We experience fear on a spectrum. On a scale from 1 to 10, we might go from feeling nervous about something — butterflies in our stomach — to feeling utterly terrified — peeing-your-pants kind of fear. Just like anger, fear can be a secondary emotion that kicks in when our senses tell us that we are in physical danger. Our bodies take over and we instinctively do one of three things: fight, flee, or freeze.
Also like anger, our fear indicator can get calibrated incorrectly when we have experienced life-threatening situations or trauma in the past. Sometimes a disorder called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop with symptoms like these: nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance of situations that remind us of the event, refusing to talk about what happened, beginning to distrust all people, isolating from others, feeling keyed up and jittery, and being hyper-vigilant for signs of danger.
It’s understandable with these kinds of symptoms why up to 75% of people who have survived abuse or trauma report that they have a drinking or substance abuse problem (National Center for PTSD, 2016).
One of the things we need to be honest about with ourselves and with our counselor as we begin our recovery journey is the presence of some kind of trauma in our past that is causing us to want to numb out or find relief from the emotional pain we are experiencing. Our addiction will not get better if we don’t deal with the underlying causes.
–Melissa Haas, Emotions 101