Tag Archives: health

Awareness Games: Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence

Every October, when Domestic Violence Month rolls around, before it even begins I get very, very tired. That’s because every October, gaining awareness for domestic violence seems to be an uphill battle against the pink army that is the other October cause, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

That sounds really bitter, right? Like I hate people who support breast cancer or something? Wrong. Breast cancer is obviously a worthy cause that deserves attention. But does it have to steal all of the attention?

It is frustrating for those of us trying to gain support for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, trying to get our purple ribbons seen when we’re staring at an ocean of pink. An enormous part of the problem is stigma. A few decades ago, breast cancer was very stigmatized. Awareness campaigns brought out the subject and made it okay for people to talk about. Everyone understands now. Cancer is a disease; it’s not a person’s fault. The women who have it and are fighting it and living with it are considered brave, strong, even heroic. It’s a cause everyone can get behind without question; what kind of jerk doesn’t support cancer? People feel good about themselves when they buy a product that has a pink ribbon on it; it’s armchair philanthropy.

Listen, I’m not saying these things are bad. It’s amazing that the stigma on breast cancer has lifted, because millions of lives have been saved. It’s simply that, in comparison, domestic and sexual violence are still largely crimes that live in the dark. There’s a stigma attached to them that’s so severe, that one third of victims of domestic violence and two-thirds of sexual assault victims are not reporting to law enforcement. Of those victims, 41% of male and 34% of female stated victimization being a private/personal matter as reason for not reporting, 15% of women feared reprisal, 12% of all victims wished to protect the offender, and 6% of all victims believed police would do nothing.

Unfortunately, they are right about that.

Nationally, in the last 10 years the number of arrests for domestic violence have dropped from over 120,000 per year to around 85,000 per year. If a person in that one-third that comes forward to report a rape actually endures the re-traumatizing and invasive post-rape medical exam and is interviewed by police, it is highly unlikely that his or her efforts will result in justice, seeing as the conviction rate for sexual assault is only 3%— meaning  97% of rapists walk free.

How in the hell is that possible? It’s called rape culture. It’s just like how it used to be for breast cancer: unmentionable in public, the person who had it was marked somehow and there were sympathies to her face and gossip behind her back. In our culture, when a person is raped— especially a woman— she is the one with the burden of proof. She is considered a slut until proven virginal. We spend so much time focusing on what she was wearing, where she was walking, what she was drinking, and if she said no that we forget who the criminal actually is. It’s the same way with domestic violence. It is complicated and messy. There’s often substance abuse involved and children who are witnesses and fights that could go both ways. Emotional and verbal abuse are hard to pin down, though I assure you, it happens all the time. But come on: there is absolutely no fucking excuse for ignoring physical violence. And yet people do, constantly. No one wants to talk about domestic and sexual violence the way they are willing to openly discuss breast cancer. Why? Because it’s ugly; it’s painful; it’s shameful. People are afraid of it. And for reasons beyond my comprehension, people really love to blame the victims. While cancer patients are considered brave, victims of domestic and sexual violence are called stupid, lazy, slutty, and deserving of their abuse.

Every October, I feel burned out by the 2nd. I stare at the ocean of pink and wonder how in the world I’m going to gain attention for a cause that no one wants to speak or hear about. A cause that makes people uncomfortable, that triggers a flicker of shock across their faces as soon as the word “violence” comes out of my mouth. The only ones who are not shocked are the ones who have a personal connection to domestic violence. That’s when I hear the stories: “My sister had a boyfriend who hit her.” “I was married to a guy like that.” “My dad abused me as a kid.”

When I hear those stories, I have a bit of hope; these are people who will help spread the word. Perhaps they will understand, perhaps I can explain to them and make them realize how much we need to educate the public about domestic and sexual violence. I’m doing everything within my power. But when I look at all the major corporations and foundations that are sponsoring breast cancer, I think, I want those same resources for this. How do I make them realize that domestic and sexual violence are at an all-time high? 1 in 3 women worldwide will experience violence in her lifetime. How do I get them to hear that and maybe give their support towards another cause this October?

