Addiction & Trauma: Treating a whole person
Addiction & Trauma: Treating a whole person
Over the last 10 years, we in the mental health support community have watched a major shift in how our world views addictive disorders and many other mental health challenges. We have seen a renewed willingness to view mental health challenges through a lens of trauma and to recognize that aspects of the addictive journey can be outside the realm of morals and even outside the utter control of the addict, in a manner not fully embraced before. Most importantly, we’re seeing a growing willingness to realize that most people who encounter mental health challenges have suffered deeply and deserve compassion and the opportunity to heal. This willingness to see earlier life trauma as a major touchstone of later mental health and behavioral challenges is an adaptation of the early psychiatric theory and methodology. However, in its current iteration it has taken on a more scientific lens.
In our world of Torah Observance, there has also been a remarkable embrace of this idea. A realization that acknowledging the victimhood which stands at the heart of mental health challenges, especially those related to behavioral and substance-oriented dependency, is vital. Concurrent to this has been a wonderful move to uncover the rich scholarship in our Torah which discusses challenges like addiction and the sanctity of healing Trauma. This process has illuminated the deep and yet down-to-earth wisdom of our sages throughout our history.
This is all surely a wonderful thing.
However, like many new shifts in social perspective, there is a common tendency by societies to over-compensate and over-invest in one particular lens of a problem. We are at such a juncture in our communal evolution. We face the danger of not only becoming trauma-informed and directed, but also trauma-obsessed and fixated. Toward being triggered as a community into a mindset, where we simply switch one myopic lens for another, making victimhood the central component of our outlook on those who have experienced victimization.
How can we effectively transition in this new Trauma-Informed age, without losing sight of the whole picture? How can we hold on to what we know, while inviting in newer perspective which illuminates a more wholesome and complete picture?
The answer to this question has implications for many groups seeking recovery from a plethora of mental health challenges. However, there is no group needier of such an answer than those that seek recovery from addictive disorders.
One of the great novelties of the 20th century was the advent of the 12-step recovery movement. Shockingly, groups of alcoholics and addicts utilizing a particular perspective on challenges and change, and applying ancient principles of personal development, were able to accomplish more in assisting their fellow sufferers than the greatest psychological and spiritual minds of their age. No matter what anyone thinks of programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, any truly scientific thinker or seeker of truth must ask themselves; How? How did a rag-tag group of sufferers make such remarkable progress? What can we learn from them about our efforts to help others?
In 20 years of studying and working with individuals in recovery programs, I have developed a variety of theories about what’s unique about the 12-step methodology, about what we might all learn. To understand what strikes at the heart of a method of change that exudes a spirit of compassion, tolerance, and faith, quite unintuitively laying out a program of change that intuits just what people need at any given time in their journey. As adherents of the 12 steps often say “the steps are in order for a reason” a process that celebrates the humanity of their practitioner. The 12 steps don’t project a series of ideals to which the sufferer must comply. Instead, they meet a person where they are at, trying to nudge them along in their journey to recovery.
This and many other aspects have made their method quite endearing, leaving a sense of awe and respect in my heart. However, what I find most novel about the recovery programs has to do with something else. It relates to the underlying perspective they bring to the various problems they seek to address. Most specifically, the way in which they seek to treat the entirety of the sufferer. What’s most remarkable about the 12-step program, one which emerged from the minds of Dr. William Silkworth, Dr. Carl Jung and the collective mind of the first 100 members of Alcoholics Anonymous, their mentors, and the subsequent experience of all their adherents since, is a willingness to see a person for the composite being that he or she is. To recognize that a person is not just biological, psychological, environmental, or even spiritual, they are all of these things, at the same.
This principle is the foundation stone for effectively and comprehensively supporting individuals who have been victimized and encounter mental health challenges. We must treat the whole person. We must transcend particularized frames and lenses for seeing challenges and be willing to come together in a multifaceted fashion. To support the entirety of the people we wish to serve. To view and treat their traumas, to view and support their spiritual development and to view and inspire their effort to develop their capacity to face the challenges which threaten to dysregulate their system. To treat the whole person, and open the door to a whole person recovery.