There is no denying that trauma has lasting impacts and a deep connection to addiction. Trauma can lead to so many problems in a person’s life. Addiction, suicidal thoughts and serious issues with mental illness are just some of the ways trauma can impact a person’s life. Sadly, approximately one-half of all individuals will be exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. While it is true that not everyone will have lasting implications, it does paint a picture of just how important it is to take the connection between trauma and addiction seriously. The good news is you can heal. Here is what I have come to realize through learning to live with my trauma and overcoming my addiction.
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GETTING OVER IT DOESNT WORK
Trauma is not something to simply just “get over”. Changes occur in the brain and body when trauma is experienced. As a result, our emotions and behaviours are affected and the way we function is altered.
Trauma affects everyone differently. Initial reactions to trauma can include exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, agitation, numbness, dissociation, confusion, as many other feelings. These are normal. For some trauma can be resolved without severe long-term consequences. Given that they are highly resilient, develop appropriate coping strategies, have proper support to deal with the aftermath and effects of the trauma. But for others, things aren’t so easy. I was one of those who wasn’t able to walk away from my traumatic experience without long-term implications.
Unfortunately, I did not learn how to cope properly with my trauma for many years. I formed several maladaptive coping skills. one of which was addiction. It wasn’t until I was able to understand the connection between my trauma and addiction that I was able to begin healing.
On one hand, it can be easy to see substance use as a coping mechanism at first. In the moment, drugs and alcohol can help you forget and feel better. What’s better than forgetting about the pain you face every day because of the trauma you have endured? Is it so bad to go for a few drinks and maybe dabble a little in drugs? It’s all for a greater purpose of forgetting, isn’t it? But it doesn’t stop there, does it?
ADDICTION IS DECEPTIVE
Addiction is sneaky. Often it blinds you to the world around you. You don’t see how bad things are until you are in the deepest grips of it.
I can not even begin to think about how many times I have said to myself “just one drink” to find myself hours later at the break of daylight flying high as a kite and unsure of how I got there. It’s always just that one drink or one drug that ends up sending us into a downward spiral.
Addiction takes away our power. Suddenly we are no longer in charge of our own lives, instead, our addiction dictates our life. It robs us of our money, our relationships and all dignity we once had. But then this voice in our heads speaks up, it tells us that all this loss is easier than having to face what happened to us.
YOU CANT RUN FROM YOUR TRAUMA FOREVER
The thing is though, our pain always catches up to us. Trying to numb out does not work forever. It’s not long before we are left with nothing, not even ourselves to turn to for comfort.
For as long as we are trying to fix our problems with another problem we will never be able to find hope of healing. This temporary band-aid of numbing out will only add to us not being ok. The comfort of numbing out in the form of addiction is only ever temporary and short-lived. Eventually, you come down and you sober up and more often than not you find yourself in more pain than you were in when it all started.
HEALING IS SCARY BUT SO IS REMAINING THE SAME
The process of healing is not easy. Neither is remaining in the cycle of addiction. Recovery from our pain is scary. But it’s not as scary as remaining the same. The thing is though, addiction never gets better it only gets worse. It will only keep bringing you to lows you never thought you would see. With healing though things do get better. You learn how to deal with life and eventually you’re able to start living again.
As a survivor who has gone through the journey of recovery, I know how hard it can be. I know how tempting it can be to want to numb out when we begin opening up and examining our wounds. The feelings of pain and discomfort that I faced because of what I had gone through often felt like far too much for me to deal with. For a very long time, this kept me trapped in the cycle of addiction. My inability to deal with myself and my reality was the main cause of swapping one addiction for the next.
Healing will ask you to examine and look at the things that brought you to this point. Our pasts can be a tender subject and something that we struggle to deal with. When you’re new to recovery this can be the thing that pulls us right back into active addiction. To say that it is important to deal with the harm of your past would be an understatement. It can in fact be the key to being successful in your recovery. Healing and learning to live with our traumas can give us our lives back.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN TRAUMA AND ADDICTION
Trauma is dealt with differently by every single person. Some are equipped with proper support and information to develop healthy coping skills. While others are not so lucky. Sadly, others suffer from long-term consequences due to our inability to cope. Unfortunately for me, I did not learn how to deal with my pain in a healthy way.