The thing is, breast cancer is no longer a crisis the way it was a decade ago. Female breast cancer incidence rates began decreasing in 2000, then dropping by about 7% from 2002 to 2003.  Death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1990, with larger decreases in women younger than 50. These decreases are believed to be the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment. Think about it; that pink ribbon has become synonymous with breast cancer, and you can find it on every product imaginable. The Susan G. Komen Foundation in particular has done an incredible job with this. Another big part of the decrease is due to the fact that pharmaceutical companies and companies that sell medical and surgical equipment will invest in awareness campaigns, the pink ribbon branding, and fund-raising for research, which brings in millions of dollars every year for the cause. Domestic violence does not have this resource because so far, there’s no surgery that can prevent a man from beating his wife, and chemotherapy can’t cure incest. Those companies have no interest in sponsoring a cause that will give them nothing back. With breast cancer, there are patients that use their products so they recoup that money. Until we figure out what part of the brain makes a person violent toward their loved ones, or find a medicine that can erase the effects of sexual trauma, those companies have no incentive to spread purple ribbons the way they do pink, or try to raise funds for victims’ services. Meanwhile, the statistics show a 42-percent increase in reported domestic violence and a 25-percent increase in the reported incidence of rape and sexual assault. Does this mean that I think we should ignore breast cancer? That breast cancer is no longer a problem and we should focus solely on domestic violence? Of course not. Breast cancer is still a killer, the second deadliest cancer after lung cancer, and obviously, we need to keep seeking a cure. But do I think it’s currently at the crisis level that domestic violence is?

No.

Saying that is going to upset people, possibly offend people, particularly those who have loves ones affected by breast cancer. I understand your feeling that way. But when you take a look at these numbers, you might begin to understand where I’m coming from when I say that.

–       About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

–       Twice as many, 1 in 4 U.S. women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

–       In 2011, an estimated 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 57,650 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer (288,130 cases total).

–       Twenty times as many, an estimated 6 million women are victims of domestic violence each year

–       On average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. Intimate partner homicides accounted for 30% of the murders of women and 5% percent of the murders of men. Homicide is the number 1 cause of death in pregnant women. Most intimate partner homicides occur between spouses, though boyfriends/girlfriends have committed about the same number of homicides in recent years.

–       One in five (21%) women in the U.S. reports she has been raped or physically or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Three in four women (76%) who reported they had been raped and/or physically assaulted since age 18 said that an intimate partner (current or former husband, cohabiting partner, or date) committed the assault.

–       Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. 30% of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year.

–       There are only 1,500 shelters for battered women in the United States; there are 5,000 animal shelters.

This is beyond unacceptable. When we have more resources for stray animals than

abuse victims, something is seriously fucked up.

This whole thing may sound like I’m trying to make the month of October some giant competition between breast cancer and domestic violence, like I think one cause is better than the other. That’s not the case. What I really want is just some more air time, a little more space, and more financial resources to do as wonderful a job of eradicating the stigma around domestic and sexual violence as the breast cancer camp has done. Seriously, we need some of the breast cancer publicists over in the domestic violence camp! Those people get shit done.

Another suggestion that has been made is to move Domestic Violence Awareness Month to May, so it won’t be drowned out. That could work. As long as there is some time dedicated to fighting for this cause. As many of you know— if you’ve read any other part of WfR— I’ve got my own (long and intense) history with both domestic and sexual violence. Whenever someone takes up a cause, it’s not a coincidence; they do it because it affects them somehow. That’s why this is such an emotional topic, and why, when I bring it up, people who are affected by breast cancer tend to get pissed off at me. That’s okay. As long as it’s being discussed, as long as it’s out in the open, perhaps things will begin to change.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2012

P.S.— In the interest of fairness I feel I must add that there are two other October causes that get even less attention that either breast cancer or domestic violence: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and National Bullying Prevention Month. Both of these are really important and deserve attention too, please take a look at their websites for more information!

