Addiction to alcohol or drugs is now recognized as a frequent outcome of a traumatic experience or experiences. Sexual trauma can be an important activator of addiction to alcohol, drugs or other substances.
The human body tends to remember the event or events although conscious memory may not. Whenever either a conscious or unconscious traumatic memory is triggered, an individual may try desperately to short-circuit the emotional and spiritual pain by numbing it with readily available alcohol and drugs. Many become physically addicted to their drug of choice. Until an individual receives informed help, however, he or she may not even remember, much less recognize or be able to address, the underlying traumatic processes adversely affecting one’s whole life.
Because severe addiction to alcohol or drugs eventually becomes so obvious to both the individual and those around him or her, treatment for addictive disease is often the entry point in the healing process for trauma as well. Even then, it may take months or years before the traumatic memories surface and the person is psychically and spiritually strong enough to address them with the help of knowledgeable counseling. Often with such individuals, there are periods of relapse into renewed or occasional alcohol or drug use, simply to relieve the memories.
Addictive disease is chronic but controllable as long as the person doesn’t drink or use non-prescribed psychoactive drugs. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and similar Twelve Step groups are the major avenues for long-term recovery. AA has a proven, seventy-year record in helping people recover from addictive disease.
In recent years, AA members began to learn that a substantial majority of their women members had experienced sexual trauma, frequently in childhood. It is now known that addicted men have not escaped similar traumas, though probably not in such large numbers.
Fortuitously, AA offers a unique environment for healing from both addictive disease and trauma. AA’s Twelve Step program recognizes that recovery is behavioral (physical, mental, and emotional) as well as spiritual. The same recovery principles apply to trauma. People in Twelve Step recovery learn they are no longer victims, that they have choices and the capacity for mature responsibility. They discover the relief of being able to share their experiences and thus draw strength and hope from others. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later, they find a healthy spiritual path that will sustain and strengthen them. It is especially important that a deeply-embedded experience of an evil, punishing, all-powerful God be replaced in time with a personal Higher Power of love, justice, and compassion.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a voluntary, worldwide fellowship of women and men from all walks of life who meet together to attain and maintain sobriety. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. A.A is a program of total abstinence. Members stay away from one drink, one day at a time. Sobriety is maintained through sharing their experience, strength and hope at group meetings and through the suggested Twelve Steps for recovery from alcoholism. http://www.aa.org/
There are other similar Twelve Step programs to consider including:
- Sex Addicts Anonymous http://www.saa-recovery.org/
- Sexaholic’s Anonymous http://www.sa.org/
- Sexual Recovery Anonymous http://sexualrecovery.org/
- Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous http://www.slaafws.org/
- Over Eaters Anonymous https://www.oa.org/
- Narcotics Anonymous https://www.na.org/
- Al Anon http://www.al-anon.org/
- Debtor’s Anonymous http://www.debtorsanonymous.org/
- Gambler’s Anonymous http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/locations
- Underearner’s Anonymous http://underearnersanonymous.org/
by the Reverend Sally Brown, Board Certified Clinical Chaplain, United Church of Christ