PTSD and the Lifelong Road to Recovery

This blog is written by John D. Ivanisin III, a Quest 2 Recovery alumni. On May 17th, 2020 he celebrated one year of sobriety.

Introduction

I grew up in a small town outside of Hartford, Connecticut. My parents raised me, my brother, and sister together until they separated in 1995 when I was 11 years old. From what I can remember, I had a fairly happy childhood. There was no abuse going on in my home, my parents were both sober and in recovery for alcohol and prescription drugs. Things seemed to be normal until they sat us children down and told us they would be separating. Their separation lasted around five years. Within that time frame, I moved homes about 10 times; in the same town, to and from my father’s house. It was also during this time that I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol. I started smoking marijuana, which eventually led to trying other harder drugs, such as ecstasy and cocaine. My drinking always seemed to bother me because my father was a recovering alcoholic and I did not want to go down the same path. I eventually stopped using all drugs and alcohol on my own, so I could get my life together and join the US Marine Corps.

My Life in the Marine Corps

On December 19, 2003 I enlisted into the delayed entry program of the United States Marine Corps. On February 9th the following year, I went to boot camp. After boot camp, I completed combat training, and parachute rigger school. Then, I was sent to my first duty station in Okinawa, Japan. I had just turned 20 years old when I got there. Because we were in a foreign country, there was a curfew for all junior Marines. This left a lot of idle time, which led to boredom, and eventually to starting drinking underage in the military, which is illegal. Luckily, I never got caught drinking before finally turning 21. When I turned of age, it was on. I would drink as much as I could just about everyday for several months, until my lack of attendance at work started to raise some concerns, and my command mandated that I attend classes for alcohol abuse. I had been in the military less than a year at this point. I spent the next nine years of my life in the military deploying twice to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan. After these deployments, which lasted 7 months a piece, my drinking continued to go through cycles of good times and really bad times, though I never really felt like I couldn’t control my drinking. I was a Marine and there was nothing I couldn’t control. I was invincible and the roughest, toughest guy out there. I didn’t need AA or rehab, I just needed everyone to stay out of my business so I could handle my problems the way I knew best, which of course, was to drink. Nobody knew what was best for me except for me. In October of 2012, I was arrested for driving under the influence. I blew a .159 BAC. I got lucky and was never charged by the military, and due to my moving to Florida, the Honolulu Superior court decided not to prosecute, and dropped all charges in 2018.

Life After the Military

In 2013, I was honorably discharged from active duty. My mother and stepfather bought a house in Florida, so I decided to move there with them and start my new life as a civilian. I met my wife in 2014, and in 2015 we moved to California, where we currently reside with our two children. In my early days in California, my drinking started to increase because I was working as a DJ at some of the local bars. As I drank more, I started snorting cocaine to be able to keep drinking. For about a year, I was spending around $1,700 a month on cocaine. All the money I earned from DJing went to drugs and more drugs. I had other sources of income, so nobody really knew how much I was spending, except for me and my dealer. In December of 2017, after being out of the military for four years, I was finally diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety disorder, depression disorder and substance abuse disorder.

Quest 2 Recovery

My last night using drugs and alcohol was May 16th,  2019. I blacked out from drinking and taking Xanax, and drove myself to a bar where I was ultimately carried out of an hour after arriving. I remember waking up soaked in my own urine at about 4 am and immediately started making phone calls to find more cocaine. I left to go get it and did not return home until about 5pm later that day, despite my wifes and friends’ efforts to get me to come home. When I arrived at my house, my wife said that she was going to be moving back to Florida if I did not stop drinking, so I agreed to go to rehab. I just wanted to die at that time and end all the pain, but I got online and started googling rehab facilities near me. Quest 2 Recovery was the closest place to where I lived, so I figured I would call them first. I spoke to Armen Melikyan, the co-founder of Quest, and he gave me some information on the program, and also asked a few questions. He then told me someone would be in contact within the next 15 minutes. Sure enough, the Clinical Director and Therapist for Quest, Amber Carra, called me and talked to me for a while discussing treatment options and whether or not I was serious about getting sober; I was. I arrived at the facility at about 9 pm that same night. The facility was nothing like what I had pictured in my head. I was expecting a big white hospital, with white padded rooms, and security guards in white scrubs, walking around with billy clubs like I’d seen in some movies. I had never been to rehab, so I was shocked when I pulled up to a normal house. The facility was beautiful, the staff were friendly and very supportive. Quest is dedicated to their military and first-responder clients, and they made that very clear at the start. I was treated well upon arrival and made to feel like I mattered to someone.

