Tag Archives: running

P.T.S.D. And Childhood Trauma Linked to Addiction

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“This is a wonderful article that focus’ on P.T.S.D that can develop from childhood trauma and how it is linked to Addiction. I may not have experienced much trauma due to my up-bringing but I can fully understand the diagnosis of P.T.S.D after I was faced with the traumatic experience of an extreme manic outbreak while I was living abroad in India. Its hard not to think of something so dramatic everyday and live in extreme regret and torture from the memories. I hope your able to find as much appreciation for this problem and its connections to addiction recovery as much as I have.” -Love, Robyn

by Kevin VaLeu

We live in an addictive age. In the last five years of my life I have come across and counseled more people struggling with cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, anorexia, sex, and a whole host of other addictions then I did in the previous five years.

Are people becoming more immoral? Or is there something else causing people to turn to substances and sex. Perhaps these next statistics will shed light into what I believe is the underlying causation of our culture’s craziness.

1) The turn of our century (2000) marked the first time in American history that the majority of our children (over 50%) were raised without both biological mother and father in the same home.

2) Even if both mother and father are in the home it doesn’t mean they are in any better shape if they are being abused or neglected. 61% of all children experience some form of neglect.

3) Greater than 1 out of 3 girls will be sexually molested during their childhood or teenage years.

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What does this mean? We live in a day and age where children are experiencing trauma at unprecedented levels from molestations, abuse, abandonment, neglect, and dysfunctional or fragmented homes. When traumatized children slip under the radar of effective treatment they will find illegitimate, illicit and unhealthy coping mechanisms to medicate the long unforgotten pain.

Link Between Trauma and Addictions

Research shows that 50-60% of women and 20% of men in chemical dependency programs report a history of childhood sexual abuse. When you include people that have experienced P.T.S.D. (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) or childhood trauma the number can climb as high as 99% of them having substance abuse problems.

How Trauma Affects the Brain

In order to understand how trauma makes one more susceptible to addictions, we need to understand two types of memories at work in the brain: 1) Explicit Memory–this is a memory that we can deliberately call up or put away at any time. We have a sense of control over it and we know it is just a memory; 2) Implicit Memory–these memories have coded in them not only a picture of a past event but the resulting feelings, sensations, and emotional response that went with it. These memories happen outside our control.

These memories are adaptive or automatic, which means they can “pop up” or shoot into our minds involuntarily upon some stimuli or current event that reminds us of a past trauma (called association). This is why a current event can trigger a flood of negative emotions that are identical to the emotions we felt at the time of the trauma. In fact, this is why people with PTSD are continually being tortured from their memories because when something “triggers” their past they are actually reliving the painful past trauma over again. Its no longer just a memory they recall, its all the emotions, feelings, and sensations engraved upon that memory card they recall and relive in the present.

This is why many Vietnam veterans with PTSD experience such painful flashbacks. They aren’t just remembering the past, they are actually reliving it. The bomb they see coming at them in their memory is a real bomb coming at them right now.

In addition, as we grew up, all of our basic assumptions about people (e.g. can they be trusted), ways of relating, and behaving towards people are formed on these implicit memory cards. This explains why you get tense or tighten up at the bank whenever you run into a particular man that reminds you of your cruel step-father.

In order to successfully treat a person with PTSD they have to be guided to convert their implicit memories into explicit ones.

Trauma is Recorded in the Limbic System which sits on the Vegus Nerve.

An interesting physiological discovery is that our traumatic memories are housed in our limbic system. This might not mean much if it weren’t for that fact our limbic system is on top of our Vegus Nerve. When the vagus nerve is stimulated by pain, fear, other distresses, and at an extreme, fainting may occur since such stimulation of the nerve affects the pace of the heart. Such stimulation also causes nausea and cool, clammy skin.

Its now easy to see how memories not only affect our emotions but also our physical bodies.

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Emotional Disregulation & Tension-Reduction Behaviors (Addiction):

When an implicit memory is jarred the body automatically releases the hormones of cortisol and adrenaline to give it power or enable it to go into the “flight” or “fight” (emergency) mode. However, for a person that has experienced emotional trauma, there response mechanism is a bit different. When a person with PTSD has their “flight” or “fight” system alerted they experience the current stress at a visceral or guttural level (soul depth) and have to shut down the hippocampus. Similar to a computer that is slowed down by too many programs running in the background, the mind shuts down certain parts (in this case the hippocampus) because it is too difficult to run it while in emergency mode. Implicit memories can cause one to live in a constant state of being overwhelmed. Past traumas that induce implicit memories also damage mood regulation. It is easy to see how the extra strain on a brain from trauma would affect our ability to stay an even keel.

