Trauma is one of the new buzz words in recovery. Studies and articles about it are popping up everywhere. Google the words “addiction and trauma” and you’ll see that researchers are linking unresolved trauma to addiction and chronic relapsing. But what is trauma exactly and how does one know if it is creating difficulties in one’s recovery?
A good layman’s definition of trauma is any past event or events that were emotionally overwhelming, creating a sort of emotional shutdown in the body and mind. The emotion is not resolved or processed in a healthy way at the time. This shutdown results in the storing or repressing of the emotion in the body and mind and a fight, flight or freeze response that occurs whenever one encounters a trigger similar to the original event. The after-effects of trauma are sometimes labeled PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) by clinicians. Trauma is highly subjective. An event that might not bother one person might debilitate another.
Trauma may result from classically severe events like abuse or molestation but also from ridicule, judgment, abandonment or neglect by a parent or other loved one. Even a breakup in a relationship can create PTSD.
One of the most challenging characteristics of trauma is that it can go undiagnosed, and therefore unresolved, for many years in recovery. One may not even know it is present during active addiction because drugs and alcohol keep it repressed. When it surfaces during recovery, it can overwhelm the system, creating a high risk of relapse.
“Ben” was a client at my treatment center who had previously spent many years in the twelve step program, diligently working the steps. He had become quite a sought-after sponsor to many newcomers. Suddenly, old traumas began to resurface, and he found himself unable to work through them with the steps. His life was put on hold as he found himself unable to cope. He was shocked to discover that none of his usual ways of working through issues were working with regard to this newly resurfaced trauma. For a couple of years, he didn’t even know that trauma was at the root of his chronic relapsing.
When Ben came to my center, we began to educate him on trauma and its link to addiction. We began working with his trauma with mindfulness, yoga, TRE and other eastern modalities. Finally, he started to resolve his traumas, and he began to find real freedom. Ben is not alone! Many people in recovery unknowingly struggle with unresolved trauma. Clinicians are beginning to discuss the limitations of counseling and therapy that center on talking or cognitive approaches that deal only with the mind. Trauma is held largely in the body. Therefore, somatic approaches such as the eastern modalities mentioned above may be the only real answer for some. Somatic approaches bring people into their bodies to help regulate emotions and uproot and dissolve repressed emotions that lie at the heart of trauma.
If you are in recovery and are finding it difficult to work through various emotional issues, be on the lookout for unresolved trauma. Find a professional or treatment center that uses asomatic-based trauma resolution approach. Here are some of the symptoms of PTSD as published by Mayo Clinic:
Symptoms of may include:
– Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
– Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
– Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
– Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event
Symptoms may include:
– Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
– Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
Negative changes in thinking and mood
Symptoms may include:
– Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
– Hopelessness about the future
– Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
– Difficulty maintaining close relationships
– Feeling detached from family and friends
– Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed