Addiction through the eyes of a survivor of domestic violence is unique perspective on the disease and offers survivors what they believe is an escape from the pain and suffering they have endured. Victims and Survivors of domestic violence are more likely to struggle with a wide range of issues while overcoming the trauma of abuse. Some problems we may develop are substance abuse, addiction, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and PTSD. Domestic violence and substance abuse are intimately linked and often coincide.
For many survivors who turn to substances, it is an escape from past trauma to cope with the results of the lasting emotional and physical effects. Sometimes, we are coerced into using drugs or alcohol by our abusive partners. For those of us still experiencing abuse, it can be a severe burden to bear, and the use of substances may sometimes seem like the only way out.
Defining Domestic Violence
Because we need this escape, our likelihood of becoming addicted increases. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), substance abuse involves about 40-60 percent of intimate partner violence (IPV) incidents. Victims are 70% more likely to drink excessively than those in healthy relationships.
I don’t remember learning about domestic violence in school. I was raised in a good home with parents who have been happily married for 60 years. It wasn’t until after I left my abuser and was in an emergency shelter with my kids that I even heard “domestic violence.” I’d love to say that leaving the relationship improved everything, but that would be a lie. It took years of counseling, support groups, growing in my faith, and ultimately, getting sober to even begin to put myself back together.
Escaping the Pain
It took 10 years of struggling with addiction before I decided to get sober. My children were my identity, and I was proud of being an at-home mom. When I became a single mom, I was responsible for providing for my children independently. It was easy for me to put my needs on the back burner to focus on them. Weekends, holidays, and summer vacations were tough for me to be away from my kids, and I lost myself in those days.
In the beginning, I would only drink when my kids were away, but I found myself saying I’ll just have “one drink.” I never only had one drink. Weekend drinking started earlier and earlier in the week. “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” started earlier in the day and then found myself drinking for brunch. I will admit I was in denial, thinking because I wasn’t drinking every day, I didn’t have a problem. I wanted to drink everyday. My “escape” was going out with friends, drinking, and living a life of “freedom.” I didn’t realize that escaping my feelings only created a dependency on what I thought was freedom.
Instead of my hard days bringing me to my knees, they turned me to the bottle. Anxiety and PTSD became overwhelming, and out of control, so I turned to my doctor. Medication is not to be taken lightly, and definitely don’t mix. I was not someone who should have ever been in control of my medicine. I began to forget if I had taken my medication and would double meds or more. Even being in a new healthy relationship didn’t remove the effects of abuse, guilt, shame, and dependency on alcohol and drugs.
On the contrary, disappointments, infertility, and loss only spiraled me more. I lost control and started to act like the monster I had run from all those years ago. Guilt and shame became my routine, and it was hard to see my reflection in the ones I loved and was hurting so deeply. I wanted to die because I couldn’t find the strength to stop. It wasn’t until I reached the end of myself that I cried out to God, and He stepped in.
The Healing Begins
From one day to the next, I stopped all medications and alcohol. Honestly, I suffered withdrawals and paranoia, but the people I tried so hard to push away surrounded me with love and support and kept me safe. I laid down pain, guilt, shame, anxiety, fear, disappointment, and grief and picked up hope, love, peace, joy, and freedom. It was a long road to sobriety, but that road led to true freedom.
In the past 6 years, I have found the person I was created to be, “the victim” is no longer my name. I am now a survivor, an overcomer, and a warrior. I found my purpose in helping those in domestic violence relationships, dealing with the effects of abuse, and experiencing addiction and self-harm.
Finding the Light
I found my voice and used it to speak life and hope to others. I’ve learned the startling statistics of domestic violence and how many of us turn to ways of coping with our pain that often lead down a road of darkness and addiction. I’ve also learned that abusers need someone to prey off of, and they only find it in the people with the biggest hearts and brightest lights. Abusers snuff out the light because they don’t have their own. They steal from their victims and leave their darkness in return. Yet something incredibly beautiful about a survivor is that we FIND our light again and shine even brighter than before. We go back into the dark places where people are hurting because they’ve lost their light. We share our light with them and pull them out so they can shine brighter than before.