Ways to Work Through Trauma While You’re in Addiction Recovery

Woman working through trauma in addiction recovery Peter Levine, a clinical psychologist, once stated:

“The paradox of trauma is that it has the power to destroy and the power to transform and resurrect.”

As the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates, 61% of men and 51% of women report having had exposure to a traumatic event at least once in their lifetime. The aftermath of trauma leaves many with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a disorder which can bring about debilitating symptoms like anxiety, depression, paranoia, insomnia, flashbacks, nightmares and more.

Several years ago, The Fix, a website that published information related to addiction recovery, sobriety and more, explained that even adverse childhood experiences can leave physical, psychological and spiritual wounds that can take an entire lifetime to recover from. Recovery from addiction is already a vulnerable time period, so how can a person heal from trauma, too?

Create a Support Network

Dr. Vincent Felitti, former chief of preventative medicine at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, told The Fix,

“I would argue that the person using [drugs] is not using them to have a problem, they’re using drugs to find a solution.”

Social support is crucial before and after traumatic events, and some people feel isolated. This is when substance abuse can come into play – because a person is trying to find a way to lessen the intensity of emotions they’re experiencing. In recovery, healing can take place by doing the exact opposite: by reaching out to people, building connections and building their own sense of community. At Cumberland Heights, individuals can find support not only through their healthcare team and through peers in their group therapy sessions, but also through 12-Step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

In 2016, researchers published a study in the journal Substance Abuse Rehabilitation that examined the role of social support in addiction recovery. They found that peer support groups – such as those found in 12-Step programs – can greatly strengthen a person’s commitment and engagement in their treatment. Individuals find healing through this modality for many reasons:

  • They find that many others have gone through similar experiences and/or emotions
  • They rely on the structure of the program to walk them through recovery
  • They develop empathy for other peoples’ hardships as life lessons and experiences are shared

One of the most common feelings that trauma brings to those struggled with PTSD is that a person is alone, and that nobody will understand. Quite the opposite is true – there are many people who’ve gone through traumatic events, and there are people who want to see you heal and become stronger.

Practice Self-Care

Self-care has been a buzzword lately, but for good reason. Self-care is defined as,

“…The actions and attitudes which contribute to the maintenance of well-being and personal health and promote human development.”

The University of Notre Dame explains the many reactions that can come from trauma:

Psychological and Emotional

  • Feeling “numb”
  • Irritability, sadness, heightened anxiety, etc.
  • Feelings of “self-blame” that a person escaped the tragedy
  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event
  • Feelings of isolation from others
  • And more


  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling confused


  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Easily startled
  • And more


  • Hyperactivity
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Insomnia
  • Strong need to talk about the event
  • And more

When a flood of PTSD symptoms come rushing through, it’s often hard to implement self-care. In recovery, however, this is a person’s chance to restore their mental, physical and spiritual health; self-care activities, such as practicing sleep hygiene, eating nutritious meals, drinking plenty of water and more can have a truly profound impact on the outlook of someone’s recovery, as it’s all interconnected.

Apply What You’ve Learned

Treatment provides a plethora of opportunities to not only connect with others, but to develop some meaningful perspectives and tools that can be used when needed. Symptoms of PTSD occur unexpectedly for many people, and, without warning, a person may easily feel taken over. Psychological approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) set the foundation for a person to be able to combat negative thoughts and beliefs with the reality. Here is an example:

Beth was in group therapy when she suddenly felt upset. She had been triggered by what someone said, and it reminded her of a traumatic event she experienced when she was a child. The minute that thought started bringing up physiological reactions, she took a deep breath.

“I can use what I learned in therapy,” she stated.

Rather than allowing the thought and emotion to take over, she reminded herself that she is safe. She told herself that she’s not in that moment, and that’s she’s much stronger now. She looked around her and noticed her peers talking. She grounded herself by planting her feet on the ground, and she reminded herself that one of her peers just shared their own personal story. That was it.

In moment like these, the tools learned in therapy can be of great benefit for healing from trauma, simply because they help us focus on what’s most important rather than what might bring us down. If you’re ready to heal from trauma and regain balance from addiction, speak with a professional from Cumberland Heights today.

Cumberland Heights is a nonprofit alcohol and drug-addiction treatment center located on the banks of the Cumberland river in Nashville, Tennessee. On a sprawling 177-acre campus, we are made up of 2 12-Step immersion campuses, 12 outpatient recovery centers and 4 sober living homes. We believe that each person has a unique story to tell – and that’s why we always put the patient first.