Dealing with PTSD, Anxiety, and Addiction

Hypervigilance is a heightened state of awareness in which a person is often flooded by sensory input. It’s a survival skill learned in war zones and abusive families. Excessively monitoring the physical environment and the people in it is subconsciously driven. Its meant to detect any threat to self at the earliest possible juncture.

The worst part of hypervigilance is there’s no off switch. It makes relaxation impossible and it deprives us of a sense of safety and well being. We seek distraction and relief and find it fleeting at best.

For those who live with PTSD and other forms of chronic anxiety, the most dangerous place of all is within our minds. We become stuck in time. We relive the past with regret and shame, and look to the future with anticipation and dread.

Living with anxiety puts us at greater risk for developing addictions. Alcohol and drugs (opiates and the benzodiazepines your doctor prescribes in particular) provide rapid relief and instant gratification. The inevitable cost is the substance that provided a false sense of safety/security comes to undermine every part of our lives.

What’s it like to let go of the one thing that made you feel like you can breathe? It’s a bitch – no two ways about it. It’ll leave you feeling exposed, vulnerable, and believing that at any given moment, your whole world could fall apart.

Sometimes falling apart allows us to choose which pieces to keep and which to let go of.

The hardest part is learning to feel something we’ve never felt. Safety is a basic human right, but when you’ve never experienced it, or had it taken away from you, it’s just a nice idea that seems unattainable.

Ideas don’t help people The application of ideas does. This is messy. This is way more art than science. This is not something that people generally talk about and asking for help with it feels impossible.

Above all, feeling safe is spiritual because it requires connection and a change in beliefs. It’s not something we can do alone. We need safe people and safe places. We need release and sustenance

Keeping it simple, we learn what to take in and what to let go of. We learn that being alone is not something that’s manageable. We need sanctuary in the company of good people, in our homes and ultimately we build it within our hearts, sharing a connection to a power greater than ourselves.

Our ability to heal hinges on our willingness to struggle and be open to new solutions Its easy to perpetuate past patterns. It’s much harder to be real and to ask for what we need.

I work with the most motivated people on earth (people in recovery from trauma and addiction). One of my most favorite people to sort through shit with shared some struggles recently. He explained:

There are sounds and images in my mind that I can’t translate into words. As I seek to be free of them, I have this sense of how things are supposed to be and it doesn’t match up at all to how they are.

He then sheepishly admits, “I’m having a ton of anxiety right now because I left home without doing the dishes.”

Why is that so hard for you? “Because how I felt when I left affects how I feel about going back.” Right. That matches up to trauma recovery perfectly. How you feel about your home and returning to it is the same with your memories – the good ones are nice and we’re happy to revisit them. The bad ones we’re very anxious about returning to.

Every struggle has an opportunity. He now makes time not only for the dishes, but to spend time relaxing and connecting to his Higher Power before starting his day. Habits, organization, and order facilitate optimally experiencing time, space, peace and people

He’s great at Keeping It Simple. His take away is “My last glance of a room totally impacts how I view returning to it.” My challenge to him is that his last glance in a mirror can do the same thing. Be mindful. Do things consciously. Make eye contact. Smile. Be good to yourself.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.