] certainly not something that [was] mainstream like today.”

Peter tried to seek help from the counselors at his college campus and was diagnosed with PTSD at the time. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to help him much beyond that. To make matters worse, Peter’s trauma was constantly being reactivated by his natural surroundings as a college student.

“I [was] still around a lot of people who smoke[d] weed and [did] drugs and stuff like that,” Peter said. “I started to get a little bit better. It started to ease and then one day I was at home, people were smoking weed, and I got a sniff and was right back there [in my trip again]. [After that], every time I would smell marijuana I [would] have a panic attack and [be] tripping.”

This frightening experience led Peter down a challenging path of becoming more and more fearful and isolated from a young age.

“I [was] so on edge that the littlest thing [pushed] me over,” Peter said. “I basically develop[ed] a phobia [over] the smell of marijuana and anything that [could alter] my mindset. I wouldn’t take Tylenol, certainly not drink any alcohol, or marijuana, or anything like that. I [eventually] came through it but I wasn’t really whole after that. I developed a lot of psychological issues, like a a bad bout of OCD for a while, [and a fear] I was going to get dosed with LSD.”

Suddenly, Peter went from doing the things many of his peers were doing to avoiding social situations like concerts and living in constant fear of living his life.

Paralyzing Periods of Panic, Fear, and Anxiety

Over the next few years, Peter was able to find some intermittent relief from his panic attacks and was even able to socialize again at times.

“I was able to you know hang out with people and go to bars again [while still sober] but then about three years later I was at work one day and all of a sudden–boom! I [was] tripping balls again. I had to leave work, go home, and pin myself in my apartment [to figure out] what [was] going on,” Peter said.

At that time, Peter started going to group therapy for his issues with panic and anxiety. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite bring about the relief he was hoping for.

“That’s when things really started getting bad for me,” Peter said. “I got really phobic about touching certain things or I was really afraid I’d gotten dosed again. Basically, I thought that’s why this was happening, so I developed this OCD that was like if I touched the railing you know walking up the steps to catch the train, I was going to touch something; if I got food that was take out [it could have been laced with drugs]. I [was] just living in fear [of] everything. It completely crippled me socially, professionally, mentally, and psychologically.”

From Stone-Cold Sober to Social Drinker

After an eight-year period of sobriety, Peter decided to try something new.

“I wound up being completely sober from 22 to 30, but when I was 30, I decided I [was] tired of still living in this prison [I’d] created for myself,” Peter said. “I [had] all these fears and things I’d be afraid of. I’d eat an entree that had white wine in it [and I’d be afraid] that the wine would trigger a flashback. So, I wound up doing what used to be called immersion therapy – which now I think they call exposure therapy – for alcohol.”

While most therapists wouldn’t recommend alcohol to a patient who was experiencing intense mental illness, Peter’s situation proved to be unique.

“I was so terrified of alcohol that [I thought] if I had one sip, I would start tripping,” Peter said. “I was like, this is unhealthy. It was dictating my life. So, I sat down one day with a friend and I just had a sip of beer … and nothing happened. Over the course of the next five or eight years I kind of started casually drinking again like a half a drink here, a toast of champagne at a wedding, or a glass of wine. I became a social drinker but because of that experience I kind of have this built-in braking system where my body won’t let me drink that much.”

Even though Peter was trying the best he could to confront his ongoing issues, time would reveal the depths of his unresolved traumas.

Coming to APN as a 50-year-old

“When it came time for me to come to a place like APN, I wasn’t drinking but my life had become unmanageable,” Peter said.

As a 50-year-old man who had run out of coming up with answers and solutions to his ongoing problems, Peter turned to his younger brothers, who had both been in long term recovery, for help.

“So I asked my brother [to] go for a walk with me and I said, ‘I need help. I just can’t do it by myself anymore.’ He looked at me and I’ll never forget this. He said, ‘I’ve often wished through the years that you had the gift of addiction. If you had become an addict like I did, you would have dealt with this shit a long time ago instead.”

Like so many people struggling with addiction and/or mental illness, Peter was still living with deeply unresolved traumas that were contributing to his many troubling symptoms.

“I didn’t realize how important [the trauma] was,” Peter said. “There was some sexual childhood trauma that was really playing a [role] in my shame and my self-esteem and things like that. I’ve always had you know different weird diseases … like with like breathing … sinus surgeries and weird stomach issues. When I first got to APN, someone read my intake and they left a book in my room, Body Keeps the Score. I’m [was] like two pages into this book and I’m like, Oh my God. This is me. Yeah, right this is absolutely me.”

Realizing he needed more help and then accepting it was extremely hard for Peter.

