Transcending Childhood Trauma
"All healing is release from the past. It is enough to heal the past and make the future free. It is enough to let the present be accepted as it is." Course of Miracles
Most addicts have survived some form of childhood trauma. In recovery, they must make an effort to heal the wounds of the past. They must also accept the fact that this is an inside job. Nothing outside of themselves is going to heal them. Therapy and support groups are supportive environments, but addicts have to do all the work to promote their own inner healing.
Healing the wounds of the past is a long and drawn out process. This process begins when recovering addicts accept the fact that they were traumatized. Many people are in denial about this. They don't remember what really happened. They have blocked out the truth because it is too painful, or they see what happened to them as normal because they have nothing to compare it with.
Trauma is any experience which interferes with the feeling of safety and security that children need as they are growing up─any disruption to the child's well-being that is not worked through within the family unit via honesty, love, and communication. The following experiences are considered traumatic: neglect and abandonment; abuse, toxic shame; emotional incest, family secrets; toxic controlling by parents; peer rejection, a death in the family—whatever severely disturbs your sense of security.)
Children are usually not capable of discerning trauma because they have an unconscious need to see everything as being all right. They suffer and feel pain, but at the same time they find a mechanism whereby they deny or suppress the reality of their environment. This distortion of the truth (denial) is how they survive emotionally. However, as adults, these traumatized children have to break through the magical illusion that everything in their childhood was all right.
Once recovering addicts stop denying that they have experienced some form of childhood trauma, it can be helpful if they identify the nature of that trauma. Was it sustained or intermittent? Was it neglect or abuse? Was it at home or at school? What was going on, and who were the people involved? Some addicts will know the answers to these questions and others will not. It can also be helpful to read some books about childhood trauma or personality disorders. It is amazing how many forms of trauma can occur, both inside and outside the home.
If addicts can't remember much about their childhood, it might help if they talk to people who were there at the time (friends or family). Sometimes these people will not want to cooperate, but it's worth a try. Therapy can also help recovering addicts identify what happened to them during their childhood. A therapist can draw out the truth in a safe environment and help interpret the facts. If the truth never gets revealed or validated, recovering addicts should still go on with the healing process. They can refer to their trauma as "something that happened," even if they don't remember what that "something" was.
Once recovering addicts have begun to identify their past trauma, they must learn to talk about it to someone they trust. This can be a therapist, a friend, or another recovering addict in their support group─anyone who can be trusted to listen without judgement. Talking is part of the healing process because sharing our deepest, darkest secrets brings them out of the unconscious and into the conscious. Once this happens, the trauma can be worked through. Of course, talking also makes people feel better, but most of all it promotes awareness and understanding─both important steps in the healing process.
At this point, writing can help recovering addicts. Key memories can flow when pen is put to paper, and the documentation of these truths can be useful later on. Writing is also a good way to get in touch with deep-seated feelings about what happened. Writing can mean keeping an ongoing journal about the recovery process, or taking an inventory of what happened with regard to the trauma and how it affected the addict's life. My first journal in recovery became a book so you never know where writing will lead.
The hard part of the healing process comes when it is time for recovering addicts to feel the pain of the past. Up to this point, they have been trying to dig up the memories of the past. When they are successful there is apt to be a strong emotional response. These feelings will vary from person to person, but some of the most common emotions felt at this time are anger, shock, anxiety, sadness, and depression.
No matter how painful these feelings might be, it is important not to run away from them. This is probably why you became an addict in the first place. You were self-medicating. These emotions have to be felt in full force, as if one were re-living the trauma once again. When these feelings come up, it is important to remember that they will pass and that this experience is just one stage in the healing process. I cannot say how long it will take for the feelings to pass, but if they are embraced rather than repressed they will subside and you will be "happy, joyous, and free."
From Addiction to Love by Susan Peabody
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