20 Aug Finding Love after Sexual Abuse and Addiction
Sexual abuse and addiction are a double whammy. Which came first can seem irrelevant in the scheme of things when it’s your life under consideration. All you know is that you have a world of hurt, and it’s easier to escape in booze or pills or shooting dope than to face the horrid reality that your life currently is. Even if you try to kick your demons to the curb, the nightmares sicken you so much that you run back to the safety and sameness of your drug-induced calm. No wonder it’s so difficult for those with sexual abuse and addiction to either want to change or be able to change their lives – let alone find love in the aftermath.
But it can be done. There is hope. It involves a process and it takes time to heal. Let’s look at some ways that you can begin your journey toward being whole again, toward eventually being able to love and be loved in return.
What Happened to You is a Big Deal
Many victims of sexual abuse, whether the perpetrator is a partner or parent, a date turned bad, or a stranger, try to run away from their feelings. Their initial tendency is often to push the hurt so deep down inside that they become numb to life around them. When you’ve been sexually abused, it’s a violation of your body and your trust. You can’t help but look at life and others in a changed light. It would be unnatural if you didn’t feel traumatized by what happened.
It is a big deal. No amount of minimizing what happened, trying to wish it away or telling others that you’re fine when you’re not can change the facts. Sexual abuse, rape, incest – are all crimes. The perpetrators need to be stopped. And the victims need to recognize that they didn’t deserve it, they’re not bad because it happened, and their lives don’t need to be ruined as a consequence.
You need to acknowledge that the sexual abuse occurred. This is the first step toward changing the awful reality of your life as it is today. Maybe it happened when you were a child and your life has been a fog of half-hearted, going-through-the-motions semblance of living ever since. It may have happened recently in the course of a robbery or assault, or as the result of being given a date-rape drug in a club or at a rave. It’s not just a bad dream from which you will automatically awake. It will require professional help in order for you to unravel the twisted knot of guilt, self-blame, self-hatred, and frozen emotions encased in pain.
Help is available.
Substance Abuse Compounds the Issue
Add in substance abuse of any kind and the issue of how to heal becomes even more complicated. Just the thought of quitting your drug of choice makes you sick to your stomach. After all, your drug is the only way you don’t feel, or can get through the day without falling apart.
Okay, so it’s gotten out of hand – really out of hand – to the point where you’re suffering serious consequences as a result of your addiction. You may have lost your job or a promotion, been evicted from your apartment or lost your house, or your marriage may have been destroyed, your children estranged from you – any one of a thousand different scenarios.
All you know is today, right now, and your need to use in order to escape the pain. You don’t want to think. You don’t want to suffer anymore. You don’t want anyone else telling you what to do. After all, they didn’t go through what you did. They can’t possibly understand your absolute compulsion to use.
That’s where you’re wrong.
There are professionals at treatment facilities and individuals in support groups that do understand, that have been through such horrors of sexual abuse and addiction – and can help you in your journey to recovery.
What’s involved? How do you get started? How long does it take? These are all good questions. Read on.
Treatment for Sexual Abuse and Addiction
First of all, recognize that there are certified addiction treatment facilities that specialize in also treating individuals who have suffered sexual abuse, severe trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Treatment isn’t an either/or, or first one and then the other. The most effective treatment is comprehensive, integrated, and occurs concurrently. For example, The Ranch in Tennessee offers a program that specializes in both addiction and trauma treatment.
In other words, you can enter a treatment facility because you want to kick your addiction and, at the same time, receive treatment to help you overcome the barriers to living a normal life that sexual abuse created.
The kind of treatment facility you want is one where you feel safe, where the professionals treating you have a great deal of experience in successfully treating individuals who have gone through what you have. You can’t heal if you don’t feel secure, if you don’t trust the people around you, especially those who are treating you.
For many, a residential treatment facility is the best option to help them heal from sexual abuse and addiction. In a way, the residential treatment facility is a private oasis, away from the rest of the world, yet still connected with regards to access and availability of important materials and services. In essence, you reside in a facility where healing is the primary goal, where learning about the disease of addiction, how to identify and recognize triggers to using, effective coping skills to ward off cravings and urges, and you also begin to peel back the layers of trauma surrounding your sexual abuse that have kept you trapped in a vicious cycle.