What Quest Did for Me

During my time at Quest, I was able to focus on myself and getting healthy again. There were no outside distractions that kept me from getting better. The staff and fellow clients at Quest helped  show me that I can have a good life without alcohol or drugs. Through therapy, I was able to address some of the issues that I had been dealing with for a long time. I was able to really take the time to find out who I am, and what I want out of life. I could not have quit drinking and using drugs on my own. I needed a place to feel safe and comfortable in order to get better, and Quest was the miracle that saved me. Some of the important things I gained from my time at Quest are finding my higher power, feeling the sense of relief when I figured out that I am not alone, and that there were many people just like me going through the same things that I struggle with. I also learned that a positive outlook, even in bad situations, can really make all the difference. Having a clear head to make decisions has changed my life entirely for the better.

A Message to Veterans

The hardest thing I had to do in my recovery was make that first phone call to Quest 2 Recovery, and decide that it was time to end the insanity that I called my life. Recovery is not something that you just get, it requires as much effort as getting through boot camp, if not more. But there is peace, serenity, and happiness that can be attained if you are willing to put in the effort. I did not believe it until I began to experience it for myself. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous were truly a cornerstone of my recovery after Quest. I know how difficult it can be to reach out for help, but asking for help essentially saved my life and my marriage. If you are a veteran or a first responder, Quest is the place to go to get better. It was nothing like I imagined, in fact it was the complete opposite. My 30 day stay at Quest was honestly some of the most beautiful days of my life, and it has only gotten better since then. Getting the help you need can mean the difference in life and death. I did not want to live, I didn’t think there was anything worth living for, but I am typing this letter to you now being sober for over one year. It has not been the easiest thing I have ever done, but it has been worth every effort that I put in. If I can make one recommendation to anyone out there struggling with addiction and PTSD, it is to never give up. There is a path to happiness, you just have to walk down that path. Take advantage of all the resources that Quest has to offer and be open minded. If you can make the choice to get clean and sober, Quest will do everything they can to get you there and help keep you sober. All you have to do is pick up that phone and call

Feelings of Hope During COVID-19

Feeling of Hope: What We Will Never Take For Granted Again

 

“When this is over, may we never again take for granted: 

A handshake with a stranger

 Full shelves at the store

 Conversations with the neighbors

 A crowded theatre

 Friday night out

 The taste of communion

 A routine checkup

 The school rush each morning

 Coffee with a friend

 The stadium roaring

 Each deep breath

 A boring Tuesday

 Life itself

 

When this ends: 

 May we find that we have become more like the people we wanted to be, we were called to be, we hoped to be, and may we stay that way, better for each other because of the worst.”

– Laura Kelly Fanucci

 

There is no telling when this global pandemic will come to an end. Millions of us are unemployed, thousands of us are sick, and many of us are fearful of the unknown. We are scared of the virus, terrified of the effects it will have on our economy and our mental health. Many of us are forced to work on the front lines while others have the luxury of staying home. There may never be a return to normal, a new normal is on the horizon, but what is a new normal? Will we always have to wear masks in public? Will we still be bumping elbows instead of shaking hands? Will we always be encouraged to practice social distancing? There are so many unknowns that have driven unwanted fear, hate, anxiety, stress, and sadness. But there is also so much hope that has brought into the world because of this global pandemic. 

