​Substance Use and Overcoming Traumatic Life Situations

Posted by EmpowHer Stories in Life After Paralysis on February 08, 2023 # EmpowHer Stories

BrittanyI am a woman who gained her disability from her substance use. I was under the influence of alcohol and opioids when one day, while driving home from work, I crashed my car and sustained a spinal cord injury. I broke my spine and became paraplegic. I had struggled with addiction for a long time before the accident due to a lifetime of trauma. Drugs and alcohol were the answer to all my mental, emotional, and physical pain. I grew up in a household where drugs and alcohol were used regularly, so it was not hard finding them once I discovered that these substances made me feel less pain and changed how I felt about myself.

In my 35 years, I have experienced poverty and I had to raise my five siblings. I was abandoned by my father and my mother has a substance use disorder. I also survived sexual assault, mentally and physically abusive relationships, low self-esteem, depression, and even suicidal thoughts and attempts. With all of these traumatic life situations, this was the recipe for my substance use. I thought the drugs and the alcohol were the answer to all my problems, but eventually found out that it was fueling my trauma even more. I did things I am not proud of and hurt many people close to me. I had no understanding of what a healthy life looked like or how to fix it.

With my new life as a paraplegic woman with 3 children, I had no idea how I was going to be a mom as well as living a successful life as a woman with a disability. As I said before, I struggled with my addiction before my accident but the struggle continued after my accident because now I had a prescription and another excuse (my disability) to use. I had doctors tell me “If I was in your position I would keep the prescription just in case” when I tried to tell them that I wanted to stop taking narcotics. I battled with this for many months. I often thought, “If my doctor tells me it's ok, then I don’t need to stop, right?” but that wasn’t the case! The day before the first anniversary of my accident (New Life Day) I had a spiritual awakening. I was in so much mental pain that I decided to stop using drugs. My sober date is March 16, 2019, and my New Life Day is March 17, 2018. That wasn’t a coincidence, that was divine intervention working for me.

I can wholeheartedly say that MY ACCIDENT SAVED MY LIFE! Today I am proud of my disability and how I’ve stayed clean and sober. My disability gave me strength that I never knew or thought I would ever have. Once I put the substances down I was left with me. In order to love myself, I had to go back and work through my trauma. I still am learning more about myself to this day and I can tell you I love the woman I am becoming.

Since I have changed my life and started working on myself. I’ve been thriving as a loving and involved mother, who works in the disability community as a peer support specialist. I started a non-profit in the recovery field, became Ms. Wheelchair Maryland 2021, and I am an advocate in my community. With these accomplishments, I have to remember that my traumas do not define the person I am today. My life looks different today because I didn’t let my trauma and addictions continue to control me. I reached out and asked for help and because of that I am thriving and feel blessed for the life I lead today.

If anyone is struggling with addiction and trauma, please reach out for help! I did, and it was the best thing I ever did!

Brittany Rieman is a mother of 3, a spinal cord injury survivor, Ms. Wheelchair Maryland 2021, peer support, and advocate for the disability community, as well a member of long-term recovery. Her only hope is to share her story and help anyone who is in need.

Brittany wrote this blog as a part of the Disability EmpowHer Network and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation collaborative blogging program, which uplifts the voices of women and girls with spinal cord disabilities.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.