National Bullying Prevention Center

Remembering Our Babies

FirstCandle.org

Statistical Resources Included:

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Domestic Violence Resource Center

BreastCancer.org

Susan G. Komen Foundation

Human Rights Watch

ASPCA

Clark County Prosecutor, Domestic Violence Office

Centers for Disease Control


Representative Akin, Every Rape is Legitimate: An Open Letter

Hello Recovery Writers,

Rarely am I so angry about an issue that I feel I need to take it on in this manner, but when I read about this…well, you know how I am. This is not one I was just going to let go. I tried to stay dignified in my response, and I’m sending this letter onto his office. I encourage you all to write your own congressmen, as well as Rep. Akin himself if you feel as strongly about this as I do. I’ll include his contact information at the end of this article. As always, thanks for reading.

Update: In my zeal to get this letter written and out there, I originally called Todd Akin a senator; this is incorrect. He is a state representative who is running for senator in Missouri. My apologies for any confusion.

Also: There are now several petitions going around demanding sanctions for Rep. Akin. Here is a link to one of them if you’d like to sign (I already have, of course!):

CREDO Action: Tell Rep. Todd Akin: Stop lying about rape

Missouri Republican claims ‘legitimate rape’ rarely results in pregnancy 

Dear Representative Akin,

This is an open letter addressing your unbelievably idiotic and insensitive statements in the article above. How dare you attempt to qualify whether or not rape is “legitimate”. Until you have personally experienced rape, personally experienced unfathomable shock and trauma and shattering of your life and bodily integrity, you don’t get to say word one about the legitimacy of rape. And as far as the rate of pregnancy goes, if you’re going to have the nerve to try and use that as a factor to illegitimize rape, then at least have the decency to have actual science on your side. Despite what some pro-life witch doctor with a medical degree from Sally Struthers may have told you, pregnancy can actually happen without a woman’s consent. It happened to a friend of mine. For the majority of the time I was being repeatedly raped, I was “lucky” enough to have been a child, incapable of conceiving. The last time I was raped, I was severely anorexic and not menstruating, also making it highly unlikely. I didn’t get pregnant from any of the times I was raped, but I think about it sometimes: what would I have done if I had? I honestly don’t know. Back then, the morning after pill wasn’t available. Now, I would certainly do that first. And, by the way, the morning-after pill IS NOT a form of abortion! It PREVENTS pregnancy from ever happening, actually making abortions less likely to occur. If you’re really all about protecting life, supporting birth control is really the way to go. Keeping those pregnancies from occurring in the first place will stop abortions from happening. And if your interest is truly in stopping abortions- as opposed to simply controlling women’s lives and bodies- then really, you might want to jump aboard. Men like you who think that they have any right to legislate the choices available to women who have been raped truly terrify me. Like I said, you have not experienced this. You can’t IMAGINE what it is to be raped, much less to experience a pregnancy from rape. How dare you try to limit a woman’s options in that situation. As if it isn’t hard enough. The rapist should be punished. But the victim shouldn’t be. And that is exactly what you’re doing when you limit her ability to make decisions about what’s right for her body and her life.

Sincerely,
Sarah Henderson

Contact Representative Todd Akin

 


Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Abusive Behaviors

There are all different types of abusive behaviors: physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, financial, using children, and more. It can still be abuse if you are not being hit. You can still be raped, even if you are married. Being forced to have an abortion or carry a child you don’t want is abusive. Being isolated and having no control over the family finances, given an allowance like a child is abusive. Being told you are worthless is abusive. Women can be abusers. Knowledge is power; the more we know about domestic violence the more powerful we are to prevent and treat it. 

