“Why do I need to talk about my trauma?”
“I don’t even think about it.”
“The past is the past, no need to bring it up. It just makes me depressed.”
“I’m focusing on the future, not the past.”
In treating clients with trauma, I’ve heard all of these statements. I understand their hesitancy, but how are we supposed to move forward if we don’t address the past? Trauma, no matter how big or small, tells us something about ourselves. Based on our experiences, we internalize core negative beliefs that stay with us. Trauma violates our sense of safety (examples: I am not safe. My caregivers do not protect me.); our feelings of responsibility (examples: It was my fault. I should have stopped it.); and/or our self-worth (examples: I don’t matter. I am a bad person.).
These negative core beliefs are often not something we are conscious of. They develop deep down, and over time we start to believe them if we don’t address them. Unaddressed and unresolved, we seek out ways to make ourselves feel better, and many times turn to drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol let us numb the pain of these negative core beliefs, and are often used to self medicate Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Behavioral symptoms of unresolved trauma include agitation, irritability, hostility, hypervigilance, self-destructive behavior, and/or social isolation. Hyperarousal, nightmares, flashbacks, fear, severe anxiety, or mistrust are also common symptoms. Unsurprisingly, behavioral symptoms of PTSD mimic those of an active addict, and individuals with PTSD are often diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression, because of the overlapping symptoms.
Continuing Outpatient Trauma Treatment
Residential treatment is only a month or two. How can we expect to unpack and process years of trauma and many years of negative core beliefs during this short time frame? Well, we can’t. Residential treatment is a great way to start to identify what you’re dealing with. Often times, the more uncomfortable unpacking a traumatic experience is, the more important it is to work on. Trauma work is ongoing, and can oftentimes take years. Sound scary and overwhelming? It can be. But, time is going to pass anyway, and your recovery journey is about YOU. Consistent, ongoing therapy should be part of your relapse prevention and continuing care plan. Bottom line—if you don’t deal with what is causing you to use, you will relapse. Forgetting about traumatic experiences and pushing them down, instead of processing them through treatment, doesn’t work.
Types of Therapy for Treating Trauma
There are different types of trauma therapy, and I encourage you to find out what works for you. EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is my personal favorite. There is also the therapeutic method of Brainspotting, traditional talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Psychology Today is an excellent resource for finding a provider in your area that specializes in trauma and takes your insurance. Or, you can call your insurance to get a list of providers in your area.