Marcia, Marcia, Marcia (Or, Trauma, Trauma, Trauma)

jan from the brady bunch

Yea, that’s how I felt when the addiction research industry started – and continued – to talk about trauma. 

(Now that I think about it, The Brady Bunch is a good reference for this blog post. Those kids were YOUNG when their respective parents died. They had an understood “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule about talking about their grief and confusion regarding their grief, abandonment, anger, and resentment about blending families. They were gaslighted by the seeming functionality of their lives; the upper middle class setting, spacious house – without enough rooms for individual bedrooms until Marsha and Greg fought over the attic – the money for a live in Nanny who had a potentially dysfunctional relationship with the butcher…but I digress.)

the brady bunch

So, trauma. I am not really making light of it. I want you to keep reading. You, the one who is in long-term recovery in a 12-Step setting and relies on AA/NA literature. You, the professional who wonders why you can’t stop drinking even though you sincerely want to. You, the family  member of a person who has a problematic relationship with substances and a history that is also problematic and you wonder “do they use to forget?”

About 30(ish) years ago, the addiction research folx began gathering valid research that indicated trauma and the development of a substance use disorder (SUD) was correlated. The TL/DR summary:

Trauma changes your brain and makes it more likely you’ll have a problem with substances

For a more nuanced and detailed version:

  1. When a person participates in, witnesses, experiences something negative out of the expected course of events, their brain (and then body) reacts.
  2. The reaction happens in the chemicals of the brain.
  3. The chemicals of the brain then create a circuitry that becomes – to a lesser or greater degree – hardwired.
  4. This process changes that human from who/what they would have been to a different person.
  5. This can do several things. It can trigger predisposing factors that lead to a problem with substance abuse. I have talked about them in this post about Why You Can’t Think Your Way Into Not Drinking,  and Age of First Use, What the Hell Does THAT Mean.
    1. What that means is that the trauma can trigger the genetic predisposition to “turn on.”
    2. What that means is that the trauma can trigger the predisposition to anxiety or depression (also a trigger for SUD) to turn on.
  6. The earlier and/or more severe the trauma, the more impact it may have and the greater likelihood of problematic outcomes. 

My reaction when the addiction industry began the “trauma, trauma, trauma” litany was not very patient, informed, or clinical. I had a decade and a half of 12-Step recovery running through my head. And while I knew that persons with an alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder were more nuanced than “self-centered” or “self-will run riot,” *I didn’t think there was a direct line between trauma and the development of an SUD. 

Until I saw how, if not treated along with the SUD, unresolved trauma stalled progress, was underneath many relapse patterns, and burdened many clients who needed to heal holistically.

Trauma changes you. To start treating your trauma:

  1. Take its impact seriously.
  2. Try to get in your body/out of your head when possible by doing something sensory such as walking, taking a bath, yoga.
  3. Learn about the impact of trauma.
  4. Build an excellent self-care plan.
  5. Find well selected resources for the type/kind of trauma you experienced.
  6. Find a trauma-informed mental health provider.

As I was finishing this blog post, it occurred to me that we are still experiencing a collective, cumulative trauma. Therapists, Counselors, and other mental health providers are booked often for weeks or months. No matter what your political perspective, the division and hostility of the last 6 years paired with the 2.5 years of pandemic related events has created a fatigue and depletion we were not prepared for. That is sufficient reason to be depleted. If you’ve had significant personal events in this time frame as well (and most of us have), please be mindful that you may need to be intentional about your care for yourself (first) and others (second). I wrote about that here.  And I wrote a brief post about grief here. 

*these are AA references from early AA literature and still referenced and used functionally “in the rooms” today

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