Did you know that trauma and addiction are often co-habitants? They're linked in stronger ways than previously thought. And get this - 1 in 4 of us will experience a traumatic event before age 4.
According to RecognizeTrauma.org, which highlighted the results of a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 26% of children in the United States will witness or experience a traumatic event before they turn four. It’s true.
High though that number may seem, that study focused on physical traumas such as domestic violence. It did not account for other traumatic events that shape the emotional lives of children everywhere, such as bullying and emotional abuse.
As such, many children grow up carrying unhealed emotional wounds, and they turn to alcohol, drugs, opiodes or other substances in order to numb their painful feelings. Furthermore, misunderstandings about the nature of trauma and addiction can prevent recovery.
We’ll explore three of the most common myths about the nature of addiction and trauma.
Myth #1: Only “really bad” life events - such as physical and sexual abuse - count as trauma.
Reality: Trauma is a subjective experience, defined not by the external event but by an individual’s internal response to that event.
Emotional and psychological trauma is defined as something that was painful and traumatic for you, personally. It’s about how you experienced a life event and the meaning you took from it.
Trauma is not necessarily about how dramatic or obviously abusive the event appeared on the surface. While events such as physical and sexual abuse can certainly register as traumatic, so can injury or teasing or a bad breakup.
Being yelled at by an authority figure, being rejected by your peers, not getting picked for a team … all of these can be traumatic for a child.
Myth #2: In order for an event to be traumatic, it must actually have happened in exactly the way in which you remember it.
Reality: When it comes to healing, the facts of what transpired in your life matter much less than the meaning you took from the events at the time.
One of the most important realities of trauma work is that it doesn't matter if the traumatic event actually happened in the way that you remember it.
All that matters is that you believe that it happened. Your subjective perception is what counts.
Even if you have a misinterpretation of what really happened, that doesn’t change how you feel about it. It’s all about the story you tell yourself about what happened.
You might even recognize that your memory isn’t factually correct, but you’re still carrying that fictionalized version of events around in your consciousness.
Your projection of reality is what’s hurting you, so that’s what needs to be addressed in your healing work.
Say that you have a sibling close in age who shared a life experience that was traumatic to you … but your sibling doesn't remember it, or doesn't care. The event didn't affect your sibling at all, but it affected you tremendously.
What would cause one sibling to process something so differently from another?
The fact is, none of us see the events of our own lives objectively. Rather, we see our own subjective perception of those events.
Our unique filters color our perceptions. Even though siblings may share similar genes and inhabit similar environments, they still have different filters.
When you experience something as traumatic, you’re hurt by it. You believe that it was horribly wrong and that it shouldn't have happened. You carry a great deal of negativity because of your pain. But your sibling can experience that same event and form a very different set of beliefs.
Myth #3: There’s no connection between past trauma and addiction.
Reality: When a person heals past traumas, they can break free from present addictions.
Though people often deny the link between past experiences and present addictions, an accurate understanding of this connection is key to lasting recovery.
When you experience trauma, an emotional part of you remains stuck at the age you were when the traumatic event occurred.
So in order to heal, you need to do is work with that younger version of yourself that you carry within. This process is called “inner child work.”
To begin, you can say to the younger part of yourself, "I understand that this event was traumatic for you. I understand that you're worried and afraid, so what do you need to feel safe and loved?"
Then your job is to listen as that younger part of your psyche tells you what it needs. You might be surprised to find that your inner child is very vocal!
For example, your inner voice might say, "I need to know it's going to be okay, and that I'm loved. I need to know that nobody's going to be mad at me if I tell the truth.”
The only person that can take care of your inner child is you. It's the job of the adult you to take care of the younger you inside.
Once you’ve gone back and worked with your inner child, you’ll be ready to do the rational emotive therapy work at your current age.
You’ll be prepared to examine the judgments and limiting beliefs you carry, question whether or not they actually serve you now.
Trauma and Recovery: Will You Deny or Proclaim Your Truths?
Can't you just wait it out? Isn't it true that time heals all wounds? Actually, no. We feel that's a myth too - especially for those suffering from addiction.
Make no mistake, healing from trauma requires facing up to the facts of your own life … and that can be a daunting process. Everyone has within them the desire to minimize and hide from painful truths.
As Judith Lewis Herman wrote in her landmark book Trauma and Recovery, “The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.”
In other words, all of us have both the urge to both bury and share our emotional hurts.
But it’s only when you choose to open up and speak the truth about your own life that you are empowered to heal and move forward.