Addiction, Domestic Abuse, and Forgiveness
Addictions are a form of self-medication through a compulsive coping mechanism to deal with a life that has become unbearable and out of control. Whether it is drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, gambling, sex, work, or even exercise, any activity that is carried to extremes is a way to avoid dealing with the personal pain of trauma, problems, relationships, or personal flaws that appear to be too difficult to face head on. Addicts develop a tolerance over time to habit forming substances such as nicotine, heroin, and alcohol. These substances create cravings as well as negative withdrawal symptoms.
There is a high incidence of substance abuse among perpetrators of domestic violence.
Usage of these substances lowers inhibitions, resulting in impulsiveness, loss of self-control, and impaired judgment. A person with a propensity for violence is more easily provoked, or may exhibit unpredictable, explosive rage for no apparent reason at all. These individuals medicate themselves with either drugs or alcohol to avoid dealing with their negative emotions of anger, frustration, sadness, grief, regret, guilt, shame, or fear. Substances are also used to cope with trauma, negative thinking, depression, and mental illness.
Those feelings can be overwhelming and even scary, so that numbing oneself to get relief, albeit temporary, becomes the main goal. After the addiction becomes entrenched, substance abuse may become the only goal.
Many addicts become so self-involved and numb to their surroundings that they lack awareness of the pain and suffering that their addiction causes to their loved ones.
Substance abuse with alcohol and drugs is a disease that is chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal, and can lead to other diseases, according to Tian Dayton in Trauma and Addiction. (Source 1)
The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that the largest risk factors for addiction are an untreated childhood mental disorder, including PTSD, hanging around other people who use drugs, sensation seeking, and self-medication. (Source 2)
Substance abuse creates additional wounds and trauma for family members, which can easily result in another generation of addicts.
There is a strong genetic component that increases the risk of addiction; however, environmental factors such as emotional damage, stress, ease of access to the substance of choice, peer attitudes, and negative childhood experiences- including physical or emotional abuse or neglect- all affect the propensity for addiction.
There is some disagreement as to whether addiction is a behavioral choice or a brain disease due to changes in the brain that result from continued substance abuse. It is clear that changes in the brain occur that give rewarding feelings to continued use and provoke the avoidance of withdrawal symptoms once addiction develops.
According to an article on Recovery Connection, changes in the brain chemistry of certain neurotransmitters related to substance use create the cravings, the increasing tolerance (which leadsto even more powerful cravings), and the withdrawal symptoms associated with the cycle of addiction. The process of thought and decision-making is severely compromised by these chemicals, leading to denial, minimization of the problem, and justification by the addict. (Source 3)
The probability that victims of domestic violence will turn to drugs and alcohol in order to cope with the abuse also increases.
This makes it very difficult for them to take action and escape their intolerable circumstances. This cycle of abuse and addiction easily transfers from one generation to the next, as children often mimic their parents. They can become victims or perpetrators of abuse themselves, and use substances to numb their pain and shame.
You must do everything that you possibly can to break this cycle.
If you have an alcohol or drug addiction, you have an obligation to your children and yourself to get counseling, check yourself into an inpatient program, and join a support group such as a twelve-step program to keep you sober. Willpower alone is not enough to conquer addiction. Admit you need help and get it immediately. You must get well first before you attempt to take care of children on your own.
People are much more dangerous to themselves and others while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you are married to an alcoholic or a drug addict, immediately leave with the children for your safety. My father’s alcoholic rages were terrifying, as the lessening of inhibitions from his drinking made him prone to inappropriate behavior, cruelty, and violence. An abusive man who is also an addict is extremely dangerous.
If you are a drug addict or an alcoholic, substance abuse treatment, self-help groups, and counseling will help you to avoid relapses. Now that you know the changes that have occurred in your brain create these powerful cravings and make it impossible to go it alone, get the help you need. You will still have a very good chance of getting custody if you can show thorough documentation of your husband’s abuse and your efforts to stay clean.
In order for you to be strong enough to deal effectively with your addiction, you will need to first forgive yourself for having made mistakes.
Otherwise, you will be needlessly stuck in the blame and shame game, unable to make any real progress. Making amends to others is necessary, just remember that all of us make mistakes and have felt regret or remorse for something.
Have compassion for yourself.
The gift of forgiveness gives you room to make necessary changes and grow from negative experiences. It is also the only way that you can truly make amends to others.
Master potters from Japan intentionally mark well-made pieces of pottery to give them a flaw, so that they will be beautiful, not perfect. Wabi-sabi is the name for this aesthetic or worldview, which comes from the Buddhist philosophy of imperfection, impermanence, and incompletion.
Being human means being imperfect and our uniqueness makes each of us beautiful and precious.
Your needs, your value, and your happiness are just as important as anyone else’s. Make the choice to value your own life. Take responsibility for your choices. That includes following a program to stay sober without going it alone. This is the way to set a good example for your children.
If you have PTSD, it may be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to forgive traumatic events that you are still reliving in your mind, with all the corresponding emotions, as if they just happened. It may be necessary to have a therapist treat the trauma first with EMDR, brainspotting, or some other method that works for you to release these stuck emotions. You will then be able to remember an incident calmly with detachment. This will give you the freedom to forgive yourself and the other person and truly be at peace.
Forgive yourself for having made mistakes, and acknowledge that you will continue to make them in the future, as all of us do.
Make a commitment to yourself and your loved ones that you will make different mistakes because you have already learned from the ones you have made. Take good care of yourself throughout your recovery so that you can stay strong.
You deserve peace, happiness, and a good life. Make it happen.
Breaking Bonds is dedicated to your specific needs as an abused woman, and we offer free holistic support as well as practical guidance to help you through this difficult time. Download the free 11 STEP PREP Guide here to get started, grab a copy of Breaking Bonds: How To Divorce an Abuser & Heal, and check out our full list of resources for complete support during the process of your divorce. We are with you.
Rosemary Lombardy is a financial advisor with over 35 years of experience, and the founder of Breaking Bonds, a comprehensive resource platform for abused women. Although her professional expertise is in financial matters, her perspective on marital abuse, divorce, and recovery is deeply heartfelt and holistic. She draws on decades of personal experience, as well as the experiences of others, to help inform abused spouses so that they will become empowered to leave their abusers and begin to heal.
Rosemary Lombardy's new book, Breaking Bonds: How to Divorce an Abuser and Heal - A Survival Guide is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and anywhere that sells books.
1 Tian Dayton.Trauma and Addiction: Ending the Cycle of Pain Through Emotional Literacy (Deerfield Beach, FL.: Health Communications, Inc., 2000), pp. 7–9.
2 “Addiction Risk Factors,” National Institute on Drug Abuse (January 2017). Available at: https://easyread.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/node_pdf/34-addiction-risk-factors.pdf
3 “Cycle of Addiction,” Recovery Connection (January 1, 2011). Available at: http://www.recoveryconnection.com/cycle-addiction