The 12 Steps and Trauma: Finding Sustainability in Recovery

In my near five years in recovery, in tandem with 4 years of experience working in addiction treatment professionally, I have found two sentiments to be almost universally true:

  1. The 12 Steps, when worked the way they are outlined in the Recovery Text, are an effective approach to treating substance use disorders.

  2. Every human being experiences trauma in some form or fashion. The effect of this trauma inevitably has a unique impact on people’s ability to sustain healthy and fulfilling recovery.

It is through this experience that I have developed the opinion that, for people to find long term, fulfilling and sustainable recovery there must always be an emphasis on addressing the underlying wounds that result out of each individual’s personal trauma history. While we work to address substance use disorders through tried and true modalities like 12 Step Facilitation, the importance of applying trauma-specific approaches for the purpose of healing from or resolving trauma-related issues cannot be understated.

With all of that said let me first expand specifically on the first idea: “The 12 Steps, when worked the way they are outlined in the Recovery Text, are an effective approach to treating substance use disorders”. In an effort to keep this from turning into some form of academic review and avoid putting the reader to sleep, I am not going to cite the countless amount of peer-reviewed research that undoubtedly supports this. I’m simply going to speak from my own experience personally and professionally. I am a person in long-term recovery who, after many failed attempts at sobriety through a multitude of approaches that included; anti-craving medications, medication assisted treatment, psychiatric support, therapy, and at one point even hypnotherapy, I managed to find a solution to substance use disorder in a 12 step fellowship.

I am not naïve enough to think, and have plenty of professional experience to support, that because the 12 steps worked for me they will work for everyone else. I also do not want to deliver the message that, because those other modalities did not work for me, that they won’t work for others. I am not at all making a comment on the overall effectiveness of alternative approaches. What I will say is that I have been blessed to serve countless other individuals struggling with addiction issues. Specifically, I have had the opportunity to help over 1,000 men at The Last Resort during my time here. What I have found through these experiences is that SO many other people are living their own version of my personal experience. I encounter countless people who, beaten and broken after trying everything under the sun to recover, finally find freedom through the 12 Steps when the method is delivered and applied appropriately. I have watched, both in treatment settings and in 12 step fellowships, hundreds of people apply this way of living, find recovery, and restore their lives.

For the second premise: “Every human being experiences trauma in some form or fashion. The effect of this trauma inevitably has a unique impact on people’s ability to sustain healthy and fulfilling recovery”. I hope that I have adequately conveyed that I feel like I am in the fairly unique position of having found some success in my own personal battle with addiction and trauma-related disorders, while also having a decent amount of experience in helping others recover in both a social context as well as a number of professional settings. I have seen first-hand, both in my own life and recovery as well as within the lives of many I have been blessed to serve, the impact that trauma has on our overall emotional health, behaviors, relationships, destructive thought patterns, the list could go on and on.

The general trend I have seen is that people recover from their substance use disorder and invariably find themselves struggling in one form or another with issues that can be directly connected to trauma-related coping mechanisms, emotional defense strategies, belief systems that have resulted from traumatic experiences, and general patterns of behavior that we have been conditioned to operate under as the result of our own personal trauma history. Often the unfortunate reality is that these issues lead to relapsing back into our substance use disorders. We begin to experience the harmful impact of these emotional and behavioral issues, and the only escape we can imagine is through substance abuse. This is why you often hear substance abuse professionals use the coined phrase, “trauma resolution IS relapse prevention”. I could not agree more.

It is not at all a secret that we are experiencing an addiction epidemic of substantial proportion. In today’s day age, you would be hard-pressed to find an individual who has not been impacted by an addictive disorder in some capacity. Me personally, I am tired of losing friends. My hope with this message, this blog, this podcast, is that it mirrors my life’s mission and what I feel to be a purpose handed down from the Universe. My hope is that I can, even if in a small capacity, help to eliminate the stigma around addiction, educate people on how it manifests, stoke the general public and professional dialogue around the most effective ways to help people heal, and to hopefully save a few lives in the process.

God Bless,

Corbin Bigheart

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