Waking Up From the Nightmare of Sexual and Substance Abuse
Some things you just never forget, but especially the traumatic memories of sexual abuse. Is it any wonder that you turn to whatever you can to try to numb yourself out, to rid yourself, for whatever short period of time, of the painful reliving of that horrific experience or long-standing sexual abuse? Alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription drugs used nonmedically – all take their toll. Over time, you may wind up seriously dependent upon or addicted to these substances. Worse yet, you still have your tortured thoughts. What can you do? There is hope. You can wake up from the nightmare of sexual and substance abuse. Here’s how.
Talk to Someone
This may take a great deal of courage on your part, but you need to talk to someone to tell them that you are in trouble. There must be someone in your life that you trust, someone who hasn’t violated your boundaries or personal space, and someone who has no ulterior motive. If you have a spouse or family member – who is not part of nor condoned the sexual abuse that you experienced – begin with this person. If, however, your sexual abuse occurred at the hands of a family member, you will need to go outside to find a trusted individual to talk with. Contact your priest, minister, or spiritual advisor. Speak with your doctor. If you have a friend who is a confidant, talk with him or her.
What should you say? At this point, you don’t need to get into the nitty gritty specifics of the abuse or your substance abuse. But, depending on the nature of your relationship with the person you speak with, he or she may already know or suspect what’s bothering you. What the person may not know, however, is the extent to which your past sexual abuse and current substance abuse are causing serious disruption and problems in your daily life.
Choose a mutually convenient time when you can have a private conversation with this person. Start out by thanking them, in advance, for their consideration and request that they keep the discussion confidential. Tell him or her that you feel that you need outside help in order to deal with some problems in your past and present that are undermining your ability to function properly at home, work, school, or socially. Naturally, your family member, friend, or trusted other will ask what is wrong. This is so they will know how they may be able to help you. You should not expect that just talking with this person will solve your problems. This is only the first step in acknowledging that you are experiencing a problem and need help. You need to start somewhere, and the best place is with people you know and trust.
The old saying that “Two heads are better than one” holds true here. By speaking with others who have your best interests at heart (either because they know you or because they are in a profession or calling where their life’s work involves helping others) you will receive valuable insight and support as you work toward taking the next step – getting professional help.
One thing you can ask for from whomever you talk with is their support. You want them to be part of your support network as you work through your difficulties. You need trusted allies all along the way and into your recovery. Getting by with a little help from your friends is very apropos here.
Accept No Blame
One of the biggest reasons why victims of sexual abuse fail to get help is that they blame themselves for what happened. It must have been my fault, they conclude. They may have even been told it was their fault over and over again by the perpetrator of the sexual abuse. The closer the relationship between abuser and abused (such as a parent) and the younger the abuse began, the more deeply the self-blame is embedded in the victim.
Get this into your mind right now: You are not to blame. No matter what the circumstance, you did not deserve to be sexually abused. Not the first time, nor any subsequent time. It is not due to anything you did or said or failed to do or say. Sexual abuse is a crime that is punishable by law, and the perpetrator is the one who is guilty – not you. It is never you.
Why is it so important that you accept no blame? First of all, blame is a dead-end street. No one ever moves forward by blaming themselves for their thoughts, actions, or words. Blaming others is another ineffective means of dealing with powerful and destructive emotions as blame, in and of itself, is extremely negative. Before you can begin to heal, you need to say to yourself, almost in a mantra, “I am not to blame for what happened.”
You may not believe it now, but you will in time. It will require professional help, but you will begin to realize that you are, indeed, blameless for the sexual abuse.
What it Takes to Heal
Some victims of sexual abuse construct very elaborate coping mechanisms in order to wipe the tortured memories from their consciousness. Daily rituals involving alcohol and drugs are just one of many such self-destructive patterns of behavior. You may have created what you believe to be effective means of coping when, in fact, they are anything but.
What does it take to heal? What will you actually be required to do? While every individual’s circumstance is different, and every person’s path to healing is unique, two elements are constant in the healing process. You need to commit yourself to overcoming the effects of the trauma and substance abuse, and you must give the treatment process time to work.
Committing yourself to overcoming the effects of sexual and substance abuse is more than just words. It means that you actively search out and go into treatment. This involves finding the appropriate treatment facility that can deal with dual diagnosis – in this case, the psychological effects of sexual abuse and substance abuse. Such commitment extends to a willingness and determination to see treatment through to the conclusion, and participating fully in whatever therapies or modalities are recommended as part of your customized treatment plan.
