April 23, 2021

By Amber Luckey

Recently, I turned 40. Turning 40 when you have spent all of your adult life struggling with mental health conditions deserves special recognition.

As like many individuals with mental health and substance use disorders, I am a trauma survivor. I spent my childhood being taught to hate myself. I know now it was just a parent transferring their self-hate to me, but at the time, I believed I was just as fat, ugly, stupid and unlovable as I was told. Amber being a “piece of crap” was my truth.

I was desperate for the love and acceptance I never had. For most of my life, I responded to trauma with codependent friendships, disordered eating and self-injury. However, I believe in recovery because I have experienced it.

Today, I am healthier than ever. I did not get here by accident. For the past 20 years, I have been crying, praying, fighting and advocating my way to recovery. It started with wanting to get better and making my mind up that I was going to do whatever it took. I was never really sure what “it” was, just very determined to find out.


Starting Treatment

In college, I began treatment through student health services. I remember very clearly the therapist reading the list of diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder, looking me square in the eye and proclaiming, “you have all nine.” The diagnosis brought some relief. There was now a word for what I was experiencing.

After college, I was no longer in treatment as I had only ever accessed mental health care through my university. I immediately began teaching elementary school. Teaching with a significant trauma history, multiple psychiatric diagnosis, no supportive family and no financial resources was nearly impossible.

I lasted four years before my challenges temporarily halted my career. I felt too broken to date. I struggled financially while working low paying jobs I was overqualified for. I knew I needed to get back into treatment.


Addressing My Trauma

I re-entered treatment at 25 despite significant financial barriers.

It would take years working with a psychiatrist to find the right combination of medication. If my doctor and I tried something that did not work, I would always speak up. There are too many medications out there to lose hope. I started to feel some relief and progressively got better.

In therapy, I only addressed my depression for years. Unfortunately, we don’t always know trauma when we are experiencing it. If you are hit and belittled everyday by a partner or a parent, it becomes part of your regular existence. If you don’t believe you deserve better, and you are gaslighted into thinking you are just “too sensitive,” how could you know?

It took me a while before I even realized what I experienced was trauma, let alone feeling ready to address it. It wasn’t until I felt better about myself and stopped self-injuring that I finally did feel ready. Trauma work was just as hard as people say it is, but it was incredibly worth it. I worked hard to reclaim my truth, own my story and learn to co-exist with these awful memories. I sat with my deepest darkest hurts until they lost their power over me.


Realizing There Is No End to Recovery

When I completed trauma work, I mistakenly thought I had reached the recovery finish line. My head always knew there wasn’t one, but my heart wanted to be done. All I saw missing from my life was a partner.

Shortly after, I did meet the only man I have ever really loved. At 36, I had finally gotten to experience a happy, healthy, romantic relationship. Unfortunately, I missed some red flags that he was not ready for a serious relationship.

He walked out of my life suddenly with little explanation. I spent years asking myself all sorts of questions and trying to “figure out” the answers. Finally, I decided it was his story, and I was done owning it. In recovery, I am done writing narratives for other people.

I had gone through the worst possible loss I could imagine as an adult. The only person I ever felt truly loved and safe with had abandoned me. I entered Al-Anon where my recovery continued to grow. Even through this crippling grief, I did what I have always managed to do: come out even healthier on the other side.


Finding My Strength Again

It has been tempting to grieve the loss of the family I never had, and the quality of life stolen from me. Those are real, valid feelings. Equally as real is my strength. I never gave up on myself during a lifetime of adversity. At 40, I am a resilient warrior with a future that holds endless possibilities.

My recovery continues to unfold. I know now there is never a recovery finish line. With other areas of myself healed, I am now free to focus on achieving health and wellness in ways I never imagined.

Who says my best days are over at 40? Definitely not me. I stand at the next half of my life profoundly proud of myself and believing the best is yet to come.


Amber Luckey is a professional educator and certified peer support specialist. Her current job teaching four year olds brings her tremendous amounts of joy. She believes in recovering out loud.

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