 

We have adapted

We have learned to communicate virtually through social media and video conferencing. We have clapped for each other, sang with each other, and cheered for each other on our balconies to communicate, “we are still here.” We have become accustomed to masks in public and keeping our distance, six feet to be exact, as a courtesy to protect others. We have visited our doctors and therapists via computers and phone calls, and we have learned to take advantage of curbside pickup and delivery. Our lives and circumstances have changed drastically, but we have not given up. Instead, we have learned to adapt. 

 

We have come together in community

It is not uncommon to see groceries left on doorsteps, encouraging chalk art on the sidewalks, artwork hanging in windows, people volunteering to run errands for the sick and weak, people donating their time and money to help others. Celebrities have provided free virtual comedy shows, concerts, and entertainment to the public. The rich and famous have donated large sums of money to help develop a vaccine and medications to fight COVID-19. Politicians have fought hard to provide financial cushions, debt forgiveness, and forbearance to those who qualify. Regardless of our gender, social class, or race, we have all been affected either directly or indirectly from this virus. As a result, we have all learned to come together as a community to lend a helping hand and choose hope and happiness

 

We have slowed down

Travel has been postponed, vacations and sporting events canceled, our social calendars have been cleared, and we have been asked to stay home from work and play. We have learned to appreciate the comfort of our homes, the company of our immediate families, and the value of time. We spend more time nourishing our bodies with home-cooked meals and virtual living room workouts. We can now sip our morning coffee with ease, enjoy long conversations with loved ones, take time to read books, listen to music, and watch the seasons change with ease. We are no longer running the rat race, stuck in traffic on the freeway, and trying to “get ahead of the game”. We are slowing down, reflecting, and taking the time we need to rejuvenate our bodies and minds. 

 

We have practiced kindness

Whether its running errands for strangers, dropping off food for our loved one, supporting our front line workers, or donated to those in financial need, so many of us have gone above and beyond to practice kindness during this trying time. Generosity and kindness are beneficial to our happiness and mental health. Kindness is linked inextricably to joy and contentment, at both psychological and spiritual levels. 

 

We have become resilient 

Everyone has been affected by COVID in one-way or another. Whether we have succumbed to physical illness, mental turmoil, or have reaped the financial repercussions from job loss and the economy, COVID-19 has done a number on our society. However, we are still standing. This is not the first time our society has survived a global pandemic, and more than likely, it will not be the last. We have found ways to keep going, even when reality seems grim. We are strong and resilient, and we have shown that through these trying times. We are finding ways to occupy our time, to entertain each other, to connect, and to make ends meet. 

 

We have asked for help

Many of us are stubborn in the sense that we take pride in being independent and strong. Many of us view asking for help as a weakness when, in fact, asking for help is a sign of strength. Asking for help shows humility, reveals the value in teamwork, and shows that we are trying to learn and gain different perspectives. Asking for help, in the long run, makes us smarter, broadens our horizons, and can do wonders for our mental health. Many of us have asked for help during COVID in more ways that one. We have asked for help financially, we have asked strangers, neighbors, and friends for favors and errands, and we have asked for help from our government, family members, frontline workers, and professionals. Sometimes asking for help can be difficult, especially if we are natural leaders, self-sufficient, and strong-willed, but asking for help during COVID has shown the importance of teamwork, humility, and the willingness for change. 

 

 

 

During this trying time, our world has come together to support each other. We have adapted to change, strengthened our communities, offered our helping hands, portrayed kindness, learned to be still, and have become more resilient than ever. It is easy to see the hardships and adverse effects of COVID-19, but even through the darkness, we can still have feelings of hope. Hope for the future, hope for our health, and hope for the next generations to come.

What It’s Like to Be a First Responder in Quarantine

Our first responders currently have the added stress and trauma of COVID 19. With that comes the unfortunate risk and exposure leading to many of our first responders being quarantined. Many of our first responders are not only quarantined but contract COVID 19 from those they encounter.

