FINDING A WAY THROUGH ADDICTION
There are many ways of dealing with the distressing after-effects of childhood sexual abuse. One way is to become addicted. Being addicted to something means being out of control in your use of it. You can become addicted to many things:
- strenuous exercise
- taking risks
Do you feel, or have you felt, out of control with any of these things? If your answer is yes, then you may be wondering, 'what's that got to do with being sexually abused as a boy?' Well, being abused is extremely painful. Such pain is hard to cope with. There may have been no one around to listen to your pain. Traditionally, men are supposed to be strong and to cope with anything. But you still have to find a way of coping and surviving. Some men turn to addictions. If this has happened to you try not to beat yourself up about it. It's important to understand that addictions serve many valuable short-term functions:
- They help to blot out the pain of the abuse.
- They can temporarily reduce tension.
- They might help you feel good - briefly.
- They might help control distressing symptoms like flashbacks, or lack of sleep.
Under the 'influence' you might be more likely to get yourself into
situations where you might get hurt, or hurt others. If your having thoughts of harming yourself you might be more likely to do it 'under the influence'. All these things are potentially dangerous. In addition, it's hard to begin your recovery whilst your in the grip of addiction. This is because recovery revolves expressing and feeling your feelings. This can be very hard and painful. The point of addiction is to try and blot out painful feelings. So, while you're addicted it's hard to get to your feelings.
What to do if you think you're addicted
- It may seem obvious, but make a decision that you want to deal with it. Talk through the decision with someone you trust.
- Remember that the addiction has served a purpose. It has helped you survive.
- Seriously consider professional help. Getting over addictions is very hard. In the case of alcohol drugs it can even involve going somewhere to 'dry out.' We include a list of useful numbers at the end of this pack.
- Reach out to people around you who you can trust. This may include friends, a therapist or counsellor, professionals, or family members. When you break an addiction you can feel very distressed. It's important to be able to talk about this.
- Make sure you're doing something about flashbacks, panic, sleep problems. See the other entries in this pack. When you break an addiction these symptoms can really hit you. If you've not found ways to handle them you might be tempted to go straight back to the addiction.
- If you're in counselling or therapy weigh up very carefully whether you're able to explore your abuse whilst you're still addicted. Whilst it's necessary to talk about what happened to you it can also be extremely painful - so painful that you're tempted to take more drink, drugs etc... to cope with the pain. Talk this through with your counsellor/therapist and with others you trust. There's no hard and fast rules. Some survivors have found it useful to sort out their addictions before therapy or in the very earliest stages of it
Always remember that you did what you did to survive. Try to appreciate your great resourcefulness in surviving. Hold onto this thought if you feel guilty or ashamed about the ways you've coped.
Reducing Physical Tension
You may find that you feel tense a lot of the time. You may feel 'edgy' or 'jumpy'. Things may startle you easily. When you have time to yourself you may feel 'shaky and find yourself unable to relax.
This isn't that surprising. As a child you may have had the experience of feeling continuously scared. You may have been always on the look out for the abusers next move. Your body may have constantly expected danger to be just around the corner. When this happens in childhood the body becomes tense and learns to stay tense, even as an adult. After all, you may not have been given the opportunity to learn how to relax - it may simply not have been safe to let your guard down.
It's important to try and learn to relax now. This is because:
- Long-term, tension isn't good for your physical health.
- If we can't relax by ourselves we sometimes turn to other ways of relaxing' like alcohol or drugs which can cause even more problems than the tension we are trying to get rid of.
Remember that learning to reduce physical tension isn't easy and won't happen overnight. Some techniques suit some people and don't suit others. Experiment and find out what works for you.
Here are some suggestions:
- Do something physical. Run. Use a punch bag. Swim. Anything safe that gives you a physical release.
- Set time aside for rest whether this involves snoozing or just sitting back in a comfy chair.
- Laugh! Watch whatever T.V. makes you roar. Spend time with friends who make you laugh.
- Breathing exercises. Take long slow breaths, breathing deep from your belly rather than from your chest.
- Slow down! - if you are one of those people who seems to rush about like a 'headless chicken'.
- Try to avoid putting yourself' under pressure by working to deadlines.
- Do things that you know you enjoy, whether its listening to music, painting, reading...
- Relaxation tapes. SURVIVORS(Sheffield) can provide you with one if you don't already have one. They usually involve a combination of deep breathing, muscular relaxation, and imagining a pleasant scene. They can be very relaxing. But they're not for everyone. Bear in mind that if you get deeply relaxed you can also feel like you are not in control. This can be frightening for Survivors who may want to stay in control in order to stay safe. They may also involve closing your eyes or holding your breath, two things which may trigger unpleasant memories of abuse.
There are many ways to reduce feelings of physical tension. Find which ones suit you best. You'll need to keep working at it but its worth it. After all your body and mind have had years of feeling tense - they deserve a rest!