How Domestic Violence Complicates Addiction Recovery: Ideas for Life-Change
Ask any police officer about their least favorite calls and they're likely to list domestic disturbances and dealing with people under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Put these two together and it becomes something most professionals would prefer to avoid; it's messy, unpredictable, and the probability of a successful resolution is slim.
Law enforcement has come a long way in recent years in responding to survivors of domestic violence with empathy and respect. Most other professions and the general public continue to lag in understanding and support. Both survivors of abuse and addicts/alcoholics face debilitating stigma in our society and those who live with both often find themselves facing well intended but horribly misguided questions:
- "Why don't you just leave?"
- "Why don't you just stop drinking/using?"
It's never that simple. In both cases:
- We need to identify the obstacles that must be overcome
- We must acknowledge that leaving and withdrawing are generally the most dangerous times
We must also acknowledge that providing resources without judgment ensures far better outcomes.
Two Situations: Many Similarities
Abusers and the disease of addiction manipulate with the common goal of taking control away from the individual.
- Both use seduction with euphoric moments and ultimately empty promises.
- Both instill fear, guilt, and shame.
- Each seeks to isolate us and make us dependent.
- Each has the ability to make us feel amazing and terrible in a very short amount of time.
Addiction most often masks deeper pain. Perpetrators of domestic violence prey upon those deeper wounds while inflicting new ones. Abusive and controlling individuals often encourage or even require alcohol and drug use as it makes us less credible and more malleable. Just as abusers alternately give and withhold love, they may do the same with substances. There is generally a sporadic element to the otherwise relentless patterns. It’s used to keep the survivor off balance.
Research has given us multiple conceptualizations of the cycle of domestic violence. One of the most widely used dictates four stages:
- Tension building (anticipation and fear)
- Incident (abuser taking control and doing harm)
- Reconciliation (deception)
These words are sterile and do little to convey the survivor’s experience, yet there is an interesting and terrible parallel to the stages of drug and alcohol use:
- Craving (anticipation)
- Seeking (deception - rationalization, justification)
- Using (substance taking control and doing harm)
When we seek to overcome both of these cycles simultaneously, we find ourselves not only overwhelmed, but also facing many systemic obstacles.
- Homeless shelters and programs for those seeking to escape abusive relationships generally are not equipped to support a person in overcoming addictions.
- Residential treatment for addiction may well be the best option, but affording treatment and finding an available placement when needed can be insurmountable obstacles.
The most basic and important need of every human being is safety. Getting away from the abuser removes the external force that would/does undermine any progress made in overcoming addiction. The need for support in these pursuits cannot be overstated. No one does this alone.
Two ideas for getting to safety are:
- Making use of personal resources.
- Manipulating systems to get what you need.
Tapping Personal Resources
Shame and guilt can prevent us from reaching out to loved ones we’ve become estranged from. I encourage folks to put their hearts aside just long enough to identify who would want to help. Many of us are shocked to find that old friends and family are overjoyed to reconnect and eager to support our efforts.
We fear being an imposition or burden. I encourage folks to consider what they would be willing to do for someone they loved in similar straits. They immediately express a willingness to do whatever it takes to help. Unfortunately, our expectations of the support others should give is intimately connected to our self worth.
I urge folks to keep at the forefront of their thoughts that their self perception has been deliberately skewed. I remind them that all people have a right to safety and good health. Wrestling with self doubt and considerations of what we deserve will only leave us stuck in unhealthy places.
When there’s nobody to support us...
When we’re alone we tend to get in our own way. Fear and urgent needs limit our perspective. We tend to view our choices and options as all or nothing propositions. We feel compelled to tell either all of our story or none at all. We lose sight of our right to privacy and even our right to determine what’s in our own best interests.
There are times when the ends do indeed justify the means. I encourage folks to manipulate systems when the system cannot or will not respond in a helpful manner.
- If disclosing substance abuse or addiction would prevent you from entry to a program that will help you leave an abusive partner, don’t report it.
- If you fear Child Protective Services would be notified by a disclosing some aspect of your past abuse, don’t speak it.
- Seek out advocates and people who not only know the system but also how to play it.
- If you are able to access multiple systems to get your needs met, by all means do so.
- If you do not give signed consent for release of information, then the systems that serve you cannot communicate with each other.
- If you are able to attain residential treatment that helps you break free of only one pattern, then seek outpatient care for the other.
The best resources and most supportive responses I’ve seen consistently come from the very good men and women of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. As difficult as it may seem to imagine sharing your needs with strangers, please know that these folks more so than most understand both patterns and will guide you in becoming “happy, joyous, and free.”
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