January 30, 2013

The Abused Addict: Dulling the Pain

This week, I am happy to bring to you the next part of David Pittman's story. If you missed last week's post, be sure to check it out.

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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.

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 chose to amplify 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.

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 and mood disorders, 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.

As 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:

"as one person, you might not be able to change the world, but you can change the world of one person."
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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

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Check in next week for Part 3 of David's series.

Learn more about Together We Heal.


David spent years on a healing journey that continues to this very day. This led him to seek out groups specifically for men as well as those who had been through a similar trauma and ultimately inspired the foundation of Together We Heal, an organization focused on providing counseling and guidance for those who have suffered the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.
As the Executive Director of TWH, David 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.
TWH follows the saying, "one person might not be able to change the world, but you can change the world of one person."

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