Stories of Healing

7 seconds of bliss: Marlena's journey from alcohol addiction to healing

February 02, 2023 Marlena Season 1 Episode 1
Stories of Healing
7 seconds of bliss: Marlena's journey from alcohol addiction to healing
Show Notes Transcript

Marlena, who was given alcohol for the first time when she was four, discusses her experience with alcohol abuse and how she got where she is today.

She shares her story of healing with us eloquently.

She is also the first person to let me practice interviewing.
We met again online when I was in Athens, Greece.

Marlena mentioned:
12 steps: https://www.aa.org/
EMDR: https://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/
The book titled the variety of religious experience: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience 

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Marlena: I enjoyed the feeling of getting so drunk; I felt high. It was almost like a mystical experience. But finally, the desire to change was stronger than the desire to stay the same. 

I didn't realize how much it was blocking so many little areas, you know, because I was high functioning, I was doing well in school, I had a good job, I could make money, I had friends and yet that experience was like not allowing me to fully love and be loved.

I know I have dealt with my trauma when I can make meaning of it and, feel it can help other people, that's, that's so juicy.

Vincent: This episode contains mention of drinking, suicidal ideation, and, sexual assault. Your discretion is advised. 

Welcome to stories of healing a podcast where we explore what it means to be human, to suffer and to heal. My name if Vincent Paul and I am your host.

Vincent: Welcome, Marlena, on stories of healing. It's, it's great to have you. I'm honored to have you today.

Marlena: Thank you, Vincent for inviting me.

Vincent: You're very welcome. I had the joy to meet you, uh, thanks to a common friend of ours, um, in Asheville, North Carolina, a couple of months ago, and we, we talked a lot and I, I learned that you were a therapist and a coach. Do you wanna tell us just quickly, a little bit, little bit, um, what you do?

Marlena: Sure. I am a spiritual dating coach using eye movement desensitization reprocessing to help people get over their fears and let go of their past and really step into who they are and who they wanna be. And that is, um, true for their love lives as well as their career lives in other areas where they may be experiencing the, I'm not good enough mantra and helping them release that because, you know, our beliefs dictate our behavior. So, um, I'm a huge fan of EMDR I took it myself. I mean, I, I've undergone EMDR several times for my own limiting beliefs and have really come out stronger, thriving, more independent, um, more trusting. And so I'm, uh, trying to give that gift to others.

And I'm also a part-time therapist and I do trauma and addiction work in my therapy as well as depression, anxiety, general mental health issues. Um, and my passion though is using that EMDR to help people become more awesome.

Vincent: That's wonderful.

Marlena: Yeah.

Vincent: Well, we were, uh, well, we were getting to know each other as you, you, you told me a little bit about your story and your past, and you did share, um, some details and that you, you were sober for 12 years.

Marlena: I've been sober for 12 years. Correction, I'm still sober.

Vincent: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Sorry.

Marlena: I'm still sober. Yes. Yeah, that, that was a fun time.

Vincent: That was fun. Yeah. Oh, you mean getting sober or, or, uh, or sharing that with me?

Marlena: Oh, sharing it with you. Just, I remember getting, you know, I was, I had covid. I didn't know it at first, and uh, you were so kind to still hang out with me while and cook for me while I was sick. I really appreciated that. And you helped and you got to know me and I got to know you and you cook wonderful French food.

So thank you for that gift while I was sick.

Vincent: You're welcome. So being sober implied that at some point you, you were not. Um, can you, can you tell us, can you tell us a little more, a little bit more about that?

Marlena: Yeah.

Vincent: When did not being sober started?

Marlena: Oh, not being sober, you know, a part of me believes that, I do believe that alcohol is, is just a symptom of a, of a bigger issue. Uh, I think, the physical manifestation of drinking a lot started probably for me around 15. Um, but I, I think I had issues that were leading into that kind of behavior. I, I don't think, I just suddenly one day became an alcoholic.

I think I, that was in the works for a while before I actually picked up a drink. Um, we, we lived near the border of Mexico and so I had access to, a country and a culture that did not check IDs, did not care how old you were when you walked into a bar. And so I was able to drink freely on the weekends and with friends.

And I would take myself over there two, sometimes three times a week to partake in their happy hours and their, uh, back in the day when it was $10, all you can drink entry fee, like nights at clubs, and it felt really fun, I must say, you know, when I was young, it felt like that recklessness of a teenager.