The following list is taken from the “Abusive Behavior Checklist” created by Central DuPage Hospital

Emotional Abuse 

  • Frequently blames or criticizes you
  • Calls you names
  • Ridicules your beliefs, religion, race class or sexual preference
  • Blames you for “causing” the abuse
  • Ridicules/makes bad remarks about your gender
  • Criticizes or threatens to hurt your family or friends
  • Isolates you from your family and friends
  • Abuses animals
  • Tries to keep you from doing something you wanted to do
  • Is angry if you pay too much attention to someone or something else (children, friends, school, etc.)
  • Withholds approval, appreciation or affection
  • Humiliates you
  • Becomes angry if meals or housework are not done to his/her liking
  • Makes contradictory demands
  • Does not include you in important decisions
  • Does not allow you to sleep
  • Repeatedly harasses you about things you did in the past
  • Takes away car keys, money or credit cards
  • Threatens to leave or told you to leave.
  • Checks up on you (listens to your phone calls, looks at phone bills, checks the mileage on the car, etc.)
  • Tells people you suffer from a mental illness
  • Threatens to commit suicide
  • Interferes with your work or school (provokes a fight in the morning, calls to harass you at work, etc.)
  • Minimizes or denies being abusive
  • Abuses your children
  • Breaks dates and cancels plans without reason
  • Uses drugs or alcohol to excuse their behavior
  • Uses phrases like “I’ll show you who is boss,” or “I’ll put you in line”
  • Uses loud or intimidating tone of voice
  • Comes home at late hours refusing an explanation

Financial Abuse

  • Makes all the decisions about money
  • Takes care of all financial matters without your input
  • Criticizes the way or amounts of money you spend
  • Places you on a budget that is unrealistic
  • Prohibits your access to bank accounts and credit cards
  • Refuses to put your name on joint assets
  • Controls your paycheck
  • Refuses you access to money
  • Refuses to let you work
  • Refuses to get a job
  • Refuses to pay bills
  • Causes you to lose your job

Sexual Abuse

  • Pressures you to have sex
  • Pressures you to perform sexual acts that make you uncomfortable or hurt you
  • Directs physical injury toward sexual areas of your body
  • Puts you at risk for unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases
  • Withholds sex or affection
  • Calls you sexual names (“whore”, “bitch”, etc.)
  • Tells anti-woman jokes or demeans women verbally/attacks your femininity or masculinity
  • Accuses you of having or wanting sex with others
  • Forces you to have sex with others
  • Threatens to disclose your relationship when you did not want it known
  • Forces you to view pornography
  • Pressures you to dress in a certain way
  • Disregards your sexual needs and feelings about sex
  • Accuses you of being gay if you refused sex (for heterosexual relationships)
  • Spreads rumors about your sexual behaviors
  • Forces you or refuses to let you use birth control
  • Makes unwanted public sexual advances
  • Makes remarks about your sexual abilities in private or in front of others
  • Rapes and sexually assaults you

Using Children

  • Makes you feel guilty about your children
  • Uses children to relay negative messages
  • Uses children to report on your activities
  • Uses visitation to harass you
  • Threatens to take custody of your children
  • Threatens to kidnap your children

Physical Abuse

  • Pushes, grabs or shoves you
  • Slaps you
  • Punches you
  • Kicks you
  • Chokes you
  • Pinches you
  • Pulls your hair
  • Burns you
  • Bites you
  • Ties you up
  • Forces you to share needles with others
  • Threatens you with a knife, gun or other weapon
  • Uses a knife, gun or other weapon
  • Prevents you from leaving an area/physically restrains you
  • Throws objects
  • Destroys property or your possessions
  • Drives recklessly to frighten you
  • Disregards your needs when you are ill, injured or pregnant
  • Abuses you while you are pregnant
  • Forces you to abort or carry a pregnancy

Issues for Immigrants

  • Lies about your immigration status
  • Tells you that they have the ability to have your immigration status changed
  • Threatens to withdraw/not file the petition to legalize your immigration status
  • Tells you that the U.S. will award the children to them
  • Tells you that you have abandoned your culture and become “white” or “American”
  • Stops subscriptions or destroys newspapers and magazines in your language
  • Tells you that U.S. law allows abuse as long as it is in private
  • Threatens to report you to INS if you work without a permit
  • Takes money you send to your family
  • Forces you to sign papers written in a language you do not understand
  • Forbids you to learn English or communicate in your native language
  • Harasses you at the only job you can work at legally in the U.S. so that you will be forced to work illegally
  • Calls you a “mail order bride”
  • Alleges you had a history of prostitution on legal papers
  • Tells you that U.S. law requires you to have sex whenever he/she wants it

