Healing Past Trauma in Recovery
I believe strongly that to stay in recovery we have to deal with underlying issues like past trauma. We have to talk about it to an enlightened witness. We have to write about it and then feel the pain that we usually try to self-medicate. Then we need to accept what happened to us and move on to our new life in recovery. I have gone through this process myself and it has changed my life.
The trauma of my past began with my childhood. It consisted of neglect, abandonment, peer rejection, covert incest, prolonged illnesses, and the death of my brother. This left me with a lot of anger, anxiety, shame, and fear, as well as low self-esteem and a tremendous hunger for love. As I was growing up, I didn’t understand that I had been traumatized. I just knew that something was wrong with me. I knew that pain and emptiness kept reappearing in my life whenever I wasn’t being distracted by one of my addictions.
As an adult, I became accustomed to the pain and adopted it. In its own way it comforted me. Then, before I knew it, self-pity was my best friend. I was, for all intents and purposes, a misery addict. To keep myself wrapped in this blanket of self-pity, I put myself in situations that caused me, and others, a lot of pain. By others, I mean my parents and my children.
When I first began to look at this, I was in denial about the trauma I had suffered in my family of origin and the misery I had inflicted on myself and others. I remember recognizing that the prolonged ridicule I had suffered at school hurt me a lot, but when I thought about my family I remember them being very loving and supportive.
Of course, I was in denial. Years of therapy would reveal the truth about just how dysfunctional they really were. As for my victim mentality, that was really out of reach. No one could tell me I had perpetuated my own misery. That was absurd. Then there were the people I had hurt. When a person feels like a victim all the time, they don’t see the people they have hurt. This was certainly true for me.
Eventually, after my life fell apart, I began to face all of this, which was an important step for me. Then, when I was ready, I investigated the past by talking to my family and other people who knew me when I was growing up. As a result, the pieces of the puzzle slowly came together and a picture emerged of an unhappy, neglected child caught up in a dysfunctional environment that had been passed down from generation to generation. Next, I did an inventory of what I had done as an adult to perpetuate the pain of my childhood. Then I looked at what I had done to hurt others like a wounded animal lashing out in pain.
Once I broke through my denial and identified what had happened to me and what I had done to myself and others, I began talking about it. At some point, I also began writing about what had happened. However, I was still unable to very much at this point, so my writing was very analytical. This was my way of recognizing the pain but not feeling it.
After some time, the dam burst and all of my painful feelings about the past came rushing forth. At first I was angry. Then I was overwhelmed with sadness. For me, these feelings would come and go, but every time I discovered something new, or I realized how much I had been wounded in the past, I faced my feelings and had a good cry. I cried a lot.
Eventually, I moved on from my feelings and addressed the issue of acceptance. Acceptance was a very important part of the healing process for me. It is a tool I learned in 12-step programs. It doesn’t change the basic situation, but it ends our struggle against things that can’t be changed, leaving more energy to focus on the things that can be. Acceptance amounts to surrendering your pain so that you can move on. You just give it to God or some benevolent force in the universe and in return you get the serenity you need to heal your wounds. To get started I recommend the first half of the very popular Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change.”
If this does not work for you go through this process again and again until you get results. Over the years I have had times when the trauma still shows up when I am triggered, but as my first sponsor promised me: “It will happen less often and be less intense.” She was right. I am not the person I used to be. Sometimes I wish I could go back and talk to the child I was and set her on a better path, but at least I can pass on to others what I have learned. Namaste.
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