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.
After suffering 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.
The Trouble with Blocking Out Trauma
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 unresolved.
When Stacked Traumas Attack
Unfortunately, the 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.
Asking for Help is a Sign of Strength Not Weakness
Eventually, 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.”
Pain Shared is Pain Divided
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 pain divided.
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.