By Wendy Cope
‘Time heals everything’ is often a saying people use to comfort someone who is grieving. For some, bad experiences may simply be bad experiences. For others, it can be a traumatic event. Painful memories can create challenges for individuals in many ways. It can affect a person’s mental and physical health, create difficulties in developing resiliency, and influence their views on life, work and relationships.
In fact, a study published in the Journal of Behavioural Medicine discovered there was a relationship between trauma exposure, PTSD, and chronic medical conditions. Individuals with PTSD were more likely to have a chronic medical condition than those who were considered non-traumatized individuals. Some of those chronic medical conditions included arthritis/ rheumatism, back/neck pain, headaches, chronic pain, heart disease, and ulcers.
Individuals with PTSD require a health professional to begin the process of healing.
Painful memories or trauma are common issues for these people. It’s those experiences that most likely led them to start drinking or drugging. It’s those unspoken stories from the past that they continue to hold onto that prevent them from making real progress in their recovery.
Dealing with painful memories can differ from one person to another. Processing those experiences while a person is also going through physical and psychological withdrawal can be very destabilizing. It is recommended that a person first obtain sobriety before they begin to look at those experiences. For some, it may not be appropriate to delve into those memories until they’ve been a year into recovery.
PTSD vs. Painful Memories
There is a difference between PTSD and painful memories. People with PTSD have specific symptoms, such as flashbacks and nightmares. People with painful memories may not necessarily have those symptoms, but they’re still holding onto a lot of pain and resentment. This can interfere with their sobriety.
Rewiring the Brain
Moving forward is crucial because it affects sobriety. Many people have a difficult time letting go of the past. So, is it a matter of rewiring the brain? Does a person subconsciously hold onto resentment for a reason?
To begin this process, one needs to look at what’s stopping them from moving forward. What are the psychological barriers? Once these barriers have been identified, the question becomes, ‘Is it easier to blame others?’ Often, it’s easier to remain in a victim stance. If someone stays in his or her anger and painful memory and continues to ruminate on it, then they don’t have to look at their present life. They don’t have to take responsibility for their current behaviour. Therefore, they avoid taking responsibility for their addiction and anything else that’s going on in their life.”
It’s no secret – change can be a scary thing for many individuals. And it’s particularly difficult when that change is required for one’s own personal growth. If the painful memory is what is familiar and known, it can become a go-to place. As long as an individual continues to go to what’s familiar, they don’t have to face what feels risky and challenging. They don’t have to think and feel differently or move forward. To want to actually deal with that resentment implies that change must happen.
In early recovery, individuals are encouraged to look at the relationships in their lives, and identify which ones are toxic and which are worth keeping. Holding onto toxic relationships can often trigger relapse. If someone is in early recovery, it’s important to look at the quality of the relationships they have with people, and identify which ones are better to discard or distance from because it’s too dangerous for their recovery. It is recommended to choose relationships with people that have potential to grow in a positive way. Become surrounded with people who are on a similar journey, who are healthy, and who are positive role models about how to live a balanced life.
Family relationships are unique because family will continue to be a part of one’s life. It is important to identify a way to successfully manage them, since you can’t simply discard them. This can include having clear, direct communication, negotiating what each person would like the relationship to be like, and setting and sticking to agreed upon boundaries.
The best approach to start healing long-term wounds includes:
- Name it and recognize it. You have to name that you are wounded. It’s amazing how many people don’t name it. Especially someone in recovery because they’ve been numbing their feelings with their addictive behaviours. Some people may not even recognize that they are wounded because they’ve been so focused on blaming everyone and defending themselves.
- Find a way to express it. In cases where the person has passed on, writing can be one of the ways to heal. Write a letter about what you would have said or what you would have liked to have heard. You can also ritualize the action by sharing it with others. You could create a ceremony and burn the letter, or bury it so that there is a way to symbolize putting an end to that painful memory. It doesn’t resolve it but there is that moment of closure that comes with it. The grieving may not completely disappear but there’s still that image of seeing a person buried. Music, art, and drama are other creative ways to express emotions and thoughts and help begin the healing process.
- Make a healthy choice to move beyond resentment. You must make a choice about whether you will continue to allow your resentment to have power and control. Everyone holds onto resentments, but the difference is how much power and credence you give to it.