Domestic Violence Story Project: Janette

Hello, thank you for joining me for the Domestic Violence Story Project again. Last weeks story started us off in Asia, where we got to hear firsthand what it’s like to live in a violent marriage. This week’s story comes to us from another brave woman, only all the way on the other side of the globe in Great Britain. It’s amazing to me that despite being on opposite sides of the planet, they have suffered in such similar ways…it just illustrates what an epidemic violence against women truly is. Although their experiences were similar in some ways, they were much different in others. Janette interacted with government authorities a great deal in her case, though they sometimes did more harm than good. As you will see, it has been a long and complicated road for her and her children.

Note: Some of the terms used in this story are of course, British, and may be a bit confusing. I’ve tried to remedy this wherever possible while still leaving the author’s voice intact. 

 

How to tell my story? How to explain the way I lived? How to learn to feel again instead of that empty resignation that I felt each day as I awoke?

I should have recognized the signs but I did not know the signs, I did not know about the cycle of abuse, I did not know about control and I certainly did not know about domestic violence!

I first heard this phrase after eighteen years of abuse- of violence, of manipulation and of control which manifested itself in pushing, grabbing, hitting me and breaking furniture during violent temper rages – it manifested itself in demanding sex and if I refused I was kept awake all night by his ranting and threats. It manifested itself in abusive language designed to make me feel belittled and full if low self-esteem . Eighteen years when my children would hear his rages and cower scared in bed

“A terrorist”- That phrase was coined by a lady who attempted to help him recognize his abuse – he was a perpetrator!

I reach a turning point seven years ago – I had had enough and one night – as he threatened me with the brass fire fender – I felt no more and listened to him smash furniture – I asked him to leave.

He did.

But he didn’t believe me and only when he was told he was a perpetrator of domestic violence did he put up a face of contrition.

I made a mistake – a huge mistake.

I accepted that he attend Pendle domestic violence initiative – hindsight is wonderful – but that was a mistake and I should have had him arrested.

Why?

Well now began his campaign to teach me who was boss – to teach me and punish me for what I had put him through.

In the words of my solicitor – you will never be free of him until he thinks he has broken you.

Never be broken.

He pretended he wanted to come home – he was a changed man – I nearly fell for it but intuition stopped me.

Unbeknown to me he was calling my daughter to try to turn her against me – he failed but my son being younger was another matter and he took my son – the worst day of my life.

My son had been spoken to by the Pendle domestic violence initiative and they – a government funded body- decided that a fifteen-year-old boy could live with a perpetrator, a man who had been interviewed by the CID on suspicion of abusing his step daughter – madness but it happened.

So be careful of these agencies, please think carefully!

My son was useful as a tool to get money from me – he had already set in motion a request to the CSA before removing my son. The CSA did their job – I had to pay for seeing my son, I had to pay for the heartache of not having my son with me – I did not see him at all because of his father and so I paid.

It is not just men but women too who are in this position and all told I paid 17,000 pounds to the CSA over 5 years

As for the perpetrator – he tried to get me fired from my job as a teacher and even wrote to the GTC to stop me ever teaching again! He failed, but imagine how it felt to have your career destroyed in this way.

Get a non-molestation order – I had to – do it to protect yourselves.

My mother died – bless her – and 2 days after her passing the perp asked for her will! Had I got a bequest? He wanted his share and my father was distraught – he got nothing but he put us through pain and upset that it cannot be forgotten.

Through all this and more I had a domestic violence officer, a specialist solicitor, supportive friends who refused to be swayed by his words and a rapid response on my house.

Be aware though that seemingly innocent government agencies can be manipulated legally to support these perpetrators.

The CSA will reinforce the collecting of monies it is not concerned with family matters.

