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Updated: Apr 8

We spend a lot of time invested in the topic of trauma here at Red Door Life. Fortunately, this is a time of great hope and insight for trauma recovery.

Thankfully in recent years, it has come to finally be understood that it is not just some abstract inherent defect- but in fact trauma, that underlies substance abuse (and also many mental health struggles such as depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and treatment-resistant depression). In the past “trauma” has been a dooming and frightening word with a lot of stigma and no real solution other than attempts at coping with medication. But thanks to many years of research and new developments by leading trauma researchers, we now know that trauma is an injury- an injury which- with a dimensional blend of support, can heal.

The bright side, which is often hard to realize, is that because this injury impacts us so deeply- it changes our internal organization as well as the projected trajectory of our life (with the right support) it is in fact possible to discover purpose, skills, and abilities that we most likely would not have developed otherwise. We are not saying trauma is a gift, but we can certainly make our own powerful meaning come from it as we take back ownership of our lives through the healing process.

As we are forever passionate here at RDL about improving treatment outcomes and studying new advancements that can be applied to help our clients not just “get clean” but actually transform their lives, what we have learned is that the injury of trauma is complex and therefore a multi-dimensional approach is necessary. Because each individual’s story is so unique, healing can be like figuring out a puzzle- different pieces apply in each case. In this article, we would like to share with you 13 pieces that we find to be vital in transforming trauma into post-traumatic growth.

Before we get into a discussion of that dimensionality, it bears mentioning that studies have shown that people who go through something terrible have a lesser chance of developing long-term PTSD if they have a safe supportive person(s) to hold space and help them process it immediately after. When that is not possible and one must endeavor the meaning-making process, the symptoms, and the way the world skews after, PTSD develops. That is why community is vitally important and a huge piece of what we create here at Red Door Life. It is not just the circumstances that create traumatic injury, but also the aloneness that results.

The injury of trauma is much more than just enduring an event that was just really horrible to experience. Looking beneath the surface we can see there is so much effect: it changes our view of the world and our place in it, and our belief in our ability to competently care for ourselves in beneficial ways. There are biological and chemical changes to the brain and nervous system. It affects our ability to have a sense of a bright future and to participate in creating that with a sense of power. We feel disconnected from other humans and parts of ourselves. And then there are the symptoms. The symptoms are not just emotional and psychological but physical as well. They can be misunderstood as just medical issues such as all kinds of body pain, IBS, tinnitus, chronic fatigue, etc. The symptoms are highly individualized and can be beyond words- such as dissociation and a disconnect or blurring of time- the sense that we are frozen, yet life and the world is humming along at it’s normal pace while we remain trapped. Triggers can happen at any moment and can be tied to anything. All of this creates a smaller world, a smaller sense of self, and leaves us isolated, where the flashing fractured memories loop us into a trap of complete nervous system dysregulation.

And so, in light of all of this, we can easily see why it is necessary to use many dimensions, a multitude of modalities to heal this injury… and through this holistic approach, we can begin to see evolution out of the deep, dark recoil that is trauma and into the light of post-traumatic growth.

A list of ways to approach healing trauma could be endless, but here we have outlined some pieces of the complex puzzle that we find to be fundamental, please feel free to share what has worked for you in the comments. Trauma healing advances best when it is an open-source research project!

1.The Narrative Piece:

We need to explore the story of what happened with support and a compassionate, attuned witness. This helps take all the fragmented pieces and line them up in an organized way so that we have a narrative that makes sense. One aspect that makes trauma so traumatic is how confusing it can be, so much of it can feel beyond words. With this order created out of chaos, we can begin to process the story. Starting with how ever we can assemble it from a traumatized state, over time we can begin to assign new meaning and find new purpose, shifting the narrative from one that causes us to feel victimized to one that brings us power and inspiration.

2. The Identity Piece:

Although it is important to find words for the story so that we can go through the emotions of self-compassion, grief, and anger- it is important to shift the narrative to one that defines our identity in a stronger way, not a lesser/ weaker one. A great quote from Tony Robbins is “Identity is the most powerful driver of the human personality”. Our identity is the basis from which we make most of our choices. Things can get dark during the journey of trauma transformation, and it is also imperative to continually balance that by connecting back to a sense of our identity before the trauma and developing a stronger sense of self- a more robust identity, as a result of our struggles.

3. The Neurological piece:

The brain is physically changed by the injury of trauma in many ways. Modalities such as EMDR and Brainspotting change the part of the brain where the memories are stored where they feel like they are still ongoing and deactivate the harsh electrical sensations that can feel like they are blowing us apart when we think about them. Neurofeedback is also valuable in learning to bring regulation to brain waves and brain states. Meditation and Mindfulness Practices are also critical pieces in regaining mastery over the traumatized mind which can run rampant and continue to terrorize us long after the events are over.

