A high percentage of people struggling with addiction have had traumatic experiences. Often, these are adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, such as abuse, neglect, or witnessing violence at home. Sometimes the trauma is later, caused by violence from crime or combat, serious accident, rape, or the death of someone close. Addiction forms as a way of avoiding the painful memories, insomnia, stress, and intrusive thoughts caused by the trauma.
Trauma is also a powerful trigger for relapse. You might be doing well in recovery, then something bad happens to you or someone you love and the stress is overwhelming. Talking to a therapist is the best way to address trauma. Another thing you can do, with the help of your therapist or on your own, writes about the trauma.
Writing about trauma has many benefits. First, it makes you aware of what you’re experiencing. In one sense, it’s absurd to say you aren’t aware of having been badly hurt. Of course you’re aware something happened, but it’s hard to experience that kind of painfully.
We tend to look away and try to forget about it. Writing about trauma helps you acknowledge it and explore how it has affected your life. As you examine the emotions related to trauma, you may notice patterns and be less controlled by them.
Writing about trauma may actually be good for your health. A study by psychologists James Pennebaker and Joshua Smyth asked participants to write about a traumatic experience several times over consecutive days.
They were asked to write about what they felt and thought about the experience. The participants who did this later experienced fewer illnesses compared to a control group that wrote about mundane experiences. The important factor seemed to be processing and integrating the emotions related to traumatic experiences.
Writing can help you manage other stresses as well. Writing about upcoming events such as a test or job interview helps you feel less anxious and perform better. Writing about a stressful event helps you feel more in control over it.
You can process it rationally and make sense of it. This is why keeping a journal is such a powerful tool in recovery. If you can reduce all the minor stresses in your life, you will feel better and have less chance of relapse.
There are some caveats for writing about trauma. You may not want to write immediately after a traumatic event because that can make you feel worse. It’s better to allow some time before trying to process it.
Also, it’s crucial to look for meaning in your experience. Just writing about a traumatic experience may cause you to relive it without changing your perception of it. This is why working with a therapist is a good idea.