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The Trauma Crutch

I’ve been through some shit. If you know me, or have been following this blog for a while, you know the history of my sexual and substance abuse. I group them together this way because they are closely intertwined.

During my senior year of high school, I “dated” a boy, A, who used to hit me, demean me, and force me to do degrading sexual acts for him because I thought this was acceptable, and because I wanted attention. No one knew what was going on, though my parents and therapist might have known he wasn’t good for me, I didn’t tell anyone the extent of how bad things were. We parted ways towards the end of senior year because his other girlfriend, who he doted on, took on expensive dates, and took to the prom, was getting suspicious of me, the side chick, and A valued his relationship with her more than whatever we might’ve had going on.

Throughout this relationship, my eating disorder was at an all-time low. A would call me fat, and compare me to his other anorexic girlfriend, C, and constantly remind me how much thinner and sexier she was, and that she would willingly be sexual with him. He didn’t “have to” force her like he did with me. I was purging multiple times a day, and constantly self-harming. Anything to numb the pain of the dysfunction that had become my life.

After I graduated high school and went away to Eckerd College, A was far from my life, but close in my thoughts. I felt like I deserved all the horrible things he’d done to me. I felt like I must have looked disgusting at my weight because I wasn’t nearly as thin as the skeletal memories of C.

I was anxious about being in a relationship. I met a boy named Jake, who was shorter than I am and always had pot. I had a car and we shared the same taste in music, so it was a match made of convenience. We’d drive to fast food joints, get munchies supplies, and get stoned out of our minds. I soon discovered that being high helped me relax around Jake and other people, and stop thinking about the bad memories from high school.

But Jake wasn’t always around. He had his own issues, and wasn’t sure if he wanted a girlfriend, while I was fairly certain I was a lesbian, and was tired of dating boys with whom I didn’t really click. So, I turned to prescription sedatives. I didn’t know the first thing about drugs. I thought all drugs besides cocaine and IV drugs were like pot: that they weren’t dangerous, and that I could stop anytime I wanted.

Pretty soon, I was taking Xanax “just in case” I got anxious. Still, I was anxious all the time. Eventually, I ran out of Xanax, and I didn’t know how to refill my prescription. I’d had a bad experience on marijuana that resulted in another sexual assault, and had no interest in smoking it anymore, but I didn’t know how to cope without my pills. I threw up a lot, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. I trembled with anxiety in class, and couldn’t force myself to eat. It was as if A had never left my side.

Finally, my physical body went back to normal, but I had a lot of healing to do on the inside. You all know the story of how I dropped out and went to treatment, and then switched schools. Let’s fast-forward.

At the end of 2016, I was dating Tim, the 40-year-old meth addict who was every parent’s worst nightmare. I was going to AA, but still struggling to stay sober. I’d get blackout drunk once or twice every few months. Tim’s friends tried to turn me onto cocaine, and Tim joked about turning me onto meth, but thank God, I wasn’t that easily swayed.

In December 2016, Tim raped me, and my life fell apart. I went back to drinking and back to treatment, this time for PTSD. I didn’t know how or if I’d ever heal, but I did.

I’ve heard a lot of people at newcomer’s AA meetings say, “If you had the life I do, you’d drink like I do too,” and I used to feel the same way. I used to want to scream at the men who told me to pray for Tim and A and my other abusers, “If you’d been violently raped and hit and choked like I had, you wouldn’t say that. You’d be angry, and you’d drink that anger away, so go #$*^! yourself!”

I never did pray for those men. I am still very, very angry at them for what they did to me and the happiness they stole from me. But at some point, I had to stop using my trauma as a crutch. When I was drinking and drugging over A, I hadn’t seen him in a year or two. He wasn’t buying me beer. He wasn’t forcing the pills down my throat or packing my bowls for me. Tim never handed me a razor and said, “Tear yourself up. You deserve it.” I did all of those things to myself.

I did not choose to have the traumatic formative experiences that led me to these men in my adolescent and adult life. I did not choose to be abused, hit, screamed at, demeaned, or raped. I did not choose to become an addict or an alcoholic. But I took the first steps towards my own undoing, and I have to own up to that. Long after these men were no longer part of my life, I was still writing them into my story, breathing them in with every cigarette, and inscribing them on my body with every cut of the razor.