I, I enjoyed it. I, I very much enjoyed that kind of drinking and that kind of partying.

Vincent: Thanks for sharing. And you did mention there were some issues that kind of led you to start, start that. Do, do you mind telling us a little more?

Marlena: Well, I grew up in an alcoholic home. And so drinking was very much normalized. And I was also part of a culture, a family culture too, not just like a, a background, uh, Latino background, but where drinking was very normalized. Um, it was normal for some of the kids to have a drink or two with their parents, um, early before they were quote unquote of age.

Vincent: Did you have a drink or two with your parents? Early, early on? 

Marlena: Yes. 

Vincent: How old were you when, how old? How old were you when you started?

Marlena: I actually recall drinking with an adult, uh, when I was four or five. I remember having a little bit being poured out a little bit of beer, and then as I got older, and could make my own decisions. I remember drinking with my parents at restaurants. Um, at 15, 16, 17, 18. Well before the drinking age, it's 18 in Mexico.

But uh, even in the United States, if you were with your parents, you could order alcohol if they were present. So I did have drinks with my parents, primarily in Mexico, not so much in the United States early on. And the general rule was, you know, just don't come home drunk. You can drink, but don't come home drunk.

Vincent: Mm-hmm.

Marlena: And as a teenager, like I, who did not have prefrontal cortex fully developed or executive functioning, um, I don't think I could distinguish between the two. Drinking and drunk didn't. The line for me was never clear. It was always blurry. So naturally, I often came home drunk.

Vincent: Mm-hmm.

Marlena: Uh, and I knew that that was sort of unacceptable.

I did understand that that was unacceptable. I didn't know how to control it or reign it in. Anytime I tried to it, uh, it either failed or I just didn't have a good time. I enjoyed the feeling of getting so drunk I felt high. It was almost like a mystical experience. I mean, I. had no thoughts. I was on top of the world.

I felt strong. I felt like I had self-esteem. I felt confident. I felt beautiful. I felt funny and I liked everyone else, and it was just a really good time. And, um, why wouldn't I wanna go for that every single time? So I did, and I definitely tried and because I knew when I, by the time I got home, then I was crawling up the stairs cuz I could not walk.

Um, I knew to be very quiet. I knew to, uh, sneak into the bathroom and take a shower and throw up quietly in my room or in the bathroom and sneak into bed without, and I don't know how successful I was, but I was told later that my parents had no idea that this was going Sometimes I would pass out in the front yard at like 2:00 AM cause I couldn't even make it inside the house.

Vincent: How

Marlena: know if the neighbor saw.

Vincent: how did feel when you wake up? Uh, in the middle of the night, I'm guessing, or later in the morning?

Marlena: on the grass. In the, in the middle. Yeah. I would feel a little disoriented and like, uh, embarrassed, mainly tired and hungover and or still drunk. And I would take myself back inside and just hope, pray to God that no one saw.

Vincent: Hmm. Pray to God.

Marlena: Mm-hmm.

Vincent: So you, you did believe in God at the time?

Marlena: I did, you know, ironically. I went to church and I enjoyed it and I was active in my church and I would sometimes show up hungover on Sundays, but I still enjoyed it. I enjoyed hearing a good sermon and singing a nice hymn. I enjoyed very much the church and I thought it would be, save me sort of from my own self 

Vincent: Hmm. 

Marlena: save me from my drinking.

That was not the case. However, um, I was still active and a believer, you know, in, in a, in a Christian tradition, I, I'm no longer part of a Christian Church or any church. That's not to say I don't believe in God. I do, but I, yeah, yeah, I did and I would mm-hmm.

Vincent: Sorry to interrupt. You said saving yourself, uh, God from helping you save, save yourself from yourself and from drinking. did do you make a distinction between the two?

Marlena: Hmm.

That's funny. I'm not sure that I do. I think they are quite the same, you know, for myself. Mm-hmm.

Vincent: at the time, yeah.

Marlena: at the time.

Vincent: And you mentioned issues and you, you just, you just mentioned that you grew up in an alcoholic family. And, and that's definitely, definitely one. Um, were there anything else in your life that was difficult?