Sasha Lefler’s Story

Sasha Lefler, a paramedic of Summersville, WV became ill suddenly with a sore throat, fatigue, and fever. When her strep and flu came back negative, they tested her for COVID 19. Sasha was informed she must quarantine while awaiting results. Sasha struggled with whether or not to quarantine at home because she was terrified of exposing her family if she had COVID. After speaking to several professionals, she made the difficult decision to quarantine and isolate herself at home in a bedroom away from everyone. Testing in WV was very slow to deliver results. Sasha spent many days isolated in her room, hearing her husband and children on the other side of the walls. At one point, her children and husband ate dinner outside her bedroom window so they could talk to each other while they ate. Many days she sat in her room researching COVID and the best treatments so she could be prepared. For 11 days she listened to her husband and children on the other side of the door from her. She wanted so desperately to open the door and be part of the family dynamics on the other side. Eleven days is a lot of days and hours for the mind to race back and forth. It took eleven days for Sasha to get a negative result. The first thing she did was to leave that room and hug her family.

John Feal’s Story

John Feal, of the Fealgood Foundation, tested positive for COVID 19 in March. The Fealgood Foundation is the driving force that brought insurance coverage to those first responders of 9/11. John spends his days helping the first responders of 9/11 and fighting for their rights. This past March, John found himself so sick he was unable to help anyone. John began to feel sick with what he thought was a stomach virus. As soon as he thought he was over that, he noticed he had a sore throat which quickly escalated to a cough and chest pain. Every day seemed to bring more pain and worsening symptoms. He fought it off as long as he could before getting tested for COVID 19. Within 36 hours of testing, it was confirmed, he had COVID 19. When he thought he could not possibly get any worse, he did. He quarantined himself at home alone. John tells us that for a period of four days, he was so sick he has no recollection of anything. He feared he might die at home alone in quarantine. He remembered the 11 weeks he spent in the hospital after 9/11, and he absolutely did not want to end up back in the hospital or even worse, put on a ventilator. He was fighting pneumonia and COVID 19. John says that every part of his body hurt from his hair to his toes. John said he wasn’t ready to die. He has way too much work left to do. But, in the back of his mind, he was worried he might die because COVID 19 was ravaging his body. For three weeks, he fought COVID 19. During that time, he also could not taste anything, not even the cough drops he was using by the dozens. He had no taste at all. It wasn’t until day 17 or 18 that he felt better. John fought COVID 19 with every ounce of strength in him.

Thankfully, John had a lot of family and friends checking on him during those 18 days although he was too sick to remember some of those 18 days. Quarantining alone is the only way to prevent the spread to family and friends, so John did just that. John stayed in quarantine until he was medically released and deemed not contagious. John didn’t mention it to us in our interview, but we know as soon as John was released from quarantine, he began to donate plasma to help others overcome COVID 19. John is a humble man so we didn’t expect him to tell us about that, but we wanted to mention it because it is who John is, a helper to those in need. John wasted no time in getting back to work with the Fealgood Foundation pouring food and supplies into NYC personally delivering them to healthcare workers and first responders. We are so thankful that John survived COVID 19 and continues his work supporting those out there on the front lines.

In our interview with John Feal, he reminded us that not only does COVID 19 endanger our first responders and health care workers, but so many of those first responders who survived 9/11 have compromised immune systems. John tells us because of their compromised immune systems, many retired NY first responders of 9/11 have been lost to COVD 19. Our first responder and health care workers across the nation both retired and active are fighting in this COVID 19 pandemic.

Get Help Now

The Safe Call Now hotline, the National Crisis Hotline for first responders and healthcare workers, has received a significantly higher volume of calls from first responders in the New York and Seattle areas which have been hit hard with COVID 19. We are thankful our first responders are utilizing the hotline. We understand that currently, our first responders and healthcare workers have the added trauma of COVID 19 along with all the destruction COVID 19 brings with it. We encourage our first responders and health care workers who are struggling to call the hotline. Another first responder will answer your call to talk to you or to give you resources if you need them.

