Tag Archive | rape

The truth about women and addiction.

In the early 1980’s I was working as a nurse, fresh out of college, and found myself caring for a couple of patients whose illnesses totally baffled the doctors. One day while I was caring for one of these very sick gentlemen, and doctor informed me that they thought they might “have that AIDS that everyone is talking about all over the news.” We were all terrified. I look at the years that followed the appearance of AIDS, then HIV/AIDS—first the fear and condemnation, then the research and education, and 30 years later, as a society, we view HIV/AIDS with compassion, and through totally different eyes.

And yet, in the same 30 years, while we know much more about drug and alcohol addiction, there is still an incredible stigma attached, especially for women who suffer from addictions. We still cast stones and make harsh judgments rather than working to increase public knowledge, as well as increasing funding for treatment. Instead, funding is drying up, and beds in rehabs and treatment centers are disappearing for women in need of help for drug and alcohol addiction, but who cannot afford to pay for it themselves. When it comes to drug and alcohol addiction and how we view women addicts, we are still living in the Dark Ages. After all, women are supposed to be good wives and mothers, not addicts and alcoholics.

When we take a closer look at drug and alcohol abuse, we can see that women differ from men in many areas. To begin, it is estimated that 20 million girls and women in the United States abuse drugs and alcohol. Women get drunk or high faster than men, and it takes less of whatever substance is being used for a woman to get drunk or high. Also, because a woman’s body contains less water and more fat than a man’s, combined with the hormonal and psychological differences that exist between men and women, women are twice as likely than men to become addicted to drugs and alcohol and in a much shorter period of time.

Women also get sicker faster, developing things such as cirrhosis much sooner. This is a triple whammy for women who drink or use drugs. It is also estimated that 90% of women who need treatment for drugs and alcohol do not get it. In many cases, this is probably because they are afraid of how they will look if they admit they have a drug or alcohol problem. Women still want to be viewed as ladies, and a drunk or an addict is not a lady.

Women drink and use drugs for different reasons than men, too. Women drink to self medicate from depression, or psychological pain. In America, one in every four women has been a victim of sexual abuse of some sort, and most of the abuse occurs before the woman reaches the age of 30. Women who have survived sexual abuse are six time more likely to suffer from PTSD, thirteen times more likely to abuse alcohol, and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs. I was sexually abused at the age of 5, and again in my early teen years, and raped at age 18.

Women use substances to relieve stress, feel better about themselves, and even as a means to lose weight. Women do not drink or drug for the fun of it, and speaking very personally, once a woman is addicted to alcohol or drugs, there is absolutely no fun in the use of the drug of choice. Mine was alcohol, and it was hell, and it became a vicious cycle of guilt and shame. We drink or drug because we feel bad about ourselves, and as our addiction begins to ruins our families and our lives, we use more because of the shame of being a bad mother, or a drunken wife, or just not being a lady, in control and functioning.

Alcohol and drug addiction are fatal, progressive diseases, like diabetes, or heart disease, except there are no magic medications to take to control the progression of the disease. Annually, 80,000 people die from alcohol addiction, and another 60,000 die from drugs. It is not lack of will, or caring more about a high or a drink than family, friends, and work, that keeps women using. It is lack of treatment and support.

And while, getting clean and sober is great when it happens, staying clean and sober is not easy, and just being off of drugs and alcohol is not enough. Unless the woman addict gets to the core issue of why she drinks or drugs—gets to the bottom of that essential pain, and works to vanquish it, long-term sobriety becomes even harder. And all of this has to happen while we are raising children and having careers, and in the face of a society that views women alcoholics and addicts with little more than disdain and disgust.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have been sober for 5 years, but not without three rehab experiences, a 6 month stay in a half way house, several incarceration experiences, more relapses than can be counted, a great deal of therapy to get to essence of my pain, and the continued hard work to complete the healing process. By all rights, I should be dead many times over. I have a family that loves me deeply and friends who have stood by me and cheered me on. I almost lost all it all. I am so blessed that I did not.