If your life sucks because of something that happened to you, but isn’t happening anymore, take a look at your surroundings, your actions, your day-to-day. What are you doing that’s holding you back? In what ways do you still need to heal? Where do you still hurt? Let the pain end, and have some compassion for yourself, but don’t allow your mind to be your own doormat. It took a lot of soul-searching for me to stop saying, “I’m like this because I was raped,” and to start saying, “I’m like this because I refuse to change.”

I’m not saying this cured my eating disorder, allowed me to never self-harm again, and that now every day is sunshine and unicorns. However, this attitude did allow me to start the healing process. When I admitted that “It’s not them,” a common AA saying, and realized the problem was me, my maladaptive coping skills, my drinking, my self-harm, my eating disorder, and my desire to cling to it, I was able to make the necessary changes.

There’s a part in the “How it Works” chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous that describes a director trying to arrange dancers who won’t cooperate. As the director tries harder and harder to bend others to his will, his life gets more and more out of control. Sometimes I just have to let people do their thing. This doesn’t mean that I should tolerate abuse, but if someone is mad at me, if I hate my classes or position at work, if my group partners in a group project aren’t doing their part, I can’t change that. The only thing I can control is my reaction to life. Life is going to keep coming at me–nothing can change that. But I can control how I handle life’s ups and downs.

It took me a long time to learn that my emotions are not facts. In actuality, my feelings are often wildly uninformed. After Tim raped me, I didn’t want to press charges because I felt protective of him. I had no reason to feel that way because he didn’t even protect me from his own desires and violence, but I felt that way nonetheless. I wish I had listened to my mom and done everything I could to ensure that he rotted in prison instead of still seeing him around campus and wanting to disappear into the sidewalk. I wish I hadn’t surrendered what little control I had left in that situation.

It used to be hard for me to swallow my pride and say that my feelings were wrong, or admit that I couldn’t make somebody do something, but these things come easily to me now. I am so grateful that I have a spiritual program to work that helps me deal with my day-to-day life. The Twelve Steps are about so much more than substance abuse recovery. They are a design for living that have allowed me to reclaim my life and love who I am today.

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A God of My Own Understanding

I recently started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and working the Twelve Steps. What an experience it has been. I’ve learned so much about addiction in all its forms. I’ve gained friends of all ages and all walks of life, and most importantly, I’ve formed a strong connection with my Higher Power, who I call God.

Addiction is a funny thing. I’m not even twenty-one, so if I wanted to get drunk, I’d have to rely on older friends to supply me with alcohol. For a while, my friends were happy to get me drunk, but soon they noticed that my medicine doesn’t work very well with alcohol in my system. My best friend Colette said that the fact that my desire for alcohol seemed more like a need than a want was worrisome. When she and her boyfriend were drinking around me, all I could think about was how badly I wanted “just one sip,” which always turned into as much as I could possibly drink. Pretty soon, my friends didn’t bring alcohol around me, and Christin, the girl I was dating when I was drinking the most, often asked me to stop drinking, or at least slow down.

So, even though I haven’t been day-drinking for years and years like many of the old-timers at AA used to do before they got sober, I certainly have “the disease of more.” Besides, as they say in AA, “It’s not the drinkin’, it’s the thinkin’.” The way I think about alcohol (and sometimes other substances or activities) is certainly a problem.

But, there is a solution. AA provides, “A fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope,” with each other to share a common solution to a common problem. You never know what you’re going to get at an AA meeting. AA is a spiritual (but not religious) program, so a lot of the meetings focus on God and other spiritual matters.

Yesterday, I had an absolutely horrible day. A very long time ago, I met an extremely drunk girl at a gay club. She told me that “lesbian drama is too real, baby girl,” and I’ve recently discovered that she is right, even if the drama is all in my head. (If you don’t know what lesbian drama is, watch a few episodes of The L Word, and you’ll get an idea.) I had been around people who were drinking a drink I used to love, and I was “romancing the drink,” thinking about how nice it would be to sit at the table with the rest of my friends and casually sip a mimosa. However, every time I think about how nice that would be, I have to remember that I never “casually sipped” my drinks. I slammed them down and got a refill as soon as possible. By the time my friends were buzzed and tipsy, I was falling-down-drunk.