Healing has helped me to understand why I do the things I do. It’s helped me understand that my addictions were a coping mechanism. I wasn’t equipped to deal with the pain of what had happened and numbing out through addiction seemed like the easiest way to feel better. Finally, my maladaptive coping skills made sense.
LEARNING FROM OUR TRAUMAS
When I first started healing I didn’t realize how much there was for me to learn. I thought as long as I put my head down and worked my ass off to stay sober that it was good enough. I thought I could just “get over it” and as long as I wasn’t using I was ok. But the thing is when you don’t do the real work there is no real healing. The real work is more than showing up to therapy, putting your head down and getting through day to day. For me healing called for radical action. It called for me to start accepting myself as worthy. To learn to be gentle with myself and to start loving myself fully. Exploring the connection between trauma and addiction truly allows for lasting recovery.
Here’s what healing has taught me about trauma and addiction
ADDICTION MAKES YOU THINK DIFFERENTLY
No, this isn’t an excuse for poor behaviour. This isn’t your “get out of jail free” card. This is just the truth, addiction makes you see things through a tainted lens. It can make you think things that you otherwise know not to be true. In addiction you overlook your actions and you do not see the hurt you cause others because you are so busy hiding from your own pain.
Knowing that your brain on drugs is not your true self is important. It can give you hope that you are more than your addiction. Knowing that these bad decisions and poor behaviours aren’t your true self can help you see the positive in yourself and want to get better.
When you are looking for your next fix there is nothing that will stop you. What otherwise might be unthinkable acts become your reality. Committing crimes to get your next fix? No big deal. Stealing, lying, and using and abusing loved ones are part of the toxic cycle. Your addiction will compel you to act in dangerous and destructive ways.
This is your brain on drugs. This isn’t your true self.
PAST ACTIONS DO NOT DICTATE YOUR FUTURE WORTH
For the longest time, I thought that I would never be a person of value. I believed that my past actions would forever define me as a person. In my mind, I couldn’t ever evolve into more.
The things I had done I believed to be so terrible that the future would be nothing because I had messed it up. I was worried that I had ruined myself. Scared that I was now only ever going to be a terrible person because of what I had done. I kept myself stuck because I didn’t think I deserved more.
Through working towards healing I have learnt that my past does not define me. Those things I did at one point in time do not dictate who I am now. I wasn’t ruined by my bad decisions and poor choices. Instead, they taught me lessons that made me who I am today.
Learning and growing from our past experiences is what it’s all about.
YOU ARE NOT RUINED
At the most basic of levels, there is nothing wrong with you. Are you not forever ruined. There is no such thing. What it comes down to is that you have patterns to unlearn. You need to learn new ways of coping. You have wounds to heal and work to do.
Remember, there is nothing wrong with the core of who you are.
ACCEPTANCE IS KEY
The good, the bad, the ugly we all have these things inside of ourselves. We all have darkness and things we are ashamed of. We have regrets and things we wish we could go back and change. Some of these things can be hard to live with. And the thing is, we don’t have to love every part of who we are or what we have done. We don’t even have to like them.
We just have to be willing to live with them. To realize there is no going back and erasing our mistakes. There comes a point where acceptance of what has happened is more important than wishing we could change it. It’s without a doubt hard and it takes time and practice to embrace this acceptance. But in accepting what has happened we get a chance to heal the pain that exists because of it. The shame becomes easier to overcome and we can begin to move forward.
These hard-to-accept sides of us long to be looked after, to be comforted and to be met with love.
KEEP SHOWING UP
The journey of recovery takes time and it is anything but a straight road to success. You will be thrown many bumps and curves, ups and downs. Sometimes we relapse and fall back into old patterns. But, it is important to remember to keep going. Keep putting in the work, showing up to meetings and/ or therapy, keep engaging in a positive lifestyle.
As long as you keep moving forward you are on the right path to healing.
IF YOU OR ANYONE YOU KNOW IS SUFFERING AND NEED HELP TODAY, YOU CAN GO TO RESOURCES FOR A FULL IN-DEPTH LIST OF MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES TO REACH OUT TO. PLEASE DON’T BE AFRAID TO REACH OUT AND ASK FOR HELP. THERE ARE TRAINED PROFESSIONALS AVAILABLE 24/7 TO HELP WITH WHATEVER IT IS YOU MAY BE GOING THROUGH.
Have you explored the connection between trauma and addiction? If you have any words of wisdom to share I would love to hear from you in the comments below.