How Treatment Works
How does such treatment work? Briefly, you first go through an extensive interview and screening process before you’re admitted. You will be asked questions about your physical condition, family background, type and length of addiction and frequency of use, history of sexual abuse, and any other issues that concern you, among other questions. You may be given a physical examination involving blood and urine tests.
The purpose of the screening and tests is so that the professionals can create a personalized treatment program that addresses your unique needs. When you go to a certified treatment facility, you can be assured that the professionals adhere to the highest standards of care, and that your individual needs will be addressed, your treatment regularly re-assessed and modified according to your progress. The goal of treatment is to get you to the point where you can rejoin society better equipped to live life in sobriety, and to work toward eliminating the pain of the memories of sexual abuse.
A prerequisite to active treatment is that you are abstinent for a certain period. This means that you have undergone detoxification, either at a hospital or treatment facility that’s equipped to provide 24-hour medical supervision. Many residential treatment facilities have on-site detoxification services. So, after you’ve been admitted to such a treatment facility (residential), the next step is to detoxify. This process usually takes between one to three days, although for certain chronic addictions, the time may be longer. During the detox period, you are made as comfortable as possible by the attending medical staff. You may be prescribed medication to ease withdrawal symptoms and eliminate cravings to use, inability to sleep, or to help with severe anxiety, depression, or other distressing psychological issues.
Once your system is purged of harmful substances, the active phase of treatment begins. In brief, this involves counseling on an individual and group basis, educational lectures, readings, and various therapeutic modalities. These will be prescribed for your particular situation and will be modified or adjusted to meet your ongoing needs.
Treatment modalities may include one or more of the following:
• Some trauma and sexual abuse victims respond well to eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR). At some point during your active treatment phase, this therapeutic procedure may be utilized. This evidence-based form of psychotherapy has proven effective with past trauma victims.
• Equine assisted therapy (EAT) or equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is also effective for some individuals in helping them overcome abuse, anxiety, depression, anger management issues, relationship problems, communication, and other issues.
• Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps individuals process and evaluate thoughts and feelings about past trauma, abuse, substance abuse. In CBT, the emphasis is on the important role of thinking in how individuals feel and what they do. Actually, CBT is a generalized term that encompasses a number of different specific cognitive-behavioral approaches.
These include Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Rational Behavior Therapy, Rational Living Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
• Other evidence-based treatment modalities may include stress management strategies, psychodrama, family therapy, art therapy, spiritual development, psycho-educational groups, yoga and meditation, massage, and somatic therapy.
Participation in Support Groups
While you are in treatment for sexual abuse and addiction, you will be introduced to and participate in 12-step support groups. Depending on the nature and type of your addiction and the facility you choose, you may be in groups that are comprised of women only, men only, or adolescents only, or those whose members are seniors/older adults, HIV/AIDs, gay or lesbian, and so on.
Part of the healing process involves talking with and getting support and encouragement from others who are in the same position of recovering from sexual abuse and addiction. This is necessary because all the instruction and therapy in the world can’t provide all the answers, especially when you’ve completed treatment and are again re-entering society, trying to make your way on your own. In fact, you can’t do it alone. You need the ongoing support and encouragement that you can only get from two places: your family and your 12-step support groups.
You may attend an Alcoholics Anonymous group that consists of only women. You may also attend a support group for victims of sexual abuse, or it may be a group whose focus is on both. The point is that you have someplace to turn, people to interact with, who understand exactly what it means to be uncertain and vulnerable and a bit fearful what to do in certain situations, who know the ambivalence and dread and anticipation going back to your normal life can precipitate. You need people to talk to that can be a sounding board without judgment, and to whose stories you can listen and pick up tips and techniques that may help you in your own journey to recovery.
For some individuals seeking to overcome sexual abuse and addiction, long-term psychotherapy or ongoing counseling may be required. Some therapeutic modalities have time-limited duration, and are very effective. The more traditional psychotherapy, or talk therapy, may go on for years. Each situation is different, and there’s nothing to say that you may not benefit from additional counseling at some point down the line following your formal treatment program.
Why do people continue with counseling? The lasting psychological effects of sexual abuse are deep-seated and difficult to process. Some treatment modalities work well for certain individuals but not others. Some may be more suited to treating adolescents or women with children. There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment program that works for everyone.
