“Trauma takes a great toll on the way you look at yourself, the way you see the world, and the way you think the world looks at you,” said 22-year-old
Melissa F., client of CODAC’s Young Adult Team.
Melissa didn’t have the opportunity to experience childhood the way most children do. In place of carefree, playful days, she experienced abuse and neglect. She adopted the role of parent to her siblings at a very young age. Both her mother and father struggled with addiction.
Growing up, Melissa was responsible for most household responsibilities. She was the person to cook, clean, and help her siblings with schoolwork. “I took care of my little brother and sister and saw them more as my children than my siblings.”
At the age of 14, Melissa’s father died from a drug overdose. At the time, she and her siblings were living with him in Alaska. As a result, she and her siblings had no choice but to move back to Tucson to live with extended family: a transition that was difficult for them all.
In the years that followed, Melissa began to slip into risky behavior patterns. She started skipping class to drink and do drugs. Though her drinking was slowly escalating, Melissa didn’t see it as a problem. “At the time, I never really thought it was a serious issue or that it would affect my life,” she said.
Ready for a change, Melissa eagerly anticipated going to Hampshire College in Massachusetts where she received a full-ride scholarship. What she didn’t anticipate was the even further escalation of her addiction to alcohol.
She started drinking nearly an entire large handle of vodka every weekend. Occasionally, she would mix alcohol with benzodiazepines, a sedative used to treat anxiety and insomnia.
“I did it to cope. I had developed this cycle of finding myself very comfortable when I was drunk,” she said. “As long as I stayed drunk, there were no real feelings.” This pattern eventually landed Melissa in a life threatening situation where she was found lying in a bathroom unconscious by a friend. “I almost died,” she recalled.
It was then that Melissa realized that she had been carrying the burden of emotional and traumatic events for a long time. Everything was beginning to surface.
“I had always been the caretaker to everyone in my life. I had been a wall to lean on… I never thought I would be the kind of person who fell apart and got sick.”
With slipping grades and many absences, the University’s Assistant Dean gave her two choices: go to rehab or risk being expelled. Fearing for her future, she entered treatment.
Melissa was in inpatient rehab for an entire month for her alcohol addiction followed by inpatient treatment for an eating disorder. Throughout this process, she was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety and PTSD along with bulimia and alcohol addiction.
Melissa felt relief after receiving these diagnoses. “Just knowing that I had a diagnosis let me know that at least there is something that I can start working on.”
Depression is something she experienced throughout her life, but it was always brushed under the rug. “Buck up,” her family would say. “If I had dealt with some of those problems when I was younger, a lot less damage would have happened as an adult,” she stated.
After her treatment and out of school, Melissa moved back to Tucson. She experienced what many recovering from addiction do: relapse.
“This period of my life was a very negative experience for me. I was not around a lot of positive influences and most of that time is a blur,” she shared.
When Melissa turned 20, she went to visit her primary care physician and discussed her symptoms of anxiety. She was referred to CODAC and after explaining her needs to a care manager, she was referred to CODAC’s Young Adult Team (YAT).
Young Adult Services at CODAC provides intensive outpatient services for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders geared specifically for ages 18-21.
“I did not expect for things to be as life changing as they were going to be,” said Melissa. The one-on-one approach that the Young Adult Team provides is exactly the type of intervention she needed.
“YAT helped me take small steps to pull things together, which was really good for me because I was at a point in my life where I felt like I was going to die… like my father.”
It took time, but slowly things started to improve in Melissa’s life. “Things started to get progressively more positive because of the more positive outlook I was gaining from going to groups and talking to [my care manager].”
Recovery has been a continual process of self-discovery and self-acceptance. She has learned that even if she has set-backs, she will still have the support of CODAC staff who will guide her through. “YAT gives you a place to go where you can rethink your goals and what it takes to do the right thing,”
This mixed media piece titled “Speak,” won a prize at the Community Mental Health Arts Show last year.
As Melissa looks towards her future, she plans to return to school to study child psychology. She is in the process of applying for the Recovery Support Specialist Institute where she can serve as mentor to others in recovery from mental illness and substance use disorders.
“I think I can use those negative experiences to be someone with a lot more insight and strength,” she said in reference to helping others in a similar situation.
She continues to promote the message of self-acceptance through art, a passion she has had since childhood. “Art is a release of a lot of emotional tension,” said Melissa.
Though she didn’t initially have confidence in her work, the YAT nurtured her creativity and encouraged Melissa to enter her work into the 13th Annual Community Mental Health Arts Show where two of her pieces won prizes.
Melissa continues to work on her recovery daily and utilizes the tools she has been taught to live a healthier life. She hopes to one day do the same for others in her career and through artwork.