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Handling Trauma After Leaving Treatment

Treatment provides us with a safe space to process emotions and traumas of the past. We hope going into treatment improved your life in a multitude of ways. Not only can treatment help you develop skills for recovery, but it can also help you process the beginnings of your addiction and the life events that contributed to it.

As you leave treatment, you are leaving a safe and therapeutic environment, but remember you can still create your own safe space by being mindful of triggers and focusing on self-care.

This world is full of trauma triggers. Watching movies, television shows, and the news or listening to people share their stories can be triggering for some individuals. Do not be afraid of triggers; instead, be proactive and have a plan to deal with them.

Coping Strategies for Triggers

There are a variety of coping strategies for dealing with trauma triggers that might make you fall into old behavior patterns. Remember, be proactive, not reactive. Your trauma does not have to define your life choices. You have come so far in recovery!

As you experience triggers, you can set yourself up for success by setting boundaries, exercising, practicing mindfulness, and engaging in creative activities. These strategies will help you in your recovery from addiction and trauma.

Set Boundaries

We often think about setting boundaries relative to relationships, which is important, but we must also set boundaries for ourselves. You do not have to watch that movie, show, or news clip. You can put down social media. You can leave a meeting if things are too triggering. You have the right to take care of yourself first. Recognizing that right is the beginning of one’s proactive coping with trauma outside of treatment.


One incredibly beneficial and proactive method of dealing with trauma is to exercise. (This does not mean overexercising.) Exercise can create the increased heart rate and other sensations one might experience when triggered, meaning that you can repair those anxious symptoms with something positive.

In an article titled “Exercise Intervention in PTSD: A Narrative Review and Rationale for Implementation” fromFrontiers in Psychiatry, the authors Hegberg, Hayes, and Hayes examine the role of exercise in overcoming post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and explain its many benefits.

The article explains how exercise provides exposure to and desensitization from arousal cues. The authors further explore how exercise improves cognition and neuroplasticity (one’s ability to change their thinking processes and brain structure). So, as you practice healthy exercise, you are also rewiring your brain to better cope with trauma.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is characterized by a “non-judgmental, non-reactive, present-centered attention and metacognitive awareness of cognition, emotion, sensation, and perception,” according to an article in Substance Abuse Rehabilitation. Mindfulness gives you the ability to experience your present circumstances as they are without becoming entrenched in them. Regular mindfulness practice helps you cope with your daily experiences by enabling you to separate the experience from reactivity. Therefore, you can assess and react in a manner that is consistent with your values instead of your emotions.

There are many different ways to practice mindfulness, not just breathwork. You can take a walk and carefully note everything you see and/or smell without judging. Being non-reactive and non-judgmental takes practice, so the more you engage with mindfulness-based activities, the better prepared you will be to cope with triggering situations.

Get Creative

Patricia Thistlethwaite explains in her article “The Sparkle of Creativity” that “thinking creatively leads to new discoveries and better ways to do things, enhances personal well-being and self-worth.” In short, creativity expands our critical thinking skills and improves our ability to cope with various situations.

Writing, painting, drawing, needlepoint, scrapbooking, making or appreciating music… There are so many ways to be creative. Engaging in any form of creativity can help you heal and improve your resilience and ability to cope with the triggers you may face after you leave treatment.

Just Think…

You have achieved so much in your recovery from addiction to alcohol and/or other substances or behaviors. As you engage with life outside of treatment, you may need to remind yourself of various coping skills that you learned in treatment. Learning new skills will also help you as you continue your path to recovery.

Always remember that you have the capacity to choose how you cope. You can be reactive, which has the potential to limit your ability to cope in a positive and healthy manner. Or you can take the initiative, recognize you will face triggers, and develop the skills to cope with them in advance. You can maintain your recovery from addiction. Being mindful of triggers and having the means to cope with them will help you ensure your success.

Being proactive and learning coping strategies for dealing with trauma triggers after you leave treatment can ensure your success in living a full life. A treatment program provides a safe space for learning about how to cope with trauma, but ultimately you will have to cope with triggers on your own as you pursue recovery. Learning how to develop the skills takes time and effort. At Guest House, we offer a variety of programs to help you learn how to process and cope with your trauma. We help you develop the skills so you can start living your best life free from the clutches of reactive responses to triggering situations. If you or someone you know has experienced trauma and wants to fully experience life without reactivity, call Guest House at (855) 483-7800 and learn how our staff can help you embrace life more fully.