Marlena: There was marital conflict between my parents. And, um, I had a very contentious relationship with my brother from the very beginning. And we moved when I was eight or nine, um, from California to Texas. And that was actually very difficult for me as an eight or nine year old. I really missed my friends. I felt disoriented and it wasn't just like, oh, we're moving from, you know, one, uh, state to another because moving from California to Texas, actually the whole culture changed. It wasn't just, um, everyone spoke Spanish here in Texas, in, in the neighborhood I grew up in. I had cousins down the road and my neighbor friends, um, spoke exclusively Spanish in the home at that time. And so I went from speak.

Vincent: Did you speak Spanish at home or English?

Marlena: I understood Spanish, but I did not speak it. My father is Mexican Spanish and he would speak Spanish to me and I would respond in English. When we were living in California, when we moved to Texas, because everyone else was speaking Spanish, I was sort of forced into speaking it, um, because, there was no choice.

If I was going to make friends and, and converse with the family that we had down the street, I had to speak it. So I was sort of thrust into this kind of almost new culture. I was in a predominantly English speaking place into a predominantly Spanish speaking place. And it sort of, it was kind of a culture shock.

It was hard for me. I didn't realize that I, um, how difficult that was until reflecting.

Vincent: And do you think that contributed to your drinking?

Marlena: I think that contributed to a sense of loneliness, and I do believe that drinking was a way to alleviate some of that internal loneliness, I felt. I think drinking also alleviated some codependency that was developing in the household as a result of the drinking. You know, I think alcoholic households are by nature, co-dependent.

Um, there's a lack of boundaries.

Vincent: Can you tell me more from your perspective what it was like?

Marlena: In my family, there was this expectation that, unspoken, that, um, somehow we, certain members were responsible for the happiness, wellbeing, or the mood of other members, and so that created this huge pressure and burden to behave a certain way, in order to keep other people quote unquote happy, which I know now is impossible.

I would never tell, you know, a client or what have you, that they were responsible for someone else's feelings. That's insane, and that's especially crazy for a child to feel that way.

Vincent: So you, you, you felt this way yourself? Yeah.

Marlena: oh yeah, I felt this way all the time. That I somehow was responsible not only for my parents drinking, specifically my dad's drinking, but I was also somehow responsible for his happiness and my mother's peace and my brother's temper and all of these things that, um, I, I had no control over, but I was desperately trying to manage so that I could keep the peace in the household.

Uh, I believed that contributed somewhat to me wanting to escape in bottle.

Vincent: in that, in, in that way, drinking was intelligent for you.

Marlena: Absolutely. I was the time, I, I felt the happiest, the most free. I was finally letting go of control. I didn't have to manage anyone or anything. I just got to enjoy the high feeling it gave me, and it was bliss. It really was.

Vincent: Until perhaps it wasn't?

Marlena: Right. If drinking still worked for me, I'd still be doing it. still drinking, still helped me feel that freedom. Um, I ended up in the Peace Corps thinking again this time, uh, thinking the Peace Corps would save me for myself and my drinking. I was like, if I just go away to another country, then

Vincent: How old were you when, uh, old were you when you end up in the Peace Corp?

Marlena: I was a year out of college, so that must have put me at like 23.

Yeah, 23. I joined the Peace Corps at 23 and I was thinking that that would, um, save me again from myself and from my own drinking, and I found out that. I take myself wherever I go. Um, and I tried this geographic cure for my, it's not the first time I tried the geographic cure, believe it or not. And I found out that my drinking got so much, so much, so much, so much worse.

I mean, binges that would go on for weeks and, um, you know, and forgetting my clothes. So I would have to do that walk of shame in the same clothes back to my community and thinking I was just gonna go out for an Friday afternoon and not returning for like a week. You know, I was just so ashamed of that behavior.

And I re it was really outta control. I was outta control. I could not, um, I could not keep my promises to myself. I could not keep my promises to my community. I was, in my mind, failing miserably at getting, I, I was nowhere, nowhere near getting sober. It was probably the worst year of my drinking.

Vincent: at that time, that wasn't, that wasn't fun anymore to drink.

Marlena: No, it was sort of out of, I mean, there was some fun times. I'm not gonna say there wasn't. We went to a lot of dance clubs. I ended up making really good, lasting friendships during that time. People with whom I'm still friends with today. However, I, I only got the seven seconds of bliss. I could, did not, it did not last.

