african american women looking intently

The Power of Surrender and Addiction

Try something different. Surrender. 

-Rumi-

In the past you’ve been trying to fight your limbic system. You might yell at it or fight it or give in to the thoughts the limbic system triggers. Has it worked? Probably not. There is Power in Surrendering.

How does the Power of Surrender relate to addiction? Addictions often occur in direct correlation to trauma. In the past, you were unable to deal with the feelings you were having so you found a way to numb them. Unfortunately, the “fix” for the problem became a problem in and of itself. Now, through the 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope, you can find both a path for your healing journey and a way to handle your addiction.

Keep in mind that you have the power to choose. When you have a craving you don’t have to give in. You can use the Power of Surrender.

The way to use Surrender in your everyday life is to follow these three steps:

  1. Recognize that when you have a craving or a trigger that it’s the limbic system. (“There IT is.”)
  2. Thank the limbic system for trying to keep you safe. (“IT’s doing IT’s job and trying to help me avoid difficult things.”)
  3. Let it be. Don’t fight the craving or indulge. Instead redirect your mind to something healthy. (“IT does not control me. There are better ways to deal with my trauma.”)

So if you have an upsetting day and your limbic system, in trying to help, tells you that you NEED to have whatever it is you’re addicted to, then follow the above steps. Recognize that it’s the limbic system – that this is NOT coming from you consciously. Thank it for trying to keep you safe. Let the craving be. Find a different way to deal with your bad day. Call a friend, go for a walk, drink a glass of cold water. Find a new way.

This way you’re not fighting against your limbic system, you’re not fighting against the cravings or triggers, you’re simply recognizing them, allowing yourself to realize that they have no power over you, and letting them be.

Cravings and triggers may never go away completely, but you can learn to recognize them for what they are and let them be.

 

Girl acknowledging her addiction to a counselor

Gaining Power Over Addiction Through Acknowledgement

“Acknowledging you have areas to work on is not an admission of failure; it is an admission that you have more potential.”

-Carrie Cheadle-

Acknowledgement is learning to speak, and accept, your truth. For some, this is the hardest step in the healing journey, it may be something you need to do in small increments, but it’s important to work toward. Both trauma and addiction can lead to shame, and isolating yourself from others because of it. This blog is specific to addiction, but Acknowledgement can be applied in a much broader way to your healing journey.

It’s common for those with unresolved trauma to struggle with addiction or other self-defeating behaviors. That’s understandable since that’s the limbic system’s, the unconscious part of the brain, attempt at helping you survive. You don’t need to be angry with yourself, beat yourself up, or wallow in sadness because of this. Instead, Acknowledge It, realize that these addictive behaviors have not been working and its time to focus your energy on learning to do something that will work.

One way to practice Acknowledgement is by sharing your story with a trusted individual. This can be a friend, a family member, or a licensed therapist. This doesn’t mean you have to share details about your trauma, this simply means that you allow yourself to vocalize your truth. Perhaps the first time you talk about it you just say the words, “I have a problem with addiction because of things that happened in my past.”

Only speak the truth that you are ready to share. This can feel overwhelming, but will benefit you so profoundly that you’ll be grateful for someone to confide in. You may feel a sense of shame. This may be a secret that you’ve been keeping for a long time.

If saying it aloud is too much right now, take a step in the right direction by writing it down. Even writing your truth can help you Acknowledge it. This can apply to your trauma OR your addiction, whatever you’re ready to Acknowledge right now.

One problem with addiction is that it’s never satisfied. It’s insatiable. It will always require that you give it more and more. Acknowledge that truth. Denial is a common reaction to addiction and unresolved trauma, but it won’t help you find healing. Before you can change and heal, you need to Acknowledge the problem. Maybe the first step for you is saying it aloud to yourself, “I am using this addiction as a way to deal with my trauma. There are better ways to help myself. I need to find those ways.”

Acknowledgement is not a one-time thing. There are layers and layers to every trauma and addiction story. You don’t have to Acknowledge everything all at once. Allow yourself to heal one layer at a time as you move forward.

This is just one step on the path of your healing journey, but it’s an important one. Don’t allow your addiction or trauma to isolate you from the world. Speak your truth. Find at least one person you trust. Recognize the work that you need to do. You CAN heal and you CAN overcome your addiction by finding better ways to deal with your trauma.

black and white image of Stephanie smiling

Truth Will Set You Free

Truth really does set us free.

-Stephanie, Survivor-

“Before walking through the doors of the beautiful Haven Retreat I was running very short on hope and felt I would have to live with so much hurt and disappointment. I wasn’t sure how to find myself worthy. I felt so disconnected with my body and relationships because I really have no support system.

I instantly bonded with my new sisterhood like no other women in my life, because they know, and they have been there. The staff genuinely cares for each of you and not a detail was missed. Going through the classes and exercises showed me I am normal and helped me validate a lot of my feelings and thoughts. It was a very healing experience that pushed me to seek further help, to utilize the amazing tools, but most of all, grow confidence to practice self care.

