By Tara Moreno
As I sit here looking out at our backyard with all the lush green vegetable plants and the sounds of the boats on the lake, I’m reminded at how blessed we are. My husband Michael and I have been able to create a healthy family environment since we married. We have strived to make our home safe in all aspects of the mind, body and spirit. In our family, we are free to express our emotions and perspectives without judgment or abandonment. It took grueling work to get to this place in our personal and familial development, but we did it and today we reap the benefits.
Our life together merged at a point when my husband finally found the missing piece in his healing journey after searching since the age of 22. I, too, struggled with my health, beginning at the same age, and began searching for the reason of my mental and emotional health decline. Our maladies are something that the world still does not openly discuss. We both struggled with addiction, codependency and trauma. On our own individual journeys, we were able to unravel the complex nature of these afflictions and finally meet to do the work inside of our family life and marriage. All of this with the intention to help others heal, too.
I’d like to think of our love as one that has been divinely orchestrated. We eventually became aware of each other after he stumbled upon a social media post highlighting an aspect of healing and spirituality I often speak on. At the time, I was just starting a nonprofit organization called The Serenity House of Flint. I advertised a holistic training I was offering and he registered for the event. A few days later, he came to Serenity House for a volunteer opportunity. Over the course of a few months, we found out through courting that we lived just a half mile from each other while growing up, went to the same colleges years apart, that he played baseball with my father, and that he was a sponsee of my late grandfather who had 32 years of sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous. Not too long after learning this, we sparked a love affair that sent us both into the next level of our healing.
We married a year later and set our intentions to co-create deeper healing in our lives and our community. We set the intention to further spread awareness of healing by talking openly about our addictions, codependency and trauma, and to teach people how to heal. Before I get into the modalities we use, I’d first like to define addiction, codependency and trauma, accompanied by the leading research.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is scientifically proven to be a disorder of the brain. Some people like to call it a moral failure, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. My husband and I can both attest to that fact that addiction is not something either one of us chose. Sure, we did choose to live a “party” lifestyle, but neither one of us in our wildest dreams thought we would become addicted. Addiction is sneaky and it robs the soul, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly. One day you seem fine and the next you are doing things you never thought you’d do. Dr. Gabor Mate, a leading expert in addiction treatment and recovery including trauma, says in a recent interview with Russell Brand that “addiction is a complex process…it’s manifested in any behavior that a person finds temporary pleasure or relief in and therefore craves, but suffers negative consequences as a result of and cannot give up despite negative consequences.”
Mate goes on to say that addiction stems from a lack of deep and meaningful connections. Science is also finding this to be true. In the late 1970s, a study called Rat Park points this out. Rat Park, a series of studies into drug addiction conducted by Canadian Psychologist Bruce K. Alexander at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, placed rats in a cage all alone and offered two water bottles—one filled with water and the other with heroin or cocaine. The rats would repetitively drink from the drug-laced bottles until they all overdosed and died. In another cage, a rat community where they were free to roam and play, to socialize and have sex, the researcher offered the drug-laced bottles along with the plain water. Remarkably, the rats preferred the water bottle—not the heroin or cocaine.
How does Codependency Fit in Addiction?
Codependency is the inability to have balanced and meaningful relationships with the people in our lives. Codependency is the addiction to people rather than a substance or activity. Codependency is also lack of connection but through unfulfilling relationships.
Codependency is deeply entrenched in our society so much that most people are in denial of it. From my own healing journey, and my husband’s, we have decided that codependency is the inability to love oneself and that the void of self-love afflicts a person in a way that they try to fill it with people either by people-pleasing or by controlling the other. In a codependent relationship, we have the hopes of being rescued and that someone will complete us. We fail to recognize that we are completely on our own. This, however, does not account for the fact that we need people. This is why codependency is so hard to heal.
In Rene Eram’s book entitled “The Addict’s Loop,” Eram describes two roles that define a codependent relationship. “The codependent inherits one role—either the Controller role (false god, enabler, dominant, judgmental, over-controlling and victim) or the Dependent role (false self, needy, broken, people pleaser, passive-aggressive and entitled). The programming and behavior in the two codependent roles is multi-generational and passed down to each generation.” Eram states that people with addiction inherit both roles and rotate them. Therefore, codependency is a form of addiction and extends as a multigenerational issue that is passed down.
Trauma: What is it and how do We Heal it?
Trauma is defined in the Oxford dictionary is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Understanding trauma has been something I have come more deeply to understand over the past year. In the beginning of our relationship, Michael spoke about trauma often and stated that trauma was the root of his addictions and codependency. I would listen, but ultimately disregard while thinking I was too tough for trauma to impact me. I didn’t understand until much later that my inability to identify my own trauma was because trauma is deeply embedded in our bodies and psyche so much in fact that science is confirming this with epigenetics. Epigenetics is the science that is finding out the powers of the DNA and how markers can be turned on and off by the environment. It’s also finding that trauma is passed down generation after generation.
