Trauma and Addiction
These are my two speciality areas and at first glance you may wonder how they are related.
“If you don’t heal the wounds of your childhood, you bleed into the future” – Oprah Winfrey
I have experienced and witnessed so many cases where pain caused in childhood continues to perpetuate into adulthood. The challenge is that as we become adults our pain healing methods can become bigger, more costly and more impactful on our lives.
Hence I found myself enjoying rather too many glasses of wine in an evening, working every hour I had and then some, binge eating and starving myself in cycles, exercising like a woman possessed, accumulating debt through out of control spending habits. All these activities were the way that I, and countless other people like me, found to relieve the pain that is just too much to feel. Pain that results from childhood wounds.
My birth parents were not deliberately abusive. They were young and inexperienced when they became parents (I am the eldest) and they found their way as best they could. They did not have the access to information via the joys of the internet in the same way that we do now. I only feel compassion to them for what must have been a really difficult time for them both, geographically isolated from their families. My mother had grown up in the context of boarding schools, nannies, nurses and many different homes as was common place at the time for the children of Army Officers. I really strongly believe that there is nothing that can replace the love of your parents (or adoptive parents) if it is at all possible to grow up receiving that love, and learning what unconditional support, love and compassion looks like.
However, she did not have that and you cannot share what you do not know. So the relationship trauma caused by the loss of solid psychological and emotional ground with a person who I loved and needed in order to feel secure in the world was huge. She was lost in her own addictions and so the capacity for her to love and cherish was diminished. So I felt unloved, unheard, unwanted and certainly not good enough. So I developed my own addictive behaviours to cover up that pain, because those are BIG feelings to feel.
So you can see how the cycle of trauma very smoothly passes from generation to generation – all too smoothly – and I have no doubt it would have passed to my children too, had I not decided that it stops with me. For many years now I have been healing my deep–seated traumas and it is an ongoing journey. This is not a journey I ever expect to finish. I expect to be healing new levels of my trauma for the rest of my life.
However, my life is 100% highly functional now, rather than the dysfunction I was living in previously. I am free from any addictive behaviours and have been for three years now. So that is not to say that you will be in intense therapy for the rest of your life. There may be a period where a combination of coaching and therapy can really fast-track you to a better place; however, longer term you will learn many ways to continue to support your own healing and that is a truly EMPOWERING place to live.
It wasn’t always like that! It is an amazing feeling when you think you have found the solution to the pain you are feeling, but very soon that solution becomes a problem in and of itself. As you spend more and more time in the grips of addictive behaviours, they actually perpetuate all those feelings of I am unloved, unheard, unwanted and not good enough. The shame and guilt that invariably walk hand in hand with addictions bring so many other side effects like destroying your sense of personality, your thinking, and your authenticity. In turn this adds more trauma on top of the pain that is already there, which needs further medicating with ever increasing amounts of your chosen addictive substance or behaviour, and so it continues until something stops the cycle.
Growing up as a child in a family with adult care-givers who suffer with addictions can be highly challenging and traumatising. It is like living with Jekyll and Hyde at the same time and never knowing who you are going to find each day. This often means the child of a parent with addictions can start to lose emotional literacy, that is to say they become disconnected from their emotions and lose the ability to be able to describe their inner world to themselves or other people. As a child we are entirely dependent on our care-givers for survival. They ensure our safety, ensure we have food, shelter, and train us in how to be parents ourselves. When we do not receive this, it feels as though our world is disintegrating in front of our eyes and this in itself is a traumatic experience. We need intimacy in our primary relationships more regularly than we need food.
We are biologically wired to meet our needs for dependency and nurturing through our early relationships. When these are not met adequately early in life, we end up looking for our adult relationships to satisfy our emotional hunger, and this can have disastrous effects. This is a huge burden to place on our current relationships – to satisfy unmet needs from childhood – and as such the current relationship becomes impaired and cannot function healthily. We can also end up seeking love in the wrong places, with the wrong people at the wrong time, which all perpetuates the trauma of not feeling loveable, enough, worthy etc. Quieting this inner struggle with addictive substances or behaviours becomes a means of seeking to restore some sense of balance and control over what is a tumultuous inner world.
There is a Turkish proverb that states He that conceals his grief finds no remedy for it. Equally, the Alcoholics Anonymous movement recognises loneliness as a major risk factor to relapse, along with hunger, anger and tiredness. The strength of community in healing cannot be under-estimated. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that not verbalising a trauma means that it becomes “stuck” in your body and then plays out in your current life, rather than being time stamped to the past where it belongs. What that means is that your past traumas then continue to show up in your current relationships, work and general life. The earlier in life your trauma occurred and the longer it has sat in your body, the more important it is to release that from your body and the cellular memory created from your trauma.
Trauma victims often learn helplessness, whereby they lose the capacity to appreciate a connection between their actions and their ability to influence their lives. This is the same for individuals in addictive systems. I am here to tell you that there is HOPE. I walked in the darkness of trauma, addiction, shame and guilt and now I live in a world of hope, passion and trust. If I can do it, you can too.
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