“It was a struggle for me to have [to] admit that to myself. [I’d] never had to ask for this kind of help. But, once I finally decided to do it, it was a huge relief off my shoulders. I had no other choice, really. My body was breaking down because of the toll the trauma was [taking and] all these things I’d kicked in the can for years down the road. Like a lot of people with mental health, I was doing it when there was a critical need for it.”

Feeling At Home and Opening Up At APN

While Peter was apprehensive at first, he quickly realized he had landed in the right place upon arriving at APN.

“Coming [to APN Lodge had me wondering], is this the right place for me? I’d ask[ed] a lot of questions before coming in about what the group was like [and if I would] be with people who are addicts [or whether they would] have similar experiences to me or whatnot. Walking in was like immediate affirmation–yes I’m in the right place. I’m in the right place,” Peter said.

Even though he felt this sense of relief after coming to APN, he was still hesitant to participate in group therapy, at first.

“I was very resistant to the group therapy,” Peter said. “I was thinking, I want more one-on-one. I was really hesitant because of this childhood stuff that I was uncovering [and] the shame that I had around it. So coming in, that was my biggest fear. [But], when I finally got put into my group [with] eight other men [on the first day] … I just let it all out. [I was] bawling, I mean Niagara Falls [bawling]. I [was] opening up and telling things to eight men that [I’d] never seen before in my life and it was a massive breakthrough. Every single one of those guys individually came up to me and said how blown away they were by my courage and I’ve never considered myself to be a courageous person. … But, I was full. My shame cup [had] nowhere to go. It was overflowing.”

Peter spoke openly about how important he learned vulnerability is, especially when it comes to trauma healing.

“I’ve had a number of different therapists over the years and they’ve been very helpful, but I never really got to the trauma thing until I got to APN,” Peter said.

Lessons Learned and Rewards Earned Along the Way

As a 17-month-alumni at the time this podcast aired, Peter shared several of the lessons he learned and how his life has changed for the better over the past couple of years.

“I feel really good,” Peter said. “My head is clear. I have much more self-awareness. And, one of the things I will say when I look back on [the flashbacks] is it was definitely a curse but it [was also] a blessing. It’s made me a much more compassionate person, a much more empathetic person, [and] someone who can really relate to suffering and pain and tragedy.”

For Peter, a lot of his deep healing work has been tied up in the processing of his shame.

“A lot of what I had to deal with at APN was the shame [of] knowing that I did this to myself in a lot of ways,” Peter said. “So I was really beating myself up over the years for – having in my mind – ruined my life because of my drug usage. I’ve had to go through a lot of self-forgiveness because [of that].”

For most of Peter’s life, he put off dealing with the uncomfortable. Now, he embraces it like a badge of honor.

“You know, for me and the way that my brain works it’s like I get uncomfortable when things are good,” Peter said. “I am most in my comfort zone when things are not going so well, when it’s a little bit iffy. That’s home for me. So once things start[ed] going good I start[ed] to [think], what’s gonna happen now? And I think some of this goes back to when I was coming out of these flashbacks and I’d become so used to feeling this anxiety inside me that was ever-present. When it started to go away, [I got scared].”

Courage Over Comfort

As Peter has explored throughout his healing journey, it takes incredible courage to be vulnerable and to do the work it takes to transcend incredible darkness. Now, when Peter is staring fear in the face, he has a much different response than in the past.

“[After learning about Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability and courage], I kind of created this mantra for myself: ‘courage over comfort,’ Peter said. Instead of going to my comfortable place, my isolation place, I can [now] turn and face things and practice courage when I can.”

Because of Peter’s willingness to be brave, he can finally be within the vicinity of someone else who might be smoking weed.

“When [marijuana] first went legal [in Colorado] it was kind of a problem for me,” Peter said. “We call it the ‘Colorado cologne.’ You walk around and you just smell the skunk right all over the place … so I had to kind of re-go through that again and do some more work around that when I first moved here. But, I’m at the point now where I can get through it. You know, I’m going to see a Widespread Panic [concert] at Red Rocks tomorrow. There’s gonna be weed everywhere. But, that’s all part of my growth program and part of my kind of exposure therapy. I’ve got to get out of my comfort zone because otherwise I just self-isolate and go down that rabbit hole and it’s no good.”

There’s no telling where Peter’s new mantra will take him next. However, one thing’s for sure–he’s no longer imprisoned by the terrors of his past.

If you’re interested in learning more about All Points North and our addiction and mental health recovery programs, submit our confidential contact form or call us at 855.934.1178 today. You never know how good your life can get until you let yourself feel the things that are hard.

More From Peter

Listen and watch Peter’s episode of Recovery x APN below, and find more episodes on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.