Journey to a Meaningful Life

Maté (2018) identifies the word addiction reflects actions used to escape both psychological, physical, and emotional pain. Chandler (2018) and Rassool (2011) define alcohol addiction as not having control over its use to a point where it becomes harmful to the user, others in the family, relationships and extending outwards to society.

“You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

The person who first uttered this American saying is lost to history. The fact that it is so well-known is a good indication of the importance of empathy in living a meaningful life.  Any discussion on humanity will, at some point, deal with the importance of truly empathizing with others to understand their experience and this might be because of shared experiences. To be able to have a true empathic understanding (put yourself in someone’s shoes)  You must have a level of experience at the same time not making it about yourself. So, it is with developmental trauma and its impacts of addiction such as disassociations of the working memory (Daily, 2016).  The writings of Van Der Kolk, Maté, Chandler and Rassools offer significant learnings about the connection of addiction to trauma, not only psychological scars but the physical ones as well.

The behaviour itself is not the problem, although there exist people who are alcohol adverse.  The reason a person drinks is often the underlying issue where those who mask or hide psychological pain are more prone to addiction (Maté 2019, Van der Kolk, 2014). This might be related to issues involving facing shame (Spring, 2019) and to past trauma were used to cope with emotional regulation masking deep-rooted pain and unresolved conflict (Gross, 2014). Alcohol misuse can be a contributing factor of death including suicide, bodily malfunction, or accidents such as drowning.

Trauma and addictionhave an undeniable link, and this particularly applies when we look to specific traumatic events or childhood trauma within the family. Resulting  addiction may mask unhealed mental and emotional suffering. Trauma is connected to countless mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can stem from unresolved trauma conflict. When a person has experienced a traumatic event or grown up with trauma, they have lived with prolonged periods where the brain chemistry is altered and becomes more likely to struggle with mental health conditions leading to addiction.

In the formative years witnessing dysfunctional family behaviours, separations or other adverse childhood experiences a child experiences important biological changes. Studies have shown marked differences in neurotransmitter systems occur within just a week of separation from the mother has taken place. Early trauma in children living within a hostile environment can stem from domestic violence, child sexual abuse, psychological-emotional, financial, or sexual coercion have lasting effects on the adult life and the manner they respond to stress that can result in addictive or obsessive-compulsive behaviours. Trauma experienced during early developmental stages alter the physical stress mechanisms and as a result, the scars and adaptive behaviours can carry over to adult life.

Trauma conveys the emotional experience of a highly stressful and shocking event. While traumatic events are incredibly stressful and shocking,  Trauma is established when a person’s ability to cope becomes compromised. This occurs in response to events that are perceived as life- or body-threatening, or after witnessing someone else’s life be threatened or taken violently or shockingly. When the ability to cope becomes compromised the suffer will often seek alternative ways with coping with unwanted feelings to bring about temporary escape alcohol being so freely available becomes an easy choice. As Maté (2018) recognizes, “We keep trying to change people’s behaviours without a full understanding of how and why those behaviours arise.”

Psychological trauma is based on an individual’s subjective experience of an event, and to what extent they believe their life, bodily integrity, or psychological well-being was threatened. People who experience trauma may react with intense fear, horror, numbness, or helplessness. This can vary, from a mild reaction with only minimal interruptions in one’s daily life to reactions that are more severe and debilitating.

The benefits of recovery are many including physical, psychological, and financial. When in the depth of addiction sobriety will seem a million miles away. By taking the first brave steps the possible reduction benefits can be felt within days. By not drinking or accepting moderation measures life improves and the rewards are felt.

Alcohol is not a healthy substance for bodily wellbeing. Chronic and binge drinking is dangerous. When engaging in excessive drinking the body is forced into working overtime to process the flow of alcohol. The liver goes into overdrive in the role of metabolism, the brain struggles to recalibrate itself, extra pressure is placed on the heart and lungs as they pump at irregular speeds. This is not how the body is designed to function.

From the mental health, perspective drinking vast amounts is never a good thing. Initially, it can relieve stress but always in excess leads to the moral hangover and feelings of regret, shame, and guilt. Over time these are the issues that take a toll on mental health as the abuser finds themselves in the cycle of guilt, discomfort, shame, and remorse.

The amount of time it takes to begin to feel better varies from person to person. Alcohol does not remain in the body very long. Drinking has emotional side effects and withdrawing from alcohol will not help with the emotional disorders and this is where professional help is important to rebuild stability in life.

It is essential not to leave a void were the addiction once was. Before committing my life to mental health and counselling I struggled with alcohol misuse. My ID was compensating for other problems stemming from developmental trauma issues and learning differences. In recovery, it has been my experience that you are building a new life that requires new skills connections and something to fill the void something to take the mind away from what once was.  I found this in positive relationships and focusing on a newly found passion for mental health and counselling.

Addiction has no social or economic boundaries it can affect anyone. It is never helpful to use alcohol as a coping mechanism. It can impact upon relationships and can lead to a loss in so many ways.  Sometimes change only starts at rock bottom and the climb back is steep, with frustrations to be conquered along the way. But we need appropriate evidence-based services and trauma-informed treatment to support those struggling with addiction to recover. 

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