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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Who Knew the Mailman Triggered My Trauma?

03/15/16 03:34 PM | Steven Samra | Recovery, Trauma, Substance Use

Trauma in the Mail

More than two years ago I detoxed out of a medication assisted treatment program after 15 years on methadone. Methadone helped me stabilize my life after a 20 year run with street opioids and just about every other “recreational” drug that was available. Over the time I was in the program, I enjoyed a very robust recovery.

When I withdrew from methadone, I experienced--and continue to experience--a recovery within a recovery. The last two years have provided me with some insight into trauma, recovery, and ways of learning to cope with the events in my past that would have triggered me back into substance use. (Read more about Steven's experiences with trauma and recovery.)

A recent trip to my mailbox highlighted this. I am a very fortunate man; my partner of 16 years (and now my wife as of June 13, 2015) has assumed all of the household management responsibilities. There are a variety of reasons for this, but until recently, the primary reason was that I’m not good at managing money. It’s not that I don’t have money. It’s that a lifetime of deprivation and “feast or famine” moments with money have made me an impulse buyer. I’ve gotten that under control in the last 16 years, but I’ve established a pattern of going to the mailbox and leaving the mail on a pile on the counter for my lovely wife to sort through, since she controlled the finances and paid the bills. If there was something important in the mail, she would let me know. Otherwise, I had no interest in looking at what came that day, although I didn’t know why.

So a few days ago, I trudged out to the mailbox and retrieved the mail. I noticed three IRS letters in the pile and immediately became anxious and panicked. As I walked back to the house, I had a sudden realization about why I don’t do the “mail.”

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When I was living in dire poverty and raising a family, the mail brought bad news. Cuts to welfare and food stamps, court threats to jail me for arrearages on child support, utility cutoff notices, and medical bills I couldn’t pay were interspersed with offers for credit cards and luxury items I would never be able to afford. Painful, horrible things came in the mail….regularly, and while it occasionally delivered some good news, the mail was a horribly traumatic experience that often blindsided me with very bad news that impacted both my family and myself.

I’ve begun working through these feelings and am making some progress. I now sort the mail into neat piles and will on occasion even open some letters. These are very small steps, but knowing now why I avoid the mail is half the battle. I rarely get bad news by mail today, but I rarely receive bad news at this point in my life. Even so, the impact of past trauma haunts me like a ghost.

Trauma is insidious. It lurks. It hides behind some of the most innocuous activities. And, it continues to impact me from events more than 20 years old in ways I’m just beginning to understand.

Hear more from Steven by listening to "A Life of Recovery," a t3 podcast:

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Image by Andrew Taylor (cc by 2.0).

Steven Samra

Written by Steven Samra

Steven is an Associate at the Center for Social Innovation. After entering recovery from homelessness, substance use, and mental health challenges in 1999, Steven has dedicated his career to assisting and advocating for marginalized, disenfranchised populations. He serves as Deputy Director and Consumer Advisor on SAMHSA's Bringing Recovery Supports to Scale Technical Assistance Center Strategy (BRSS TACS) and has served in leadership capacities for SAMHSA on HHRN, PATH, and SSH consumer involvement roles. He lives in Nashville, TN where he co-founded a street newspaper, The Contributor, and serves on the Nashville Metropolitan Homelessness Commission.