The Abused Addict – Dulling the Pain

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David Pittman, an abuse survivor, explains the connection between sexual abuse and various forms of addiction.

Why me? Why did this happen to me? What have I done to deserve this? I am just a kid, why did you do this to me? These are just the start of questions that children begin to ask themselves when they fall prey to a sexual predator.

When dealing with issues of pain from childhood sexual abuse, people handle it in different ways; being a man, I can only tell you the struggles a boy and man goes though. Initially the greatest struggle was just in finding a resource for help to work through the psychological and emotional trauma. With most abuse happening to women, it only goes to reason that the majority of available support is directed toward them. But support for men is out there, you might have to look a little harder for it but it’s there. Thus the increase in groups like “Together We Heal”, “SNAP”, “1in6.org” and many others. But once found, the next steps can be even more challenging.

If the abuse occurs as a young boy and at the hands of a man, you struggle with the confusion of being aroused. While we may learn that physiologically there is virtually no way to stop an erection or even ejaculation, it does not diminish the damage done. As a boy or man you begin to question your sexuality. How could I have been aroused by this disgusting act? When you combine this with the still long-held homophobic rhetoric voiced by so many, the confusion gets compounded and magnified.

For myself, I “proved” my sexuality throughout college by having sex with as many women as I could. While this temporarily bolstered my ego, and reputation with the guys, all it really did was hurt many of the girls’ feelings and further hinder my ability to get at the root of my own pain.

When having promiscuous sex was not enough to keep my hurt and pain deep down enough in my psyche, I turned to alcohol and drugs. As I mentioned in the previous article, with drugs I could numb myself to the point where I not only didn’t feel any pain, I didn’t feel anything, except the high of the particular narcotic of the day.

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I started off like most, waiting till I got off work and drank until I got that “buzzed” feeling. Over the next few years I would drink more and more until I would pass out each night. By drinking to that point, I made sure that while awake I was either too busy with work to think about the pain or too drunk to understand why I was drinking so much.

When alcohol was no longer strong enough I turned to drugs. I started with a club drug called ecstasy, once used by therapists for couples struggling to open up and communicate. It has become an abused “party” drug sometimes referred to as the “hug drug” for the utopia-like effect it gives you. Not only did I no longer feel emotional pain, but possibly of greater import, the “feeling”, however false it may have been, was as if everyone loved me, and this was something I craved above all else…the feeling of love and acceptance. But as any addict will tell you, the more drugs you do, the more you have to do to get the same level of high. The problem is you never do get that again.

So at this point I amplified the drug with another to try and extend its feeling with methamphetamine, commonly known as speed or crank. When this no longer did the trick I moved up to GHB. You hear of it used as one of the several “date-rape” drugs, but when used on yourself, its like ecstasy times ten. The extreme danger of this drug is that it slows your respiration and can do so to the point where you stop breathing altogether. What is so deadly about it, is once you reach a certain point, there is no way of reviving you. And I was doing as much as I could until I would pass out, coming close to overdosing on three occasions, that I can validate from others telling me…only God knows how many times I actually came close to death.

Eventually what occurred to me was what happens to almost all drug users and abusers. I got locked up and spent a month in jail for a conviction of drug possession. It was simultaneously the best thing that could have happened, the worst experience of my life, and probably saved me from ending up in a morgue. Having my freedom taken away, being totally humiliated, and my life threatened on two occasions while incarcerated, I realized finally where my life was headed if I didn’t stop taking drugs, so I went to NA and got the help I needed to get clean. I have remained sober for seven plus years now.

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Once I got clean I had a whole new problem; I had to finally face all of this traumatic emotional pain without any filters, without any buffers. I had to face life on life’s terms; and life, for most of us, isn’t always kind and nice. It’s hard, and when you aren’t strong emotionally or mentally and don’t have the necessary tools to confront this issue, you don’t handle this easily. It was only with the support of an amazing family and equally incredible friends that I have been able to process this pain and conflict and be able to finally stand on my own two feet again, now with a clean mind and body.