Mate states in his website blog, “the source of pain is always and invariably to be found in a person’s lived experience, beginning with childhood. Childhood trauma is the template for addiction—any addiction. All addictions are attempts to escape the deep pain of the hurt child, attempts temporarily soothing but ultimately futile. This is no less true of the socially successful workaholic, such as I have been, than of the inveterate shopper, sexual rover, gambler, abject street-bound substance user or stay-at-home mom and user of opioids.”
Britt Frank, a psychotherapist and trauma specialist in Overland Park, Kansas, defines trauma as an injury a person can heal from. She also states that everyone has incurred some kind of trauma. In a recent social media post for her private practice, Frank says, “Trauma is defined by our brain’s perception of events, not the events themselves.” In other words, trauma is defined by the sensitivity of the individual and how their autonomic nervous system responds to the event. Something as little as yelling can be harmful to a person. Frank labels trauma as being either covert, overt, epigenetic, secondary, tertiary, primary, somatic, cerebral, etc. and can occur from the following: death of a loved one, chronic illness (yours or someone else), bullying, moving, divorce, puberty, having sex for the first time, menstruating for the first time, moving, and many other common occurrences promised in life.
So how are we Healing Addiction, Codependency and Trauma at The Serenity House of Flint?
In order to heal this extremely layered issue, the first priority is safety. A person needs to feel safe in their environment to be able to heal effectively. Safety is the first core principle of the organization at The Serenity House of Flint. With the help of Flint Recast, a Flint-based organization focused on building the size of Flint’s trauma-informed community, and supporting resiliency skill-building to manage complex stress, we have adopted the Community Resiliency Model. At Serenity House, we provide a safe place to discuss our addiction, codependency and trauma, and work with people who are healing it or have begun the process of healing. We are a peer-based organization with the mission to advocate for people in addiction recovery to eradicate the stigma around addiction. We do this by having two annual events to celebrate recovery and provide holistic options. This fall we will have our 5th Annual Flint Recovery Walk & Rally in downtown Flint at the Flat Lot. This is an event for the entire family. In the winter, we have our annual Flint Recovery Arts & Music Show where we showcase art and music to heal from addiction.
The second part of our mission is to offer holistic options for the community. We’ve been around for almost five years with one of our first programs being the Serenity Reiki Outreach Program, where we have provided a form of holistic touch therapy to communities all around Michigan. We are working with or have worked with: Crossover Ministries, Wellness AIDS Services Inc., Kindred Hospice, McLaren Regional Medical Center’s Hospitality House fundraising event, Flint Pride Festival, UAW Soberfest, Fresh Flint Festival, and more. In 2017, we served 442 people. In 2018, that number grew to 628. And in 2019, we have served 291 thus far.
Other holistic modalities offered are Acudetox (NADA Protocol), which is acupuncture for the ear that encourages the body to detox toxins and curb cravings. This modality was created after an acupuncturist taught the modality at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx in New York City. Since the implementation of the Acudetox Program at Serenity, we have helped 240 people. We also have a program called Drumming for Recovery. This program encourages not only healing individually, but healing the community. We also provide mindfulness meditation for adolescents at Odyssey House and their outpatient program for adults. More of the well-known holistic modalities we offer include Aromatherapy and Yoga. In the near future, Michael will offer Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) for recovery for men.
Don Coyhis, a Native American and founder of the White Bison Wellbriety movement, deeply understands the importance of holistic healing within the community. White Bison actively uses Native American drumming for Native populations across the county. In a recent presentation I attended in Arlington, Virginia, Coyhis noted a grant he received to help a Native American population to heal from trauma and addiction where 80 percent of the women in that tribe were sexually molested. During the course of the programming, there were no real changes for an entire year. Defeated, he went to his mentor, Johnny Looking Cloud, to express his deep concerns. His mentor told him to take the issue to the elders. Coyhis did and told the elders he thought he could not help turn that community around “with those types of problems for so many years around.” The elders said, “If you want to heal this community, go back to the community the community knows. Go back to the elders … go back in time because there was a time that we did not have the problems we have today.” Coyhis then went on to say that in that tribe, White Bison incorporated the ancient wisdom given to humans from the earth. He said, “The earth taught the teachings. They observed the eagles and how they treated their young, and the trees and air. And they started to recognize that there was an intelligent system running everything… I cannot see it, but there’s something going on and it became very apparent there were seasons and cycles and timing and it was so powerful…the world view was that everything was interconnected and everything was related.”
It’s clear that addiction codependency and trauma are a collective problem. The pain and suffering from each of them knows no boundaries and impacts, everyone, whether they are aware of it or not. The answer should be clear on how we can heal addiction, codependency, and trauma: We must look to our ancestors and ancient teachings to heal; we need to connect with the earth. Holistic options are these ancient practices given to us to encourage the innate wisdom of the body, mind, and spirit to heal.
Tara Moreno is the founder and executive director of The Serenity House of Flint. She is also co-owner of Green Tara Holistic Recovery Coaching with her husband Michael Wallen. The two live on Lake Fenton with their children.