Anyone who followed the horrific testimony of the more than 150 members of the United States Women’s Gymnastics Team is now witness to the devastation caused by sexual abuse. The emotionally charged verbal and expression of these young women (and children), who were abused by their team doctor, conveys their outward feelings. What we can’t see are long-tern effects of sexual abuse, such as a propensity toward drug and alcohol addiction. A whopping 75% of women who enter treatment programs report having a history of being sexually abused, according to the American Journal on Addictions.
Why Victims Become Addicts
There are many reasons why victims of sexual abuse turn to dependency of drugs and alcohol:
They are burdened by shame and self-loathing. Ironically, the first thing many victims of sexual abuse do is to blame themselves. They feel a great sense of isolation and self-doubt, prompting them to ask, ”What did I do to bring this upon myself?” And “What could I have done differently?” Without a strong support system, they turn inward and towards substance abuse and, ultimately, addiction.
They feel that there is no escape from the burden they carry. There is a profound sense of despair, which, if not addressed, becomes depression and other mental health diagnoses. There are constant reminders of their trauma, and even seemingly minor signs become symbols of their plight. The #MeToo movement, one of the most powerful and unifying rallying cries in women’s history, is both a blessing and a curse for victims of sexual abuse.
While #MeToo shows women that they are not alone, it is also a painful reminder of what happened to them. It is certainly similar to veterans who have experienced PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and may experience anxiety and other stress-related behaviors, including exaggerated reactions to everyday sounds and feelings of paranoia in unfamiliar surroundings.
They feel isolated and alone. One of the greatest human fears is the fear of being alone. There is both physical loneliness (e.g. being a prisoner of war) and mental loneliness, such as the deprivation of human contact. Victims of sexual abuse have felt the pain of both physical and mental abuse. Without knowing that others have experienced similar feelings, loneliness and isolation can become intolerable. Referring again to the US Women’s Gymnastics Team, as more women came forward, it was easier for others to do the same. Shame shared became shame conquered.
First Steps: Self-Healing
Victims of sexual abuse, who have long turned their blame inward, must look inward to start the healing process. This means taking the following steps:
- Becoming aware of reactions. Self-awareness is a first step in self-healing. This means knowing both the positive and negative triggers of emotion.
- Choosing your level of involvement and sharing. Do you share your story and with whom? Begin small, with those who provide the most comfort and support. Take it to the next level if and when you choose. Social media are both sources of support and intimidation. People are fee to react, and their reactions may be unexpected and unwanted.
- Channeling your successful self-therapy to others. Moving from victim to advocate is a powerful and positive counterbalance to the effects of sexual abuse. There’s nothing more rewarding and uplifting to the process of self-healing than paying it forward. Your triumph leads to more triumphs.
Getting Professional Help with Dual Diagnosis
Victims of sexual abuse should never feel that they need to go it alone. Professional therapy can provide short-term strategies and long-term benefits. We offer Trauma and PTSD Therapy to help clients work through past issues that stand in the way of recovery. Our Co-occurring (Dual Diagnosis) Services Program focuses on the link between mental health disorders that can develop from trauma, such as anxiety and depression, and drug and alcohol addiction.
If you or a loved one needs help dealing with addiction due to sexual abuse and trauma, please contact our admissions counselor online or call 954-556-7441 today. All communications with our staff are confidential.