Trauma and Addiction, Part 2: Managing Anxiety and Cravings
Hopefully you’ve read on these pages the importance of seeking substance abuse treatment at a licensed, certified residential treatment center in order to overcome the challenge of addiction related to trauma. Learning ways to manage urges will give you a feeling that you really own your recovery.
Be Honest. If you’ve been medicated for trauma with pain pills or benzodiazepines, tell your therapist just what you’ve had and how much—including alcohol. Your therapist might ask your doctor to put you on a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, incorporate a physical therapy regimen into your routine, or have you visit a pain clinic. Your doctor and your counselor need to know everything that you’ve experienced and everything that you’re taking.
Treat Yourself Well. Many people are hard on themselves, often because their loved ones have been impatient with them, they have lost their jobs, or perhaps they’ve had a run-in with the court. If any of those things have happened to you, it’s important to hold yourself accountable, but on the same hand work on being nice to yourself. Eat regular meals and drink plenty of fluids. Get all the sleep you need. If you’re at a rehab facility that offers massage or other personal treatments, sign up for them as much as possible, because they really help.
Work on Fighting Your Urges. You’ll learn simple ways to delay and distract yourself from using when you leave the protection of the residential treatment center. One of our clients told us about the evening when she got so angry with her daughter, she actually put on her coat and left to go buy some wine. Then she stood in the driveway and thought long and hard about the sober time she was throwing away, and she went back into the house. When you have the urge to use, it will usually recede in about 15 minutes, so allow yourself that time. While you wait for it to pass, distract yourself by checking your email, watching a TV show, or calling a friend—preferably your sponsor. You’ll find at the end of that quarter hour you are in much better control over your desire to use. You can also sit down and take deep breaths, three seconds in and three seconds out, for five minutes. Keep a diary of your urges so you can begin to identify a pattern between the way you feel and the urge to use.
Alcohol and Drugs Don’t Help. As you work on ways to deal with your trauma, remember that using alcohol and drugs interfere with the brain’s natural mechanisms for working through problems. Many people report increased episodes of flashbacks or nightmares when they first become sober. That’s because the brain is thinking clearly, finally, and it’s telling you that this trauma must be dealt with.
Let Your Brain Do Its Work. Don’t try to block the flashbacks and bad thoughts about the trauma. Remember, your brain is doing its job. Try not to categorize your thoughts as either good or bad; simply recognize that they are memories of the trauma. Remind yourself that you are not actually experiencing the trauma and the thoughts cannot hurt you. Do share your experiences with a friend or with your substance abuse counselor.
Every Day Brings Accomplishment. At the end of each day, think about the things you’ve done. If you’ve paid a bill or cleaned the kitchen, congratulate yourself. For some people, it might be the thought of getting a project underway or concluding one on the job. If you had a pleasant conversation with someone, remember those minutes and enjoy them once again. Write down how you’re feeling. If you had a bad day, ask yourself what you could have done to improve it. Take it one day at a time—and, remember, easy does it!