The line between self-medication and addiction is terrifyingly thin, especially when what we’re trying to medicate is our trauma response. I know this intimately, from repeated personal experience; and, I’m only just now putting into action what I’ve come to understand about it through the years.
Let’s be honest: we’re all out here medicating. We call it “self-medicating” when we do it without the “supervision” of a doctor . . . but I’m not entirely sure doctors are doing our mental health many favors by medicating us, either. Sorry, doc. But it’s my experience I’m sharing here.
I’m here to say that medicating is a slippery slope. How easy it is to enter into it with the intention of easing symptoms only to backslide into trauma-induced addiction, eventually worsening the condition and building a difficult-to-escape cycle.
Let me illustrate:
I have historically been on the forefront of promoting the “safe” use of marijuana to medicate depression and anxiety. You can read about it plenty on this here blog. I’ve said that it is the only thing that turns the ~ S C R E A M I N G ~ inside my head from an onslaught to a static din. Which is true . . . at first.
Then, that static din becomes itself an object of addiction – not the substance itself (there are a thousand studies saying it’s chemically nonaddictive, we all know this), but what IS addicting is the static numbness in an otherwise stormy brain.
The ~ S C R E A M I N G ~ doesn’t go anywhere. And the more heavily I attempt to mask it, the more insistent it becomes – meaning more and more “medication” is needed to keep it quiet.
And, at some point, we have to ask ourselves what else are we quieting? For me, it’s intelligence, motivation, ambition, compassion, awareness, self-love, and the ability to connect with others. Yikes. Is that really a sacrifice I’m willing to make?
The ~ S C R E A M I N G ~ lies to me and says yes – yes, your brain is awful, turn it off, turn off your life, you need to look away, nothing good to see here, you worthless, hopeless, sad, angry disaster . . .
So it went, for me, for years. ~ S C R E A M I N G ~ followed by medicating until I realized I didn’t like myself that stoned, then cold-turkey waking up and putting into use some other coping technique. And so on and so forth.
But there’s another way. I started to discover it years ago, which is when I really limited my “medication” moments – I got to a place where I only used it if I absolutely couldn’t bring myself to an alternative.
The answer to medication is meditation. And we know that meditation can look like a lot of things.
Another way to say this is that the answer to NEEDING medication is self-regulation born of self-realization. Which, by the way, is a continual process. It takes a whole hell of a lot more work than walking into a dispensary, doctor’s office, or drug dealer’s living room.
But it works a whole hell of a lot better, too.
Because the ~ S C R E A M I N G ~ goes away. It self-resolves. No longer does it become a distorted, quiet, nondescript buzzing static only to return between doses, or in the middle of the night, or when we’re at our breaking point. It just . . . runs itself out. Becomes silence.
When we replace medication with meditation, we HEAL.
This is what it looks like for me:
Daily practice, to build resilience, so that when a trigger inevitably arrives, I am already in self-care mode. I eat healthful, plant-based foods and avoid nonsense shit things that have mind-and-mood-altering chemicals, drink TONS of water (about a gallon a day) and prioritize getting enough sleep. Every day, I move my body in ways that feel good, like taking long walks, hiking, running, and doing yoga. Every day, I meditate for at least 20 minutes – sometimes that means laying on my back with my legs up a wall listening to calm music; sometimes, it means sitting in silence with my back against a tree; sometimes, it looks like chanting angrily through my tears at the gods.
So, when a trigger arrives, and the ~ S C R E A M I N G ~ returns, I go into autopilot self-care mode. If I’m feeling anxious, or – as I have taken to calling it after a particularly tough year – adrenaline sick, I do something really strenuous like RUNNING a mountain. If I’m feeling low, I reach out to my support group and force myself to go outside, even if it means slowly walking with headphones in while I let tears stream down my face.
The difference, you see, between medicating (quieting) the ~ S C R E A M I N G ~ and meditating with it is that one allows it to process, to come up and out, while the other shoves it down – puts it under pressure – making it stronger and worse.
I don’t care how well you think your medication is working. If you don’t use your medication to get to a place of processing, you will never be free of it. “It” being the ~ S C R E A M I N G ~ and “it” being the need to medicate.
If you can use the temporary quietude induced by the medication to begin a daily practice of self-realization, however, you will be well on your way to healing. On your way to peaceful silence in place of ~ S C R E A M I N G ~ . . . on your way to wholeness.
And, like I always say, if I can do it – so can you. My ~ S C R E A M I N G ~ is loud AF, just like yours. But humans are resilient, strong, determined creatures. It’s in our nature to evolve. Developing new habits is well within our reach. I believe in you.
If you need or want any suggestions or help developing a plan, making a roadmap out of your cycle of medication, reach out to me. I’m not a doctor, but I am an expert in healing the trauma response. I’m not a doctor, but I am a human. I’m not here to tell you to quit anything cold-turkey, but I am here to tell you my story. And to listen to your story, too.
I’m not a doctor, but I’m done with medication.