Truth really does set us free, and if our wings are clipped, then how shall we fly? I could never express enough gratitude to the Maxfields and all those involved, but I can help others reclaim their hope.”

-Stephanie, Survivor

 

two women wearing jackets and sitting on a wall looking at a forest

Addiction and Living in the Present

Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.

-Eckhart Tolle-

Awareness, one of the Five Strategies to Reclaim Hope, means being grounded in the present moment. So what does that mean to a trauma survivor with an addiction?

There are two types of pain in recovery work – the pain of self-mastery or the pain of regret. You have to choose, moment by moment and day by day, which pain you want to experience. It’s as simple and as hard as that. The pain of regret, like when you’ve relapsed into your addictive behaviors, is uncomfortable and debilitating. It’s reactionary. The pain of self-mastery, in contrast, is a refining and advancing type of pain. It’s proactive. It’s the type of pain, like sore muscles, that leads to greater strength.

Awareness can help you choose the right type of pain. If you are grounded in the present moment, not depressed about the past or anxious about the future, you can make the choice more easily to choose self-mastery.

Slowing down is an important part of Awareness. If you get too caught up in rushing around from one thing to the next, how can you enjoy the present? Life will be exhausting if you’re always moving with no destination in sight. With Awareness, you can focus on one step in front of the other to reach the goal that you’re seeking – freedom from addiction.

How can you use Awareness in your everyday life?

When you feel yourself wanting the thing that you’re addicted to, be it food, drugs, alcohol, etc., stop and recognize the emotions behind it. Take a few centering breaths to fully ground yourself in the now. Realize that you have a choice to make. You may not always make the right choice, but after becoming centered firmly in the moment it will become easier and easier.

Many trauma survivors turn to their particular addiction to dull the suffering they feel. They use it to resist or try to change their reality. Suffering can’t be dismissed or ignored. It’s real and it’s difficult. But, generally speaking, they’re treating their symptoms and not the root cause – the trauma they experienced as a child. Running from the past or hiding from the future will not help.

Instead, become fully grounded in the present moment, seek a therapist that you trust, and give yourself the choice, moment by moment and day by day, which pain you want to experience. The pain of growth or the pain of regret?

Black and white image of Rebecca smiling

It’s Not Just Changing Lives, but Saving Them

“She wasn’t just changing lives, but that she was saving them.”

– Rebecca, Survivor-

“I attended the retreat in April, and my goodness was I blessed. My heart went from truly closed off and cold to open and accepting. I gained so much from the staff, the sisters I made, and from the information I received.

Not one day has gone by that I haven’t thought about how those four days in April changed my future. My children and husband have a mom and wife who sees her worth and is now dedicating everyday to finding ways to help others.

When receiving my necklace from Shelaine on the last day of the retreat I remember the moment I was able to tell her that she wasn’t just changing lives but that she was saving them. This foundation is saving so many lives. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

-Rebecca, Survivor

African American women in a hoodie sitting in a field

The Relationship Between Addiction and Trauma

Tough times never last, but tough people do.

-Robert H. Schuller-

For many survivors of childhood sexual abuse, the way that they cope with their overactive limbic system, pleasure seeking part of the brain, is through unhealthy behaviors that often lead to addiction. In order to silence the triggers, the traumatic memories, and the panic of living in a body that has been traumatized, some survivors turn to things like alcohol, drugs, or food as a way to self-medicate.

Those with addiction issues will tell you that a part of them wants to stop the behavior, but another part of them doesn’t and even seems to drive them back to the behavior again and again. This is because of how the brain works.

When something feels good or enjoyable to the limbic system, dopamine is released. As noted in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, “Certain activities can release up to 10 times the amount of dopamine than natural rewards do, and they do it more quickly and more reliably. Our brains do not have an easy way to withstand the onslaught.”

Addictions are most prevalent when someone is experiencing any part of BLASTT because that is when the limbic system, or pleasure seeking part of our brain, is most active. BLASTT is an acronym that stands for:

Bored

Lonely

Angry

Stressed

Tired

Trauma Trigger

When any of these are occurring, instead of dealing with the core issue – the unresolved trauma experienced as a child – the addiction is used to cope, then becoming an issue of its own.

One survivor, we’ll call her Lisa, was addicted to food as a way to self-soothe. When emotions of any kind crept in, she would go to the cupboard for food, usually something sugary and sweet. The food helped her block out unwanted feelings, emotions, thoughts, and memories. One night as she looked in the mirror, she felt disgusted by her reflection. She felt overweight and out of shape. One voice in her mind berated her looks, but another one (the limbic system) told her to go and get a candy bar, that it would make her feel better.

It was the first time she’d realized the full impact her limbic system was having on her everyday life. She knew she needed help, both for her trauma and for the addiction she’d turned to in order to cope with her trauma.

Dr. Lisa Najavits said, “All major research indicates that when people are given the tools to cope with trauma and addiction, they improve, often in quite short time-frames.”

The 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope are each beneficial to helping you heal from your trauma as well as combat your addictions.