By Celeste Wolfe
My PTSD began the autumn I was 17. My first job was looking after a severely developmentally challenged little boy. I will call him “Jay” for the purposes of this story. He was nonverbal and non-ambulatory. Jay was fed via a G-tube which was connected to his stomach. I was responsible for changing Jay’s diapers, bathing him, feeding him, light physiotherapy and therapeutic play. One weekend, I had a reoccurring dream that Jay would become very ill and pass away. On Monday, he was sick and that Wednesday he was gone. The heart wrenching tragedy triggered memories of losing other loved ones and unearthed the buried trauma left by the tremendous amount of abuse I have survived.
I lived with undiagnosed Complex PTSD until I was 23. At that time, I researched the laws around marijuana in Canada. I cleared the use of marijuana to treat my Complex PTSD with my family physician.
Marijuana addiction is an insidious beast. After 6 months of daily use, I noticed that if I did not smoke I became irritable and so agitated that I could not sleep. I rationalized my addiction by telling myself that I was “only” smoking weed and not worse drugs. Soon I was smoking up to 3 joints a day. I developed a persistent hacking cough and I had no desire to do anything but smoke and sleep my life away. Potheads do not crave carrot sticks and celery when they have the munchies. Eating junk food let to my stomach becoming so large that I could not even bend over to tie my shoes. My breathing became very labored and I could no longer climb stairs. My weight rose to 191 pounds after years of awful eating habits and lack of exercise.
In October 2015, my husband and I decided to purchase a home. We left our city because of excessively high real estate prices and my husband’s commute being nearly 2 hours each way. My husband and I found our little townhouse in a beautiful suburb, nestled among farmland and picturesque forestry. This natural setting offered the peace and quiet that can only invite meditative contemplation. I decided that I needed to drastically reevaluate my financial priorities now that I was a homeowner. I also wanted to live a life where my mind and body was not shackled to a substance.
My good doctor recommended slowly weaning off marijuana rather than an abrupt stop. I started with half a joint a day and then went to half a joint every second day. After that, I was smoking half a joint every two days. What followed was a withdrawal period that can only be described as horrendous. I wept bitterly as the THC left my system. The nightmares and flashbacks returned with a vengeance and I had an uncontrollable urge to clench my jaw. My dear husband was my port in that raging storm. When I could not stop weeping, my husband held me in his arms and rocked me. I heard his reassuring voice in my ear: “I love you. I’m so proud that you’re finally quitting.” Vulnerability made me uncomfortable as I was often severely punished for sobbing during my childhood. Because of that conditioning, I would always apologize for crying and my husband would patiently remind me that tears meant I was healing.
I knew that I wanted to lose weight and stop breathing so heavily. My husband has run the Seattle Marathon as well as several half marathons here in Canada. He was very excited that I wanted to get in shape. We started with taking short walks of less than a kilometre. My legs ached and I panted like a dog in August but I forced myself to continue. I added more distance to my walks until I walking 4K five days a week. The endorphin surges from exercise and the sense of accomplishment has all but obliterated my PTSD symptoms. I still have the occasional flashback but they are not as vivid and they no longer make me cry. I can push them aside and remind myself of where I am in my adult life. There are also no more nightmares haunting me when I go to bed.
I notice that drinking copious amounts of water has made my skin glow and helped me feel more alert. It also helped clear the THC in my bloodstream. Though my diet mostly consisted of sugar and starch, I began to experiment with healthier foods to see how I would feel. Now I practically inhale kale salads with chicken breast and avocado. I enjoy nuts and fruit along with smoothies when I want a tasty treat. When I try to drink Coke or unnatural juices, my tongue cannot handle the copious sugar so I don’t finish those drinks.
Moving to a new area has led to embracing positive friendships, with positive individuals who seek to improve the world we live in. I am an active volunteer in two organizations which work to help the homeless and provide transitional apartments for those who are waiting for provincial housing.
I hope that my story inspires others who struggle with PTSD to seek beneficial ways of coping with their illness. Self medication is not the answer! It often brings additional challenges on top of existing PTSD. Helping others gives PTSD sufferers something to focus on besides our past pain and makes us grateful for what we are blessed with. I am fortunate to have a loving marriage, a beautiful home, healthy years ahead of me and the knowledge that I am a strong woman.
Thank you for letting me tell my story.