When the mind tries to remember what has happened during a traumatic moment a person experiences emotional disregulation. There are three coping strategies a person may employ in dealing with emotional disregulation:

1) Avoidance: A person doesn’t want to talk about the trauma, think about the trauma, or be around anybody or anything that reminds them of the trauma.

2) Dissociate: They disconnect from reality which, without realizing, turns off the integrative links connecting the pre-frontal cortex to the limbic system. This means one disconnects from their experiences, which on the one hand helps them escape from the painful anxiety that would normally come, but on the other hand is detrimental from an emotional stand point. You lose the ability to feel anything through this numbing process; even the ability to empathize for others. This is damaging to the psyche.

3) Tension-Reduction Behaviors (leads to Addictions): When trauma occurs the brain fires up, becomes overactive and makes a person feel they cannot deal with it without the aid of some type of pleasure to “settle things down.” This is the point where a person may turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, etc. It is here, at this stage of the process, that lends itself toward addictions.

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Running in and Racing for Recovery

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9 Reasons Recovering Addicts Turn to Running for Their New High

 

Running Down a Natural High Proves to Keep Addicts and Alcoholics Steps Ahead of Their Addiction

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Every one has a story of triumph, but for some of these runners, this story is a battle over addiction. They run the marathon with demons nipping at their heels.

Why are there so many in recovery from addiction who turn to running as their new high? What does running offer them? Here is a list of nine reasons that running is particularly helpful to an alcoholic or addict looking to experience the rewards of a sober life.

1. You only get what you give. Distance running by its nature lends itself to the addictive personality, if there is such a thing, of rewarding those who blast past barriers. It not only rewards but demands the obsessive brain, the kind who go to a $5 “all you can drink” keg party and ask for $10 worth. It’s the metaphorical potato chip that, once it’s on your taste buds, lights up something deeper within you that craves for more.

Yes, addicts can be cowards, immature, fragile, obnoxious, and so on (it’s an ‘in’ group thing, so I can get away with saying that) but lazy is one thing they are not. Maybe lazy when it comes to responsibilities, sure, but not lazy when it comes to getting what they want. There is nothing more industrious, more creative, or more persistent than an addict trying to get high. Waking up with unexplained bumps and bruises, not a penny to your name, barely able to see through blood shot eyes, vomit ready to project out of you at any moment, and afraid to make eye contact with another human being. Yet still, an addict is pulled by powerful forces to will themselves out of bed, get out the door, scrounge up some money in some creative (albeit often times illegal) ways, and travel as long as it takes to get what they want.

You think a bit of muscle pain or discomfort is going to stop us from hitting the road and taking a run? No way.

2. Spirituality. Running can provide the needed spiritual awakening to help an addict stay sober. Running just seems to make all of your atoms spin a bit faster, unearths previously hidden parts of yourself, and allows a connection with something deeper. Yes, this is partly due to the physical explosions of endorphins and cannabinoids, but the result is an overall sense of well-being and feeling of peace with your place in the universe.

Compare this spiritual awaking with the spiritual despair of the last stages of addiction. As the consequences of addiction escalate, a loss of meaning to live is often the result. That is why spirituality is crucial to recovery.

They say religion is for those who don’t want to go to hell, but spirituality is for those who have been to hell and don’t want to go back. Running and facing the challenge of pushing yourself to physical extremes provides a sense of harrowing hell and then ascending. It’s the biblical notion of a descent, and then ascending to, yes, feeling like you are sitting on the right hand of God at the finish. During some euphoric moments of a run, I feel fully connected to the universe, doubts of a higher power are erased, and I understand my place in the universe at these moments. And it’s pretty darn beautiful.

By the way, if you subscribe to or read the 12 steps of AA, spirituality is the whole reason you work the first 11. The steps say not a word about staying sober, they only speak to having a spiritual awakening. Once you experience the thrill of such an awakening, the despair of using would taste too bitter to go back to.

