Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-part post series. Start with Part 1 so that you’ll be up to speed on what Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are, how to identify your ACEs, and how they impact your life on all levels.
There’s no doubt about it: Childhood trauma leaves a uniquely painful impact on our lives. Thanks to the study of psychosocial development in early childhood, we know that early life trauma impedes our development in very specific ways.
However, we also know this: Everyone has trauma of some kind. No one makes it through this world unscathed. And from the perspective of Spiritual Psychology, we also know that it’s possible to see all the events of our lives – even the most painful ones – as part of our growth and development, not separate from it!
For example, The Principles of Spiritual Psychology say that all of life is for learning, and that unresolved issues are not bad; rather, they are opportunities for spiritual growth.
Translation: You’re not a victim. You may have been dealt a really tough hand early in life, but you’re still a powerful creator of your own reality here and now.
But what do you do if you have Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that set you up to struggle with addiction? What then?
In this post, we’ll explore the link between ACEs and addiction and offer a roadmap for healing on all levels.
How Adverse Childhood Experiences Link to Addiction
When we have ACEs and we aren’t able to heal our mental and emotional wounds, we suffer.
Over time, the impact of those original hurts increases, because they keep getting touched and triggered in new situations. We try and push the pain down or use dysfunctional behaviors to cope, and in doing so, we pile pain on top of pain.
As a result of all this, we sink into depression, rev into anxiety, or collapse into despair. As this suffering compounds, we reach for substances to provide us some relief from our inner lives.
We feel disconnected from our true selves and from others, so we turn to substances for solace and an experience of connection.
It may sound straightforward, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. When you’re in the midst of an addiction, you can’t see where the pain ends or begins. All you know is that you can’t afford to feel what you feel, because it would be too much to bear.
Addiction and the Logic of Trauma
Seen in this light, substance abuse is actually a logical (albeit problematic!) course of action. It’s a response to a seemingly unmanageable internal experience.
As we wrote in our blog post It’s Not the Drugs: Are Adverse Childhood Experiences Holding You Back?:
“What you’ve thought of as your “crazy” addiction might actually be a very sane response to a high level of psychological trauma and distress.”
How to Heal from ACEs and Recover from Addiction
While of course this is a very big question – how do I heal? – it boils down to a fairly straightforward answer.
You learn to apply love to the parts inside of you that hurt.
That’s the overarching principle of trauma recovery: You learn how to become your own compassionate witness. You learn how to connect with yourself in an authentic, healing way.
Step One: Connect with a Compassionate Witness
How do you do this? The first step is actually to connect with another human being and learn to receive the love and acceptance you need to start healing.
If you have a dual diagnosis – a mental health issue such as depression along with a substance abuse issue – then that other human being should be a compassionate, well-trained therapist or counselor.
Step Two: Share Your Story, and Rewrite the Ending
Once you’ve found your compassionate witness, it’s time to tell the truth about your ACEs and traumas. As Dr. Martha Beck notes in her article How to Heal Emotional Wounds:
“Humans also have a unique way of recovering from trauma: We need to share our hurts. Fortunately, pretty much everyone now knows that talking to a compassionate, nonjudgmental person can heal emotional wounds.”
However, Beck also notes that sometimes we get stuck in negativity, retelling the same story without changing the ending. Ideally, you’ll find a compassionate witness who can support you in writing a new, more empowering ending to your story.
Step Three: Learn How to Reparent Yourself
Once you’ve identified the source of your present-day pain – that is, the painful story you’re telling yourself about past events – it’s time to reparent that hurting child within you. It’s time to offer yourself kindness and support, to learn how to take really good care of yourself.
As we wrote in our blog post on Addiction and Reparenting, “Reparenting is a key aspect of addiction treatment because it teaches us how to take care of the vulnerable parts of ourselves. It gives us a way to provide ourselves the support, encouragement, and love we’ve always longed for.”
Why is this important? Because in a very real sense, the child you were lives on within your present-day self. Author John Connolly put it poetically in The Book of Lost Things, “For in every adult there dwells the child that was, and in every child there lies the adult that will be.”
How exactly do you reparent that child? Here are several specific techniques we recommend and teach in our Non 12 Step residential rehab program:
- Identifying and forgiving judgments and projections
- Identifying, forgiving, and rewriting limiting beliefs
- Learning self-forgiveness
- Practicing opposite-hand writing
- Practicing free form writing
- Doing a dialogue with your addict aspect
When you apply love to the parts of yourself that hurt, you heal … and the key is to get help in learning exactly how to do that. It’s not that another person or program is going to heal you; it’s that they’re going to support you as you learn how to heal yourself.