Gina Rolkowski’s Journey

Please tell us your story

Why would anyone start their story in the middle?
Well, because the real power of my recovery journey is found smack dab in the middle. That’s why!
Let me explain…

Feeling almost invincible after 7 years in recovery from addiction to drugs like Klonopin, Xanax, Percocet, Percodan and Oxycodone as well as PTSD I decided to share what I thought was a small concern with my therapist.
“I think I have a problem with picking at my face,” I told her on an early fall afternoon. I decided to share this with her because I remembered picking up newsletters from my teacher mailbox in Virginia a couple of months prior. The heading said something about recognizing signs of self-mutilation.

“Surely, I am not self-mutilating,” I reassured myself. After all, I had already dealt with the cause of my PTSD and more than overcome all of that 7 years prior!
However, I had noticed that over the last year, I spent a lot of time picking at my face in the bathroom at night. I even noticed that I would pick at it driving home from work or just watching TV. I did not want to do this to myself and yet, I just could not seem to stop. So, I bravely decided to address it and figured it would be an easy fix.
I had no idea bringing this up would open the door to making sense of my whole life.

How did she help you understand your feelings?

I am not certain exactly how she and I went from picking at my face to repressed memories. I do remember her telling me that the body keeps track of what the mind would like to forget. The more we dove into it, the clearer it became.
We talked about how I did not remember the majority of my growing up years. (Dissociative amnesia). We discussed the seizures and when they started. We even started very carefully addressing memories I had of taking baths with my father as a 3-year-old. “No big deal,” I rationalized. I was a little girl and my dad was bathing me.
Next thing I knew, panic and flashbacks resurfaced. (I had previously dealt with flashbacks from my abusive ex-husband prior to beginning my recovery.) Memories of myself as a little girl about three-years-old to as old as an 18-year-old adolescent resurfaced with dread and fear.

Every time I needed to use a bathroom, I panicked. I felt like I was living in that foggy surreal reality all over again. This time, however, I felt more disgusted and ashamed at the cause than before. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream but somehow, I just could not. The shock and resulting numbness prevented me from even feeling the pain of this horror.
I knew whether or not I liked it, this would be a very tough and likely long road of recovery all over again.
Making matters worse, my loving supportive husband was away in Afghanistan, while I was home experiencing frightening recovered, repressed memories of being sexually abused by my father.

I thought I had put all the hard work behind me. This was my time in the so-called Promised Land of hope, recovery and success. How could this be happening? I just could not believe that after 7 years of recovery, I found myself in a place worse than I could ever have imagined. A place I thought I would never see again.
I knew even considering taking drugs or drinking would erase all the hard work I had already done; the Master’s degree I worked so hard to obtain right after beginning my recovery would be useless, the career I had finally obtained, gone. Maybe even my wonderful marriage. My recovery faced its greatest challenge.

How did you overcome this obstacle?

For as long as I can remember, I took addictive medications. I was diagnosed with epileptic seizures at 14 yrs old and took all sorts of medication for those, none of which worked. Eventually the doctors prescribed Ambien, Xanax, Klonopin and all sorts of pain medications on top of that. For almost 10 years, I took these drugs or a combination of them daily.
Without even realizing it, I became addicted.
The year my mother died, I attempted suicide. Later that same year, I finally decided to get off all of these drugs so I could enter treatment for the PTDS and drug addiction. But I still was never sure why I had been suffering for so long.
Which is why, ironically, in spite of my shock, I felt a strange level of relief when the memories returned. All of a sudden, the 44 very challenging years of my life made sense. At least now I could rest in the realization, that I was never crazy. I was just deeply wounded trying desperately to survive for the majority of my life without even knowing why.

The psych wards, the suicide attempt and the seizures all finally made sense to me. Now I knew.
I started my story in this manner because when I first went into recovery, I thought I would just “get better” like when you have a cold. But life obviously does not happen like that and after this startling revelation, I truly found out recovery is most definitely a voyage with no set destination!
It is only because of my relationship with God, working the third step and implementing every tool I learned and practiced during my years in recovery that I was able to avoid those destructive drugs and alcohol during this horrible time. A time I could never have imagined I would have to deal with. Much less without any drugs or alcohol.
As I reflect on this time in my life, God’s hand is practically visible. I know in my heart that without my intentional relationship with God and working that third step, I would never have gotten through this shocking twist in my life.

My daily quite time being still with God coupled with intentional self-care and mindfulness really saved my life. Implementing deep breathing and mindful self-compassion meditations all made managing the horrific emotions so much easier.
While nothing could ever take away the pain of this experience, using my recovery tools provided great relief. A healthy relief that drugs would never have been able to accomplish.
Because of allowing myself to learn to thrive with complex trauma, I now have the beautiful opportunity to offer hope and inspiration to others. This year I am starting The Emptied Heart. A blog and ministry focused on empathy, encouragement and empowerment for those struggling with complex trauma and addiction. Additionally, I have co-authored a book coming out this month called, The Memoir of a Wounded Soul.
To sum up, while the dark times are indeed dark and oozing with despair, I am a testimony that staying in recovery shines a bright light of hope at the end of the dark tunnel. Work that third step. God is with you and He will carry you. Sometimes, He just has to make it dark so we can see His light.

For someone in a situation who wants to get clean, what would you want to tell them to help motivate them and inspire them?

To anyone out there struggling with addiction, I would highly encourage you to get to know God. Those of us who struggle with addiction and trauma that is no longer masked by drugs and alcohol, experience a great deal of self-hatred. Because we hate ourselves we have no interest in feeling the pain that triggers the limiting core beliefs like, I am worthless, I’m a loser, etc. So rather than trying to go the self-route, go with God. Once you know God you will get to know yourself better as His child. I highly encourage anyone out there to work that third step. God is bigger than the pain causing you to drink or abuse drugs. There’s no doubt that working through the pain is very upsetting but when you have God to rely on you will always have a safe place to go to get the help you need while doing the difficult healing work.

What is your life's moto?

Know God, know you. Let go and let God.


Gina Rolkowski is the founder of The Emptied Heart, a ministry for those living with and recovering from chronic trauma and addiction. A former elementary school teacher and CEO of a social emotional intelligence consulting company, Gina has one beautiful and successful grown daughter. She lives in Delaware with her amazing husband and her three kitties. You can follow her on Instagram @theemptiedheart and look for her blog and website coming soon in August.

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