Trauma, Addiction & Healing
Some would say that Western medicine is about alleviating pain. We seek to find solutions for that which causes us pain, distress, discomfort. This is not the same as healing. Alleviating pain is process of symptom identification and then eradication. If you cannot stop the pain, then medicine has failed.
It appears that our society is all caught up in this. We have a pain, seek to alleviate it, or better yet, eradicate it and once we have done that, we claim treatment has been achieved. But what did we treat? Did we get to the underlying problem? Really? Or did we just stop the pain? And for our society at large, if we stop the pain, we believe we are cured.
But treatment of pain, with the goal of pain cessation is not the same as healing. Healing is something else all together. Healing is something that takes time, and cares about more than stopping the pain. Healing seems to be about finding a way to contain the pain while continuing to live life.
Gabor Maté is a world renown expert on trauma and addiction. He asked the very insightful question “what is the addict seeking relief from?” And this is not a new thought really, all addiction treatment seeks to address the underlying causes and conditions of why the person picked up the drink or drug to begin with...but without the trauma treatment model being looked at also, I think treatment for addiction will always fall short. It isn’t about the drinking or drugging, it is about what is driving the need to check the fuck out of your life. What pain are you running from?
Gabor says that healing has to include a way to hold the pain. And to really deal with what is causing the pain to begin with. We are complicated people, living complex lives. A lot of shit goes down. And trauma is present in everyone’s life. And being left to your own devices to deal with the trauma really fucks us up, especially as kids whose undeveloped minds are not really capable of coming up with any kind of treatment, only symptom redress. Which completely greases the skids to addiction. Teens are going to experiment, and for those who have a lot of pain to medicate, drugs and alcohol, food, sex, gaming are all viable and helpful solutions for a teen in crisis. And they work. Almost like nothing else, the teen can spin the story that they are just experimenting, they are just doing what everyone else does, except for the budding alcoholic and addict, it doesn’t ever quite look the same.
My drinking was different than most of my friends. They did it because it was there. I did it because it provided relief. There is a large and fundamental difference there. I didn’t do it because it was fun on Friday night, well maybe that is how it started but it provided such relief to me that I wanted to do it every night. I chased that sweet relief. It became my solution for everything: hurt, drink; sad, drink; afraid, drink; ok, drink; upset, drink; happy, drink. And so it went until it was all I had left. A solution that wanted to kill me.
Getting sober allowed me to begin to hold the pain. I couldn’t run from it, numb it out and check out anymore. I had to find a way to deal with the pain, hold it and see it and allow it to remain and in this process I found that the pain lessened when I began to take steps to lead me towards healing. Not just symptom alleviation. I had to have a way to hold the pain while not letting it get so big that I needed a ready and immediate solution. And I think that my slowly over time increasing my distress tolerance by sitting with emotionally painful and distressing thoughts without seeking to stop them, distract myself from them or kill them, allowed me to really heal because I created a space for the pain instead of dedicating my life to never feeling it again.
Pain is part of life. All life. None of us can ever avoid it, stop it, get free from it. Pain is part of living and no one is immune. But we can heal if we are willing to find a way to hold the pain, create a space for it, acknowledge it, without letting it become all you are either. It is some tricky business for sure. And it takes a long time and a lot of effort. And you have to be willing to experience the pain and not just seek to shut it all down and turn it off while at the same time, not letting the things you have to do to heal the pain take over your life. It is not easy but it is the most worthwhile thing I have ever done in my life.
Recovery is a daily process. So is healing. Stuff may have gone down a million years ago but if it is manifesting in my life today, there is a reason and that reason is for my benefit if I can stay with it long enough to know what it is here to teach me.
It is a long damn life if we are lucky. And we have a lot to learn from our traumas, addictions, treatments and healings. I find that being open, equally to them all is the best way to live an open, purpose driven life that means something to myself as well as to others. I may never be well by anyone else’s definition but when I allow all of my stuff (trauma, addiction, treatment and recovery) to just be what it is, I can heal. And my healing benefits all those about me. And that I know is the purpose of life, to share yourself and your life truly and authentically in a way and manner that connects you with others.