While you may begin the process of overcoming sexual abuse and past trauma while you are learning how to overcome addiction, it will take ongoing work to make further progress. When the memories of the past trauma are no longer debilitating and are less painful, you can move forward in your life without being hamstrung by the past. You can begin the process of rebuilding trust – in yourself and in others. You can help restore your self-esteem and self-confidence, your ability to laugh and play and have joy in everyday life.
With patience, self-nurturing, and the support of your loving family, friends, counselor and 12-step group members, you will be able to open yourself to the possibility of being able to give and receive love. You certainly deserve it. And this is something that is definitely within your grasp.
Will it be easy? No, there’s almost a certainty that it won’t. If it was easy, you would have already done it on your own, more than likely. Everyone heals at his or her own pace.
Tips to Healing
Something to keep in mind is that if a particular strategy or technique you’ve been taught or heard about from others works for you, definitely keep on doing it. You may find that what works to begin with wears off or is less effective over time. In that case, either modify it or switch it for another, or do it in conjunction with another technique.
• Give it time. – The old adage is that time heals all wounds. In a sense, this is true. When you’re talking about the lasting painful memories of sexual abuse, coupled with addiction, the passage of time can be helpful if you’ve had treatment and are attending support groups. But you need to be mindful that things won’t happen overnight. Sometimes it takes many months, or even years, before you feel comfortable enough, trusting enough, and ready to be open to the possibility of finding love.
• Ground yourself with a daily schedule. – After the trauma of sexual abuse and the process of overcoming addiction, it’s recommended that those in recovery create a daily schedule. This helps keep you grounded and on track. It’s less stressful when you know exactly what you should be doing and when. You don’t have to worry that you’ll miss doing something because you didn’t remember: it’s right there on your schedule. This frees up your mind to focus on the healing strategies and techniques you learned during treatment. Creating and maintaining daily schedules also helps you pass the time in early recovery. Each day completed that you are clean and sober and working your steps is one plus day in recovery.
• Socialize with those you trust. – It’s important that you associate with others that you trust. For a while, this may mean you limit yourself to being with close family members and friends, or even keeping to your 12-step support group sponsor and fellow members. You do need to be with others, and those others have to represent to you a safe harbor. Definitely don’t sit home alone. Isolation never works in the healing process. You need the companionship and life-affirming vitality of other people in your life.
• Pay attention to your own needs. – It’s tempting to want to rush back into things, as in a relationship with a partner. Whether you’re married or engaged or single and looking for a mate, you know that you should take it easy after you’ve been in treatment for sexual abuse and addiction. In fact, put the brakes on your compulsion to force yourself into intimacy. Talk any difficulties or issues over with your counselor so that you’re clear in your mind whether you are acting on what you think you should be doing or whether you’re moving ahead with your recovery plan. You need to pay attention to your own needs, not those of someone else. This also means that you have to pay attention to your physical health and your mental well-being. Get plenty of rest, exercise, and eat nutritious and well-balanced meals.
• Tend to your spiritual needs as well. – For some, tending to spiritual needs means praying. Others meditate, do yoga or Pilates, or commune with nature. Some find the power of the self to be most important. Each of us has a personal idea of what constitutes our spiritual needs. But just as the body needs nourishment to recover and to grow, and the mind needs intellectual stimulation in order to learn, and the emotions need balance, so, too, does your spirit need taking care of.
• Take it slow with love. – Don’t feel that you need to rush into love with the first individual that seems to show interest in you as a human being – not as an object. By the same token, don’t run the other way when you start to feel an attraction toward another individual and the feeling appears to be mutual. Just take it slow. The recommendation is to grow fondness into love gradually. If it’s right, it will blossom. If it’s not meant to be love, perhaps it will develop into a close and abiding friendship.
How Will You Know When You’re Ready?
This is another question with no single answer that works for everyone. But, in general, you will know when you’re ready when:
• You’re able to give of yourself without fear of being hurt by another
• You are entering into the relationship without trying to compensate for a deficiency or trying to have another protect you from harm
• You are more interested in giving than receiving
• You fully trust the other person
• You both enjoy being with each other, discussing, laughing, playing together
• You don’t need the other person to feel complete
• You are happy and self-confident independent of your relationship with the other person
• You are not trying to prove anything to yourself or to another
Love is about sharing and caring and intimacy. Love is without bounds, or restrictions, or limitations of time or space.
Love is natural and good and life-affirming. Love is within your reach. You will get there, in time, and when the time is right for you.
Find relief in recovery. Life gets better with addiction treatment.
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