September 11th, 2001. I was driving to work listening to my favorite guilty pleasure, Howard Stern. They had Pamela Anderson in the studio and Howard was lamenting about how she acts like she likes him but really no girls like an awkward, ugly guy like him. She was squeaking back flirtatiously that he was very handsome. I was barely listening. Floating along in Washington D.C. traffic with my mind on work. I had a huge media campaign that was dropping that day and I was hoping it would be a huge success. The tone changed in the broadcast. Howard was talking in an alarming tone to his producers. I reach down and turned the volume up to listen closer. “The World Trade Center has been hit by an airplane!” Was this a joke? Howard Stern is a comedian. But he was not laughing. He was horrified. “The World Trade Center has been hit by a plane,” he said again. “I believe this was a terrorist attack.” By this time I’d arrived at work. I ran in to see if everyone else heard what I’d just heard. My coworkers were on their computers and cell phones trying to find out more information. “A plane hit…” I said when I was interrupted. “Another plane has hit the World Trade Center,” someone said. My head was spinning. What was going on? As I stood there in minutes, the World Trade Center buildings caught on fire and collapsed. And then, right down the street from my house, the Pentagon was hit. The Pentagon. Was hit by a plane. With people in it. Who would do such a thing? Why? I don’t remember much about what happened after that except I went in to tell my boss I thought we should skip launching our media campaign. I told him this was a worldwide tragedy and launching a campaign would be both unbelievably insensitive and inappropriate and wouldn’t get us any coverage anyway. I will never forget what he said. He said condescendingly, “Julie. TRUST ME. Tomorrow? This whole thing will blow over and we’ll be back to business as usual.” He really, really, really said that. He was wrong. I went home and met my husband there. We sat together and watched the hours and hours of media coverage. The devastation. The death. The tragedy. The pain, confusion and heartache. The next day we stayed home and watched it all again. The day after – we needed to go back to work. And drove by the Pentagon. I saw the black smoke still rising and the gaping hole in the building with my own two eyes. I could smell the burning. The gasoline. Going to work felt so unimportant and small. The mantra was if we stop working and living, the terrorists win. So we all clumsily moved forward to claim back our lives again. It was a stressful and dark time for all of us. Not just me. Not just my husband. Did you know that in New York that there was an increased use of marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes after 911? Additionally, those who had significant exposure to the events of September 11, 2001, reported highly elevated levels of binge drinking five and six years after the attacks, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia’s department of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, department of psychiatry, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Even famous musician Billy Joel turned to drinking to cope with the Sept 11th attacks. Post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety also experienced a rise after September 11th. It’s not surprising that the mental health issues arose and it’s not surprising that people turned to alcohol to self-medicate. To numb themselves from the acute pain they were experiencing. A mental disorder that is treated by self-medicating with drugs and/or alcohol that then becomes an addiction is what’s referred to as co-occurring. An individual experiences the problems at the same time. Sometimes the mental problem occurs first. This can lead people to use alcohol or drugs that make them feel better temporarily. Sometimes the substance use occurs first. Over time, that can lead to emotional and mental problems. In this case, we know that the events of 911 drove many people to drugs and alcohol. From the article: “Past research has found an elevated use of alcohol among populations exposed to the Oklahoma City bombing and Hurricane Katrina.” “Many studies have shown a relationship between adult trauma and drinking outcomes, but the present study contributes important new information by showing that the relationship between a major trauma and drinking persists over many years,” says Dr. Hasin. Dr. Stellman adds that the 9/11 registry “has a program of actively referring enrollees to healthcare services that could serve as a model for future disasters.” The programs that they are referring to specialize in “dual diagnosis.” Dual diagnosis is using a specific methodology to identify both the mental health issue as well as the substance use issue. To treat one and not the other most certainly ends in relapse, a prevailing problem in the treatment industry. A reputable treatment center will have a dual diagnosis program in place complete with a medical doctor, proven addiction treatment therapies like dialectical behavior therapy, and will provide long-term care and programs 24/7, 365 days a year. Questions to ask a treatment center about dual diagnosis:
- Is there a medical doctor on staff?
- What kinds of cognitive therapy do you use?
- How long is the treatment?
- Do you provide programs on the weekends?
- Is there a residential dual diagnosis treatment?
It’s been 13 years since terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center. But the effects of trauma are long lasting and extremely painful. Especially when we experience the anniversary of such a devastating event. We all should do ourselves a favor and skip the drink and deal directly with our depression and anxiety. We can never forget. But we can heal.