I would have my head in the toilet. I would have hangovers for days. I would feel miserable. I would be sick. Oftentimes, I was sick because of parasites in the Peace Corps, and then I was drinking on top of that, on the medication. And so of course the medication was not working as, as it should have, so I was continually sick, intestine, usually.

Um, and I was also really worried about my liver at the time cause I was drinking and then taking acetaminophen and high doses to calm the hangover. I was miserable. I was just so, so miserable. Um, having like suicidal ideation, not actually attempting, but thinking about it, very lonely, uh,

Vincent: what was your thinking when you were thinking about committing suicide?

Marlena: I'm not actually sure. I don't know anymore. I just remember feeling, you know, alcohol is a depressant. I think that it was having a depressive, uh, effect on me. And again, here I was. And yet another culture that I was unfamiliar with. Culture shock all over again. Living by myself in a very rural place, many miles away from a paved road, um, with no other English speaker nearby or American.

Vincent: Mm,

Marlena: and I think I felt unsafe. Um, disconnected

Vincent: physically unsafe there?

Marlena: Oh, yes. I felt physically unsafe.

Vincent: Did anything happen to you?

Marlena: Yes. Several things actually. And to the whole group, which of course inspires fear. Um, several other people that I was with there had, things happened to them. To me, I, I had toward the end of my stay. I had a, I was robbed at gunpoint in the Capitol city very early in the morning, and I remember thinking to myself, why is this happening at 7:30 in the morning when I'm sober?

Why didn't this happen to me when I was drunk? I probably felt like I deserved, you know, this is how I, I deserved it somehow. Like, like, but this, I felt like I hadn't deserved it because I wasn't drunk and I was just walking to the bus station, you know, like I was very confused as to why I was getting robbed so early in the morning.

That aside, it was very scary. You know, they took my passport and the money I had and the paycheck I just got and the American money my dad, dad had just given me and my new clothes and my jewelry and my AirPod and all these things. And I was very upset by it. And I ended up having to stay longer in the capital city to try to get a new passport, some clothes. Yeah, it was, it was quite terrifying. I also. A homeless man also that, um, I had often seen in the city where the nearest city, where I lived in, in the, in the province I was living in, he was not mentally well. And he, uh, ended up choking me on the street randomly as we just daylight. I was walking down the street and he decided that he was going to try and briefly strangle me, and that was quite terrifying.

And then, um, and then in my sight, I lived alone for a lo for a time, and I decided to move back in with a family because I felt unsafe. A man in my site who'd become very drunk in the middle of the night, decided he was going to bang on my door and try and get in to my house. And being a single female with no near, with no neighbor nearby, I decided that was too unsafe and so I decided to move back in with a family.

Vincent: So not only you had the shock or relieving the shock of your childhood, of moving to a totally different place, that place was particularly very unsafe, to say the least.

Marlena: Yeah, I, I think part of that, I mean, I don't wanna make this into a political discussion, but sometimes when poverty is so rampant, um, these kinds of things can happen.

Vincent: And so, do you remember the day you decided that that's just too much, that's just, just the wrong, wrong way to live for me?

Marlena: I was thinking about was the wrong way to live for quite some time. I mean, like I said, I joined the Peace Corps 23 thinking I needed to change even before then I remember when I was a teenager sitting in church and saying, this cannot, this cannot go on. I cannot live like this forever. um, knowing that it was out of control and I was headed down a very dangerous path and depressing path.

But when I came back to the United States after the Peace Corps, I thought again that the move and the new job and the new car and the 401K and all of these things would somehow cure me of my alcoholism. And it did not, and I was shocked. I thought, here I am and I have all this stuff. I have all this stuff, material things, and I'm secure in my job, and I'm in living in a safe place and I have a fr friends, and why am I still blacking out drunk?

I, it, it did not make any sense to me. I am what they call a high bottom drunk. I thought here I've made it. Externally, and I was spiritually bankrupt and miserable and still blacking out, and I did not understand why. And so the the what? The, what finally did it, I went to a wedding for a cousin I hadn't seen in many years, and I became blackout drunk at the wedding by nine, throwing up in their bathtub at the reception.

Horribly embarrassed. Horribly embarrassed. And I just, I remember saying while I was drunk, I wanna become a priest. I mean, I was interested in going to seminary and I did end up doing that. I did not become a priest, but I was like, I wanna, I don't wanna live like this and I want to go into ministry. And after that trip, I, I went into a 12 steps program and the rest is history.