At the same time, I very deeply know what the stigma of the female alcoholic or addict looks like because I have seen it first hand, and it is ugly and mean. I also know what it is like to live with the seemingly impossible-to-bear guilt and shame that goes along with being a woman alcoholic and a wife and a mother. It is the type of pain that at times feels bottomless and beyond healing. Just when you’ve peeled away a layer, and healed it, another layer of shame is just beneath, bursting forth with more pain, either to be faced and healed, or to run from.

I choose the pain and healing. But, my sobriety tomorrow is no more guaranteed for me than it is more any other alcoholic or addict. I have a disease that I will have to treat the rest of my life, and it is a disease that does not care if you are rich or poor, well-educated or not, a talented and beautiful celebrity, or an average wife and soccer mom. I treat my disease every day with what works for me, which faith and devotion to God, prayer, attentiveness to my needs and temperament, and a lot of self-care.

It’s time to come out of the Dark Ages and work towards a real understanding of drug and alcohol addiction, especially in women, and it’s time we got rid of the shame and stigma, and replaced with help and compassion. We managed to do just that with HIV/AIDS. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why we cannot do the same for women suffering and dying from drug and alcohol addiction. Perhaps it is time that we who are women alcoholic and addicts came out of the shadows and spoke our truths out loud for all to hear.

Maybe it is time to stop being anonymous, and to be visible instead—to fight for acceptance, understanding, and increased public knowledge. Maybe then the stigma will vanish. Maybe then we can do something to stop beautiful women addicts and alcoholics from hiding in shame rather than getting help. Maybe then we can stop women suffering from addiction from dying tragic deaths each and every day.

 

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On Forgiveness of Self…It’s Key

I am a writer.  I wrote this the other day and I have to put it somewhere for now.  Take good care of it 😉

I am a recovering alcoholic.  I have been sober over 8 years, and I love every day of my life now, which is some form of major miracle to my mind, both the sobriety and the sheer joy and happiness.  I love who I am today, and I believe that I am finally the woman I was meant to be all of my life.  That this has finally happened at the age of 52 carries with it certain sense of poignancy, though I try not to dwell on what life might have been like had I found myself sooner, or more to the point, never surrendered myself in the first place.  However, I intellectually know that when trauma and sexual abuse happens to a person at the age of 4 or 5, that person is in no solid position to decide what they surrender or do not.  This is especially true if there is no supportive adult to guide the child through, or someone to simply bother to acknowledge that it happened in the first place.

Did you notice that?  Did you notice that as soon as I began to talk of sexual abuse, and a person, not a child, being 4 or 5, that I switched from writing in the first person to the third person?  Amazingly, I caught it instantly, which I think means that what I know intellectually is moving ever closer to my heart.  To that place of actually feeling the pain, rather than just having the knowledge that something happened that should not have. Since tears are rolling down my cheeks, I know I am feeling, not just thinking, which I am so very good at doing.  Think, think, think… Maybe I can think the pain to death, though that has been wholly ineffective to date.

I was sexually abused repeatedly at the age of 4 or 5 by my mother’s best friend’s 16 year old son.  I have a sister that is 13 months younger than me.  It was when he began to go after her as well, that’s when I went to my mother and told her.  The abuse stopped and not another word was ever spoken about it–ever.  Through my growing up years, I had to see this man time and again, each time our families got together.  I don’t know that if my father ever even knew, and since both my parents are long dead, I will never know.  Now, this is something that I have always known–that this happened to me.  But, who is, or was, me?

Until a few months ago, I never realized that the little girl who was molested was me, and that I was only 4 or 5…a baby, a tiny, little, defenseless, child.  Little 5 year old Ann.  I see her in snapshots looking so childishly smug, as if she knows all of the secrets of the world already.  There’s a certain air of superiority there, also.   I believe that, in my mind’s eye, I saw that little girl, me, as a perfectly capable mini-adult person who should have done something to stop all of it sooner.

