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Substance Abuse Disorder and Shadow Work: Understanding the Dark Side of Ourselves

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Personal demons often drive substance abuse disorder, as trauma, shame and fear can fuel a need for self-medication and distraction from inner turmoil. Engaging this “dark side” of the psyche can help to expose and ultimately overcome these issues.

“What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” – Carl Jung, Psychologist

When you decide to confront your addiction, you commit to a personal reckoning where you take stock of where you currently are, and work towards where you want to be. It’s a challenging but important journey that helps bring awareness and understanding to all parts of yourself, both the good and the bad. 

The exploration of the negative aspects of the psyche is known as “shadow work,” and is a critical component of overcoming a substance abuse disorder. As past trauma, fears, and problematic patterns of thought often drive a need for self-medication, becoming consciously aware of the “shadow self” helps people better understand and control their behaviour and live healthier, happier lives.

What is the Shadow Self?

The shadow self is the sum of all the “dark” parts of ourself, things that we’d prefer to hide or bury rather than publicly acknowledge. This includes things we might be ashamed of, trauma, painful secrets we’re keeping, fears, or emotional wounds. Every person has a shadow self, but each manifestation of it will depend very much on one’s unique personality, genetics, and life experiences. Psychologists believe that the more people try to repress or ignore their shadow self, the more it will influence their thoughts and behaviours. 

What is Shadow Work?

Shadow work occurs when people decide to explore, analyse and understand their shadow selves, choosing to confront rather than shy away from these often painful parts of the psyche. For those living with a substance abuse disorder, this is an essential step in exposing root causes of addiction, and reshaping problematic patterns in order to support a lasting, healthy recovery. 

Taking a step towards what we’re afraid or embarrassed of rather than hiding from it allows us to move past denial and repression, key drivers of substance abuse disorder and significant hindrances to personal growth. Exposing that which we may have made great conscious or subconscious efforts to repress allows us to reclaim our power and heal from shame. In shadow work, people learn how to embrace themselves, including the parts that they may see as flawed or problematic, in an effort to improve and grow.

Therapeutic Methods Important to Shadow Work

There are a variety of therapies that can help delve deep into the psyche and gently explore the components of the shadow self. Many of these therapies are trauma-related, as traumatic events or periods in people’s lives can significantly contribute to the shadow self. Inpatient addiction and mental health treatment centres like The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab in Thailand, offer these therapies all under one roof, allowing those in treatment to benefit from a variety of modalities. Common therapeutic methods to address shadow work include:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

A highly effective form of talk therapy used often in treating both substance use and mental health disorders, CBT takes place in a one-on-one setting with a therapist and focuses on identifying and working through problematic patterns of thought and behaviour. Often a therapist will introduce a range of healthy coping mechanisms, such as mindfulness, breathing techniques and emotional regulation tools to help support you as you learn to manage your substance use disorder and confront your shadow self.

Acceptance and commitment therapy

Acceptance and commitment therapy helps people learn how to stop avoidance and denial, instead accepting that strong emotions are appropriate responses to pain and hardship and need to be acknowledged and processed in order to heal. 

Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT)

DBT has emerged as an effective therapeutic approach for those dealing with the impacts of trauma, and combines elements of CBT, mindfulness, and acceptance. Specifically, DBT helps to build skills in managing emotions, tolerating stress, improving mindfulness, and engaging interpersonally. 

Trauma reduction therapy (TRT)

Trauma reduction therapy treats the effects of childhood trauma and resulting developmental immaturity and codependency. It does this by reviewing traumatic incidents and gently analysing them in order to decrease some of the sensitivity around these events and promote psychological healing.

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a nontraditional type of psychotherapy that processes a past traumatic event through the practice of specific eye movements, which helps rebuild positive pathways within the mind and results in stronger coping mechanisms that can shield the individual from negative thought patterns.

Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT) 

Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy is a form of CBT that is especially sensitive to the unique problems of those with PTSD and mood disorders resulting from abuse, violence or grief, and specifically addresses their mental and emotional needs. 

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy aims to reduce the fear around trauma triggers, which tend to be dealt with through avoidance, or numbed via substance use. Exposure therapy involves the slow and careful reintroduction of things that trigger a fear response in order to help the mind and body readjust.

Trauma release exercises (TRE)

Trauma release exercises are a series of physical movements and stretching that assist in releasing deep muscular patterns of stress, tension and trauma stored in the body.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a cutting-edge technology that improves symptoms of depression, anxiety, trauma and addiction. This FDA-approved technology is gentle and non-invasive, using magnetic waves to stimulate nerve cells in the brain linked to mood regulation and depression.

Overcoming Substance Use Disorder and Embracing Shadow Work at The Dawn

Overcoming Substance Use Disorder and Embracing Shadow Work at The Dawn

The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab embraces a holistic, person-centred approach to addiction and mental health treatment. Offering compassionate, trauma-informed, residential treatment in line with international standards, The Dawn works closely with each client to develop a comprehensive treatment plan based on each individual’s needs and goals. 

Internationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), and nationally licensed by the Thai Ministry of Health, The Dawn’s programs and facilities meet the highest standards of safety, confidentiality, and client care.

Addiction and Mental Health Retreats in Thailand

Stepping into The Dawn’s resort-like centre, you’ll immediately feel a sense of calm and safety wash over you. Guided by our Treatment Roadmap, your needs will be carefully and professionally attended to by our internationally-trained staff. With a client cap of only 35 residents at a time, you’ll be sure to get the personalised attention you need to make a full return to health. 

During your stay, you’ll benefit from a range of treatment modalities all offered right on site. From a broad variety of effective individual and group psychotherapies, to proven wellness practices like yoga, mindfulness meditation, traditional massage, and fitness training, we target holistic healing of the mind and body. 

Your experienced, certified, Primary Therapist will be with you at every step of your recovery, from the pre-arrival preparation stage that marks the beginning of your Treatment Roadmap at The Dawn, to the final phase of your treatment as you’re making your transition back home. In treatment, your shadow work will always be guided by a therapist who knows you and understands your needs, and will take place in a supportive community of peers. 

Call The Dawn today to learn more about how we can help you overcome substance use disorder.

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