I managed to get sober and stay sober. Fingers crossed, knock on wood. and uh, and it wasn't, you know, and it wasn't even the worst drunk I'd ever had. It wasn't even the most embarrassing moment. It certainly wasn't even the most unsafe moment. You know, I had plenty of nights where I was, you know, hitchhiking the Pan-American highway with no money in my pocket, or, you know, wandering around like the cities in Nicaragua, not remembering how to get home like this was, this was relatively a safe drunk, if you wanna call it that for me.

Vincent: Um, 

Marlena: and yet I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired. I had had it by that point. I thought I cannot really, and truly I do not want to. Finally, the, the desire to change was stronger than the desire to stay the same. And I remember years, like a couple years later after I'd been sober, I was reading an old journal that I had written in the Peace Corps and I had written on several page.

it brought me to tears. I had written like, God, please help me get sober. Please help me get sober. Please help me. And that was a whole year before I got sober. I had been writing these prayers over and over. I don't even recall writing that, but it was just so touching that my inner being was, was crying out for help, you know?

Vincent: you mentioned just a few minutes ago, it was not, that wedding, wasn't the, the worst shame of, of your drinking time.

Marlena: Mm-hmm.

Vincent: Do you mind sharing maybe some or, or maybe the worst? If you don't mind?

Marlena: If I can remember, part of the problem is that I was a blackout drinker, meaning I don't recall, I don't recall a lot of it, which was the scary part was being told the next day, um, that we had been somewhere that I had no recollection of, or that we had, um, I had talked to someone that I don't recall seeing.

Um, just a memory the other day came back to me of, you know, hooking up with a stranger. I was like, oh, I did that, I forgot about that. I think part of, there were so many shameful moments, and I'm becoming to realize that I'm, I'm not who I am. I'm not my real me. When I was drinking, I did bad things. I was not a bad person.

And I don't wanna say bad things. I just did things that I did not enjoy. I would say that that included some sexual promiscuity that included, um, perhaps just behaving in ways that you wouldn't, you couldn't pay me to behave now that I'm sober, I would never, I would never hitchhike the Pan American Highway sober or drunk, you know, I would never do that.

I mean, like sober, I would just wouldn't do it. I wouldn't trust strangers to pick me up on the street and take me someplace. I would not, um, wander around with no cash in my, I wouldn't spend it all, you know, spending all of my money on booze and then not having a way to go home. You know, just incredibly unsafe things that I, that I participated in.

You just couldn't pay me to do those things today. That was out of my mind.

Vincent: Mm-hmm. And you did mention those seven, second of least quoting your words. Can you, can you describe those seven seconds?

Marlena: Mm. Yeah. They feel like getting high, but sort of floating in the heavens. I, I, you know, William James talks about this in his book, varieties of Religious Experience, and when I read it years after I got sober, I was like, that's it. It feels like you're communing with a divine. I felt like I was communing with divine when I was drinking.

Like I was finally in a place of peace. It's truly why I kept drinking. It was like perhaps the only time I felt peace and bliss. And so I thought, why would I ever get this up? Except then I, like I said, then my head was in the toilet after seven seconds of communing with a divine. So it was not sustainable for me to, to continue that path.

However, I do feel like, uh, the pain was finally released and relieved when I was drinking and, and it was the pain of, you know, loneliness and separation and sexual assaults in my past. That would not have happened had I not been drinking. I'm not blaming myself, but I do know that I have yet to be sexually assaulted, now that I've been sober, that has not happened because I'm not putting myself in dangerous situations. I'm in control of my body. I'm in control of my mind. I, you know, I've, I still participate in meetings and, and those things help me, steps make me feel like drinking did they do for me slowly what drinking did for me quickly, the community I have now, and the, the ability to look people in the eye and the ability to hold my head, you know, there's no substitute for that.

Vincent: So you, you, in, in those groups you did find. you, you found people and you kind of came out of loneliness, or at least you found, you found people that you were in a drinking with.

Marlena: Yeah. I found, I found community, I found people who understood what, what drinking felt like. The high I understood what people, why other people who went to drinking for the same kind of reasons. That pain, that hole in the heart, that isolation, that loneliness that I'm not good enough feeling, you know, who understood that, that's what drinking ale alleviated,

Vincent: I'm not I'm not good enough. Tell, tell me more. It's, it's like shame?

