Addiction is a family disease, especially in my case. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Genetics, including the impact of one’s environment on gene expression, account for about 40% to 60% of a person’s risk of addiction”. But, what brought me to my first drink or drug wasn’t genetics or family tradition, it was my unresolved trauma. Living in constant fear and anxiety led me to seek out ways to self-medicate in order to soothe my spiraling emotions.
At the age of 12, I lost my virginity to sexual assault. I was young, naive, and just looking to have a good time; but instead, my self-worth and sense of security were stolen from me. I went to a 4th of July party, hosted by people about 10 years older than me, and promptly began to binge-drink and take other substances. I did not know my limits and ended up passing out early. The next morning, I woke up in a bed next to a man in his mid-twenties, completely confused and traumatized.
I was reluctant to tell anyone about my assault for years, due to my feelings of guilt that came with the misunderstanding that I had “allowed” myself to become vulnerable enough for a man to violate me. Our society had wrongly taught me that if a girl was dressed a certain way, behaved in a risque manner, or got too intoxicated that must have meant she was “asking for it”. So, I kept my trauma stuffed down deep inside of my psyche, hoping the memory would just fade away with time.
I would wake up all hours of the night, drenched in sweat or screaming because I was having nightmares about my attacker. I began to take drugs constantly in an effort to quiet my mind, which worked for a while- until it didn’t. I stopped caring about school, sports and withdrew from any social activities that I once cherished. Instead of dealing with my trauma I was trying to run from it and eventually, trauma always catches up with you.
Eventually, I began to act out sexually. When the drugs were not making me feel whole, I resorted to hooking up with random people to attempt to fill the gaping void that was inside of my soul. My self-worth was nonexistent, but I thought I was behaving normally and could not see the damage I was causing myself. It wasn’t until all of my unhealthy coping mechanisms ceased to work, that I realized I had it all wrong. Once I couldn’t get instant validation from alcohol, drugs, or sex, I knew that I needed to find something that would heal me long-term or I would not live much longer. I felt as if I had nothing left to live for, but something was pushing me to try one last time to make my life work.
I reached out to my mom for help and finally confided all of the details about my assault, my drug use, and the way I had been feeling for the past few years. At the age of 18, my mom got me into a drug and alcohol treatment center. I had no idea that I was an addict, which is insane considering about half of my family has either recovered from alcoholism or is still in active addiction; I had an impeccable ability to deny my own truth. That being said, when I arrived to treatment I was skeptical. I didn’t want to believe that this was how my life had turned out, but I needed to wake up. All I knew was I hated my life, hated who I had turned into, and could not keep on living the way I had been. So, I made myself become willing to do whatever the medical professionals told me to do during treatment.
I began trauma therapy, where I learned that assault is never the victim’s fault, but I also needed to view myself as a survivor in order to end the cycle of self-pity so that I could begin to heal. In the beginning, therapy was emotionally draining and difficult; but I pushed on. After about a month, I started to notice differences in myself. I could sleep soundly without PTSD nightmares, my overall mood and outlook on life was brighter, I was beginning to trust people again, and my drug cravings had lowered significantly. I felt like I could finally breathe; as if I had been carrying around a huge weight on my chest and it finally fell off.
In hindsight, I have realized that pain is one of the best ways to find yourself and grow as a person; as long as you work through the pain, rather than trying to numb it. My life used to feel small, but today I have found purpose in my suffering and my life has become so much more than my life. I am able to help other men and women who share my same experiences and in doing so, I recover more every day. Most of all, I have accepted that my sexual assault was not my fault and is not a reflection of my self-worth.
My trauma does not define me.