“Trauma is perhaps the most avoided, ignored, belittled, denied, misunderstood, and untreated cause of human suffering.”
We keep hearing this word, “Trauma”. Over and over again we are reminded of its prevalence in our culture. We have a vague sense of understanding that Trauma or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) refers to veterans, or to victims of assault, or childhood abuse. We may even understand the idea that growing up in a chaotic household with chronic stress and a constant sense of feeling unsafe is a traumatic experience that affects our lives into adulthood.
We can read statistics about the prevalence of PTSD in our nation, and impress upon the fact that an estimated 70% of U.S. adults have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives, the majority of whom before their 18th birthday. We may even find it important to note that there is a well-documented link between trauma experienced at a young age and the later development of a substance use disorder. This explains, of course, the widespread heartache our communities face on a daily basis and one common route individuals take in order to try to cope, however, this does little to describe the day-to-day felt experience of someone living with trauma.
Living with Trauma
To continue to suffer from trauma is to continue to be stuck in the past, whether physically, through inflammation in the body and the resulting health problems; behaviorally, with disturbances to regular eating and sleeping patterns or observable avoidance; mentally, via intrusive thoughts, flashbacks or nightmares, and a sense of hypervigilance that keeps us on edge and poised to react to even minor threats. Emotionally, we may find ourselves in the spectrum of emotional dysregulation, with the competing feelings of helplessness, anger, guilt, sadness, or anxiety; or we may find ourselves disoriented and numb.
We understand that trauma affects us across all areas of our lives, and although we may try to categorize and dissect it, it is clear that there is no one global picture of what it’s like to suffer a traumatic event. There is no particular roadmap to becoming reacquainted with the fragmented pieces of your soul.
There are however some predictable lies that the voice of trauma may try to convince you about yourself, the world, and your future within it. Not surprisingly, we may pick up beliefs about the world as a dangerous place, and those who inhabit it as untrustworthy. In a similar way, we may learn that our judgment or our intuition is also not to be trusted, and we build up ideas about ourselves as powerless, incompetent, or damaged. Here, hopelessness sets in, and we wonder how we’ll ever get back to ‘normal’.
The earlier we experience trauma, the less developed is our sense of self and ability to regulate our emotions. This combination often leads to some particularly destructive patterns of coping, whether avoidance, aggression, or escape behaviors. It’s not hard to see how in each aim, using substances appears to serve the primary function of avoiding pain, and hiding our truth at all costs. This, of course, is an illusion.
How We Do Things Differently
At Villa Kali Ma we understand that substance abuse treatment isn’t just about learning how to live without drugs and alcohol, it is also about healing the wounded parts of you that led you to use and abuse substances in the first place.
How rare it is, however, for someone to arrive at treatment ready to do this work. After years of practicing these patterns and fueling these beliefs, it is not an easy adjustment to make, to go against all that has seemingly protected you in the past. Learning to embrace vulnerability is a laughable request to those who’ve built their identities around having an ‘unshakable’ exterior, who have perhaps never felt safe in their entire lives. It is for them that we have shaped with intention the treatment environment at Villa Kali Ma.
When considering the specific experiences of women who have become addicted to alcohol or other drugs, it’s important to acknowledge that they come from a background of not only chronic childhood trauma or acute trauma but most have had sexually traumatic experiences as well. Studies have shown that nearly 80 percent of the women seeking treatment for substance use disorder have a history of sexual assault, physical assault or both. Unsurprisingly, many women turn to substances to cope or block out these memories, or to deal with the resulting blow to their self-worth and self-esteem.
Women’s sexual trauma needs to be addressed in ways that are not re-traumatizing for them. Telling their story to a male therapist or in a group that includes men can create an experience of intense and unbearable vulnerability, shame, humiliation and even panic. To participate in individual therapy alone can feel uncomfortable, and even threatening. Having to access those internal pieces of herself that contain the horrors of what she went through and bring them to the surface for examination is overwhelming. Doing so in presence of mixed company is inconceivable for most women. Many just won’t go there. Therefore, the dark underlying secret that is the catalyst for the substance abuse can remain buried throughout the treatment episode, out of a need to protect herself from feeling further violated.
Healing Women’s trauma requires an intimate environment where women feel supported, seen, and genuinely cared for. In a Women Only treatment setting with 5 licensed therapists and an all-female staff, we create the ideal environment for doing the intense work of trauma recovery. This type of setting, with a focus on only 6 clients at a time, creates the necessary sense of safety that cannot be created in a large facility in the presence of the opposite sex. Working alongside one another in a comfortable home-like environment, with women inspiring women, we have crafted the safe haven that is Villa Kali Ma.
We are tireless in our pursuit of making our program a safe container for those who come to us for treatment. In this same way, we acknowledge the presence of trauma in all parts of ourselves: mind, body and spirit. From day one, we provide therapy from a trauma-informed perspective, using all of the tools at our disposal: EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Somatic processing, Breathwork, Shamanic Healing, CranioSacral Therapy, Reiki, Trauma Informed Yoga Therapy, Mindfulness and Meditation practices that each allow us to remain rooted within our bodies, as well as connect spiritually with our own divine nature and innate ability to heal and transform our lives.