This doesn’t mean that I am not still haunted daily by the memories of molestation and sexual assault, it just means that now I have the tools to handle this battle. Frederick Douglass was quoted as saying, “it’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” This has been true in my life. The damage done by my abuser, Frankie Wiley, was so terrible that the positive done to build me up the first twelve years of my life, he destroyed in just 2 1/2, and it’s taken thirty to just BEGIN to get my life back on the right track.

I have since learned that the damage done was much farther reaching than I could have ever imagined. I wondered why it felt like it was taking me longer to work through my struggles than others who had “been just abused or were just addicted to drugs.” I recently found a potential reason behind this.

A German medical research center has now documented that childhood trauma leaves a mark on the DNA of some victims. What they have determined is abused children are at a higher risk of anxiety, mood disorders, and PTSD as traumatic experience induces lasting changes to their gene regulation. This topic is too important not to give its own deserved article, so we will save it for next week. I just wanted to bring it to your attention as a survivor or supporter so you, as did I, might begin to grasp some of your “unexplained” struggles.

♦◊♦

Due to the derailing of my youth, I now have fewer years left on this earth to do what I believe I was always meant to do…help others in some way. So I am going to spend what time I have left to do my best to 1) prevent what happened to me from happening to other children and 2) help other survivors begin the process of healing. I am one of the “lucky ones”, or at least so say the statistics–I should already be re-incarcerated, back on the streets looking for my latest high, or dead.

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 1.56.15 PMAs I mentioned, I was arrested and spent a month in jail. But my experience with the justice system was the exception, not the rule. While I “did my time, learned my lesson and moved on,” within three years of being released, 67% of ex-prisoners re-offend and 52% are re-incarcerated, according to a study published in 2004. The rate of recidivism is so high in the United States that most inmates who enter the system are likely to reenter within a year of their release.

The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world and of the roughly two million people occupying a cell, approximately 500,000 of them have been convicted of a drug offense. With an estimated 6.8 million Americans struggling with drug abuse or dependence, the growth of the prison population continues to be driven largely by incarceration for drug offenses.

If you are shocked by those numbers, wait until you hear how many addicts “fall off the wagon.” Relapse rates for addiction range from 40% to 60%, or 50% to 90% depending on which studies you read. These rates vary by definition of relapse, severity of addiction, which drug of addiction, length of treatment, and elapsed time from treatment discharge to assessment, as well as other factors. The point is clear, relapse happens more often than not.

But of all the statistics I am “fortunate” not to be a part of, the last is most important. For the year 2011, there were 40,239 drug induced deaths and 26,256 alcohol induced deaths. Again, I told you on three different occasions, I came close…but thankfully I am still here today to be a cautionary tale of how NOT to cope with your abuse.

So this is my hope. And by that word I don’t mean what I wish for to happen, I mean it’s what I know, count on and expect to happen…the original definition of the word hope. Look it up. I have hope to help others, I have hope that they will heal, I have hope to protect children. I now have a future that was once denied me due to a sexual predator. And you too can have this hope, this expectation, this new future … just reach out and you will find us here for you.

As I learned in NA, there is no greater advocate and no better person to help an addict than another addict. The reason is simple: they know what the other has been through. For this reason I look to other survivors of childhood sexual abuse to help me as I continue to heal. For this reason I look to other survivors to extend themselves to those fellow survivors not as far along in their healing process. For this reason I ask you now, if you are in a position to help someone who has been through what you have, think back to who it was that helped you and remember how crucial it was for you to get that help, to have that shoulder to lean on, to have an understanding ear that would listen and consider this simple statement:

“To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

 

 

Originally appeared at Together We Heal

References:
- MPI of Psychiatry, Munich Germany, 2003-2012
- Nature Neuroscience 2012
- Narcotics Anonymous, Blue Book
- Narcotics Anonymous, White Pamphlet
- National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)
- Stocker, S.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse
- National Institute of Health
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- International Centre for Prison Studies (18 Mar 2010). “Prison Brief – Highest to Lowest Rates”. World Prison Brief. London: King’s College London School of Law.
- John J. Gibbons and Nicholas de B. Katzenbach (June 2006). “Confronting Confinement”. Vera Institute of Justice
- Bureau of Justice Statistics US Department of Justice

