If you have experienced sexual trauma, and you struggle with addiction, you are far from alone. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, women who experience sexual trauma are three times more likely to develop drug and alcohol dependence. The National Institute of Health estimates that 2/3 of all people in treatment for addiction report abuse in their childhood with subsequent PTSD.
We know that trauma actually changes the brain at the cellular level.
Addiction also has consequences on the structure and chemistry of the brain. When we combine the dramatic effects of both addiction and sexual trauma, we are left with someone whose brain needs intense healing and rebuilding. A brain tethered to the constant reminder of the hurt we have suffered often creates the need to find something on the outside to organize us to handle daily life.
For me, the struggle with addiction began shortly after my dad left my family, and the sexual abuse ended. I was 12 when I got drunk for the first time, 13 when I started smoking pot, 14 when I started psychedelics, and 15 when I was shooting heroin and snorting cocaine. Clearly, I had a very quick progression into a substance abuse problem that nearly killed me multiple times. There is no doubt in my mind that the addiction progressed so dramatically because of what I experienced. When I got drunk and high, I wasn’t like most of my friends who had their limits. Not me, I always wanted more. My appetite for escaping was insatiable.
Also unlike my friends, my “party days” didn’t end when I graduated from college. By that time, I had lived every day high or drunk for years, and I simply didn’t know how to exist sober. In my twenties and early thirties, I fought to get clean. The cycle of sobriety and active addiction was endless. It never got easier; it never seemed to work. When I was high, I could tolerate life. When I was sober, life was excruciating.
Around the time I turned 30, I faced the greatest challenge of my life. Before this point, when I was high, I could actually remove myself from the pain and darkness. I could tell myself that things would get better, that eventually life wouldn’t feel so hard. Then suddenly at age 30, being high didn’t work. There was literally no drug that could help me escape anymore.
The trauma I experienced in my childhood and later in my teens was no longer lurking in the background. It was abruptly front and center. It became interlaced into every part of my life and my mind felt like it was on fire. I couldn’t sleep without horrific nightmares. I couldn’t go through one day without crying. I felt like I was crawling out of my skin and the panic attacks were debilitating. Every day I was paralyzed by fear, crumbling under the weight of PTSD, not caring if I lived or died.
That life could have very well continued for me but healing happened. A little every day. People came into my life that changed me. Professionals intervened and drew me out of the abyss. Close ones loved me and stood by me. I reached out for God and he met me where I was.
While I honestly feel that I am in a place of peace with my experiences earlier in life, the daily battle of addiction still lingers. In this way, I will forever be changed by my trauma. Because I have experienced recovery from PTSD, it shows me that I can recover from my addiction too. But if I know anything about recovery, I know it happens one day at a time. Every day I have the choice to stand up against the things that try to drag me back down. I know now that whatever choice I make, each day is a new opportunity and I am loved through it all.
If you know an addict and struggle to understand that reality, ask them to help you understand. Don’t judge the addict. Their addiction is not because they lack character or morality. Addicts need connection and community like few others. Addiction is a disease of the mind, and much like PTSD, it requires diligence and patience to recover. If you are like me, you are not alone. Never ever alone. Rest in that. Know it. Let it comfort you.
Our Contributing Authors
The Last Battle Blog aims to provide meaningful tools and information about the issue of sexual violation. We offer a way to express yourself, as you engage in your own personal awareness and share your strengths with others. Our goal is to cover a variety of topics, stories, ideas, and to create a blog that is beneficial and honoring to those who read it. Last Battle’s contributing authors help make this happen.