Recognize that things won’t get better overnight. You won’t just wake up in a week or a month and be rid of the nightmare of sexual and substance abuse forever. Your memories that have been so deeply buried and the negative coping mechanisms you have used just to get through the day will need to be looked at, and worked through, one by one. You will learn about the disease of substance abuse, how to identify triggers to using, and develop healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and unwanted memories of past abuse instead of resorting to substance use.
Treatment for Sexual and Substance Abuse
The most effective treatment for sexual and substance abuse occurs simultaneously. When you are admitted to a treatment facility that deals with co-occurring disorders, the treatment professionals will do a thorough interview and assessment. They will then create a personalized treatment plan to accommodate your situation and circumstances. If you need to obtain financial assistance, or get a scholarship or grant, if available, through the facility or treatment center, this will need to be done prior to going in for treatment.
Comprehensive dual-diagnosis treatment using EMDR and other highly effective therapies.
If you have not abstained from drugs or alcohol prior to entering the treatment facility, you will have to go through detoxification. This is simply clearing your body of the traces of alcohol or drugs and is a required first step before active treatment begins. Detoxification may take place on the premises of a full-services addiction treatment facility or may be handled in a hospital setting or other location staffed by medical personnel who monitor your condition on a 24-hour basis throughout the detoxification period. The amount of time detoxification takes depends on the substance of abuse. Some detox periods are as short as 1 to 2 days, while some chronic and debilitating drugs of abuse may take 10 days to 2 weeks to clear out of your system.
Why not just go through detox and be done with it? Think of it this way. You’ve been using drugs as a way to not deal with your underlying psychological problems. Sure, you can become drug- and alcohol-free for a short period of time, but if you don’t deal with the reasons why you’re using these substances, you’ll go right back to them as a means of coping with what is the underlying cause: an inability to overcome the effects of sexual abuse.
After detox, you will enter the active treatment phase. During this time, you will be counseled by therapists on an individual and group basis. You will attend lectures and discussions to learn about the disease of addiction, and other lectures and discussions dealing with the negative consequences of sexual abuse. There will be 12-step group meetings that you will be introduced to so that you can learn the philosophy and how such support networks work. This will prove crucial to you once you finish treatment and return to your normal life. The most successful treatment for sexual and substance abuse involves aftercare services, a strong and readily available support network, and practice of healthy coping strategies.
Where to Find Treatment Facilities for Sexual and Substance Abuse
Your doctor, minister, family or trusted friend may be able to help you with a referral or to find an appropriate treatment facility that deals with persons suffering from sexual and substance abuse. Another way is to do your own research.
Go to the Treatment Facility Locator (http://dasis3.samhsa.gov/) maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), or call their toll-free confidential referral helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. Here you can find a detox, rehab, halfway house, clinic, or counseling center anywhere in the United States. The online resource center is an excellent place to start to locate alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs.
When you enter the site, click on the state in the map, enter city, and click continue. You can be more specific, but these (city and state) are required. The search results will show treatment facilities within a radius (100-mile, etc.) that you specify. Using Malibu, California, look at the search results here. The information displayed will be similar for any city/state you select and includes the name, address, phone number, helpline and website (if applicable), primary focus, services provided, type of care, special programs/groups, forms of payment accepted, and special language services. If you have any questions about the type of services, programs, or forms of payment accepted at any of these facilities, contact the facility directly.
You may also wish to check out the State Substance Abuse Agencies at this link (http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/ufds/abusedirectors).
What Does it Cost?
For many victims of sexual and substance abuse, the barrier of cost all but eliminates the possibility of getting treatment. This is not necessarily true. While it is true that treatment facilities, especially residential treatment facilities, are expensive, there are options available to prospective patients. You should never allow the issue of money to stand in your way of getting treatment. If you sincerely want to overcome your sexual and substance abuse, you can do it. There are ways that you can be helped.
Inquire about the costs for the dual treatment. Ask what is included in the treatment plan, and whether aftercare services (additional counseling, referrals, other support, etc.) are included, what services are extra costs. If you have insurance, make sure to ask if the facility accepts your insurance. If it does, find out from your insurance carrier what portion of the treatment expense you will be responsible for.
Suppose you have no insurance and no savings. You may be jobless or not make enough money to afford the cost of the treatment. You may have children that you support and no one to take care of them while you are in treatment. What should you do then? Are you out of luck with respect to getting treatment? The answer is, again, there is always a way to get some form of treatment. Here’s what to do.
