I Have Trauma Issues. Can Recovery Help Me?

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Trauma and substance abuse have a surprisingly large amount of overlap, from experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings to similar treatment programs for healing. We all experience trauma and cope with it differently, yet many substance use issues develop as a response to trauma. Processing traumatic experiences can be very time-consuming as well as mentally draining. Substances like drugs and alcohol are often used as a temporary fix to reduce the physical and mental symptoms associated with trauma, such as anxiety, panic, and fear. It’s a simple, but unfortunate formula: trauma increases the risk of developing an addiction, while addiction increases the likelihood of experiencing trauma.

Whether or not substance use plays a significant role in your story, recovery is aimed to help you process any deep-rooted trauma that enables or encourages you to cling to unhealthy coping mechanisms. It may help to reiterate that we ALL have trauma issues of some kind, and most of us were never equipped with the right tools to process trauma experiences by ourselves. Recovery is designed to set you up with effective tools and resources to help you through your trauma issues. Don’t worry, you won’t have to do it alone.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing event. Trauma is subjective, as some people may experience greater and more intense reactions to certain experiences than others. Shock and denial are typical immediate responses to trauma, while long-term reactions can include flashbacks, unpredictable emotions, and physical symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma can cause a person to experience impaired daily functioning and have difficulty moving beyond their trauma.

The First Step of the Twelve Steps

More people have sustained lasting recovery from addiction through 12-Step programs than any other type of treatment program. At first glance, you may think that suffering from trauma is incomparable to suffering from an addiction. But when it comes to the intense psychological experiences — such as feelings of powerlessness — both situations share many similarities. One of the first steps in a 12-Step treatment program is having to admit feelings of powerlessness within yourself and your situation. The same is true for treating trauma.

Whether your trauma took place last week or years ago, you may feel helpless in regards to the distressing symptoms. It’s typical to want to control these symptoms, although your trauma holds firmly to its grasp of control. Whether it comes from trauma or from substance use, admitting your feelings of powerlessness is a critical first step.

What Trauma Recovery Looks Like

There are different phases of trauma recovery to help us understand that recovery is a process. Trauma is usually not resolved all at once, but in carefully planned stages. Identical to the first step in a 12-Step program, the central experience of trauma recovery is helplessness and loss of control. The establishment of safety must be the initial and main goal of trauma recovery.

Here’s what the three phases of trauma recovery may look like for you:

  • Phase I: Safety and Stabilization 

The first phase of trauma recovery is focused on establishing your safety. No therapeutic work should be attempted and is unlikely to be accomplished until your safety needs are met. This first phase may last days or weeks, as safety needs begin with having control of your body and extends to having control of your environment. Trauma can make you feel unsafe in your own body, especially if your emotions or thoughts start to get out of control. Keep in mind that the establishment of your internal control can take a significant amount of time. Safety also includes establishing a safe and secure living situation.

  • Phase II: Reconstruction of Trauma

The second phase of trauma recovery involves the reconstruction of your trauma. Once safety and stability is secured, you should be ready to discuss the story of your trauma. The therapist’s role is to listen, be your ally, and prioritize your ability to feel comfortable sharing your experience. This stage is crucial in order for you to fully process and move beyond your trauma. There may be feelings of fear, hesitation, anxiety, grief, and everything in between during this phase. As frightening as this experience can be, it is crucial in order to rid the crippling symptoms associated with your trauma that continue to affect your daily life. Issues of safety and security will be revisited numerous times throughout this phase.

  • Phase III: Reconnection

By the time you reach the third phase in your trauma recovery, you will have gained some level of trust with your therapist. Building trust of any kind shows that you may be ready to distinguish the difference between warranted trust and unwarranted trust. You may also be ready to devote your energy more fully into your relationships. By this phase, you may finally start to feel as if love can still be found in the world. Your trauma was never an illusion — it was real. And although it will always play a role in your story, you will finally be able to live without your past experiences repetitively tormenting you. Finally, you will have gained the power you deserved all along.

If you have experienced trauma, you are not alone. Whether or not your trauma is associated with substance use, recovery can still help you process and move beyond it effectively. For some, trauma causes unbearable feelings and thoughts, as many of us here at Jaywalker Lodge have experienced ourselves. Recovery for trauma and substance use can be similar, as substance use recovery addresses the deep-rooted trauma that so often causes substance use in the first place. Jaywalker Lodge focuses on using the 12-Step program to help you recover from the trauma symptoms that continue to impact your life. Whether your trauma happened days or decades ago, it’s never too late to seek out treatment. If you are struggling with trauma issues, let Jaywalker Lodge teach you how to recover. We help men find peace from distressing past experiences and build a better future for themselves. To learn more, call us now at (866) 529-9255.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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