Trauma and Alcohol – It’s Complicated

If you have lived long enough, or grew up in the “wrong” family, you will have undoubtedly have experienced a series of traumatic events. No, trauma isn’t just a massive event, though it can be, but is also an accumulation of small events which add up to significant impacts.

More surprisingly, trauma isn’t all bad. And, as with most life events, “it depends.”

First, “trauma,” other than the obvious deaths, diseases, assaults, and accidents, are a matter of perception. In 7th grade I got a “D” in Miss Roux’s Ancient History class. In my family that was a disaster as indicated by how clearly I remember it. But let’s face it. One “D” in 12 years of school is hardly a life changing event. Especially when compared to my younger brother’s death from leukemia when I was three, my own near death experience from whooping cough at six, or being a witness to my parents daily assaults on my grandfather with whom we lived.

My litany, which could be expanded, shows that, to me, the events were relative in their significance. In many cases, I did not become aware the results for years, sometimes decades.

Then there is the rarely noticed “good” results from events such as the ones I reported.

  • Maturing into a decent adult is the result of four traits:
  • You need to be bright, not a genius, just capable of processing information;
  • You need to be sensitive;
  • You need to be more fearful than angry;
  • You need to have had to resolve conflicts on your own.

The fourth is where trauma comes in – if you are always being rescued by parents you will never learn to manage your problems on your own. Indeed, you will learn that you are entitled to never have too.

Odds are, being a reader, you do not fall into the “entitled” group. Probably just the opposite, as some 750+ clients over the past dozen years have shown.

However, that doesn’t mean that we cannot be overwhelmed by events, and overwhelmed can also mean seeking refuge in alcohol.

If that “refuge” were temporary, say the first year after a divorce or death, or a year of pandemic, it probably wouldn’t be a problem. Put in the time, gain some distance, get vaccinated, and return to living. But that’s where alcohol use turns on us.

Simply put, drinking prevents healing. Whether the condition or the event is current or decades old, alcohol keeps it fresh and that “freshness” reinforces the continued drinking. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of veterans suffering from PTSD which they medicate and medicating prevents healing from the PTSD.

Of course PTSD is just one of dozens of conditions where the temporary respite and solace become the new problem, and the “crutch” needs to be thrown away for the “leg” to heal.

As the pandemic abates, many of us are finding it difficult to resume the routines and activities we abandoned a year ago. Back to the commute after working from home? Fully and professionally dressed after a year of Zoom? Doing something active with these daylight savings hours after a year of early and solitary cocktail hours?

Many of us could use some absolution for the habits we’ve slipped into over the past year, as well as some empathy and accountability when it comes to emerging from a traumatic year. We do understand as we too have been going through our own work and home transitions and challenges. But we’re also happy to offer some guidance as to what works.


I could use a little help myself.

For a dozen years I have sat down, mostly early on Monday morning, to write the following Sunday’s Newsletter. That’s the case as I write this.

On most of those mornings I put the publication date at the top of a blank Word document and, as the sign my friend Karen gave me says, “Writing is easy. Just stare at a blank document until beads of blood appear on your forehead.”

I could use a transfusion, which is what I am asking for, please?

Is there anything you would like me to write about, explore, address, or suggest?

Yes, this is a bit like classes we’ve all taken when the teacher/professor says, “Please ask if you have questions – any questions – confident that so do most of the other students who are too embarrassed to ask.”

Yes, I’d appreciate your questions and, no, you will never be identified!

Please? No, I’m not the Red Cross, but I could still use a transfusion of ideas.

Thank you in advance.