Ask the treatment facility that you would like to enter what kind of financial assistance they may be able to offer. Inquire about scholarships, grants, or special programs they may be part of through various federal, state, or local agencies. Ask for referrals to such agencies, if you are the one who needs to submit an application or paperwork to get such financial aid going. See if the treatment facility accepts sliding-pay or ability to pay terms. Perhaps the treatment facility offers low-interest loans that you may qualify for. Here is an answer to the question “Where can a person with no money and no insurance get treatment?” from the SAMHSA site (http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/faq.htm).
If you have children, and no one else will be able to care for them while you are in treatment, look for treatment facilities that accommodate mothers with children. If there are none in your area, inquire what kind of treatment you can obtain and where it is located so that you can proceed further in your investigation of treatment facilities.
Let’s say that you really need help now, and you want to talk with someone who’s been in your situation and been able to overcome it through counseling and fellowship support. You are in the process of applying for and trying to get into a treatment center, but you feel like you’re going crazy in the meantime, unable to sleep, tortured by nightmares and finding yourself slipping deeper into addiction. What can you do?
Look up the appropriate 12-step fellowship organization that’s nearby or that you can get to on a regular basis. Go online and immerse yourself in their website to learn about the fellowship, its philosophy, how meetings work. Download and thoroughly read the brochures, pamphlets, Q&A, and other information. Go to the library or buy books on the subjects of healing from sexual abuse, addiction, and other subjects recommended on the fellowship’s website. When you feel comfortable that you know as much about the fellowship as you can reasonably be expected to know from your research, now it’s time that you go to a physical meeting. You can also augment in-person meetings with online and telephone-based meetings. Most 12-step organizations offer these. So, there’s never a reason not to participate in a meeting.
What you will find at 12-step fellowships is a group of committed, nonjudgmental individuals who have been in the same place you are now at one time in their lives. They’ve lived through the horror and the addiction and the feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, rejection, and despair. Through the support and encouragement of other group members, they have come to feel stronger and more secure in their ongoing recovery efforts. They can definitely help you. Remember, though, that 12-step groups are not treatment. They do not substitute for treatment. Rather, they augment and complement treatment. But it’s a good place to start when you are grasping for any help possible and right now.
Here is a listing of some resources and 12-step groups for victims of sexual abuse:
• Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (http://www.ascasupport.org/)
• Pandora’s Project (http://www.pandorasaquarium.org/)
• Incest Resources, Inc. (http://www.incestresourcesinc.org/)
• Incest Survivors Anonymous (http://www.lafn.org/medical/isa)
• Survivors of Incest Anonymous (http://www.siawso.org)
These are listings of and links to 12-step fellowships for various addictions:
• Alcoholics Anonymous (http://aa.org/?Media=PlayFlash)
• Narcotics Anonymous (http://www.na.org/)
• Cocaine Anonymous (http://ca.org/)
• Marijuana Anonymous (http://www.marijuana-anonymous.org/)
• Crystal Meth Anonymous (http://www.crystalmeth.org/)
These lists are not all-inclusive. They should just serve as a starting point to get you thinking about networking with others who have survived sexual abuse.
Start Your Healing Today
There is no one who can make you forget your past. Professional treatment can help you accept and realize that you are not to blame for the sexual abuse that happened to you. Nor are you to blame for engaging in substance use that may have led to abuse. You will, however, need to accept responsibility for your actions and behavior that occur as a result of abusing substances or taking your anger out on others.
Treatment can help you heal the wounds. You can become clean and sober and learn how to manage the stress and challenges of daily living. Your memories of sexual abuse, the humiliation, shame, self-guilt, and worthlessness you felt at the hands of another will become less painful. No, you won’t forget them, but you will learn that you can go on and live a productive and happy life. You will no longer be debilitated or paralyzed by negative emotions as a result of sexual abuse.
Yes, this journey does take courage. But isn’t living a life of hope and being able to dream and work toward achieving goals you set for yourself a worthwhile endeavor? You know you don’t want this pain to continue. So, give yourself the opportunity to heal by looking into getting treatment for sexual and substance abuse today.
Maintain hope and give treatment time so that you may heal physically and emotionally. Build up your support network and practice your newly-learned healthy coping skills. Be open to the possibility that you may even one day be able to experience love and to be loved for the beautiful, whole, and deserving human being that you are. Each of us is fully deserving of such a future. Some of us have encountered terrible things in our past, things that take a great toll on us in ways others cannot even imagine. But for each of us, also, there is a path that we can choose to follow that will result in a more fulfilling life. Which path do you choose? Start your healing journey today.