Marlena: That. Yeah. Shame. I think for me, And I, I love, I wanna be clear that I do love my parents and I feel like they did the best they could. And because the home was alcoholic, I felt unseen. And when I felt unseen, I sort of felt worthless. I could not have described these, these things to you, at the time, I did not know that because I was not, my experience was not being reflected that I was going to, um, feel like I somehow did not matter

Vincent: Mm-hmm.

Marlena: and because I felt like I did not matter, I wanted to feel like I did in a way or at least feel the pain of, of union. I mean not feel the pain of a non-union. And so that's sort of what alcohol did sort of made me feel like I was, I almost belonged. I belonged to myself, I belonged to others.

Vincent: Hmm.

Marlena: And so, so that's what these groups did. They helped me feel like I belonged without having to be drunk.

Vincent: Yeah. How was the process of getting sober? Like what did you go cold turkey? You just one day stop or it was like a painful, how was it for you to stop drinking?

Marlena: Yeah, I, I was, um, at that time a binge drinker about once or twice, um, a week or every other week, so I didn't go through a formal detox or rehab. I did though stop cold turkey. I found community. I started working with a mentor to help me get sober and I hung out with her all the time as much as possible.

She introduced me to more friends who were also sober, and I started to make these people my family, my my surrogate family.

Vincent: Mm-hmm.

Marlena: And, um, I got to share my, you know, deepest, darkest secrets, the things that probably were the skeletons in my closet, and to receive unconditional love and non-judgment from this woman in particular.

And that alleviated the suffering, the burdens, the resentments that I was carrying around the fears. And over time, as my brain healed, like we know physiologically, the brain takes, it can take about two years to fully heal from drugs and alcohol. You know, there's something called post-acute withdrawal, and I had post-acute withdrawal, which includes irritability and anger and low mood and depression and lethargy, fatigue, fogginess, lack of memory, like, but those things, the brain just has the capacity to heal.

My brain did heal, and by the time I would even say less than two years are up, I was, my memory had returned. Cognitive thinking was faster. Um, I was laughing. I was not driving around in fear of the blue lights all the time that I was gonna get pulled over cause I had a lot of drinking and driving incidents.

I, uh, finally felt free.

Vincent: Did you have intense craving or with withdrawal periods where you just like felt on the ege of going back to drink?

Marlena: Yeah, I did in the beginning. Um, I would say the beginning few months, I would, sometimes my mouth would begin into water just thinking about it. Um, and I would, um, be very irritable and I would call this lady and I would say, I would just tell her I'm having an intense feeling of wanting to go back and drink.

I really want some tequila or whatever it was. And, and she wouldn't go back to very basic things with me and said, well, have you had dinner. Do you need a nap? Go take a shower, go home, sleep, eat. And honestly, just taking care of myself in these very basic ways was what I needed, and those very basic things helped me not drink.

Vincent: Wow.

Marlena: I just needed someone to tell me what to do. Very basic self-care that I was, I was neglecting. I did not, I would skip meals when I was drinking. I would forget to just do basic self-care things, and so like being reminded like, oh yeah, I need to take care of myself. That made me feel really good. It feels good to take care of yourself.

Like feels good. I felt good. I was like, oh, this, this is nice. Eating is nice, like going to sleep and getting to full eight hours feels good to me. Um, and then so returning to like basic, basic, basic self-care was huge.

Vincent: Did you also do therapy at the time?

Marlena: I was in therapy. Yeah. Strangely, I was in therapy for years before I got sober. I mean, on and off. And for therapy after I got sober, therapy was not very helpful for me before I got sober because I wasn't being honest. I was never bringing up the fact that I'd had a drinking problem. Somehow I left that out and how would the therapist know to ask me about that?

Um, or I would blatantly lie about it. So I, I didn't get very far with therapy before I got sober. I often thought, well, this is not helpful. Well, of course I wasn't helpful. I wasn't being honest, how could they help me with the thing that I needed the most help with? So, um, I wasn't ready, you know, I, I consider that period of time like I was getting ready to be ready to be ready, getting ready, to be ready, be ready to finally get honest, to get some actual help.