Because I had failed then, I gave away myself in order to take on the role of the buffer for the world.  A buffer steps in protect others from pain.  A buffer gets beat up a lot.  A buffer learns to feel no pain, because if she did, it would hurt too much.  And that is what I did.  I learned how to feel no pain in a great variety of ways.  I was the buffer for 47 long, excruciatingly painful years.  It makes me so sad to see that now.  So sad for me as a little girl, and a teenager, and a woman.  I lost a lot of life being a buffer, and that hurts in ways words simply cannot capture.

At first, dissociation was my main trick, and I was especially good at it.  There is very little in this life that I undertake that I do not do especially well, expect for life itself, maybe.  When I found alcohol, it was like an answer to a prayer.  Something that took the pain away, and was socially acceptable, up to a point.  Of course, because if I am going to do something, I am going to do it extremely well, I reached that point, and passed it by many, many miles.  And now I am flogging myself with key strokes for not knowing another way to deal with my pain, or for putting a stop to the drinking before such a huge toll was taken…on me.

Certainly, many others were hurt, my children, especially, but for the most part, they seemed to have healed, or are healing, and have moved beyond it.  It’s me that’s stuck and oh, so mad at the person I became.  I don’t even what to think about that person, or believe that she ever existed.  I have hated her for years now, and hidden her, but she is long gone, so, in truth, it has been me hiding from her—long dead, and gone.  Just like I have been hiding from my anger at my mother, who set me up for such a life of pain by her coldness, detachment, and her absolute insistence that I be strong, and never shed a tear, no matter what happened to me in my life, because somehow it was always a reflection on her.

And so, me, who is finally almost free, is still a subtle slave to these two dead women.  Had my mother been able to love me, and accept me, and care for me, in the way that I needed when I was 4 or 5, and every year after that, perhaps the second women, that part of myself that I am looking at today in the hopes of finally forgiving, well, she may have never come into existence.  She wasn’t, my mother, able to do any of those things, and I cannot change that.  She loved me very much.  I know that.  I was also a great disappointment to her, as well.  I know that, too. More than I know that she loved me.   I wasn’t smart enough, in the right way, for her, or strong enough, or whatever enough.  Or, maybe, I was too much of it all, smart, strong, talented, and pretty.  Maybe it was that she hated me for… Whatever the case, because of her, always cloaked in disappointment at her life, and some great internal misery none of us could reach, I have spent my life, both the parts prior to her death and after, trying to prove something to her.

I have been trying to prove that I am worthy, maybe, but I picked a funny way to prove that.  Or, maybe I wanted her to know that her pain had become mine, and had tripled in size and it was eating me alive, would she please come rescue and protect me now?  If it got bad enough, and it certainly did, would she finally reach out a hand to help me up?  Would she finally love me just as I was, so flawed and so in pain?  Would she hold me and comfort me and tell me it was okay.  That I was okay?  Of course, that was my 5 year old magical thinking, and it never happened.

The other day, my seven year old asked me what was the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life?  How could I possibly choose, I thought?  Molestation, incest, rape, abuse, alcoholism, prison… I gave him a believable answer, and he told me that the worst thing that ever happened to him was when his Dad wouldn’t let his sister take him to Funtown, but took him himself.  I know full well when the worst part of my life was, it was a year midway through my 5 year relapse.  It was the year where the woman I do not want to look at was alive, and well, and fully running my life.  She was finally out in the open, so to speak, and it made her mad, and uncomfortable beyond words, so her actions spoke the most loudly.  She was trying to kill the pain, and her and I in the process.  That she did not is yet another miracle.

That year, I drank constantly.  I had lost my kids to their father because of my drinking, and the pain of that was unbearable. I was living alone in a strange house, having lost my house, and I was so cold all of the time.  Her, me, us, lost a baby at 9 weeks while I had been sober for 6 months, and after, we fell apart.  In some ways I wonder now if she was trying to save me from the man I was involved with at the time, who would years later become my sociopath husband.  I know now she was seeing what I did not want to see.  I have flashbacks every day from that time.