If you, someone you love or someone you know needs help, call:

Safe Call Now:  24 Hour Confidential Hotline:  206-459-3020

Or call Shannon Clairemont at 661-405-8014 or Vanessa Stapleton at 304-651-3008

Mental Health Awareness Month: Staying Mentally Healthy During COVID-19

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and self-care, eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health disorders, and educating the public on the importance of routine mental health care. Mental health goes beyond the scope of diagnosing and treating mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Mental health also includes being aware of our moods, our thought patterns, our social connections, our ability to solve problems, our ability to overcome tricky hurdles, and our ability to comprehend and navigate the world around us.

Our mental health is just as important as our physical health. Our mental health can positively or negatively affect many areas of our life including our professional life, our home life, our social life, our sleep and eating patterns, our energy levels, our ability to think clearly, and how we feel about ourselves.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can make a contribution to his or her community.”

Our mental health is a fluid state of equilibrium between our innermost workings and the outside environment. 

Taking care of our mental health during a pandemic

For many, COVID-19 has been a trying time. Many of us have struggled with staying home and keeping our distance from our friends and family. Many of us are struggling financially due to the economy shutdown or job loss, and many of us are struggling to find peace amongst this stressful time. We are struggling to find a healthy daily routine, we are struggling to find happiness, and we are struggling to find purpose. There are so many unknowns during this time of uncertainty, which can negatively affect our mental health by leading us to feelings of anxiety, anger, or depression.

We must take care of ourselves both mentally and physically, especially during this trying time.

Ways to practice kindness towards ourselves to take care of our minds, bodies, and souls:

  • Connect with others: Even though we are practicing social distancing and we may feel physically isolated from our friends, family, and neighbors, we can still connect virtually. Staying connected with our friends and family is essential for our well being as healthy social connections are known to improve our mood and boost our self-esteem. There are many great virtual platforms such as Skype, Zoom, and Face Time that can help us connect with our friends, family, and coworkers. Virtual game nights, virtual storytime, virtual birthdays parties, and celebrations are all great ways to stay connected with each other, while still respecting the social distancing orders.
  • Nourish your body: The body and mind are tightly connected, and therefore physical health is a huge component of mental health, especially during stressful times. Learning new recipes, cooking at home, eating nutritious whole foods, daily exercise, drinking plenty of water, and getting eight uninterrupted hours of sleep each night are all crucial ways to nourish our bodies so we can have a healthy mind.
  • Sharpen your mind: While many of us are at home during COVID-19, we may find that we have more free time. We can spend this free time learning a new hobby, reading a book, working on home improvement projects, and completing unfinished tasks. Learning new things, reading, completing puzzles, and working on arts and crafts are all great ways to exercise our brains. Mental stimulation is anything that activates or enriches the mind. Stimulation can be provided internally from thought or externally from the environment. Education, occupation, social and leisure activities are all essential contributors to mental stimulation. Enriching mental activity can help improve our memory and problem-solving skills, which are essential skills to have when we must focus on our mental health.
  •  Continue therapy: Mental health is more than a mental health disorder. It encompasses our thought patterns, our behaviors, our relationships, and our self-esteem. Even if we are not diagnosed with a mental health disorder, many of us can benefit from professional therapy.
  • Maybe we are experiencing a stressful time or a loss in the family. Perhaps we are more sad than usual or are struggling with finding a healthy way to cope. Therapy is an integral part of taking care of our mental health, especially during COVID-19.
  • Adopt a daily routine: Getting into a routine is essential. It helps us focus, helps us stay busy, and helps us be productive. When our habits are thrown off, we can often find ourselves in a rut or feeling bored or depressed. Our daily COVID-19 routine could be much different than before, but it is still important to adopt a regular daily schedule so we can continue to feel good about ourselves.

Seeking help

Our philosophy at Quest 2 Recovery is simple: heal the mind, body, and spirit in a family-like environment. We believe in a holistic approach to treatment, one that caters to each individual’s distinct needs. As a trauma-based treatment program, we believe in resolving the underlying issues that brought the onset of substance use. Our team of clinicians helps each client identify the faulty belief systems stemming from childhood, then psych-educate clients on the symptoms of PTSD to understand and alleviate the power of certain triggers”.