There is no denying that trauma and addiction have a deep connection- they’re like a dysfunctional relationship that’s hard to let go of. Each fuels the other’s fire, and the longer the two go undealt with, the more they become ingrained in our lives. The majority of people suffering from substance abuse experienced a higher level of trauma prior to becoming addicted than the average person. Whether it was childhood trauma, severe anxiety or depression, studies have proven that trauma can directly lead to addiction.
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about both trauma and addiction, but with the correct understanding of the two and their relationship, you can begin to break down the emotional barriers keeping you or a loved one from getting sober.
In most cases (not all) trauma is typically a negative experience due to external circumstances beyond your control. This could be mental or physical abuse from another person, growing up in poverty, living with a chronic illness, or experiencing/witnessing a harmful situation. It can also be an experience with yourself such as long periods of depression. No matter the situation, trauma is almost always understood and explained from a “victim standpoint”. By that I mean that the majority of people look at trauma as something that’s out of our control and something we “can’t help” but hold onto. This isn’t really true. Trauma is 100% defined by you. An experience you considered traumatic, could be no big deal to the person next to you. This isn’t supposed to make you feel weak, the exact opposite actually. This means you have the ability to take the power out of trauma and reclaim any situation.
Trauma also has a funny way of making you feel alone, which often leads people to addiction and substance abuse as a means of coping. However, almost everyone has trauma. They may not have the same exact as you do, but we all deal with events and experiences in our lives that created negative emotional holds over us. This realization should make you feel more connected to the human experience, and if you let it, it can help you walk away from trying to “cope” and walk towards learning to grow from it.
In recent studies, experts have noted that those who scored high on adverse childhood experiences questionnaire were 5 times more likely to become an alcoholic, and up to 40 times more likely to inject drugs. No one who has suffered from substance abuse is alone, its normal to cope with trauma and oftentimes cope the wrong way, but there are other ways. When we re-define trauma, learn to understand it in a new and positive way, we can find the strength live sober.
Trauma and Mental Health
In order to let go of substance abuse as your means of coping, you must first understand what you’re trying to cope from. What trauma led you to addiction? What emotions have you not dealt with yet? Trauma has the ability to alter our psychological landscape- so we need to rewire our brains to understand our past in a healthy way. The most common and undeniable effect trauma has on us is fear- and when your mentally afraid, you physically respond. This can lead to disease, depression, and more likelihood of abusing drugs for a release of that pain.
When the body is storing negative emotions, its constantly in “fight” mode. It feels like it needs to protect itself from a threat, so your “walls go up” as they say. This leads to tension, shortened breath, stiff muscles, etc. From not dealing with your emotions, your body is left thinking it needs to fight. Think of being in “panic” mode 24/7, it makes sense that you feel unhappy a majority of the time.
Finding a licensed psychologist of even a close friend you trust to talk to about the negative emotions/ experiences you need to work through can the be the best first step in overcoming your trauma. The truth is a lot of times traumatic experiences are so severe we repress them and “block them out”. We go about our days not actively thinking about them, but our bodies physically still respond to the trauma. It’s not until were able to surface these emotions and experiences that we can really deal with them and have the clarity to work towards sober coping and sober living.
It will take time, and effort, but slowly facing your past is the only way to free yourself for a positive future. It takes self compassion, respect, and trust to work through these emotions. Just like in life, its takes these characteristics to deal with stressful situations. Working through your trauma is practice for coping with life without relying on substances.
Trauma and Mindset- What’s Really Going to Set You Free?
Healing from trauma, and really healing, means changing the authority you have over your consciousness. It means changing the beliefs you have about your past, and shifting them to match the future that you want for yourself. If you decide that you are strong, able, powerful, and always resilient, you will heal your trauma and find your way to sober living.
It’s not always easy to start the process. How do you identify your trauma? How do you even try to change your mindset? Positive affirmations and visualizations are some of the most beneficial practices to incorporate into everyday life. If you feel overwhelmed, stressed, sad, whatever it may be, picture how you want to feel instead. You want to feel light, happy, strong, imagine it! If you’re having trouble overcoming something, say out loud every morning “I can get through this” or “This does not take over my life”. When you claim power over your life, anything is possible. When you give yourself the faith that you can and will find sobriety, guess what? You will.
Underlying Trauma can be the one thing holding you back from healing fully. Control your mind, control your life. You can and you will.