4. The Somatic Piece:

As popularized by psychiatrist and renowned trauma researcher Bessel Van Der Kolk, we now understand that trauma lives in the body, not just the brain. A huge piece of transformation is the use of somatic and sensorimotor therapies to discover where the tension patterns, contractions, fear, and dissociation- where parts of the story are still actively living in the body. A helpful part of beginning to move these energies and transform them is also trauma-informed, supported yoga and breathwork. Physical therapy can be helpful too in regaining a sense of self-competency and proprioception. This reestablishes safety and organization in the body itself and helps one rediscover the joy of being in a body with our natural right of determining our own experience in that body.

5. The Psychoeducation & Skills Piece:

Not just attending therapy but understanding what the therapist is practicing with you, advances healing in profound ways. It deepens autonomy and allows one to participate more in their own evolution rather than being at the mercy of their therapist(s). A great example of this is IFS, or Internal Family Systems with roots in Buddhist Mindfulness teaching but formalized in the West by Dr. Richard Schwartz. IFS is a profound method of understanding and managing one’s inner world and the parts that become fractured during trauma. IFS is best first learned in a therapeutic setting but is also a highly effective self-practice and way of navigating the dips and pits that arise moment by moment in daily life. Learning to do this first with a practitioner and then adopting it as an inner management system can rescue us from distress when we are triggered and help us understand what is happening so we don’t slide into deeper protective mechanisms like depression and panic attacks.

Understanding what is happening in the body and the brain as a result of trauma gives us perspective on our reactions and allows us to become less embedded in the trauma response. Using mindfulness practices, having insights, and tools to use outside of therapy helps restore a sense of competency, safety, self-esteem and resiliency.

6. The Medication Piece:

Medication can do many beneficial things such as help take the edge of some of the symptoms so we can do the deeper work, spend more time within our window of tolerance, and regain a healthy sleep cycle. However medications don’t make the trauma go away, so it is important to use medication as a tool while things are being processed and new circuits and habits are being installed. This is why at Red Door Life, we don’t believe in pathologizing people with a diagnosis and just medicating away their symptoms. Instead, through our proprietary model of care, The 12 Dimensions of Human Health and Wellness, we believe in evaluating the whole person including the conditions in which they exist. Symptoms are indications of a much greater picture, the picture needed in order to begin true, deeper healing. In addition to providing clues as to what aspects of one life may be causing dysregulation and in need of support, symptoms can tell us a lot about developmental trauma. Often symptoms are not a sign of “illness” but rather a sign of what healthy circuits and conditioning were not installed- which is a critical piece of trauma healing. This is not to say that we don’t use medication- that would be ridiculous. But if someone has terrible insomnia- simply to medicate them so they can sleep, without inquiring into what is so distressing to one’s system that they can’t rest and natural rhythms are being overridden by stress hormones and a distressed mind… is a band-aid approach and not supporting resolution of the underlying issues.

7. The Reconnection Piece:

Group therapy, a safe, supportive peer community, and family dynamic work are critical pieces of healing the traumatized system as well. A traumatized person needs to be re-connected to a sense of belonging and safety with others. Inherently our systems are designed to co-regulate through connection to others. Ideally, this happens for us at the beginning of our lives and becomes a strong sense of safety and belonging that gets wired into the fabric of our bodies. But with trauma, especially attachment wounds, this vital piece of human wellness is missing. This results in all kinds of terrible and abstract but powerful feelings and self-destructive behaviors we can’t quite find words for that often result in unhelpful mental health diagnoses and substance abuse disorders.

Doing group work resculpts the traumatized brain in profound ways. Hearing others’ stories expands our trauma lenses to understand that all human beings face difficult, if not extraordinary circumstances at times. This helps put your story into a more manageable perspective. The result is also developing the ability to look through different lenses, instead of the rigid, polarized lenses associated with depression. Watching others make progress and heal, installs a sense of that possibility for yourself. Group therapy helps us relearn the innate ability to co-regulate with others who are safe, restoring secure attachment. Groups, preferably specialist-led are a fundamental part of healing trauma as they create a safe space that might not exist in one’s life otherwise to begin expressing deeper things they have always felt alone with or ashamed of.

Through group work, we learn the parts we are most ashamed of, are in fact normal and even so very loveable. A lot of times with abuse, a key component is the instilled belief that no one would understand us, be able to help us, or would only hurt us worse. Groups begin to undo all the aloneness wiring which is the post-traumatic injury holding the trauma in place.