The police are fantastic with violence issues but not manipulation and control.

A perpetrator programme – in my opinion and experience – simply empowers the perpetrator with more knowledge.

Often these agencies act innocently without realizing their part – that is no excuse.

I have now made tentative steps towards rebuilding contact with my son and my daughter lives with me.

And as for the perpetrator? Well, he has another victim.

Janette Webster


National Recovery Month Stories: Alli

Hello everyone and thank you for joining me for our final Recovery Month Story! This account comes to us from a brave young woman who is facing an interesting challenge: how to stay in recovery herself while taking on a challenging career in the medical field. Alli is a registered nurse who works to advocate for her patients and keep them healthy, while at the same time trying to stay in recovery from her own eating disorder issues. I identify with her greatly, since I too am recovered from an eating disorder and am currently in nursing school; it’s interesting to hear about how she feels towards the profession of nursing and her daily struggles with recovery. I hope you find it interesting too. Thank you for staying with me through this month’s Story Project, and I hope you’ll join me on the first when Writing for Recovery begins the Domestic Violence Awareness Story Project. Thank you again! Peace, Sarah

Let me introduce you to someone: She is a bright-eyed intelligent young woman full of enthusiasm for nursing sick people back to health.  This has been her passion for longer than she can remember, and it took her more years than most to reach just the bottom rung of the ladder–a license to practice as a Registered Nurse.  Setbacks forced her to put the dream on hold and learn to let others nurse her back to health before she herself could be the caretaker.  But she achieved these first necessary steps of living her dream and is on the verge of changing lives with her career finally in her hands staring her in the face.  She embraces the challenge despite the feeling of terror that comes with knowing she will be responsible to care for human lives.


She didn’t sign up for this.  They told us it would be hard, but didn’t prepare us at all for the magnitude of suckiness that is the life of a floor nurse.  No, what they told us was a joke compared to the war we face every day. This job, this career, has been one giant disappointment.  After all the time and effort I’ve put into it.  Seems like a waste.  I’m good at it.  But just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you’re happy doing it.  I have to wonder if I’ve even given it a fair shot though.  If I have even stepped into the ring.  Maybe I’m holding out for something better that doesn’t even exist.  Maybe this is it for me.  I’d always wondered if I was destined for greatness.  But I am swallowed up by a feeling of limbo; this is the most I’m ever going to be, to do.  Who ever said I deserved better anyway?

Who is this chick?

This chick is me.  Alli.  For over a dozen years I’ve been suffering from anorexia and bulimia, spending my days in and out of treatment centers, emergency rooms, therapists’ offices; wearing a mask that says to the rest of the world No matter what it looks like on the outside, I’m FINE.  But I’m not fine–on the inside I’m screaming.  On the bad days, everything in me is fighting to hold it all together but at the same time wanting to cry out Somebody please help me, I can’t do this anymore!  In between treatment stays I somehow managed to fight my way through nursing school and am currently working as a registered nurse on a cardiac floor.  Which is a sick irony–the years of abusing my body has created numerous medical complications; at any moment the tables could be turned and I could be (and have been) lying in that bed being nursed back to health.  Instead I am in the position to care for and to save lives.  When I can’t even save my own.  I give advice to my patients that seems hypocritical; who should be expected to listen to me educate them on living a healthier lifestyle when I’m not exactly the poster-child for health?  My career and the struggles I face every day in my job are reflective of the daily battle against my eating disorder.  They both involve waking up and facing my worst fears over and over and you have to be so strong to do that every single day. When I speak of the “fight” to get up and go to work, I’m also talking about the fight to walk around in a body I hate and try to ignore the self-loathing feelings all day long, to fight the desire to self-sabotage and fall back into a completely eating-disordered lifestyle.  There’s an eerily deep correlation–while growing as a young nurse, I have grown as a young woman and have learned that there really is no separation between my work life and my home life.  How I feel about myself as a plain old human being directly affects me in my career.  It is impossible for me to be strong at work and then go home and beat myself up.  If I can stand up for myself as a patient advocate, then I must stand up for myself as a me advocate. The strength it has taken to survive one of the toughest careers is the same strength that has helped me fight against my eating disorder for so long when too many times I desperately wanted to give up.  As hard as it is though, it is what I live for and now I am a nurse for life.  And if you have something to live for, then you have no excuse for giving up.

