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(c) Lynda Bernhardt

I am fortunate in never having an issue with substance abuse after child abuse. I have struggled mightily with an eating disorder and wrestled with self-injury. I also battled suicidal urges off and on throughout my teen years. However, for whatever reason, I never turned to substance abuse to self-medicate my pain from child abuse.

I do believe that I would have been vulnerable to substance abuse if I had not been careful to guard myself against this. I still remember how fantastic I felt the first several times that I drank in college. Wow, did it feel good to finally let go of all of my anxiety and my need to be in control. When I drank, I could release all of that tension, and it felt wonderful.

However, I knew that I could not drink unless I was around people I trusted. I did not want anyone raping me while I was drunk. Also, I could sense my vulnerability to becoming dependent upon alcohol and chose to be careful. I refused to let any substance enslave me.

Over on isurvive, my favorite message board for adult survivors of child abuse, there is a forum called Dependence & Compulsion. I used to visit that forum to talk about my issues with an eating disorder and self-injury. At first, I did not even read anything written by people who struggled with substance abuse. I feared that I would have nothing to say because I had not wrestled with that particular issue. However, I soon learned why this site has one forum for all of these issues – they have much more in common than many people realize.

No, I have never been an alcoholic, but I “get” why alcoholics feel the need to drink. It is the same reason that I feel the need to binge eat. While the crutch we lean upon is different, the underlying pain is the same.

This opened up a whole new world for me. I could finally understand why a person would have trouble breaking an addiction to alcohol or drugs, not because I had been there with alcohol or drugs but because I had lived this with food. Of course, the one big difference is that there is no physical withdrawal from food versus a very difficult physical withdrawal from many substances. But the flip side of the coin is that a person can go through life without ever having a substance again. That is not possible with food.

The more that child abuse survivors can appreciate the struggles that they have in common, the better able they will be to help one another along their road to healing. Empathy removes judgment and replaces it with compassion.

Related topic:

Aftereffects of Childhood Abuse: Substance Abuse

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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(c) Lynda Bernhardt

Many adult survivors of childhood abuse struggle with some form of substance abuse. Whether they turn to alcohol, prescription drugs, or street drugs, they are using a substance to help manage their emotional pain. Even smoking cigarettes can be viewed as substance abuse.

Children who are abused are forced to repress their emotions in order to survive. As they grow into adults, those painful feelings are still festering inside. As adults (or even while in their teens), they come across a substance that temporarily removes the pain, and they use that substance to drown out their emotions. The more powerfully the emotions rage inside, the more they rely on that substance to silence them.

Substance abuse is a symptom, not the cause. This is why so many people who go through rehab return to using their substance of choice again. Unless you heal the cause of the underlying pain that is fueling the symptom, you will stay vulnerable to “falling off the wagon.”

Substance abuse differs from other forms negative coping tools because they can also have a physically addictive component that makes it even harder to break away. Even when the survivor decides to stop using a substance, his body might cry out for more, which is why getting help for the physical component and the emotional component is the best formula for success.

The more you can lean on more positive coping tools, the less you will need to lean on a substance to manage your pain. See Positive Coping Tools for Healing from Childhood Abuse for a list of positive coping tools.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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