Trauma and addiction are closely linked. One study of over 10,000 people with addiction found that 90% had experienced traumas such as domestic violence or child abuse. Addiction itself can be traumatic—and being chronically under the influence of substances may expose people to more potential trauma.
20% of people who experience trauma will go on to develop PTSD. Like any co-occurring disorder, PTSD and addiction should be treated together. However, even if you have not developed PTSD after a traumatic event, it is important to address your trauma in recovery.
After experiencing trauma, you may have a hard time coping with stress. Addiction, too, makes it challenging to process your emotions. Recovery is an opportunity to learn healthy ways of dealing with stress. A therapist can work with you on building and practicing these coping skills in a safe environment.
Therapy sessions will also help you talk through trauma, which is an important part of the healing process. Some people who have experienced trauma attempt to cope through avoidance; however, this will not allow you to process what happened, and is ultimately a barrier to healing.
Try to build a meditation practice. Regular meditation can help you sit with feelings of stress without feeling overwhelmed. This can be done alone, or with a guide. We’ve listed some great guided meditations here.
You may find that stressful, intrusive thoughts or feelings arise when you meditate. When this happens for me, I distill the thought into an image and picture it floating into the sky like a balloon. Another suggestion is to frame the thought or feeling in matter-of-fact terms—with less attachment—such as “I notice feelings of fear.”
Gratitude journaling may sound like a trite response to a serious event, but it can be a helpful way to cope. The more often you can remind yourself of the positive things in your life, the better. Gratitude journaling is an important reminder that not everything in life is scary or hard—that you have good things to look forward to and nourish.
Exercise is another healthy coping skill. This doesn’t have to be something you dread; for instance, if you don’t like running, don’t force yourself to run. There are so many options for getting your body moving: dancing, doing yoga, using a punching bag, doing jumping jacks, etc.
Exercise releases endorphins that reduce stress and improve mood. If the trauma made you feel disconnected from your body, finding an activity that connects you to it again can be healing.
Most importantly, remember to validate your feelings and experience. Trauma has a major effect on the brain and body, as does addiction. Be patient with yourself as you heal from both—and know that recovery, and a rich and fulfilling life, is possible.
If you are struggling to cope with a trauma and heal from an addiction, there is hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for substance use and mental health disorders. Our staff will help you build the healthy coping skills to thrive in long-term recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.