The opposite of addiction is connection and most research finds a strong link between addictive behaviour and trauma. While we applaud the efforts of local community groups who are helping to clean up our streets, we believe we need to work together to address the root problems. Investing in mental health agencies is an investment in a healthier, safer and more connected community.
For too long prevention has been a hard sell. Policy makers have sadly waited to respond to crisis rather than engage in upstream thinking and preventative measures. As far as we’ve come as a society with technological advances and increasing awareness about the brain, we are facing a crisis of connection and a steady decline in people’s report of overall wellbeing. Hurting people hurt and hurting people are desperate for ways to numb their pain or attempt to feel something good.
I am not an addictions specialist but what I have seen and has been echoed in the research is that people turn to substances as a way of coping. Unfortunately as we know this unhealthy and increasingly dangerous form of coping ends up hurting more than it helps in the long run and the negative ripple effects are extending farther and farther. With mental health symptoms and abuse on the rise in young people, it is imperative that we equip youth and parents with healthy coping tools and intervene early to prevent long term negative impacts. Our own community’s current Opioid and needle crisis is a reminder that we cannot ignore this issue. It is not someone else’s problem. Everyone is impacted and everyone has an important role to play to seize the opportunity to increase connection and care for this vulnerable population. Our Taming the Dragon school based program is one way we are being part of the solution. We also offer groups for women and men who have experienced abuse or been abusive.
People often turn to substances as a way to lessen or numb unbearable emotional and physical pain. Anxiety is designed to be uncomfortable to get people’s attention to signal the potential of danger. It often originates in an experience of emotional or physical threat or danger. Symptoms can become overwhelming leading to people using out of desperation. People suffering from trauma symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares and debilitating self-blame and shame often feel desperate for some kind of relief. Without support learning how to self-soothe and process the trauma, people can find themselves turning to drugs or alcohol. People who have been bullied, emotionally invalidated or feel ignored by parents are also at risk. We have a natural human need to belong and know we matter. Youth who have not been raised with a strong sense of self and awareness of their resiliency are more at risk to succumb to peer pressure and can quickly get addicted to dangerous substances. I am seeing a growing population of clients who feel alone and misunderstood. Highly sensitive, they take on the pain of others and feel like failures because they cannot make others happy. These are not bad or dirty people. These are people who need help, who need connection and compassion and ultimately healing.
Blaming and shaming is not the answer. Be the change you wish to see in the world. The earlier we seek help or get help for someone we love the better. Take a look at your own relationships. Starting with yourself; do you feel you matter? Are you kind to yourself or do you put unfair expectations on yourself? Do you have unhealed pain from the past? We can pass these struggles onto our children without even realizing it. Reach out. We can help.
What about your partner? Your children? Don’t let shame or embarrassment prevent you from seeking help. The earlier the better. If you, like so many are struggling to be present and offer unconditional love, it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. It likely means you had things that happened to you that were wrong or that you didn’t get what you needed growing up. You are not alone. We have a weekly walk-in counselling clinic on Thursdays and can direct you to many community based resources to help you and your family.
Many people struggling with addictions need a wraparound approach with support from multiple services.
The United Way Campaign is on right now. Consider making a donation on behalf of loved ones or join us at one of our events next year or check out our website for more ways to invest in your community’s mental health.
Nicole, November 2017