Recovering from addiction requires a great deal of inner work. It is a lifelong process and not merely a matter of stopping the problematic behavior that characterizes addiction. It entails healing from the trauma that so often lies at its center. But, how do we begin this process of healing which is so critical to the success of our recovery journey?
One way of starting this journey focuses on what Dr. Thema Bryant calls psychological homelessness. This refers to the way in which many people who have undergone trauma feel cut off, separated, or alienated from their authentic selves, which results in feelings of anxiety, fear, and a deep sense of being unsettled. It can also lead to the adoption of unhealthy, and even dangerous, coping methods.
Psychological Homelessness: Being Disconnected from your Authentic Self
Many of us can feel that something is missing or that we are not wholly connected to ourselves. The question “Is this it?” can haunt those of us who feel uncertain, unsettled, or dissociated from our daily lives. Dr. Thema uses the term psychological homelessness to characterize the way in which those who have suffered trauma so often divorce themselves from who they truly are.
This approach conceptualizes our authentic selves as our homes. In an interview with Mel Robbins, Dr. Bryant describes the way in which a whole and healthy body and mind work together to create a safe haven where we are meant to live. She also describes the way in which trauma – emotional, physical, societal, or otherwise – disconnects us from that wholeness and, therefore, from our home. Some of the symptoms of feeling psychologically homeless include:
- Feeling removed from yourself and your choices
- Being unable to imagine better for yourself
- Being unmotivated
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Not feeling worthy of goodness or kindness
The first step to healing from psychological homelessness is to acknowledge that, in Dr. Bryant’s words, “I miss myself.” This powerful statement can feel painful, but it is the first step in bridging the gap between the inauthentic self – divorced from feeling as a result of pain and hurt – and your authentic self. According to Dr. Bryant, there are two main ways of continuing the work of coming home: self- and community-care.
Self-care is not simply about treating yourself to what you want, as it is often portrayed in social media, but rather it is about ensuring that you are holistically healthy and well cared for. Eating balanced meals, staying hydrated, and getting plenty of sleep are key features of the type of self-care that support your journey to coming home to yourself.
On the other hand, community care is about approaching others with kindness and compassion and giving them the same levels of respect and care you would give to yourself. Softening when others are irritable or difficult is one of the key ways to promote community care and strengthen your ties with those around you.
Psychological Homelessness and Addiction Recovery
We often speak about the relationship between addiction and trauma. As we know, trauma lives in the body and can manifest itself in the type of mental health condition that is at the root of harmful, problematic, and abusive behavior. This is particularly true for those who are struggling with addiction; substance use is one of the ways many trauma survivors learn to cope with the feelings of pain, hurt, and disconnection.
It is not always easy to operationalize the gap between understanding trauma and undertaking recovery; however, this is where the concept of psychological homelessness can be extremely useful – first in understanding some of the more complex mechanics at work in the addiction process and then in taking steps toward recovery. The relationship between disconnection and feelings of numbness could be a key factor in how an addiction maintains its hold on the mind and body. This is true for substance use disorder as well as for other mental health conditions such as disordered eating, obsessive behaviors, and anxiety disorders.
Viewing your self as your home and working to get back there through self- and community-care can be a great way to lay the foundation towards successful recovery. This process of coming home psychologically requires a great deal of compassion for everyone involved, but it is ultimately about connection, kindness, and reintegration of the self – of becoming the person you want to be.
Learning to address and heal from the trauma at the root of a mental health condition is a lifelong process, and sometimes we need support along the way. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction or mental health condition, we are always here to support you and listen. Visit our addictions and mental health overview pages to learn more.
 Bryant, T. (2022) Homecoming: Overcome Fear and Trauma to Reclaim Your Whole, Authentic Self. TarcherPerigee.
 Robbins, M. (2023) 6 Signs You’re Disconnected From Your Power and How to Get It Back: Life-Changing Advice. The Mel Robbins Podcast. https://www.melrobbins.com/podcasts/episode-69