Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often seems to go hand-in-hand with addiction. This is especially true of addicts in the military, but PTSD is not exclusive to such individuals. Some addicts suffer traumatic abuse during childhood. Others suffer near-fatal injuries as a result of alcohol-induced car accidents. These experiences change people. Occasionally this is enough to spur them toward recovery, as is sometimes the case with nasty car crashes. But other times, PTSD may cause a person to abuse drugs and alcohol with greater frequency, a case we often see in those who’ve suffered abuse at the hands of someone they thought they could trust.
The effects of PTSD go far beyond substance abuse. Many think of the stereotypical image of a war veteran becoming anxious at the sound of loud noises. We’ve seen similar behaviors exhibited by those who immigrated to America from war-torn nations. But PTSD can cause flashbacks under any number of circumstances. For instance, someone who suffers a spinal injury as a result of a car crash might feel anxious or fearful whenever they hear the song that was playing on the radio at the time of the incident. Many people with PTSD also report general depression and anger issues, regardless of circumstance.
People who suffer from PTSD face many challenges, but they can still learn to live in happiness and serenity. Just like every recovering addict and alcoholic must eventually learn, we can’t allow the past to dictate the present. Everyone must figure out for themselves how to best overcome their personal difficulties. But we’ll cover some basic advice below that might teach you how to cope with the stress and anxiety of living with PTSD. We hope that this proves useful to you.
Don’t Try Bearing It Alone
You may feel as if you carry a heavy burden as a result of living with PTSD, and this feeling is just. But you don’t have to bear this pain alone. If you suffer from PTSD, especially as a co-occurring disorder with addiction or alcoholism, you need to rely on others. To be frank, just about everyone benefits from having an extensive support network. But those of us who carry particularly heavy baggage need support more than anyone. Because the more our baggage weighs us down, the more pressing becomes our need to find someone who can help us carry it.
If you’re looking for ways to end your isolation and spend some time around other people, you’ll find no shortage of options. Friends and family should hold a spot at the top of your list. If you go to recovery meetings, spend some time talking to people before and after the meeting. Learn to connect with others, and don’t forget to ask for their contact information. You never know when you might need it. It’s also recommended that you try to find a hobby, especially one with a social component. Even talking to a random stranger at the gym or grocery store might help you to feel a bit less isolated.
An article on The Fix notes that touch is especially important. A simple hug can change our entire day because it releases oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.” Even more interestingly, we don’t necessarily need to touch another human being—even though it might be recommended in many cases. PTSD operates largely on fear, an emotion that may be quelled by the burst of dopamine and serotonin received from cuddling a pet. And when we let our negative self-image drive our fears, we might even experience some relief simply by hugging a stuffed animal.
This research might be interesting, and maybe even useful. But pets and stuffed animals can’t act as complete replacements for real human contact. Make connections with people. Find someone who suffers from the same issues as you. Perhaps the two of you can help each other out. Not only will you be less isolated, but you’ll also feel less alone knowing that somebody else shares your troubles. You might already intuitively know this, but putting a face on it can really help. But while support is important, some of the work will need to come from inside as well.
PTSD: Changing Your Mindset
PTSD lives in the sufferer’s head, infecting them with fear. The key to overcoming this revolves around learning to accept our emotions rather than fighting against them. Don’t beat yourself up every time you feel anxious or fearful. Everybody experiences these feelings, sometimes without provocation. And many of these people use drugs and alcohol to escape their negative emotions. Don’t set expectations for yourself that you won’t always be able to reach. This only serves to reinforce your negative thinking if you fall short of the unrealistic expectations you set for yourself. There will be times at which your PTSD gets the better of you. It’s nothing to be ashamed about.
While you shouldn’t be ashamed of having PTSD, you should still be proud of the times at which you overcome it. When you have a good day, give yourself some credit. Instead of waiting in dread for the other shoe to drop, express gratitude for that fact that it hasn’t yet. Every small moment without fear or anxiety is a blessing. Treat it as such, and perhaps such moments will occur with greater frequency. At the end of the day, what do you really have to lose?
The Fix article we mentioned earlier suggests getting some time outside as well. It can be incredibly relaxing to remove ourselves from the modern world every once in a while and bask in Earth’s beauty. This benefits us for a few reasons. First of all, time in the sun raises vitamin D, which can increase our mood by quite a bit. In fact, lack of vitamin D is one of the leading causes of seasonal affective disorder. Second, those who spend more time in nature might actually live longer and tend to boast better mental health. But third and most important, nature simply relaxes us. It’s nice to get away from electricity and social media every so often. Spend too much time around them, and these luxuries begin to feel like burdens. They can’t really be avoided completely in this day and age, but a little retreat from them never hurts.
If you really want to change your mindset, the first step is similar to the First Step of AA. Admit to yourself that you don’t want to let PTSD run your life. Upon making this admission, you can seek to change things for the better. And while the above advice should help you immensely, you might also want to consider seeking help from a professional.
Seeking Professional Help
Overcoming PTSD often requires outside help from a psychiatrist or other licensed professional. They can help us in ways that our support network just can’t. Perhaps they might feel that the solution is one based on medication, although they know other methods as well. When PTSD is accompanied by depression and substance abuse, cognitive behavioral therapy might help to address these problems. This is important, as fighting PTSD alongside other issues will present many difficulties if said issues are not addressed. In fact, this is one of the reasons that Amethyst offers a specialized dual diagnosis treatment program. We do not believe that solving one issue by itself is enough to help a person to the best of our abilities.
Among the forms of therapy we offer is EMDR trauma therapy. EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. As suggested by the name, this form of therapy uses eye movement exercises alongside more traditional therapy to help us reprocess traumatic memories. We don’t tell our patients to repress these memories or pretend they don’t exist. Instead, EMDR helps take the bite out of them. It helps patients learn to remember a traumatic experience without letting it rule their emotions.
We also foster an environment in which patients can practice many of the behaviors listed above. Our monthly outings ensure plentiful time outdoors, spent with other recovering addicts and alcoholics who often become part of a support network. While nurturing their own recovery, our patients also work to encourage one another in the spirit of true fellowship. We teach our patients about the importance of unity, so that no one feels as if they are recovering alone. This sense of community goes a long way toward helping those with PTSD learn that they mustn’t suffer needlessly alone.
PTSD makes life difficult, but that doesn’t make it insurmountable. You can learn to find serenity while living with PTSD. Never fall prey to the belief that this disorder should prevent you from living a normal life. As long as you build a support network, foster a healthy mindset, and seek some help from a professional, you can make it through this one day at a time. For more information regarding Amethyst Recovery and our treatment of addicts and alcoholics with PTSD, contact us today. We are always happy to answer any questions that you may have about our treatment programs.