It was a horrid time when I would blackout for days at a time in the upstairs bedroom, to wake up completely naked, bedding torn off of the bed, covered in bruises and a rash, large knots all over my head.  I shook too badly to light a cigarette, or dial a phone for help.  I could not move my computer mouse smoothly enough to find out what time and day it was.  I’d find realtor’s card on the kitchen table and know that the house, which was on the market, was shown while I was blacked out.  I would find myself getting into the car with the express purpose to get drunk while driving.  I wrapped my car  around a tree in a blackout and ended up in the hospital.  Another time a friend could not reach me, and an ambulance came to my home and dragged me out of bed, again naked, and screaming, while my friend cried and watched.  I was in the hospital for days, not knowing what day it was, save for the note on the chalk board.  I didn’t eat.  I could not walk normally.  My arms would not swing by themselves, I had to force them to do it.  I was weak and spent hour upon day upon month sitting at the kitchen table just staring, even when my kids were over.  My hair was falling out.

I was back in the hospital again, days before I was to enter a rehab, having fallen and broken my nose in a blackout.  For three weeks after that, they, the hospital, the detox, and then the rehab, wondered if my brain would come back enough for me to live a normal life.  Amazingly, it did.  Amazingly, after another rehab, and two jail stays, and a 6 month half way house, I finally got sober, but she, the one who was trying to kill us, lived on, this time, feeding on shame.  She had plenty to eat, even when the rest of us didn’t.  I was getting stronger, and her far, far, weaker.  What finally killed her, the protector, and the queen of dissociation?  I believe in was the arrest that led me to spend six months of the last year in prison.

That was the last straw, and I woke up and looked around at the abuse I was suffering through yet again, and I took control, finally.  I got mad.  I said enough is enough, and I remember every single day since that day.  That’s a real first for me who has entire years in my life completely missing.  It was in prison that I finally knocked down the walls to the bunker that had held me, the 5 year old me, prisoner for 47 years.  That child is a part of me now, and I can feel her pain, and love her properly.  But what of this extremely strong, extremely angry, extremely protective, and extremely self destructive, woman who is dead, but not buried?

I look at her and see that she was the exterior wall of the fortress that protected me from a lifetime of pain.  She was the buffer.  She’s the one who stepped in and took all of the hits, and absorbed all of the shocks and insults.  She’s the one who stepped onto the plane and flew across the country to take care of whichever loved one was dying. She always found a way even when a way seemed impossible.  She not only took care of me, but the entire world she knew.  She’d gotten oh so very tired.  It’s an exhaustion that I still feel.  It was a terribly thankless job.  She carried all of the pain and kept me smiling a fake smile, and moving through life in the best, muddled, way that I could.

What human could endure such an enormous amount of pain and responsibility without help from anyone?  Not me.  I never would have made it without her, and her beauty, and her strength, and her tenacity, for as much as she wanted to die, she wanted me to live.  She gave me the time I needed to grow up, and grow strong on my own, and then she just disappeared when I was ready to take over the reigns.  She is me.  She was the very best of me crying to get out, and she was the very worst, most devastated, part of me, dying inside.   I have been hating myself for weakness that was really strength, ugliness that was really pain, and behaviors that were really just attempts to get love from a woman who just didn’t have it in her to give, alive or dead.

We are one now.  Me, and that tiny, little girl, and that tough as nails woman with a heart so big that she was willing to take on the pain of the world.  That person is me, and I am beautiful, and happy, and passionate, and talented, more than smart enough, and certainly good enough.  Forgiveness I give to you now, because you are me, and I love me, and I thank you.  We made it through to the other side, and on this side is healing and happiness.   It’s going to be okay.  I am okay, just the way that I am.