The word “trauma” can bring to mind certain ideas or associations. War zones may come to mind, or serious accidents, or the loss of someone close to you, or childhood abuse. You may have read about research on the physical, mental, and emotional impacts of PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) on returning soldiers and victims of abuse, and maybe you’ve experienced some of those impacts yourself. But we don’t often hear about the spiritual effects of trauma, or about how a spiritual perspective can help us heal. When you begin to uncover the roots of your addiction, very often you find unresolved trauma. I invite you to take a spiritual approach to your unresolved trauma, to connect with your innermost self and unveil the spiritual source of your suffering.
In her book, The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD from the Inside Out, Susan P. Bannit provides the following definition of trauma: “Traumatic events by definition overwhelm our ability to cope. When the mind becomes flooded with emotion, a circuit breaker is thrown that allows us to survive the experience fairly intact. That is, without becoming psychotic or frying out one of the brain centers. The cost of this blown circuit is emotion frozen within the body. In other words, we often unconsciously stop feeling our trauma part way into it, like a movie that is still going after the sound has been turned off. We cannot heal until we move fully through that trauma, including all of the feelings of that event.” Trauma is something that overwhelms our ability to cope. And unresolved trauma continues to hurt us because we are stuck in the traumatic experience.
Let’s explore this more deeply. You’ve probably heard of “fight or flight,” right? Those are the body’s reactions to danger, and in the moment of trauma, when the body is flooded with adrenaline, those are its strategies for coping. But when the experience is overwhelming, there’s a third survival strategy: to freeze. When we freeze, we detach, we leave the room, we lock away whatever part of the experience is most threatening to us. We stop being present to the traumatic experience. This is also called dissociation.
Dissociation can get us through the immediate trauma, but unfortunately, that “frozen emotion” can get trapped in the body, resulting in all kinds of ill effects over time. Someone who experiences repeated physical abuse growing up, for example, can experience a psychological and a spiritual impact that gets stored in the body and remains there long after the obvious physical damage is healed. If we’ve gone numb often enough in response to abuse or injury, numbness becomes a habit. And it’s a dangerous habit, because the pain and suffering are still there, stuck in our bodies. Walking around with that kind of unresolved pain is a root cause of addiction. If the trauma that’s trapped in our body gets reactivated every time we hear a certain sound or see a certain person, if things in our everyday life can retrigger that powerful fight, flight, or freeze response—that can make it incredibly hard to function. So, we may turn to things that help us cope, like addictive substances or behaviors.