8. The Developmental Piece:

Depending on the trauma, the developmental piece must be taken into account too. There are many abilities that we must form in order to not only keep ourselves safe but to build a fulfilling life for ourselves. Often with CPTSD or developmental trauma, we don’t develop these circuits early in life when they are ordinarily naturally cultivated. Thanks to neuroplasticity, which we now know means that the brain can be shaped, reshaped, and pruned all throughout our lives- our personal development can be improved at any point in our lives. We can develop the ability to know, articulate, and advocate for our needs- to believe we deserve this and then form bonds with safe people who will provide these nutrients and support. We can learn skills to regain dominion over our life’s path, push away things that are complicated or painful in favor of things that are beneficial, learn the developmental skills that we are lacking, and re-define what our sensory experience is- what it feels like to be within our bodies at any given moment.

If we are to live a life of flourishing we must develop the ability to hold positive affect and to feel good about ourselves. We must develop the ability to compartmentalize things that frighten or worry us, so we can still function and keep moving towards a bright-feeling future. When this doesn’t happen naturally in our development it must be cultivated, and thanks to the gift of neuroplasticity this is achievable.

9. The Positive Psychology Piece:

The positive psychology piece relates to the developmental piece, in the sense that ideally these circuits would naturally be installed during our upbringing by a loving, stable caretaker. Diving into the pain of the past and working to address the symptoms of trauma in the present is not enough. We must develop ways of thinking that inspire our best, most empowered self to show up. We must develop the ability to create and sustain positive states, positive pathways of thinking and processing the world around us, and positive traits that keep us uplifted and moving forward.

10. The Nervous System Piece:

Often substance abuse issues and mental health struggles are actually the surface-level manifestation of nervous system dysregulation. We must develop the ability to regulate- to come out of the stress response as we are naturally meant to do when the threat is over, and to connect to others to co-regulate when needed. We are born with the ability to breathe deeply into disturbing thought loops or images and clear them away from the hold they have over us, however, trauma cuts us off from that innate ability. Polyvagal exercises, breathwork, kundalini yoga, therapists and practitioners who specialize in nervous system regulation techniques, and in more extreme cases, stellate ganglion blocks are all effective means of addressing this critical underlying piece of the painful traumatized existence.

11. The Psychedelic Piece

When safe- depending on one’s addiction history, psychedelics can play an incredible role in transforming trauma. Psychedelics should never be used alone or without a trauma-specialized facilitator. Psychedelics can help process complexities that may seem unprocessable and bring us to understand perspectives and states we can experience that are beyond what we could ever have access to without these medicines. They can help install new circuits, switch on depressed areas of the brain, and heal attachment wounds- as they reopen the critical period for nervous system development. We live in exciting times for psychedelic-assisted therapy with ketamine and cannabis now legalized, and with many therapeutic modalities developed to incorporate their use. And also as the clinical trials for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy near completion. Our co-founder, Berni Fried LMFT, is at the forefront of this vanguard movement, recently completing her Level 2 in PSIP. Psychedelic Somatic Interactional Psychotherapy is a revolutionary new psychedelic and somatic therapy model that addresses the nervous system directly.

12. The Environmental Piece

A traumatized system typically builds structures that reenact the trauma. This can mean living environments, romantic relationships, career circumstances, finances, friendships, etc. This is a key reason we developed our Red Door Life proprietary model of care, The 12 Dimensions of Human Health and Wellness. It allows us to conduct a full-life evaluation of where the reenactment is happening so that we can build a multidisciplinary team of wrap-around support for all of these areas. When one comes to Red Door Life inpatient treatment, we are passionate about transforming their life and helping our members build one that inspires not only sobriety but also flourishing.

13. The Post-Traumatic Growth Piece

It is imperative that one going through the trauma-healing journey has self-compassion and understands it is not linear. As the dips inevitably come, we have to focus on our progress.

Often trauma organizes our system in certain ways that we unconsciously create more stress, chaos, or trauma in the way we navigate our lives. Through consistent repetition of these modalities, practices, and group work, our system begins to organize in a new way. We become more process-oriented than trauma response-driven. We are able to stay in the timeline of our forward-moving life, without falling into the abyss of somatic flashbacks (which are often misunderstood as depression) or substance abuse. We take our power back and a true sense of our scale emerges, that we are in fact larger than our problems. This sense of power replaces the smallness of learned helplessness and remains steadfast in place when we face difficult challenges.

As we go through our healing journey, we assign our own meaning to the past, and the past becomes the past as we overcome the effects and symptoms. We are then able to harness the unique perspectives, experiences, abilities, and insight we have gained from what once was something that debilitated us. We find we can do work no one else can do as a result- our life’s purpose is taken to new heights. This is when life, despite how difficult it may have been, begins to feel beautiful.

At Red Door Life we view recovery as a continuum and provide support for all aspects of that continuum through community, online groups, community events, special programs, inpatient or outpatient customized packages, and sober companions.

Red Door Life is a Los Angeles, CA substance abuse treatment, recovery, detox, addiction & trauma healing center also featuring companion services, entrepreneurship empowerment, community & education.



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