by Chad Sewich
Trauma comes in so many shapes and sizes, it’s hard to really define it sometimes. I was bullied as a child. I carried all that baggage into adulthood and for years I was unaware. Looking back from my perspective now, I could easily be tempted to say that the bullying I dealt with was not all that severe. But I have to consider how each little event impacted me at the time. Back then it wasn’t a grow adult, but a little boy who was suffering. From that perspective, it is easy to see how those experiences created demons that would follow me into adulthood.
At the Kiloby Center where I work in admissions, I always make a point to tell every potential client that we use a trauma-first approach. Some people embrace that idea. Others are hesitant to accept the word ‘trauma’ as something that is relevant to them. I get it. It can be terrifying to dredge up painful moments from the past. Many of us have worked our entire lives to forget them, most of the time without ever even realizing our fear and pain around them. But the link between these experiences, these traumas, and addiction couldn’t be more clear, as evidenced by recent work by researchers such as Dr. Gabor Mate. Dr Mate recently stated, in an interview discussing the trauma/addiction connection:
“Trauma is a psychic wound that hardens you psychologically that then interferes with your ability to grow and develop. It pains you and now you’re acting out of pain. It induces fear and now you’re acting out of fear. Trauma is not what happens to you, it’s what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you. Trauma is that scarring that makes you less flexible, more rigid, less feeling and more defended.”
We become addicted to a substance or activity as a means of coping with this sort of trauma. Why let ourselves feel bad when there is something we’ve found that can make us feel good, even if we know it isn’t healthy physically or emotionally? That’s to worry about at a later time. Because in that moment, we are back in survival mode, unconsciously trying to ease the pains of our past. Recent research shows us this. In fact, one of the main predictors for having a substance disorder is experiencing trauma.
At the Kiloby Center and Natural Rest House, we use mindfulness and self inquiry to dig into the heart of the trauma, not by thinking about it, which causes more pain, but by feeling it in our bodies. Having runaway thoughts about an addiction accomplishes nothing. Focusing on the feelings and emotions that are connected to it takes the mind out of the equation. It prevents us from adding more pain to an already difficult situation. The results are speaking for themselves.