 

 

Lead photo: Flickr/fazen

Prison photo: Flickr/Patrick Feller

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About David Pittman

As the Executive Director of Together We Heal, David Pittman works to educate the public through speaking and collaborating with other groups to raise awareness and expose the sexual predator's methods. TWH now works with therapists, counselors and groups aiding both men and women in their efforts to heal, grow and thrive. He is also the South Florida Area Support Group Leader for SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Comments

  1. David, Your story, as you know, mirrors many. I commend you for your recovery and ongoing efforts to help others like you. Your stats are right on and should be alarming to many. But they aren’t.

    A concern that I have, because I work with adolescent male youth in a residential setting, there appears to be a clear trend at least here in Illinois, to further limit addiction treatment where they are looking at a “medical” model of care.

    When I started at the center where I work, now 15 years, we were a 6 to 9 month program and in some cases, kids stayed in treatment for as long as 11 months. Back then, a portion of treatment was devoted toward drug abuse/addiction but a larger component involved the psychological component where we were able to get down to other issues which ultimately, in some cases, caused the child to start using in the first place. Our facility is now a 3 month program which is looking at “managed care” lurking in the wings. Managed care will only reduce the stay and if we’re lucky, we will be able to squeeze out a 30 day stay. Hell, it takes at least 1 to two month before an adolescent starts to recognize the problem.

    I think a lot of people minimize drug use, especially with adolescents, as something that’s no more then a trend, peer pressure, experimentation. You and I know that it’s not the case with many of them. I’m very much interested in reading about the study.

    Along with your efforts to help, I hope you look into becoming active as an advocate for these guys. They’re broken and we live in a society where broken men are simply discarded via the prison system which is no more then a dumping ground for men that society doesn’t want to deal with.

    God bless you for your work and I pray that you have more years to continue the work you do. The truth is, your purpose in life is being met but it couldn’t have been met until you went through what you did to be who you are today.

    In a related closing note, through the years when I bring a new client onto the unit and do an intake where I hear their brief background, I’m amazed that some of these guys are still alive. Accordingly, I see these guys as being saved for a reason. And I’ve told these guys point blank that the movers and shakers of the world are not the spoon fed guys with good lives but instead are the ones that have gone through hell and back and have survived. I see every one of these guys as potential movers and shakers, that they survived for a reason. David, you are an example of what I believe … thank you.

  2. Tom,

    First let me say thank you. When I first started writing about my experiences there were no altruistic motives behind it. I was doing it for the sole purpose of helping myself. But over time I learned through sharing my story with others that they received some measure of help. And in return I too was given even more hope for my own healing. It was then that I realized something I had heard in an NA room, “there is therapeutic value in one addict helping another”, to be more than just a slogan and actually validated. I have since carried this over to what the core of my addiction stemmed from, the sexual abuse that occurred while I was just a little boy. And now, by reaching out to others who have been abused, I once again find myself receiving just as much as I give. But when I hear comments like yours, this is never more clear to me. I cannot thank you enough for your kind words and affirmation that what I am doing means something. And that’s all I really want, for my life and what I’ve been through not to be in vain. What you say let’s me know to keep moving forward in the direction I’m going and I thank you for that! I couldn’t agree with you more, all of those guys are alive for a reason and that’s why we must do all we can to help them. I would like very much to speak with you further and see how we might work together to do just that. Please feel free to email me at [email protected]

  3. Thank you for your brilliant essay—

    “I had to ‘prove’ my sexuality through college via promiscuous sex… but all I did was hurt the girls’ feelings…”

    Having a relationship with an addict/alcoholic is the most confusing and befuddling experience….even when the partner accepts that he is damaged somewhere long ago and you are committed to trying to help and support him…sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do if he has unresolved rage and self-destructiveness brewing inside and wants to take it out on the person closest to him…..

    There was so much information that he kept hidden from me…but the abusive sex and psychological torture spoke volumes about the damage he suffered when he was a boy….I am not excusing him for what he did to me, but I think the abuse I suffered from his hands came down from some secret place in his past… almost like he had to re-enact it but not with him as the victim….

