Healing vs. Relief

There’s an interview with Jamie Lee Curtis in the New Yorker, timed to promote her new movie with Daniel Craig, “Knives Out.” 

According to her report, Ms. Curtis doesn’t like horror movies. She says “I scare easily …loud noises scare me.” 

I can relate to her on that one. Trauma is why I got into therapy for myself, and why I work with people who have trauma. I empathize with what they’re going through. Sometimes things that happen early in life carry a lot of weight and follow us into the present whether we want it to or not. This is an important thing to understand because it’s what makes trauma therapy valuable for people. It’s amazing to unlock and neutralize the impact of past trauma and its effects on one’s mind and responses. 

Another remark Ms. Curtis made was about substance abuse. She said,“…it is a by-product of trauma, by the way. Painkillers, alcohol – it is the balm that heals people when they are so traumatized. There’s no accident that people coming back from war fall prey to drugs and alcohol as the relief from the trauma.” 

That caught my attention. I agree with her in part. I do understand why people seek out some sort of relief from drugs or alcohol. Pain is incredibly difficult to deal with whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual. Substances can bring temporary relief, but they also catch you in a web of deceit that drags you further in and down. 

Did you notice she uses the phrase “the balm that heals” metaphorically? That misunderstanding requires that I make an important distinction. 

Relief is temporary. Healing is permanent. Relief is about symptoms. Healing is about getting to the root of the problem. Relief doesn’t return a person to health. In fact, I have to give Ms. Curtis credit for saying quite articulately, that the substances that people use for relief can cause other problems with addiction itself becoming a burden. 

And so, as one explores the implications of addiction and the emotional pain of trauma, there is a profound and radical difference between “relief” and “healing.” 

When Ms. Curtis says that alcohol and pain-killers are “the balm that heals people when they are so traumatized,” I am sure she doesn’t actually mean “heals.” She means temporary pain relief. 

Healing is a different, and far better for anyone suffering from trauma. I’ve seen it happen with clients when I use EMDR to unlock the neurological pathways that store the sensations associated with a traumatic memory. 

I am continually amazed at how fearfully and wonderfully complex we are made and how the simplest thing such as bilateral stimulation can make the difference between “relief” and “healing”… which is a distinction worth delving into. 

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