Have you noticed that your body reacts to certain situations before you have a chance to think them through? Before you know it, you’re in an emotional spiral without knowing why, and the only thing you want to do is use. Learn how body-based trauma drives addiction – and how to break the pattern.
Trauma is incredibly common in addicts: if you struggle with addiction, there’s a greater than 50% chance that trauma is part of the reason why. It’s a hidden and often misunderstood part of addiction, and breaking free of it frequently necessitates professional addiction treatment.
Before it’s treated effectively, trauma can cause you to turn to substances to ease your discomfort, fear or pain, without even understanding where those feelings are coming from. And as it turns out, the traumatic experiences that drive you to use aren’t just replayed in your mind – they’re stored in your body, too.
If you’re aiming to recover, healing the roots of trauma in your body is a vital part of the process. Addressing this key aspect of your addiction can help to protect you from relapse by allowing you to permanently release the memories or triggers that drive you to use.
Read on to understand how trauma is stored in your body, as well as how it manifests and how to release it.
What Is Trauma – And How Does It Manifest?
Trauma is a persistent emotional response to a distressing event that overwhelmed your ability to cope, and hasn’t been resolved effectively. It’s not as much defined by the event as it is your response to it – so it could be anything from the experience of being made fun of in elementary school to divorce or even losing your job.
Symptoms of trauma are equally diverse – from nightmares or nausea to emotional outbursts or a numbed-out feeling of disconnection from yourself or others. It can even manifest in ostensibly physically-rooted symptoms such as IBS, exhaustion and chronic pain.
Often, talk therapy and emotional exploration – even exposure therapy – are prescribed to treat trauma. But there’s more to it than meets the eye: it’s every bit as physical as it is psychological.
According to trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk, ‘It has to do with your body being reset to interpret the world as a dangerous place.’ That reset begins in the deepest, most primitive parts of your brain – regions that, according to van der Kolk, no cognitive therapy can access. ‘It’s not something you can talk yourself out of,’ he says.
Let’s explore how trauma is stored in your body – and why.
How – and Why – is Trauma Stored in the Body?
It’s in your best interests to to stay away from the things that endanger you, to ensure your survival. As a rule, all of your instincts – physical, cognitive and emotional – developed with that premise in mind.
Your body is primed to react to dangerous situations because, often, responding quickly is the best way to avoid bodily harm. It responds automatically under threat, whereas thinking takes time.
For that reason, your body has learned to recognise triggers without conscious thought and react as quickly as possible. This is all well and good until your body’s threat detection system is hijacked or disrupted by trauma. Traumatic events haven’t been resolved, so your body thinks you’re still under threat.
In trauma, your body is on high alert, all the time – and it frequently responds strongly to things in your environment that pose no threat to you. Trauma is experienced as if it’s happening right now, repeatedly – because as far as your body is concerned, it is. Your body doesn’t have words to express itself, so it communicates via physical sensations, such as a racing heart, sweating or nausea. Those sensations are your body’s way of trying to protect you – but in reality, they’re keeping you stuck.
Until you get to the root of the sensations you’re experiencing, you’ll keep feeling uncomfortable and compelled to soothe yourself, whether through substances or other means.
How, then, do you work through these physical symptoms – and release them?
How to Release Trauma
Your body holds the key to what is unfinished and needing to heal. By focusing on your physiological responses and allowing them to unfold, you regain the ability to stay balanced in the moment – without needing to turn to substances to quiet uncomfortable emotions.
In order to heal, you need to send your body a signal of safety so that you can effectively release the traumatic experience. You can do this via breathing, movement and touch. Once you learn to release your trauma, you’ll have control again – meaning you’ll be able to regulate your emotions and stay sober with less effort.
A few holistic therapies are recognised as effective in releasing trauma from your body. At the forefront of those therapies are yoga, TRE and EMDR. We’ll talk about how they can help you below.
Yoga promotes healing and prevention of imbalances on a physical, emotional and mental level. In yoga, you’ll learn to focus on and regulate your breath, which is extremely powerful in learning to manage your nervous system.
Trauma Release Exercise (TRE)
Animals release trauma or anxiety by shaking to calm their nervous systems, which allows them to move on without their bodies feeling the need to remember. We as humans don’t do this naturally – instead, we carry our traumas around. By activating the body’s natural shaking reflex, you can and restore balance to your nervous system by releasing tension.
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) can help you move past trauma by processing and releasing memories that are causing you pain. Essentially, you use specific eye movements patterns to move your traumatic memories out of active memory and into long-term storage.
Release Your Trauma at The Cabin Melbourne
The rewards of releasing your body-based trauma are powerful: you’ll likely experience a stronger connection to yourself, giving you the ability to shift deep-seated patterns – and ultimately, leave your addiction behind.
Co-occurring trauma and addiction is a complex disorder that should be treated by a specialised professional.
At the Cabin Melbourne, our expert treatment team has extensive experience in co-treating trauma and addiction. Contact us today to find out how we can help you release your trauma – and start living the unburdened life you were meant to live.