  4. Hi Leia,
    Speaking on behalf of damaged addicts everywhere let me say, I’m so very sorry for what you went through. You are right, they most often do take out unresolved issues on the ones that love them most. Usually because so many burned bridges in the past that there isn’t anyone else left. And you are also right that it doesn’t excuse the behavior but hopefully this helped explain a little of it making it somewhat more understandable. I know that will never take away the pain but I hope it allows for some level of relief knowing there was nothing you could do about it. Some of us are able to work through it and some don’t. No one has a magic formula for curing what ails us because everyone is different and require different levels of healing in all manner of therapy. But I thank you for being willing to share with others. My hope is someone reading your story will see what they need to do to keep themselves safe. Peace be with you always.

  5. Thank you David Pittman for this article. The connection between Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse and the number of people in our country who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, shopping, sex, etc. needs to be examined more closely.
    With few exceptions, our addictions are merely a sympton of a much deeper problem, often related to childhood trauma. Once we scratch the surface and understand what we are running from, we might be finally be able to begin the healing process.
    You mentioned who better to help an addict than another addict, and who better to help a person who is recovering from childhood sexual abuse than another adult who is also on the road to healing. In this country alone, there are over 42 MILLION adults
    who were sexually molested as children (and that is a low number). Think about this – in a country of approximately 315 Million people, over 42 MILLION adults were sexually molested as children. I believe that our generation has the technology, the data, and
    the understanding that it is up to us to find our voice and let our stories be heard – it is not our job to carry the shame and guilt that so many of us do. IT WAS NEVER OUR JOB to own the shame. But it is our job, at least those of us who are further
    along in our healing, to publicly unite together so that every child, woman, and man know that we will no longer remain SILENT. We owe it to ourselves and most importantly, we owe it to our children and our children’s children, and on an on. By joining forces
    we are also letting every pedophile and child molester know that they will no longer be protected by silence. Adults who molest children, whether they are men, women, young adults or older children, must understand that we are coming out of the closet and enough
    is enough. Together, all of us can create the world that we were meant to be apart of. Together we can put an end to this silent epidemic. I would love to talk with you whenever you have time so that we might brainstorm our way into a new reality free from abuse,
    all abuse.

    Again thank you for your courage. We are 2 of 42 MILLION and we will no longer remain silent.

    Randa Fox
    Director
    NotOnOurWatch.NET

    The Abused Addict – Dulling the Pain
    David Pittman,

  6. I appreciate your honesty and the hard work you’ve done to get where you are. I take issue with one consistent source of confusion, repeated in this article as it is everywhere. You cite the statistic ‘ 40,239 drug induced deaths and 26,256 alcohol induced deaths’. Alcohol IS a drug. So is nicotine. To separate the deadly statistics resulting from use of alcohol and nicotine from the deadly impact of other drugs it to perpetuate that because these drugs are legal they are somehow ‘different’ than cocaine or heroin. Clearly there are legal differences, but when you are talking about addiction or you are talking about the deadly impact of drug abuse on Americans it is both irrelevant and counterproductive to distinguish between ‘legal’ vs. ‘illegal’ drugs.

  7. Hi Paul,

    Thank you for pointing out this oversight. In no way was I meaning to differentiate alcohol as less harmful drug than any of the illegal ones you mentioned. I was merely citing the statistics as they were listed by category from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. I did not intend to perpetuate any misconceptions that the damages done by one are somehow less than the other. And I want to thank you for letting me see how that might be received. I will do a better job in the future of clarifying that point. I agree with you, having been through it, that they are equally destructive. And play equal roles in survivors of abuse attempting to dull their pain. Thank you.

  8. I am a survivor and an advocate for the ENDING OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING in 2013

    Be sure to sign the petition to End Human Trafficking Worldwide.

    We must pass the word, until we end this tragedy so we ALL can begin to heal.

    Do not sexually abuse a child

    If you do/have….please stop and seek help.

    Let’s END Abuse of all forms and LOVE HUMANS.

    Do what you can each day to be the best person you can be.

    Don’t HURT others.

    Amen

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