The unthinkable happened, and your life has come to a screeching halt. It’s a reality you never saw coming, but now it’s the only reality you know. You are a survivor of sexual violence, and whether it’s been a day, a year or longer since your life changed forever, your identity and sexuality remain in limbo.
How are you supposed to heal and rebuild your life when you feel so broken?
Perhaps you’ve considered trying drugs or alcohol to drown the pain. Maybe you already have resorted to these substances to deal with the anxiety, depression, shock and incredible suffering you’ve been experiencing.
What happened to you was devastating, but you are not a victim. You are a survivor of sexual abuse and you do not have to turn to drugs or alcohol to wash away the flashbacks, the ruin.
Start your recovery by arming yourself with knowledge. Learn about the link between sexual assault and substance abuse, and discover five ways you can avert substance use and heal your entire being.
A traumatic event, such as any form of sexual violence – including non-consensual sexual contact, rape, child molestation and others – can cause individuals to use and abuse drugs or alcohol to cope.
There are approximately 321,500 survivors of sexual assault each year in the United States. Numerous studies report a strong correlation between sexual abuse and the use and abuse of addictive substances, such as drugs and alcohol. This is especially true for women.
After sexual violence takes place, the possibility that the survivor develops a mental disorder or uses drugs or alcohol increases exponentially.
According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network and America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, sexual abuse survivors are:
Every sexual abuse survivor undergoes a different experience and, therefore, copes with the events differently. While you are a survivor, we understand that your road to recovery is laden with challenges. As an outcome of your sexual abuse experience, you may encounter one or many of the following:
It’s extremely common for sexual abuse survivors to hand over their shattered souls to drugs or alcohol because these substances help turn off reality to any one of the above hurdles. Survivors use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and temporarily escape the trauma, mute feelings of isolation, self-blame, violation and reach a synthetic form of happiness.
Unfortunately, by using drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms, one major issue – sexual abuse/violence – quickly compounds with other life-altering issues – abuse and addiction.
You were made to do extraordinary things, and drugs and alcohol will not help you go anywhere but down. You can organically piece your life back together, and you don’t have to go it alone. Avoid substance use after sexual abuse by utilizing these five healing strategies:
1. Get in touch with all your feelings.
It’s instinct to run from threats. Survivors of sexual trauma tend to do the same. Understandably, you avoid thinking about what happened to you however you can. Although, while extremely painful and hard to do, a huge part of healing and not letting what happened to you control the rest of your life is to feel every feeling you possess about your attack.
Go slow, of course. But allow feelings to come, stay, be felt. Allow yourself to cry, scream, kick. Whatever comes to you, experience it in your own unique way and process it on your own time frame.
2. Navigate your triggers and identify what’s safe.
What reminds you of the abuse you endured? What words or actions – including touch and sexual position – sends you right back to the painful moments? Making a list of whatever isn’t healthy or safe for you and communicating these to your partner, or keeping them top of mind for future reference, can help you remove instances of extreme fear, anxiety and flashbacks.
In the same light, it’s equally important to identify activities and actions that are neutral and OK to proceed with. What do you still feel comfortable with? What do you still enjoy doing? Make sure these things are known and carried out.
3. Lean on healthy relationships.
As previously noted, sexual abuse pushes survivors to isolate themselves and become antisocial. Seclusion can cause a survivor to fall prey to depression, extreme anxiety and a slew of other mental health and addiction issues.
Instead of cutting off lines of communication with everyone, let your more advantageous relationships in. Tell them what you experienced and how they can help. Most people who have never experienced sexual abuse will not know all the right words to say, but they can provide the exact love, comfort and support you need.
4. Be completely open and honest with your partner.
If you currently have a sexual partner, they play a critical part in your recovery. It’s vital they know all of your triggers, safe actions and – above all – how you’re feeling and healing every day. A huge part of healing for survivors of sexual violence is to learn how to trust again, especially with sexual partners.
To forge and maintain healthy, prosperous, loving relationships, you must be as open and honest as you can. Hiding or concealing feelings will only end up hurting you and derail your progress.
5. Talk to a mental health expert.
One of the best steps you can take in your healing journey is to seek out the support of a therapist. Therapists deliver compassionate, non-judgmental insights. They help you further understand your situation and navigate your feelings to start to release the pain, guilt and shame you may feel.
If you’ve suffered from sexual assault, remember that you are not a victim and your offender holds absolutely no power over you. If you’ve used drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, and your use has turned into an addiction, you can regain control over your entire life – by focusing on your mind, body and soul.
At Covenant Hills, it is our mission to help you reassemble your life and return to the person you were made to be. Through our faith-based, gender-specific rehab programs, you will see that life can radiate growth and happiness again. Learn more about our drug and alcohol treatment programs, or contact us for a free and confidential assessment.
RAINN. Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics. Accessed May 4, 2018. https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence.