Addiction reaches every aspect of a person’s life – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It affects family, friends, neighbors, co-workers. No one is left untouched by this disease. Vertava Health’ focus in the month of May, turns to a four-part series with an esteemed author and colleague, Dr. Jason Brooks, who will share insight on trauma and addiction.
Recognized as one of the most prominent emerging voices in personal and organizational transformation, Dr. Jason Brooks is also likely to be one of the most authentic, transparent and “real”. Viewed by many as the “youth pastor of personal growth and success”, his life mission of “bringing hope, healing, and inspiration to everyone he meets and leading on the journey for change, growth, and success” provides the foundation and focus where his purpose and passion are fully unleashed.
As a bestselling author, inspirational speaker, and Chief People Officer of Vertava Health, Dr. Jason brings a heart for helping others to achieve their greatest potential and success…one step at a time.
Healing through Trauma…One Person’s Story
Life is rarely easy. Unfortunately, all too many of us, at some point in our lives, will go through an experience or season where we experience physical, emotional, faith, or relationship issues that are so severe they scar us deeply. Sometimes those scars are so painful that folks turn to other painful ways to just cope…and coping can come in many forms.
During my years as a clinician, I had the opportunity to work with many folks who were struggling with a variety of current issues that were deeply rooted in a past trauma. The following is a story of Grace, a mother, wife, co-worker, volunteer, daughter, and friend who was struggling with prescription pain medicine addiction who came to realize that her addiction was a way she found to cope with the pain of sexual abuse she experienced as a child. Years and years went by as she was constantly plagued by nightmares, difficulty connecting with others, and pervasive feelings of guilt and shame that she tried to numb through drugs. The pain of the past, while very real and traumatic, does not need to define your future. But, as Grace found out through our time together, it’s not always easy to take the steps needed for freedom.
“It’s great to see you again this week Grace. How have things been going for you?” I asked.
“Well, overall good I guess. I’m still staying clean and it’s now been two months since I finished my inpatient program.”
“That’s incredible Grace!!” I said. “During our last conversation, we had a breakthrough where you talked about something you had buried deep down inside for many, many years. We’ve been exploring the pain of your past, particularly the sexual abuse you experienced. I’d like to go back to that and explore a little more about how that traumatic experience of being a victim to that man has continued to victimize you. Please understand, I know this is incredibly difficult, but I also know that you have been working hard over the last several months to develop personal strength and self-awareness, so I think you’re ready for this conversation. What do you think?”
“I agree, Dr. Jason,” Grace said. “I think it’s time to finally confront the trauma and create a new path.”
“Wonderful, Grace. So, let’s start by talking about how the trauma impacted you and your sense of self.”
Grace started. “Well, when I think of how I felt for most of my life, it’s basically shame and guilt…like I was broken. I couldn’t love myself and I couldn’t imagine how anyone could love me. I love my husband, but if I’m honest, I’ve never really felt ‘safe’ with him. I knew the ‘right thing’ to do was to get married and to have a family. But in some ways I felt like I was living a lie because I felt disconnected emotionally and physically from my husband. I’ve always struggled with having relationships, particularly with men. And to mask the pain, I turned to a variety of things that I thought would make me feel better. In my teens I cut. Seeing the blood flowing down my arms and legs gave me a sense of emotional release from the pain. Then, when I got older, I turned to alcohol and drugs to numb myself…physically and emotionally. In some ways, I knew it wasn’t right, but it was like I couldn’t help myself. The shame, guilt and brokenness was too great. I just didn’t want to face the pain…I didn’t want to feel. So, the dark tunnel began.”
I could feel the pain with Grace as she shared about the trauma of her past and how it devastated her life in many ways through the years. With a heavy, yet hopeful heart, I began. “Grace, thanks so much for your openness to share how this painful experience had such a devastating impact on your life and relationships. I can only imagine the burden you’ve carried all these years and I’m so proud that you’re bringing the strength today to face this trauma head on and taking the steps to create a new life for yourself.”
“Often on the of the greatest challenges for folks who experienced trauma and have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms through the years to deal with the emotional pain of the event is to replace the unhealthy coping with healthy alternatives when triggered or reminded of some way of the traumatic experience. It’s not enough to say ‘just stop cutting yourself or stop drinking or stop taking drugs.’ For many folks, this is a way they found to deal with the trauma…unhealthy as it may be. What needs to happen is to replace the unhealthy coping behavior with more healthy alternatives.”
“I know exactly what you’re saying, Dr. Jason,” Grace jumped in. “We talked about this when I was in treatment. The therapists helped me to see that when I saw a woman in a sexually compromising situation or when a man asserted power over a woman in general, it would trigger feelings of shame and guilt in me. I didn’t know where the feeling came from at the time, but all I knew was that it was so overwhelming that the only relief I could find was through drugs and alcohol.”
“So,” I started, “what differences are you making now as a result of understanding the power of behaviors related to triggers that have helped you to take a different path?”
“Well, first off,” Grace began, “because I’m now more aware of myself, I am able to recognize the triggers and when I’m feeling triggered. This takes me from being reactive to responding to the situation. That’s been a huge change for me.”
“Next, when I am triggered, instead of reaching for the bottle of pills, I pick up this cross that’s on my keychain and hold it tight in my hand and repeat the verse from Philippians 4:13 ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.’ I’ll repeat it over and over again, out loud is best, until the feelings subside. I’ve become a firm believer in the power of words in my life and the power of speaking truth into any situation. I know that Jesus will give me the power to overcome any situation, but I need to be reminded sometimes.”
“That’s awesome, Grace. So, what I’m hearing is that you’re now better able to recognize when the traumatic memories are coming up and instead of another harmful approach to mitigating the feelings, you’re able to turn them to positive by focusing on a new source of strength in your life…breaking down the pain, shame, and guilt associated with the sexual abuse.”
“Right. It’s not been easy. But I know that ‘just stopping’ the drugs that I had used to cope with the trauma for so long would not have been enough. I had to replace it with something else.”
“That’s so true, Grace. It’s not just enough to stop. That just creates a void in our lives. Instead, we need to fill that void with something positive that can help us deal in a healthy way with the pain of the trauma we’re working through. It will take time to heal, but healing can come. But, that’s a discussion for next time…”
“I look forward to it, Dr. Jason.”
Dr. Jason is an expert in leading life change. As a gifted speaker and life success coach, he is available to speak at your next conference event and would love to connect with you on social media on Facebook or Twitter Dr. Jason can be contacted through the public relations team at Vertava Health.