Addiction and Trauma: Why Sobriety Is Saving My Life
After achieving sobriety from my addiction, processing the trauma took countless hours in therapy sessions. Over time, I began to see so many clear connections between my trauma and my addiction. For years I dissociated from many of my difficult memories and experiences and often I was able to numb out using various addictive behaviors or substances, like sex, food, and, occasionally, alcohol. These methods worked for a time, but eventually, nothing was strong enough to silence the chaos that lived inside of me.
Addiction from Trauma
When I was 22 years old, I received my first mental health diagnosis, posttraumatic stress disorder, otherwise referred to as PTSD. The diagnosis stemmed from a sexual assault experience I'd encountered in recent months; however, I later discovered that my history with trauma began long before my assault.
A few years later, after even more therapy and external processing, I began to realize that my history with trauma began as a child. I didn't have the textbook physical abuse or neglect that most would associate with PTSD, so I continually discredited my childhood experiences, always reminding myself that "it could have been worse" or comparing my story to the horrific things you see on television. However, eventually, I realized that even though my trauma didn't leave me with broken bones or bloody bruises, it was still extremely traumatic and difficult to overcome.
How Trauma Can Lead to Addiction
Like many people who suffer from traumatic experiences, I did not want to accept it. In fact, I did everything in my power to bury it, push it away, and numb it with just about anything I could get my hands on. In high school, I used sex and alcohol to cope with my pain, and as an adult, I primarily used sex, pornography, and sometimes food.
Trauma does not always lead to addiction, however. For some, they seek out healthier coping skills, go to therapy promptly following their trauma, or turn to other solid support systems in their community. Sadly that just wasn't the case for me. As a teen and young adult I was consistently fighting with my inner demons, but I never properly vocalized that to anyone. I always felt like I had things under control and that it was easier to handle it myself than to get anyone else involved.
So, after coping with my trauma unhealthily for nearly 10 years, eventually, life caught up with me and no matter how hard I tried nothing could numb my pain completely anymore. I was beginning to visibly crumble after years of just barely hanging on.
Sobriety Saved My Life
I've actively been in therapy for about three years now and I've spent just about every bit of those three years processing my trauma, understanding my addictions, and slowly learning how to live again.
Eventually, I began to understand that how I was living before wasn't really living at all. I was barely alive, in constant pain, and inevitably searching for my next high. Thankfully I found my way back to safety before I began using any hard substances, but I'm confident that if I would have continued on that same path, I would have certainly fallen into that life.
One of the scariest things about living with PTSD that hasn't been fully accepted or processed is that eventually, you run out of things to numb yourself with. You can try everything in the world, but, eventually, you will have to face the music. You can only run away from trauma for so many years before it catches up to you.
Once in recovery from my addictions, I was forced to look in the mirror and take a serious inventory of my life. Spotting my unhealthy coping mechanisms and acknowledging my poor decisions slowly allowed me to uncover the root of my pain and suffering.
I'm still in this valley of misfortune, wading through the madness of my past I ignored for so many years. Most days are difficult. I've experienced pain that I wouldn't wish on anyone. However, I still believe that facing my trauma is worth it. I know that one day I will be able to look back at these painful and cathartic moments completely confident that I made the right decision to push through.
If you or someone you know is going through hell, keep going. Keep pushing onward and fighting for a better life. Living with PTSD can be painful, but it's much more damaging to live in denial. Get sober, find a good therapist, and face the music. Your future self will thank you.
What is your experience with trauma and addiction? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Richardson, A. (2020, March 5). Addiction and Trauma: Why Sobriety Is Saving My Life, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/debunkingaddiction/2020/3/addiction-and-trauma-why-sobriety-is-saving-my-life