Trauma is emotional, physical, and psychological. Consider the cycle of a traumatic event. When we face trauma, our minds and bodies enter a state of fight or flight. Our survival hormone adrenaline kicks in to give us the energy and attention we need to make it through. What happens when the traumatic event is over? Without any sort of completion or closure, we essentially maintain unfinished business in our minds and bodies. Though the adrenaline slows down, it doesn’t exactly go away. You might notice that people who have experienced trauma can seem on edge. Residual adrenaline is untreated trauma. Edginess, distance, and difficulty in relationship, as well as depression or anxiety, are symptoms of untreated trauma.
Being in a constant state of defense is the byproduct of being in a constant state of fear. Trauma is ongoing until it is faced through intensive treatment, therapy, and healing. Essential parts of the brain responsible for growth and development are damaged in childhood trauma. Critical developmental stages are compromised by the effects of trauma. As a result, emotional maturation, and mental health can be impaired. In addition, cognitive capabilities can be damaged.
Growing up in an unstable home creates fear. We don’t know what to expect or when chaos might ensue, so we are constantly expecting the worst. Abuse runs deeply. Research shows that emotional, verbal, and mental abuse affect the brain almost identically to the way physical abuse does.
Trauma is characterized as a situation which is uncontrollable. We fear what we cannot control. Many of us turn to harmful substances and behaviors to feel as though we enact some control in our lives. Using drugs and alcohol abusively might make us feel as though we are escaping the abuses of our past. Turning on the dopamine, the pleasure transmitter in the brain, quiets the long term effects of trauma. Coincidentally, substance abuse is also a symptom of trauma. Though the euphoria might be therapeutic in the moment, substance abuse will only worsen and prolong long lasting traumatization. At the end of every high, at the end of every bottle, the past is still there demanding to be reckoned with.
Does therapy make the past go away? Nothing, as of yet, can erase time and memory for good. However, treatment will help ease the pain of the past. Through the recovery process you will learn how to cope with your emotions, understand your behaviors, and make change. You will gain tools for managing triggering situations and any situation in life. Healing is different from eradicating, but it is likely to be more effective. There is hope. Hold onto it.