Trauma, Loss & Substance Abuse
In today’s world, there’s no one easy way to describe trauma. Yes, it is used to describe emotionally painful experiences and situations. But it encompasses much more – from terrifying events such as physical violence and abuse to subtler forms, such as discrimination and poverty, which can also have a profound and continuing impact on one’s life.
Emotional reactions to trauma can vary greatly and may include anger, fear, sadness, and shame. However, individuals may encounter difficulty in identifying any of these feelings for various reasons. Some trauma survivors turn to self-medication—namely, substance abuse—in an attempt to regain emotional control, although ultimately it causes even further emotional distress.
Others often engage in high-risk or self-injurious behaviors, disordered eating, compulsive behaviors such as gambling or overworking, and repression or denial of emotions. But interestingly enough, not all behaviors associated with self-regulation are considered negative, as some individuals find creative, healthy, and industrious ways to manage trauma, such as through renewed commitment to physical activity or by creating an organization to support survivors.
Traumatic stress tends to evoke two emotional extremes: feeling either too much (overwhelmed) or too little (numb) emotion.
In treatment, I start by creating a warm and compassionate environment. My goal is to help clients learn to regulate their emotions without the use of substances or other unsafe behavior. You’ll learn new coping skills and how to tolerate distressing emotions. Some clients may benefit from mindfulness practices, cognitive restructuring, and trauma-specific desensitization approaches, such as exposure therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). In addition, exercise and yoga can be very important to trauma recovery.