3. A solitary pursuit in a communal environment. Solitary and communal — running is both of these. It offers alone time and an inner exploration unlike none other. Paraphrasing Joseph Conrad from the Heart of Darkness: “I run as I dream – alone.” Yet the communal nature of a group run, and even more so, starting a marathon with 40,000 other runners, and then seeing them near the end, at mile 23, is a feeling of primitive yet transcendent connection. We are all psychically connected in those moments, and the primal nature of the event has stripped down the artificial barriers between us. The feeling of being one with others around me during these moments is not unlike using psychedelics.

4. Keeping an edge. When you are using, sober life seems so boring and like a curse. Of course, once you get sober, you realize there is not enough time in the day to do all the things you want to do. But, you still need an edge, and despite the stereotypical geeky cross country runner in high school, runners have an edge since their brain and heart go to some unique places, and discomfort becomes a whole new comfort zone. Drunken wasted exploits are replaced by stories of amazing workouts. A strung out addict is a sad, silly cliché, where as the ultra-marathoning tattooed-up runner doing 80 miles a week with self-made body armor of muscle is truly one who lives on the edge.

5. Emotions and expressing them. Most addicts are emotionally stunted. We can’t express fear or joy or insecurity or talk about things. But running, even though it isn’t verbal, has always been an expression of feelings for me. There is nothing that vents rage and anger like a good set of intervals. Nothing. And nothing that provides a sense of joy as a nice 10-mile trail run. Running brings me to an emotional catharsis such that I cry at the end of every marathon. It both expresses emotions and polishes them up. Witness the end of any marathon, and you’ll see the spectrum of emotions squeezed out of every human who makes it across the finish.

6. Health. Our bodies are pretty ravaged and have been punished by too much and not enough, so running is one way to start being good to them.

7. Ego-maniacs with an inferiority complex. Yes, we’ve done some rotten things, sacrificed our ethics and made choices that are shameful, so in order to live with ourselves, we tend to have inflated our ego and lied to ourselves about who we really are in order get by. The worse we became, the more lies we had to feed ourselves about who we really were, and this usually means artificially building ourselves up. But deep in our heart we feel less than, inferior, scared of others since we’ve always felt they had some secret gene that made them know how to live in ways we never learned. Inside the haughty ego is a core of shame and worthlessness.

Running balances this out. It checks your ego since there is always, always somebody faster – and you will always be humbled by a run. Yet you feel incredibly triumphant inside, and never inferior because you have conquered, you are a warrior now, you run like a beast and have found new strength and new hope.

8. You’re good enough, You’re strong enough, and God dang it, God loves you. This seems so Stuart Smalley, but running makes us face ourselves, prove ourselves, and every time we win one of those little battles—either to get out the door and put in a few miles, to hit a certain mileage split, or to qualify for the Boston Marathon—it affirms our existence. We’ve stared into our selves, listen to the voices of doubts and self-fears, but heeded naught yet instead responded to something higher.

9. The persistent need to get high. The bottom line is this: A recovering addict still needs to get high, The difference is that one form of getting high is cheap, is killing you, will hurt your loved ones, and is not going to work anymore; the other will bring you to a higher place of your higher self. Yes, I still want to chase the dragon down, sometimes catch it, ride aboard and soar above my existence for a while, but I would also like to return from the ride in a better spot. Drugs and alcohol never did this, but the highs through running often provide what the addict was truly looking for in the first place: physical strength, emotional expression, spiritual well-being, and a deeper connection with oneself and others. Recovering addicts are just on a different side of the “getting high” Yin-Yang.

Check out how you can get started running today and set a goal to race. Racing for Recovery offers a range of help in this area including but not limited to counseling and training. They even have speakers that work all around the US to help promote conscious recovery from addiction through exercise and holistic health. Check out more information below! – Love, Robyn

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Racing for Recovery™ is a federally approved 501 c 3 non-profit organization.

Founded by Todd Crandell in 2001, Racing for Recovery works to save lives and improve the quality of life for addicts and their friends and family by promoting a lifestyle of health, fitness and sobriety.

Our mission is achieved by offering individuals and their families the opportunity to participate in one-on-one or group counseling services provided by Professional Counselor (PC) and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC III), Todd Crandell; free support group meetings that are open to anyone effected by addiction; Team Racing for Recovery, an online community support system; as well as in real-time social media conversations on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

Our annual events include a 5K/10 Run/Walk and a USAT sanctioned Half Triathlon. These signatureevents bring together struggling and recovering addicts, family, friends, volunteers, everyday athletes, sponsors, donors, supporters and the entire community to enjoy the outdoors, get fresh air, exercise and see that, “With Sobriety, Anything is Possible.”