The scars from a painful past can often feel overwhelming, even in the present. You may tell yourself that you have survived, that things are better now, but you still feel tension, anxiety, and depression thinking about it. You might wonder why you can’t simply “get over it,” and live a normal life, but so much of your mental activity is subsumed with taking you back to a time you felt helpless, afraid, or ashamed.
These are just some of the struggles that characterize a life with post-traumatic stress disorder. Whenever the mind feels caught up in unwanted negative thoughts, it can be easy to want to do whatever it takes to make them go away. You can turn to a wide variety of substances as a way of numbing yourself enough to make being in the world feel bearable.
The only problem with turning to an addictive substance is that it doesn’t work in the long-term. You are only pushing feelings further within you, to come back when the “high” subsides. Here are some ways to engage in real healing from past trauma, rather than self-medicating.
Care for yourself
Traumatic feelings do not mean anything is wrong with you, you are responding normally to very stressful and hard feelings. Addiction is itself a very reasonable response to dealing with things no human being should have to deal with. So the first step in healing is to learn how to treat yourself with compassion.
The things that happened to you are not your fault, and even the mistakes you did make are in the past. There is nothing you can do to change your past, but you can decide to do what is best for you in the present. Meditation, exercise, routines of self-care, or taking time for an enjoyable activity can be important ways to develop habits of learning how to love yourself.
One of the most important ways to both avoid substance abuse and build up your resilience against trauma and stress is social support. Connecting with other people is a very important way to heal. The hormonal “flight or fight” stress of PTSD can be significantly alleviated by being around safe and nurturing people. So do whatever you can to build up a strong social support, whether through peer support groups, civic or religious organizations, or supportives friends and family, or even virtual connections through social media.
Get to the truth
There are a wide variety of therapeutic methods of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, but they are all centered around being able to grapple with the truth of what happened to you, and how it affects you, and then finding ways to be at peace with your present and empowered to live a thriving life. You can try out a variety of therapists or methods to see what works for you, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, peer groups, art therapy, EMDR, and creative writing, among others.
The important thing is that you are able to gradually dig into your past, exploring your thoughts and feelings about the trauma in a safe and comfortable environment. Slowly, you can learn how to relinquish the control it feels like the past has over you, letting go of feelings of guilt, self-blame and mistrust, as well as intrusive thoughts and memories. With new coping mechanisms, you can slowly heal the cause of your pain, and address the ways it has affected your life, your perception of the world, and your relationships. This hard work is part of what it means to be truly free from the pain of unresolved trauma. Self-medicating or repression can offer temporary relief, but facing the pain head-on and treating yourself well is the only way to truly heal from unresolved trauma.