One of the hardest aspects of being a trauma and addiction survivor is being able to recover to the point where we can learn to trust people and ourselves again. For some of us, this is a long and challenging process, one made even more difficult in a world where it has become difficult to know who is telling the truth. For others, it happens quite organically as we work on our issues and consciously address them through individual and/ or group therapy, and self-discovery. There is no straightforward path to trust as everyone’s recovery is different and plays out according to our history, personality traits, values, and how much support we have in our lives as we try to get better. One thing is sure—recovering trust takes time. There’s a reason why we say that trust has to be earned, not given—no matter how much you want it back in your life, you can’t just get it by merely willing it.
Using drugs and alcohol to combat trust issues is common among people who have gone through trauma. Being detached from our reality is our weapon and our safeguard—we needed to protect ourselves at all costs because nothing seems inevitable except for the bad experience or experiences that showed us that it’s better to stay removed from it all. Our instincts tell us to be in a combative or placid mode; it is not safe to be yourself, and it is especially not safe to be yourself when you don’t know who you are.
For me, regaining trust and finding my way around people took a lot of time and a lot of work. I entered adulthood from a place of shame and confusion, and I’ve masked my inability to find my place in the world by giving into self-destructive behaviors such as drinking. Drinking was my way not only to escape my reality, but it was also a “great” way for me to be able to level with people and feel like I belonged. Growing up and living with the shame I’ve had over having been relinquished, I’ve always felt as if there was something defective about me. However, once I had a drink in me, I could mask that discomfort and unease and act as if I had the instruction manual to life, the manual I’ve always found missing. Drinking filled in the blanks, and it temporarily relieved me of being in doubt and feeling less-than. Under the influence, my inhibition and shyness were eradicated temporarily. For that short time, I could even lie to myself and feel as if I was truly just like everyone else. Drunk, I was able to convince myself that I trusted people and that they should trust me—I was jovial and friendly and seemed to get along well with everyone around me. Ironically, I knew very little about myself during that time; I was my own biggest enigma, so the personality I’d created was entirely artificial, just like the good buzz I was after.
Naturally, the relief provided by alcohol was short-lived and always came with a hangover—physical as well as an emotional one. And with time, as I relied on drinking more and more, those moments of relief were painfully short. Eventually, they disappeared altogether, and all that was left was the unbearable realization that I was not progressing, that I was, in fact, getting worse and getting more detached. I drank over those realizations as well, and soon I was even more of a stranger to myself than I was to my loved ones. Sometimes I cannot believe how long I’ve let that go on, how deep my denial was, and how I survived for so long.
Thankfully, in recovery, I’ve learned that surviving is not living. Living is being able to open myself up to the world again and allow people in. Yes, it’s a process, and yes, it takes time, but the benefits always outweigh the cost. And the beauty of this process is that you can start it at any time—it’s never too late to re-learn everything all over again. You cannot regain those parts that were lost to trauma, but you can always restore trust if you go about it honestly and give it half the determination you might’ve given to denial. And once you’ve got that trust back, the world will seem like a safe place again, and you will be able to get back all the parts you thought you’ve lost.
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