~~ Some people plant in the spring and leave in the summer.  If you’re signed up for a season, see it through.  You don’t have to stay forever, but at least stay until you see it through. ~~

Alli Eshleman, RN


National Recovery Month Stories: Jim

Hello everyone! Welcome back to the National Recovery Month Story project here on Writing for Recovery. Thank you for joining me once again as I introduce another account from someone who works on the front lines battling addiction. Jim is the executive director of a counseling center specializing in addiction, dual diagnosis, and trauma. Every day he works to bring people to a deeper understanding of themselves in order to help them find their way to a meaningful recovery. He has a wonderful perspective on what it takes to walk that path- and how patients and counselors can work together to accomplish lasting recovery. 

 

My name is Jim and I’m a recovery ally. People in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse don’t expect me to be able to understand them. I don’t blame them one bit. I’ve never been an alcoholic and my drug addictions are limited to caffeine and nicotine. These are not exactly conditions that make a person’s life unmanageable, at least not in any short order. Worse, I am seen as less likely to understand because I am a professional in the addictions field. My friends in recovery have too often received poor quality of services, judgment, and been generally shamed by people in my line of work. This must stop. Being a recovery ally means that I seek to be part of the solution to all of the problems associated with the disease of addiction.

In general, if a person hasn’t walked a mile in your shoes it’s hard to believe that they can really understand what it’s like to live with what you live with. I have found that most folks who haven’t been an addict or at least been very close to an addict can’t begin to wrap their mind around what it’s like to be one. I know that while I cannot relate to a person whose experiences I have not shared; I can understand to the best of my ability what it’s like for them and support them in overcoming their disease. All that this requires is that I get my ego out of the way. I listen and listen well. I ask dumb questions and I show a genuine interest in what it’s like for them. The addicts and alcoholics I know tell me that they find this unusual and refreshing.

I love working with people in recovery because I like people who are exceptionally genuine, motivated, and who seek to make great changes in their lives. Normal people bore me. Normal people do not generally make life altering changes. They do not often become something far greater than they are. People in recovery inspire me. I love their candor, their accountability, their integrity, their humor, and their willingness to go to any length to become happy, joyous, and free. I am blessed because people who are willing to make this kind of commitment seek me out.

The recovery communities of 12 step programs are vastly more effective than any professional intervention or organization will ever be. I see what I do as merely a compliment to the work of AA, NA, Al-Anon and others. I am one person working in one organization. Self help programs total tens of millions of people all over the world who genuinely care about their fellow members. Being a recovery ally means having the humility to know that what I do may be important, but it will never be a fraction as important as membership in a self help program.

Never have I been so welcomed by any group of people as when I have attended AA meetings. My colleagues do not receive me one tenth as well. Even after I explain that I am not an alcoholic, I am frequently thanked for attending, for showing an interest, for offering support, and for showing respect to a program that works exceptionally well. Amazingly these folks do not hesitate to share their experience, strength, and hope with me. They speak the most intimate and painful details of their lives in front of me, knowing that all attending have the opportunity to connect, learn, heal, identify, and grow based on these experiences.

I came to work with people in recovery through a backdoor of sorts. I started out as a mental health therapist and found that many of the people I was serving also had problems because of drugs and alcohol. I quickly came to understand that as long as they continued to abuse drugs and alcohol, anything in mental health would be of limited value to them. In most cases I find the importance of being clean and sober as being foundational and of far greater importance than issues of mental health. Today I understand that depression and anxiety are normative experiences for a person who is active in addiction or who is in the early years of recovery.

