My name is Marti MacGibbon. My story is one of ultimate triumph over addiction and trauma. I’ve survived being sexually abused and assaulted as an adolescent, sexually assaulted as an adult on two separate occasions, trafficked to Tokyo and held prisoner by organized crime in forced prostitution, and after escaping Japan and returning to the U.S., being beaten nearly to death by the man I thought of as my boyfriend.
Through the process of practicing a daily program of recovery, we can access the powerful inner healing force within us. Even the seemingly hopeless cases can and do recover. How can I be so sure? I was one of those seemingly hopeless cases, and I’ve been chemical-free, in continuous recovery since August 8, 1995.
After the sex trafficking and severe beatings, terror engulfed me. I feared reprisals from the traffickers, and the abusive boyfriend followed me and continued to assault or abuse me whenever he caught up to me. Nightmares ravaged my sleep, and stress, anger, and despair stalked my waking moments. I could not find a safe place within my own mind.
Today, I understand that I was experiencing severe post-traumatic stress. But back then, all I knew was that I needed to numb my feelings, obliterate the shame, despair and horror.
Now, I know that being connected to strong social support is a resilience factor for PTSD, and essential to recovery. But back then, the last thing I wanted was to get connected to anyone except a dope dealer.
The first adverse, traumatic experience in my life, and my first attempt to use drugs to cope, had occurred between fourteen and fifteen years old. In spite of periods of abstinence, using became my only means of managing the trauma and resulting emotional pain.
I’d been sexually violated by authority figures, so my distrust ran deep, and I carried that distrust into adulthood. Throughout my long history of trauma, I never trusted the police, medical personnel, or any of the people who might’ve been able to get me connected to services.
I wandered homeless for a year and a half, sleeping under bridges and in abandoned houses. I worked as a day laborer digging ditches, chopping firewood, whatever I could find to do. I bought dope to cope. And I got lucky. While hitchhiking from one menial job to another, I met the love of my life, Chris Fitzhugh. He’s my husband today, and we’ve been together for twenty-seven years. Cinderella story? Yeah, Cinderella as told by Quentin Tarantino. He was also heavily into the drug scene, so things went crazy for awhile. But he led the way into recovery.
I wasn’t ready at first…I was so traumatized. I saw myself as hopeless, a throwaway. But I witnessed his progress and finally realized I needed and wanted to be happy. In a moment of epiphany, I discovered what would have been obvious to any clinician, cop or recovering addict: that addiction held me in its grip. I began to take action. I called treatment facilities, but was unable to get in. I had no financial resources and the waiting periods for county rehabs were six months to a year. My path to recovery opened up through support groups, a medical clinic with a sliding scale, and books on self-help and spirituality. I joined Chris in active recovery and we worked our way up from rock bottom. I also rebuilt relationships with my family and connected with a sister who’d recovered from alcohol and prescription drug abuse. My sister shared resources with me, and encouraged me.
I’d been a successful standup comic with a Tonight Show scheduled, when I’d descended into my downward spiral and become a victim of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. In recovery, I returned to standup, built an act, and traveled the U.S. as a professional standup comic for years. Comedy is an art form, and art can be therapeutic. But at a certain point, I wanted more: wanted to help others who are where I once was. I obtained education and training in addiction treatment, and worked as a program counselor to homeless veterans. My clients taught me what courage is. Courage is not the absence of fear; it’s the conscious decision to move through the fear to the objective.
Fear and shame fuel addiction and trauma but gratitude, courage and celebration can banish the shame and fear, and kick off a sense of joy and enthusiasm. I’ve seen it happen in my own life and I’ve witnessed the success of clients. Thanks to a terrific, non- judgmental therapist, (an LCSW), and the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness meditation and EMDR, I’ve healed from PTSD and continue to explore and employ new ways to reduce and manage stress.
Today, I’m a humorous inspirational speaker and nationally award-winning author, and I hold five professional certifications in addiction treatment. I am founder, producer, and host of Laff-Aholics Standup Comedy Benefit for Recovery, an annual fundraiser in Indianapolis featuring nationally headlining comedians. One hundred percent of the profits from the event go to the beneficiaries: transitional housing facilities that provide access to addiction treatment and mental health services for the recovery communities most vulnerable. Since 2011, Laff-Aholics has raised close to $30,000.
A daily program of recovery and renewal can do amazing things, and the strategies are simple. Positive self-talk, positive visualization, affirmations, and mantras can carry you on your healing journey. My first mantra was, “There’s hope after dope.” Mindfulness meditation helps you to build your present-moment awareness, and empowers you to envision and achieve your goals and dreams. Forgiveness of self and others is a transformative process you can embrace and practice daily.
Recovery is a plan of action. Action creates motivation, which in turn creates even more positive action. No matter where you are in your recovery process, know that you hold the key to your future, your wellness and even your destiny. The key can be accessed in the present moment, and tools like meditation, positive self-talk, cognitive reframing and others mentioned above can help you develop skills you can use for a lifetime. Build your recovery support network. Get connected to therapists, counselors, mentors, friends, and others. Stay connected, and as you discover your inner healing force, share your experience, strength and hope with others. Celebrate hope and second chances, knowing that in recovery, life holds both promise and purpose for you.
Marti MacGibbon is a member of the National Speakers Association, a humorous inspirational speaker, and an expert on trauma resolution and addiction. She is author of the nationally award-winning memoir, Never Give in to Fear: Laughing All the Way Up from Rock Bottom.