Surviving … and thriving after trauma and addiction
I don’t claim to be an addiction therapist. Rather, I work with trauma – and the emotions – that underlie addiction. Knowing that I work gently with core issues, a colleague in recovery mentoring gave Amanda my details.
In addiction counselling, Amanda had done a fair amount of soul searching. She described finding clarity about “how life life works” in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. But … after all the work she’d done, there were still times when depression and anxiety stopped her in her tracks.
At times when things are changing and different personal challenges come up for further attention, then it’s time to go a little deeper. This was a time like that for Amanda.
This also touches a point about counselling, therapy and coaching – which is that it can take time. Like climbing a hill, when you are making your way through difficult terrritory, it is sometimes necessary to find a place to rest and restore inner balance. And when you find that place of comparative peace, it’s often good to stop for a breather. Then you can look over the landscape of where you’ve arrived, before moving on. Amanda was a heavy drug and alcohol user from her early 20’s. When she came to see me, she’d been ‘clean’ for eight years. Determined to stay clean, she still experienced anxiety and depression. Losing touch with her teenage daughter was particularly painful. Also, her finances were precarious, as she was studying full time in order to take control of her situation more quickly.
At this stage in her life, Amanda was proud that she had moved beyond survival mode in spite of her anxiety and depression. But common to those who’ve experienced early distress, her system was on constant high alert. This led to a range of physical and emotional issues which contributed to her feeling low – including panic attacks, IBS and intrusive thoughts. Using EFT – Emotional Freedom Techniques – we focused on how tough and frustrating things were. Quite soon things began to shift and underlying issues surfaced.
EFT helps to ease the problems underlying your problems …
Amanda understood that growing up in a ‘toxic environment’ had affected her ability to deal with life’s challenges. At home and school she’d been both bullied and neglected. As frequent family crises made home life unstable, her needs were overlooked. Being bullied at school contributed to anxiety and chronic low grade depression.
Although she had been ‘over-controlled’ as a child, when she started to go off the rails in her teens no one close to home seemed to notice. Because so many of her choices had been made for her, she found it difficult to know what she wanted or what felt right. When it came time for her to set out on her own, many of her choices were reactive and even self-harming.
When addressing trauma, you don’t have to dig up the pain …
In our work together, Amanda didn’t want to rehash disturbing memories. Of course, it is not always helpful to bring troubling past events, real or imagined, into consciousness – with the possibility of reactivating distress.
To address the most difficult matters, we worked with the EFT Tearless Trauma technique. This way, a traumatic event or time frame can be addressed indirectly with great care. My aim was to support Amanda in getting relief from anxiety and feelings of shame and guilt. It seemed the most helpful result would be for her to find a place of rest before moving on.
Using the the EFT Tearless Trauma reduced the emotional intensity of Amanda’s thoughts. And as the subject of losing contact with her daughter came to the surface , we continued using EFT and deep relaxation for easing her distress. Her conclusion was that some things are just tough … and that is so.
At the end of our work, Amanda found a new understanding of her sense of loss and sadness. She accepted that her child would make her own choices about whether to be in contact. Although painful, Amanda felt it was appropriate to acknowledge her deep sadness. And through the pain, she held her intention to move on with her life.
Assessing our time together, she admitted she’d been skeptical about further therapy. In earlier mental health assessments, she felt she’d been ‘talked down to’ – as the one with the problem. She said it was important that we’d worked together as equals.
Over 6 months, Amanda gained in confidence and self esteem. She learned a set of techniques to alert her when she might be most at risk of anxiety and depression. Her physical symptoms diminished and she now had tools for navigating around depression. Leaving therapy, her conviction that she could make the right choices for her was solid … and she set off with her head held high.