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From Trauma to Recovery

The fear of going to prison kept me from rejecting AA's religious content, or its sexist Big Book. I was more concerned that my rapist was also court ordered to AA and that he'd appear at a meeting I attended.

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By Juliet Abram

07/29/14

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"It has been said 'time heals all wounds.' I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone." Rose Kennedy

If I were to write these words, here's what I would say: "Time doesn't heal all psychological wounds. But focusing all of your attention on trauma doesn't heal them either. Living a productive, self-respecting life, being loved and supported, finding purpose, and feeling good about yourself are the best ways to overcome trauma." Juliet Abram

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As a child, I lived in a home of chaos with a family that protected my mom's mental illness. I became the family scapegoat, allowing my mom to project the role of a "bad kid" onto me to get any attention at all.

In 2003, I went to family therapy with my older brother to address my parents' marriage problems. I was 21 years old now, with a one-year-old son, and the attention suddenly turned to me. I was too young to get divorced. I must have a drinking problem. "Maybe she's bipolar," my mom said.

She walked in with me into the psychiatrist's office, where I was prescribed Zyprexa and Lamictal. I really hoped if this medicine worked, I wouldn't be upset at home. I was arguing with my parents that I needed a job to be independent, but my mom insisted I take a year or more off work. I remained unproductive, dependent on my family as an adult, and getting fat from the Zyprexa.

My skin felt itchy, my head fuzzy, and the energy it took to walk made it feel as though I was wearing concrete shoes. I had a large panic attack at the community college on my way to enroll in classes. Most of all, I felt so damn guilty about my anger at my own mother.

I turned to drinking heavily to combat feeling depressed about the weight gain and being unemployed. Something major was wrong with the medications, but I didn't want to start a fight at home. Then I met him. I'll call him Chad.

I am doped up and drunk, and there's a couch pushed in front of the bedroom door at a house party. Rape is a harsh word. I wanted to play dead because I don't have the physical capacity to push him away. But I don't want this to be rape. I'm too smart for this to happen, even as I'm not in control of myself because of the chemicals swimming inside of me.

So I convince him—and me—I'm cool with it. It was the only way I could think of surviving.

Chad plays off what I've told him about my situation: My mom hates me, I can never come home again. I am starting to lose track of what day of the week it is. I wake up at his apartment, and I'm afraid to stay and I'm afraid to leave.

I'm not rational. I'm not eating right, there's only beer. There will be only beer, because Chad needs to drink, but he needs to use me to drive because he's gotten a DUI.

I've quit psychiatric meds cold turkey, and I don't know that serious problems, like suicidal thoughts and actions, can occur due to such withdrawal. Chad has pushed me into a coffee table, upset that I'm upset because I don't want to steal books and movies from the library to sell for alcohol. "I'd never hurt a girl," he laments, but I know he's lying.

He shoves me into walls, onto the floor, into the swimming pool.

He needs more beer. He can have sex anywhere he wants, like off hiking trails or on the couch with others watching TV in the room. I need to help him move a heavy upholstered recliner he wants to sell for more beer across the apartment complex lawn. I don't have the strength to carry it, so he flips the chair over my body. The weight of it submerges me, but I don't scream. I feel my head for blood. Did anyone witness this?

He drags me up by my hair, spitting in my face, "What makes you think I won't kill you? I was in the Marines. I can kill you in fifteen seconds if I wanted to." I feel the blood drain from my head as he chokes me violently.

He's working with police to reduce a list of outstanding charges. I am at the police station with him, unable to tell the police officers that the large bruise on my chin resulted from Chad pushing me headfirst onto a concrete porch. The detective asks me, grinning, "You party too hard last night?" Chad is standing right behind me, so I nod.

Two months later, I borrow a stranger's phone and plan my escape. Chad knocks me to the ground when we arrive at my friends' place. My friends witness the assault, and I am finally rescued.

Back at my parents' house, my mom insists I attend an AA meeting to get a handle on my drinking. "Admit the exact nature of my wrongs?" What did I do? This has got to be a joke. I decide to commit myself to a psych ward, unable to face reality.

I am arrested on theft charges and held in city jail for almost two weeks. I don't want to stop drinking. In May of 2004, I am arrested on a warrant. There was a grand jury indictment from when Chad wanted to me to help him pawn a kid’s guitar. Turns out, the guitar belonged to someone else, and he pressed charges.

I get out of county jail a month later, and am court ordered to Alcoholics Anonymous. I completed a number of statements about what Chad had done to me, but the court prosecuted me nonetheless. I felt as though I wore a Scarlet Letter of shame, disgust, and damage from being raped by Chad.

The fear of going to prison kept me from rejecting AA's religious content, or its sexist Big Book. I was more concerned that my rapist was also court ordered to AA and that he'd appear at a meeting I attended.

I attended outpatient treatment also, and two years after the abuse my rehab homework finally addressed the rape. I was immediately sent to a rape crisis counselor. Until 2005, I was working a real solid AA program. I did nearly thirteen pages of a fourth step inventory outlining everyone and everything that upset me and blamed myself for all the hurt and pain I felt. Including getting hurt by Chad.

I was self-centered, egotistical, and unable to be honest with myself. But, in rape crisis, the counselor assured me that I had to stop blaming myself, no matter what AA instructed. I told my counselor, "But my sponsor told me rape is to be expected when a woman drinks." The counselor was shocked, "Rape is never to be expected anytime, for any reason."

The rape crisis counselor listened to my problems I had growing up with allowing others to take advantage of me, and encouraged me to stand up for myself. I resumed therapy with a different counselor, and began to discuss how AA made me feel. It was the start of recognizing that for someone like me, a trauma survivor, and a female, that the seemingly non-alcoholic issues of patriarchal religion and sexism are triggers.

But of course, I was angry at being sent to AA after what happened to me. I was angry at having to put up with the steps blaming me for the actions of others, and not helping me break the cycle. One of SAMHSA’s recovery resources is "trauma-informed" services that "foster safety (physical and emotional) and trust, as well as promote choice, empowerment, and collaboration."

These aren’t ways of processing my shame and pain, although that was valuable, so much as they are ways of creating a me that wouldn’t let that occur again.

In "Gender-Responsive Treatment and Services in Correctional Settings," Stephanie Covington and Barbara Bloom say, "Take the trauma into account, avoid triggering trauma reactions and/or retraumatizing the individual. Adjust behavior of counselors, other staff and the organization to support the individual's coping capacity...Abusive families and battering relationships are major themes in the lives of female offenders."

The physical scars and bruises faded with time. The psychological ones haunted me for years. I was not getting hired with a burglary on my record. Then, I would become angry at my rapist all over again when I wouldn't get a job. Despite or because of attending AA, I couldn’t figure out how to get beyond this.

I was offered all the help Ohio made available for women with alcohol problems. But this didn’t correct or improve my traumatic aftermath. What might have done so, along with learning not to blame myself, was some support in getting work and living a normal life, rather than being regarded as a leper, an alcoholic woman.

Today, I still have scars, but they become fainter and non-debilitating as I build a positive life with my children, with my activism, with my creative mind, but, primarily, with myself.

Juliet Abram is a writer and artist. She is also a former court mandated attendee of Alcoholics Anonymous. Her activist cause for 12 Step alternatives in Ohio is the AARMED with Facts blog.

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