October is national Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’ve always struggled with using the word “domestic” in describing violence. The word seems to soften a horrible reality. It’s like when we refer to children being “molested” because it seems too harsh to say that a child was “raped.”
Elected officials and military personnel take oaths to protect “from all enemies foreign and domestic.” If the enemy is my partner, I’m expected to simply leave (my partner, but also my home and largely, my life). Those who understand DV know that the appropriate question is NOT, “Why doesn’t s/he leave?” but rather, “What prevents them from leaving?” and better still, “How can I help?”
Unfortunately, we tend to ask the wrong questions in research as well. We’ve only scratched the surface of the relationship between substance abuse and domestic violence. We know that a majority of known batterers abuse and/or are addicted to substances and that they are more likely to commit acts of violence while under the influence. What is far less understood is the relationship between surviving acts of abuse and using drugs/alcohol as a means of coping.
Perhaps the most important consideration then is to examine how abuse of substances and addiction create further barriers from attaining safety (both from DV itself and holistically).
We know that those who perpetrate human tracking will often forcibly create drug dependence in their victims as a means of control. We must understand then that the survivor will have three oppressors to attain freedom from: Their abuser(s), addiction, and PTSD. The abuser is external and can be removed. The other two conditions are internal and will (generally) require a lifetime of recovery.
We know that social stigma creates obstacles to recovery. Imagine having to seek support in overcoming all three of these conditions. Now consider, what if the survivor is not a victim of human trafficking, but rather a neighbor who by all appearances seems to have a great life?
For those who do not understand addiction, please know that it behaves in a manner that parallels an abusive partner:
– Both seek to isolate and control the individual – Both prey upon our vulnerabilities – Both negatively impact our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health – Both tend to escalate over time – Both seem impossible to escape
For those who don’t understand PTSD, it too behaves like an abusive partner:
– Both are powerfully intrusive – Both rob a sense of control over body, mind, and spirit – Both induce fear even when there is no clear threat occurring – Both rob a person’s ability to function socially and to meet their basic life needs
My heart goes out to those who seek to overcome any of these conditions. Those who seek recovery from two or more are all the more deserving of support. Hint: no one ever has just one condition because addiction masks our mental health. Because too often our bodies are ravaged. Because our minds feel unmanageable and our spirits feel broken. Recovery is holistic and it’s a lot of work and it hurts sometimes but we do it because it’s necessary and because we seek to live and not just survive.
To my sisters and brothers who seek freedom please know:
– Survival was the best we could do then and we can have more now – Resilience is strength and being ashamed of what we did in order to survive is unjust – We deserve to be free of judgment – especially our own – We are worthy of respect – We have a right to dignity and to connect with those who uphold it
Please reach out. Please know that we are here waiting for you. Many of us are in the halls of AA and NA. Many of us in organizations like Spruce Run and the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. Many of us are in your churches and civic organizations. We are here to support you. Please know that you will never burden not impose upon us. The only way that we can keep what was given to us is to pay it forward.