Vincent: Hmm.

Marlena: when I finally did get sober and all these things came to light, started remembering more things, remembering that I needed to make amends to people, you know, that's when therapy started to become helpful because I could start talking about, um, what happened and what was bothering me and working through, you know, trauma that I had, um, specifically single incident trauma beyond the things I shared with you and, and as I work through all of that, and then I was like, oh, therapy is very helpful, hmm, it's only when I'm honest.

Vincent: Yeah. I, I feel, I feel in inclined, and, and you don't have to share, of course, but you, you, you mentioned a single, um, invent trauma. That, that sounds like something intense. Can, can you tell us more?

Marlena: Yeah, I studied abroad in Africa for about six months, and while I was there I had, uh, a sexual assault experience when I was drinking and high. And I normally didn't use drugs specifically, it was marijuana. And I, the combination made me very, um, inert. Like I, I had, my body was not responsive when I was taken advantage of, and, uh, it was quite shocking, when I allowed myself to remember, I was in denial for quite a while, maybe like a couple weeks until I described to a friend what had happened and she called it what it was, and I was really shocked. Um, and that was the thing that I could not work through until I got sober.

Vincent: Mm-hmm. and therapy helped for that?

Marlena: Yeah, I actually, I had EMDR on that when I, after many years after getting sober and it went away in a few sessions. Like I no longer cause I was suffering PTSD symptoms from that for years. I'd have nightmares, if anything that resembled sexual assault would come up or I felt like someone was, um, being sort of like a predator.

I would end up having. Like I said, nightmares that trigger anxiety, depression, I would sink into this dark hole mentally. It was very difficult and I couldn't, um, intimate relationships were hard and, and that sexual part of relationships was difficult for me. And letting go and like experiencing pleasure was difficult.

Like all of that was very challenging. And then I got sober years later and was like, oh yeah, this thing is still bothering me. And I went into therapy, did some EMDR. I have not had a nightmare since. I have not, I've experienced very loving relationships since, you know, including pleasure in the bedroom.

It's been very nice. I, I can't speak highly enough about, well, that woman who took me through that process and the therapy itself was so helpful.

Vincent: Mm-hmm. , you mentioned nightmare. Do you remember what your nightmare were?

Marlena: Oh, my nightmares was always about someone, um, trying to sexually assault me or actually sexually assaulting me.

Vincent: Mm-hmm. and now they're gone.

Marlena: and now they're gone. Yeah.

Vincent: That's wonderful.

Marlena: Many, many years. Yeah.

Vincent: a, that's a testament to your work and and how powerful EMDR was for you.

Marlena: Oh yeah. I can't believe it. I mean, like truly it doesn't even bother me to talk about it anymore. I mean, I've become detached in such a healthy way from that. Um, yeah. I'm actually grateful it happened in a sense because I got to experience the healing from it and I got to experience, um, what it was actually, actually like to forgive that person and myself.

Like for having put myself in that situation, I have such more compassion for myself as a result of that experience and compassion for the other person, which sounds weird, but I really do. I'm actually quite at peace with it and I realize we're all humans and make mistakes and we don't actually intentionally.

I wasn't trying to harm myself. I wasn't trying to put myself in harm's way. I know that person actually wasn't intentionally trying to hurt me either. Like I just came to an understanding of human nature that I don't think I would've had had that not happened.

Vincent: Hmm. What's, what's that understanding?

Marlena: Now we're all looking to feel belonging and to feel love.

Vincent: Mm-hmm.

Marlena: I think that was, um, and, and, and, and validation and, and regard from each other. And we, uh, sort of wrestle that from each other sometimes in very unhealthy ways. And I come to see that it's probably what happened and I too, in a sense, was I was a people pleaser and I didn't wanna, like, even though I protested and what have you during the incident, I, and I was very drunk. I just didn't have the capacity to do anything really about it.

Vincent: Mm-hmm.

Marlena: I recognized that, you know, that, that I was also kind of sick emotionally at that time. And I was, um, often putting myself in danger and that's, you know, pain and pain begets more pain and, but now I see. I'm happy though, like I said, that it happened because now I'm able to relate to other people who've had that similar experience.

And I know actually through my therapeutic tools, what works. I got trained in EMDR myself, so I know how to help people out of it without re-traumatizing them. And it's just such a beautiful thing. I mean, we do this, I mean so many people experience trauma. It's, it's not actually that unusual, and it's certainly not unusual for alcoholics and addicts.

