by Suzanne Grosser
When you think of addiction, you probably think of problems with
alcohol, prescription drugs, heroin, gambling, compulsive spending, or
food. But one form of the disease quite common in PTSD sufferers is the
craving for drama.
You probably already know someone you refer to as a "drama queen." These people never experience small problems or minor inconveniences. Everything is a huge deal. The minutiae of their life is writ large – in flashing neon letters. I imagine there are many reasons for this – habit, family background, a need for attention. For whatever reason, most of these individuals have been doing this for so long it has become ingrained in their personality. If you live with one of these people and are reconsidering that relationship, read this before making your choice.
This article is concerned not with those early-onset drama queens. This is about the drama addiction that develops after a traumatic experience. And the steps you can take not to become a drama queen yourself!
Most commonly this happens after a prolonged trauma: a stint in a POW camp, marriage to an abusive partner, being stalked, or serving in a war zone. All traumas flood the body with stress hormones. These types of ongoing traumas, provide a steady flood of these energizing chemicals for a prolonged period of time. You become hyper-vigilant.
You are out of that prison camp, that relationship, your stalker is
in jail, your tour of duty has ended. You are safe. But it takes time
to feel safe again, a long time and yes, hard work. It may involve various
After the worst of the PTSD symptoms have faded, drama addiction may emerge.
Your life is back to what the rest of the world calls normal. You can walk outside without planning multiple routes or calculating who might be waiting to attack you and where. But this doesn’t feel normal to you.
It feels dead and lifeless. You are sluggish. You sink into depression. Suddenly a car cuts you off and your adrenaline bursts out. That shot of danger, and you are feeling more up, energized, ready to fight, you feel alive. You’re back! Your drama addiction has begun.
You start to over-react to minor things. Your brother didn’t forget he was supposed to help you, he’s mad about something. Those teenagers aren’t merely hanging out by their car in the parking lot, they are gang members planning to mug you. You are addicted, not to the pain, or the danger, or the fear, you are addicted to stress hormones.
Like any other addiction, it fills a need. It creates a feeling that you craves. During your trauma, you were "on" all the time. You had a steady flood of adrenalin buoying you up. That is what kept you alive. Over time, your body got used to that hyper-alert state. Your body adapted to being constantly awash with stress hormones. Your body and brain became accustomed to a steady diet of these energizing chemicals and now without them, life feels flat. You are in withdrawal. As sure as the alcoholic craves that drink, you crave that shot of adrenaline.
You need to reset your body's “normal.” Time is your friend here. It takes time to recalibrate your brain and body to life without ever-present danger. So relax, you will get better.
There a few things you can do to speed up the process:
Pay Attention The first step is awareness. Realize when you are over-reacting. Be aware that your brain is creating dangerous scenarios where the possibility of danger is really quite low. Be willing to see where you are creating reasons to be afraid and getting all worked up over minor things. You do not want to be that person. It may feel good. It will almost be a relief to feel "on guard" again. But don’t go down that path.
Take this test Try this addiction self-test to see if you are a drama junkie. It will help you see what you need to change.
Ask for Help The right person can be your stay-in-touch-with-reality check. Remember that person you thought of earlier in this article when I said “drama queen”? That is NOT the person to ask for help. You need someone who is calm, peaceful, and brutally honest. When that person talks, you should listen. They will say things like: “Really? You got that whole big disaster out of one little offhand remark?” or “Don’t you think that’s a little bit over-the-top?”
Keep Your Sense of Humor When you catch yourself building up a good disaster scene, laugh at yourself. Admire your creativity, consider a career in the movie industry, but realize how crazy this is.
If you haven’t seen the movie, Major League, you should. You don’t have to like baseball to appreciate this comedy. One of the best scenes in the movie is radio announcer Harry Doyle doing the play by play. Pitcher Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn throws yet another wild pitch, missing the strike zone by several feet, sending the catcher scrambling to retrieve the ball. Doyle calls it “Juuuuuust a bit outside!” Here’s a quick video of the scene:
When you start to over-react, when you see your thoughts going wide, hear that call “Juuuuuust a bit outside.” Laughing at yourself will diffuse your misplaced anger and fear.
You can’t deny now that you are a very creative person. Look at the drama you can make. Look at the intense scenarios you invent with just a tiny bit of an idea. Redirect your creative energy into something less toxic.
Don’t Do Drama
don’t need it. Life is better without it. Move forward. There are too many good
things in life to waste time with this addiction. Be patient with
yourself. Follow the 5 steps above and reclaim your life.
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