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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Heal the Disease of the Soul: Break Free from Addiction and Trauma

by Riesa Minakan

Freedom from addiction and trauma—this concept is so complicated, yet so simple. Addiction is more than dependence on alcohol and drugs. We can be enslaved by money, appearance, work, relationships and more. People can focus on or use many things to distract them and allow them to deny what’s going on inside themselves. That’s right—the journey is within. 

It’s been stated that addiction is a “disease of the soul.” It’s the symptom of the real problem, which can be underlying mental illness or trauma; both usually exist together. A person struggling with addiction usually has experienced some type of trauma, which results in a desperate need to break from reality, to not feel. Unfortunately, we are sentient beings and cannot run from our feelings. No matter what we do to escape, when a relationship ends or the drug wears off, we are left with ourselves. Buddha defined hell as being in a place where you don’t want to be. So, to have that feeling in your head is complete hell because you can never escape from yourself. The challenge is experiencing the trauma and feeling the pain and, at the end, finding freedom. It is a sacred experience to see people walk through this process and set themselves free. You too can have hope, and you can free yourself from addictions and heal from your trauma.

The first step in finding this freedom is to stop the behavior. This may require inpatient treatment. Don’t worry—many of today’s rehabs are like spas, as they should be. The point of quitting your addiction should be to bring back freedom and joy, and your recovery process should reflect that. Rehabs are no longer punitive, miserable places. They are evolving as we learn more about addiction as a physiological problem as well as psychological. Your brain is altered when you use substances, and those chemistry changes make it even harder to quit. Substance abuse creates neural pathways in the brain that tell you that you only feel good when you are using. So, you are fighting two battles, psychological as well as physical.  

Medication might help stem the craving and urges or decrease the depression and anxiety that has drawn the user to the behavior. For some reason, people seem more reluctant to try prescribed medications to deal with their symptoms than they were of taking the drugs they got off the street. Prescription drugs could help ease rehabilitation patients through the early stages of recovery, which are difficult physically and psychologically. Once in treatment, patients and their doctors can flesh out whether there is an underlying mental health issue and trauma that needs to be addressed.

The next part of treatment is working through the emotions and mental health issues that drive a person to use. Treatment often involves multiple modalities. One is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which examines thought patterns and reframes them into more accurate, positive ways of thinking.  Humans tend to think negative thoughts, even though they are unexamined and not reality-tested. People may tell themselves they are unlovable, defective, can’t trust others, and more. But if you examine these beliefs, you can see they’re illogical. If you wouldn’t say them to your child, don’t say them to yourself.  

Another treatment modality is dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). This is often used with substance abuse patients to cope with the negatively thinking mind. It targets four areas: distress tolerance, emotional regulation, mindfulness and interpersonal effectiveness. In treatment, patients learn ways to self-soothe, self-validate, meditate and communicate effectively. As the patient grows and moves away from addiction and trauma, they learn how to deal with their intense emotions, to be heard, to calm themselves and become more present in their life. Basically, it’s the opposite of addiction behavior. It can be very powerful learning how to be in your reality and accept it.

Another modality is EMDR (eye movement desensitizing reprocessing). This treatment is evidence-based to work with trauma. EMDR desensitizes past trauma through a series of eye movements that lower the brain’s defenses, storing memories of the trauma in a part of the brain that is informational, not emotional. This treatment has shown an 80 percent effectiveness when used on veterans with symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Currently, practitioners are using this more commonly for traumas that are comparatively smaller, however still significantly impact the client. 

In addition, there are alternate therapies that are excellent in conjunction with more traditional treatment. Self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Refuge Recovery, Smart Recovery and others can support continuing mental wellness. Individuals may be resistant to connect with others; however, it is critical to do so because addiction is thought to be due to a lack of connection. Connecting with people is a key to remaining free from addiction and recovering from trauma.  

Also, don’t forget yoga, Reiki, meditation, nature therapy and pet therapy. Studies have shown these alternative treatments can help anyone increase their mood and overall health. Once an addict has given up their main coping skill (using alcohol and drugs), they must find something else to put in its place. That’s very important in changing any habit—you need to find something else to replace it. Anyone who wants to sustain a healthy mind and spirit must find new tools. Just as we exercise our bodies, we need to occupy our minds. Exercise, reading positive thoughts, praying and helping others should also be part of our lives; these activities improve mood.

Finally, family members need to understand the nature of addiction and trauma, that their loved one is sick physically and mentally and needs compassion. They need to help their loved one believe that it is never too late and that they are never stuck. Never give up hope; there is always a way to recovery.  

Riesa Minakan is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in Ridgefield. She also publishes a weekly blog and is producing a YouTube channel. Minakan has 15 years of experience with addiction and trauma, and she can be seen locally on channel 23 or live on Facebook’s community forum. She can be contacted through her website at RMRidgefieldTherapy.com   


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