Vincent: Mm.

Marlena: I like that there's a way out.

Vincent: I'm not surprised that your. That you must be a really good therapist with that experience and that healing. And you call yourself a spiritual coach

Marlena: Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. Yeah. I, I, I enjoy what I do and I, there's nothing like saying people heal and transform and, and walk away being like, wow, that doesn't bother me anymore. I love hearing when people say, oh, when I think of that incident, it doesn't bother me anymore. And it's like beautiful and like now you can live now it's not blocking you.

You know, just like for me it was blocking, I didn't realize how much it was blocking so many little area, you know? Cuz I was high functioning, I was doing well in school and I had a good job and I could make money and I had friends. And yet that experience was like not allowing me to fully love and be loved, you know?

It wasn't allowing me to fully be fearless in a sense. And, and I just didn't realize that that life could get better, you know, that, that, you know. Yeah.

Vincent: You said fearless. Tell me more. What, what do you mean by, by being fearless?

Marlena: I mean, being about being vulnerable, like doing this podcast with you is an act of vulnerability. Being able to talk about it, being able to share it with someone, being able to fully, uh, give of myself and not worry that I'm going to be hurt, uh, knowing that I can take care of me no matter what. Um,

Vincent: Such a beautiful way to, to, to grow out of everything that happened to you have this inner strength that you have.

Marlena: Oh, thank you. Yeah, I'm really grateful for the experience. I mean, I wouldn't have it any other way. If I had to do it all over it again, I would do it exactly the same way.

Vincent: Mm-hmm. Do you think about your gift and that that emerged from your life and all your experiences?

Marlena: Do I think about my gift? You know what I've been given. Yeah.

Vincent: what? What? What's your gift?

Marlena: Oh, Hmm. What is my gift? I think part of my gift is, um, communicating, communicating that life can get better, and then helping people feel inspired to do so. I don't heal anyone. You know, people heal themselves, the brain heals itself. Um, I facilitate, I think the motivation and the inspiration to get better by being like, Hey, I, I went through that too over here.

Like, it gets better if you can swim across the, you know, across the channel. It's better over on the shore, like, let me show you how, but you've gotta do it, like you've gotta swim it. I mean, I, I can, I can tell you where to swim and how to swim, but you've, you've gotta do the swimming. So I feel like that is, um, sort of a gift of mine is, um, getting people excited to like, want to get better.

Vincent: That's wonderful.

Marlena: Yeah.

Vincent: Thank you for sharing.

Marlena: Yeah. Thank you for asking.

Vincent: Do you have any last word?

Marlena: Yeah, I would say, my last words are, don't quit before the miracle happens. You know, uh, that life does get better, and it always can get better. There's always something on the other side. And, um, don't assume that if you're feeling horrible where you are, that, that that's the way it's gonna be. I know that I feel like I'm a creative being, and we're all creative beings and we're here to create and move on.

Move and like, expan,d and then have new creations. Like it's never-ending, you know, the expansion and the joy. It's never-ending. And it's, and it's fun and like, and to enjoy the journey. And, and I always say, you know, I know I've dealt with my trauma when I can make meaning of it and feel like it can help other people.

Like that's, that's so juicy. And, um, yeah. And don't quit before the miracle happens. It's coming.

Vincent: That's wonderful. Well, it was great to have you, Marlena.

Marlena: Thank you, Vincent.

Vincent: I'll see you around. Bye-bye.

Marlena: Bye.

Vincent: If you want to support this podcast because you believe in the work we do, make a donation. Visit storiesofhealingpodcast.org or donate directly in your podcasting app. Thank you. Every donation no matter how small help us in our mission to destigmastise suffering and healing. It also means a lot to us.

Thanks for listening to ‘Stories of Healing’ hosted and produced by me, Vincent Paul. 

Music, sound engineering, and editing by Matt Styslinger. 

Special thanks to my guest Marlena for trusting me and many friends for their support: 
Ben Baxter,
Amy Gray, 
Jason Horst, 
Matei Mancas, 
Adriana Miranda, 
Beth Russell, 
Matt Styslinger, 
Guy Wagner, and,
Irena Zhungulova.

We look forward to your company on our next episode.