Being a recovery ally means that I am an educator. I share what I know and I defer to those who know more than I. I am far more likely to refer my clients to people in local recovery than I am to refer them to professionals. I am able to do this because I know people in the local recovery communities. Being an educator also means that I acknowledge that as a society we are not effectively educating children, adolescents, and adults of the dangers of addiction.

The best recovery allies are advocates. We know that current systems fail to meet the needs of people in recovery. Punitive approaches to alcohol and drug abuse have consistently failed to deter or reduce recidivism rates. We need to bring attention to what works (self help, rehabilitation, abstinence) and challenge prevailing stereotypes (addicts and alcoholics as bad people, criminals, or only belonging to poor and working class). We need to demystify recovery (it’s not about religion, it’s not people sitting around just talking about their problems) through achieving direct knowledge of recovery. It’s not enough to encourage people to join self help. Having direct knowledge of local recovery means that we can share our experiences to motivate others.

The hardest part of becoming a recovery ally is learning not to enable. Those who do not understand alcoholism or drug addiction are often unwittingly helping their loved ones to stay mired in addiction. Enabling almost always feels like the right thing to do. It’s something we feel compelled to do. Not protecting our loved ones from harm is counter-intuitive. We had to learn that protecting those who abuse substances from the natural consequences of their actions is to do them a disservice. We learned that in general people stop using because they get sick and tired of being sick and tired. Suffering is a powerful motivator.

Finally, the most important part of being a recovery ally is the willingness to collaborate. The AA tradition of “principles over personalities” strikes at the heart of our lack of collaboration. We need all stakeholders to come together if we are to make a substantive impact on the disease of addiction. Too many of us as Adult Children of Alcoholics are afraid or disinclined to share what we know and what we’re doing. Agencies and groups often behave like alcoholic families. We compete with one another from the mistaken belief that there is not enough to go around. Sharing our knowledge of what works and combining our efforts will yield far greater results than we have ever seen.

Jim LaPierre, MSW, LCSW, CCS

Higher Ground Counseling Services


National Recovery Month Stories: Psych Nurse

Hello everyone, welcome back to to Story Project. This week we have a story from a treatment provider (who wishes to remain anonymous) and she has an interesting perspective on what it’s like to deal with addiction and recovery from the other side, to be the person who watches and guides patients through that process. I think her message shows that people who provide treatment really do care.

 

As a psychiatric nurse I deal every day with people who are trying to cope with anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, schizophrenia, or other mental illnesses. Many of them have been trying to cope with the distress of their illnesses by self-medicating. Some abuse prescription medications such as anxiolytics or pain meds, still others use marijuana and tell themselves it’s “not really a drug,” some drink excessive alcohol, and others take anything they can from LSD to mushrooms to crack cocaine to meth.

The one characteristic all these people have is that they come to treatment in pain. And just being in treatment doesn’t mean they are hopeful about being there. A large part of the staff’s job is to help the patients find that hope. Without it, nothing else progresses because the work in overcoming illness and addiction is hard.

If someone arrives still under the influence of drugs/alcohol they have to go through detoxification. We use medications to try to ease them through that process, but it is still not an easy one. However, almost always after detoxing the patient is much better able to consider other things on which to focus and be able to stay focused on those things that form the steps of recovery.

During treatment, other means of coping with stress need to be found for each patient, and better habits of responding in a new and less destructive way. The lucky ones find the right person with whom to explore, process, and resolve their underlying issues, particularly trauma. Without that process, relapse is all too common.

I admire anyone who makes that first step and starts some kind of treatment. I use the analogy that everyone has a little red wagon and we pull it around, carrying our emotional baggage. In treatment we try to help the patient unpack some of that baggage, put it in the right storage, or maybe even discard some of it, making the wagon a little lighter to pull.

Treatment is available but you may have to look for it. Some people are fortunate enough to be able to afford wonderful private facilities. Others have to hope they are lucky enough to find good care in a public system. Keep looking. Ask for guidance, but seek help if you are dealing with addiction or any mental illness. I have seen life-changing results from getting the right care. Best wishes in your recovery.

Anonymous, RN-BC, MSN