Addressing Trauma in Women by Kendall Weinberg, M.Ed., LPC
National statistics reveal that 55–99 percent of women seeking treatment for substance dependence have experienced at least one trauma in their lifetime. Often, these traumas occur during childhood and with more frequency, stretch over longer periods of time, and are committed by people to whom those women say the words, “I love you.”
Sometimes, instances of neglect, abuse, separation, or abandonment occur as a result of the cycle of addiction being passed down through generations of families. Other times, the embedded family rules of “don’t tell” or “if you love me, you’ll keep this secret” serve to perpetuate the damage from a traumatic event long after that event is over. At MARR’s Women’s Recovery Center (WRC), our clients are not only dealing with feelings of guilt related to their actions/behaviors while in active addiction, but they are simultaneously battling the feeling of shame generated by these traumas as well. The result is a lifelong belief that “I am bad/wrong/unacceptable/unlovable.”
Having known about these aspects of addiction and recovery for women for quite some time, WRC staff pursued training and additional supervision in order to better assist our clients in finding both the freedom that comes via recovery from chemical addiction and the healing that comes from addressing the impact of trauma in their lives. We have taken the next step in providing comprehensive services for clients dealing with trauma in the midst of their recovery efforts. We have implemented groups available for clients in all phases of treatment and specifically designed to provide the coping skills, support, and sense of safety they need to resolve the legacy of trauma.
The “Connections” curriculum was created by noted writer, researcher, and educator Dr. Brené Brown. This curriculum and group are designed to develop shame resiliency for those who have long carried the message that they are broken, unworthy, undeserving of love, or simply “wrong” in many ways. These messages, often part of the legacy of trauma and neglect, serve as one of the most damaging relapse risk factors women face. When left unchecked, they represent roadblocks between a woman in early recovery and the recovery network (i.e. sponsor, therapist, and other clients in the program) she so desperately needs to maintain long-term recovery.
The “Seeking Safety” curriculum was developed by Lisa Najavits, Ph.D., who has been among the leaders in the quest to bring the needs of addicted women to the forefront of research and treatment efforts. When an individual turns to drugs and/or alcohol to deal with the pain that accompanies trauma, one of the first steps in recovery is learning how to tolerate and work through the pain of those experiences without relapsing.
Seeking Safety is designed to educate WRC clients about the typical thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that trauma survivors experience. Learning about these shared qualities helps to reduce those pervasive feelings of shame and isolation that result from thinking one is totally alone (or “crazy”) for feeling the way she so often does. Additionally, there is a strong emphasis on building safe coping skills so that clients have alternatives to using drugs and/or alcohol when trying to manage the dark emotions associated with trauma work. Setting boundaries, asking for help, practicing self-care, attuning to danger signals, creating meaning and inspiration, managing expectations, getting organized, and staying in the present are only a handful of the new coping skills clients will learn and practice in the context of this group.
It is WRC’s intention to help our clients build that internal sense of belonging and worthiness rather than seeking those things externally or falling prey to old shaming messages that will mire them in isolation, making it easier for the disease of addiction to regain a foothold in their lives. Dealing with “life on life’s terms,” with the sure knowledge that one is loved and accepted for who she is in her entirety, is one of the best defenses against relapse. Our hope is to better prepare women early on in their recovery so that they can carry that strength, resilience, and empowerment with them throughout their journey into long-term recovery.