Michael Ruder was
living a great life until Christmas Day 2009. That’s when he entered the
jewelry shop he ran with his uncle only to find a trail of deep red blood
seeped into the blue carpet that led to a heart-stopping scene. His uncle, who
was also his best friend, was lying face down in a pool of blood after being
shot 10 times in the head and 5 times in the body. As Michael cradled his
lifeless uncle in his arms, those awful images were seared into the emotional
centers of his brain. And they would haunt him for years to come.
I really connected
with Michael’s story because my own uncle was also murdered when I was just 4
years old. In my book, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child, I share
how it was one of several childhood emotional traumas that led to anxiety and
depression in my own life.
trauma, our emotional brains are left with a wound that eventually heals in
most people. In some people, however, it can fester and lead to ongoing
symptoms that can ruin your life. I recently interviewed Michael
(@michaelandrewruder on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter), whose horrifying
trauma led to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, addiction, and
suicidal thoughts. Now, years later, he’s found his purpose in helping others
who are struggling with trauma and addiction to get out of the darkness and
stop suffering in silence.
But first, he had
to take an important step and face the trauma head-on.
Michael’s way of
dealing with the trauma initially was not dealing with it at all. He turned to
alcohol and later cocaine to numb his emotions and help him forget the past. “I
blocked it out,” he says. “I put drugs and alcohol in front of
it…whatever I could do to make it seem like it wasn’t real.”
He isn’t alone.
Many people who experience trauma end up self-medicating with alcohol, drugs,
food, or other substances to cope with the anxiety, depression, and PTSD that
sometimes follow. This can lead to addiction, which only compounds the
problems. The addictions mask the underlying feelings, so they remain
traumas can keep stacking up, which is what happened to Michael. After his
uncle was gunned down, his grandparents died, then his father passed away. He
found himself in a perpetual state of waiting for something bad to happen. That’s
when the victim mentality set in and he began wallowing in waves of self-pity.
For a while he managed
to kick his addictions using sheer willpower. He became an entrepreneur with a
successful real estate title and escrow business, and he also devoted himself
to making sure he’d get justice for his uncle’s murder. That goal drove him to
stay sober even though every single day, he wanted to drink and use drugs. It
all came crashing down when his uncle’s murderer was convicted. On that day,
which should have been a celebration, Michael’s life purpose vanished. He no
longer had a goal to motivate him to tow the line.
That’s when he
fell even deeper into addiction.
Michael realized he could no longer stay sober without help. He entered an
addiction treatment center where he finally started facing the PTSD, anxiety,
stress, and suicidal thoughts that had been haunting him. With help, he’s
kicked his addictions and is nearly 2 years sober. He’s also working hard to
cope with the emotional trauma he experienced in a healthier way.
He also realized that he could turn his pain into purpose to
help others who are struggling with past trauma. To do so, he’s started sharing
his story with others, who have responded in ways he never expected. He was really
moved by one message he received. “They said, ‘I watched your speech on FB. I
was going to kill myself, but your talk made me open up and talk to my family.’
That really got to me.”
To spread his message of hope and healing even wider,
Michael’s currently working on a documentary about his life. He’s tapping into
the same reason I wanted to write my memoir about my chaotic upbringing that
was filled with trauma. I’ve found that by telling my own story, not only is it
cathartic, but it also helps other people. As I like to say, pain shared is
That doesn’t mean the pain completely disappears. Michael
admits that even though he’s come a long way, he still battles PTSD and panic
attacks. One day, he was eating a healthy fruit bowl at a local café when the
deep red fruits and blueberries suddenly brought back the horrifying images of
the blood in that blue carpet. “I was scared of the world,” he says. “I was dry
heaving basically. When I have these attacks, I feel like I’m going to die. I
can’t even form a sentence.”
The attacks come less often these days, but they remind him
that his story is unique and worth sharing. His mission now is to let other
people know that it’s okay to not be okay. “I want to get rid of the stigmatism
of addiction and mental illness,” he says.
I applaud him for that and I’m doing the same by telling my
story in my book. I used to feel like I shouldn’t share anything about my past,
but I realized that if by opening up I could help even one person, it was worth
it. I still remember the time I was at a conference when a woman from Africa
tapped me on the shoulder and told me she was so glad to meet me. She said she
had read everything I had ever written. When I asked her why she said it made
her think, “If she can do it, I can do it.”
That’s the reaction I’m hoping for in my book, in the
interviews I do, and in each of these blogs I write. I invite you to share your
story with me on my Facebook page. When you share your pain with me and our
Brain Warrior tribe, we can help support you to lessen that pain.
Visit my Facebook page for more live interviews. And consider supplements that soothe the emotional centers of the brain in a natural and healthy way, such as GABA Calming Support. You can take 21% off your order when you use the promo code TANA21.