So, instead of trying to rustle up some booze, I went to the AA clubhouse and sat through a meeting, surrounded by friends and strangers who, in some small way, understood what I was going through. I bring a journal with me that I write in during meetings. Sometimes, I write down good quotes from speakers and readings, but a lot of times, I write down my personal thoughts and feelings while I listen to what’s being said at the meetings.

My journal entry at quickly devolved into, “I hate myself, and I don’t want to be here anymore,” and by the end of the meeting, I was crying. I said the Lord’s Prayer, and then completely melted down when my friend “Mack” asked me if I was okay. Mack is a big, rough-and-tumble, Italian guy who’s probably been smoking since birth, and sounds like he’s made out of sandpaper. He said, “Aww, Katherine, baby, don’t cry,” and handed me off to a woman who talked me down and hugged me.

I stayed at the clubhouse after the meeting and talked to another friend. We just sat around complaining about how hard relationships are. When I got home, yet another friend from AA called me, and we talked for about half an hour about our concepts of God.

This friend, “Connor,” describes himself as a “recovering Catholic,” who has defected to Eastern religions, but is interested in Judaism. It’s so refreshing to talk to someone who has a strong faith in God, whoever that God may be to them. One of the amazing things about AA is that unlike organized religion, there’s no right answer for who God is. I told Connor, “My God is not perfect. She makes mistakes just like me. She’s learning and growing all the time.” I’ve never articulated that idea before, and it felt good to say it out loud.

I actually got that idea from a footnote in my siddur. The siddurim my synagogue uses are full of rabbinic notes and ideas, as well as traditional prayers and modern interpretations of the ancient liturgy. During a service a few weeks ago, I saw a footnote that said something along the lines of, “Instead of a perfect God, what if there is a growing God, a growing universe, and we’re all learning together along the way?” This idea resonated with me. Believing that God is a work in progress just like myself helps me practice forgiveness. Instead of wondering why an all-powerful, perfect God would let something horrible and life-altering happen to me as a child, wondering what I did to deserve such a terrible punishment, and why God would abandon me like I thought She did, I can accept that God made a mistake in my life, that for a moment, I fell through the cracks. I was not abandoned. I was not being punished. I was never, not for a moment, unloved by God.

The first step of the Twelve Steps is, “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable,” and Step Two is, “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” It’s easy to admit that your life is unmanageable. I was getting home past my curfew, trying to hide my intoxication from my parents, stealing alcohol from Christin, Colette, and her boyfriend, Trevor, and backing out of prior commitments because I was either too drunk or too hungover to function. It was obvious that I was a slave to my impulsiveness and penchant for bad decisions.

But giving up that control to a “Power greater than ourselves,” isn’t as easy. I want to have control of my life. I want to be responsible for my decisions. And in a lot of ways I am. It’s my decision to act in accordance with my understanding of God’s will. God and I are a team, working together to keep my life on track, to keep me sober and happy, and to do mitzvot.

I recently changed my major (again), and I’m now studying elementary education. As part of my class credit for my Introduction to Teaching class, I had to observe for fifteen hours in a classroom. I observed in a kindergarten classroom at my synagogue’s elementary school. It was such an amazing experience. I formed a relationship with every single child in the class, and I came to love every single one of them.

I also got a job teaching Religious School on Sundays at my synagogue. I have a class of five-and-six-year-olds, who are the strangest little humans I have ever encountered. I love them all dearly, and I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to share my knowledge and love of Judaism with young people.

Being around those kids gives me motivation to stay sober, to make good choices, and to take care of myself. I want to be an example of what a good Jew, responsible person, and good role model is for my students. I don’t ever want those kids–especially the little girls–in my classes to grow up thinking it’s okay to do the things I have done. I pray that those little girls will walk in love, value and treasure themselves, and respect themselves and their bodies. I pray that those little boys will grow up to be gentle souls, who walk in kindness and understanding.

Now that I have a little bit of time in AA, I’ve gained a genuine understanding of who my Higher Power is to me, and how She acts in my life. Maybe God isn’t for everyone. But I believe that God made everyone in Her divine image, that She loves all of Her creations, and that my faith in Her is going to carry me down the road to happy destiny.