Prevention: What I Wish I Had as a Recovering Addict.
I grew up in the era of prevention that was the D.A.R.E. program, ‘tough love’, and “Just Say No”. These methods, for me, didn’t prevent me from experimenting with substances, and instead added shame, fear, and invalidation. It made me more sneaky and secretive.
If I could look back at my struggles with mental health and addiction, and try to think of a way the struggles could have been prevented, I think about the messaging that was given to me growing up. Whether it was judgmental media or presentations at school, the delivery and content were horrific.
I believe what would’ve been helpful prevention methods within messaging would have been to have frequent guest speakers that were people with lived experience, close to my age group. Hearing someone close in age share their experiences would’ve helped me relate and less stigmatized. I also believe that having more messaging around mental health and coping skills would’ve prevented a lot of issues that I faced. Had I been taught in depth about mental health, stigmas, grounding techniques, and mindfulness practices, I could’ve been able to handle the things I was going through.
All of the prevention tactics taught in school perpetuated stigma and kept families suffering in silence. I remember messaging coming across as if addiction was a choice and made me question foundational beliefs I had of my loved ones. These prevention methods were also a cookie-cutter approach, assuming that one-treatment-fits-all. As many of us know, what works for one doesn’t always work for the other, and that’s ok.
So to the prevention professionals and parents, allow prevention to include meeting someone exactly where they are at. Focus on what can be worked on and put a pause on the rest. Try to avoid a fear and/or shame based method and instead approach situations with empathy, grace, and love.
Trauma and Women’s Health
Women’s Health Week is this week and I can’t help but cringe when I hear it. I have struggled since a teenager with accessing healthcare, for several reasons. After some time in therapy, I learned that all of the reasons why I wasn’t able to access necessary healthcare, all came down to: trauma.
After explaining to several different providers the history of my trauma and how it effects me in medical settings, I was offered little solutions and supports and instead heard, “well keep going to therapy and it will get better,” or “it won’t feel the same as the trauma did”. The amount of insensitivity and lack of training around trauma that I have observed in so many practices astounded me. I thought if anything, OBGYN’s would be well-equipped.
So for years I went undiagnosed and untreated and eventually found myself in the depths of serious health complications that I had to face. About two years ago, after a horrific experience getting a pap smear, my diagnosis left me feeling shame, embarrassment, guilt, and worthlessness. In order to attend to my physical health needs, I had to put my mental health needs aside, which was a recipe for disaster. I spiraled into a severe depressive episode, started to have plans of suicide, and struggled to keep my addiction recovery strong. I had to get procedure after procedure, all under heavy sedation, which sky rocketed my medical bill, and brought old traumas to the surface. Not only was I now experiencing physical and mental health issues, but this situation caused a huge financial burden on me and the savings I accumulated over the past few years was back to negative.
I’m still struggling to find a provider that truly understands trauma and can respond appropriately and empathetically. My current provider tries to understand, but can be very dismissive and have a “no big deal” type of attitude. Attending to my physical health needs caused a PTSD episode as I continued to experience the traumatic events as if they were happening all over again. This caused strain in my romantic relationship, distance from friends, and secrecy from family. All the while, I struggled with keeping things private because of the transparent person that I am. I’m not at the point where I’m comfortable talking about what I’m going through, but I can say that I’m taking it a day at a time with gratitude at every step, even on the rougher days. I’m saying yes to self-care and I’ve established firm boundaries around my professional and personal life. As for support, I have people in my corner that I trust, and the one’s who question and don’t honor my boundaries, I have 0 desire to teach them respect or alter my reality to fit their comfortability.
In this part, I’m speaking out on Purity Culture and LGBTQIA+ within the fundamental Christian religion I was a part of. So, trigger warning on those topics!
Purity Culture within the evangelical community is a big deal. There are two sins in the belief system that are the ultimate no-no’s: sex before marriage and identifying as LGBTQIA+. First, I’ll share a true story I’ve experienced about purity culture several times.
“Good morning teens! Welcome to Sunday School!” The teacher said. He was a young guy, probably in his early 20’s, and he was going to be teaching the group of pre-teens and teens. It was a typical Sunday morning routine for me to be at church. I was wearing an ankle length skirt with three layers of shirts to cover my chest up to my neck and cover my shoulders.
“Today, we are going to be talking about how to please the Lord. You all want to please God, right?” He continued.
“Ladies, do you see what I’m holding here? It’s a brand new piece of gum unwrapped. I am going to use this piece of gum as an example for you ladies to live by, ok?” He said, as he was holding up a stick of gum wrapped in foil. He did not address any males in the room and kept his attention on females.
“You are like this piece of gum. You are untouched, you’re holy, and you’re pure. This is how God wants you to be and this is how your future husband will value you.” He continued, as he held up the piece of gum for all of us to see.
“Now, what if I do this…” He said, as he unwrapped the gum, stuck it in his mouth, chewed on it a few times, then removed it from his mouth. He held the partially chewed, drool infested, wad of gum into the air and said, “This is what you are like if you allow yourself to lose your purity. You will be just like this piece of gum: used, chewed up, and unwanted. Think about it, would any of you take this gum?”
And that, was one of my core memories of a message that women are valued based on sex and that if I ever were to experiment with sexuality of any kind, I would be a used up piece of gum that no one would ever want. The worst part was that there was no discussion on consent, safe sex, and most importantly; there wasn’t a purity message for the boys. Our virginity was considered a prize. If you were to participate in any form of masturbation, you were also to be considered ‘impure’. However, for the males, they were given a pass for this if there were ‘health related issues’.
They would take purity culture to another level of extremism and control by teaching us all of the different ways that women are responsible for men’s ‘sexual sins’. One time, we were told to cover our shoulders because it can cause a man to lust, which is considered a sin. It was taught that married women MUST give their husband sex, even if they didn’t want to, because it was their ‘duty’ and ‘prevents affairs’.
They didn’t stop at that teaching and instead added that if you were a woman and you were sexually assaulted and/or raped, you needed to sit and think about the ways that YOU could’ve caused it. Maybe it was that you were at a bar or maybe you had your shoulders showing. Maybe you were out running an errand during your normal bible reading time when the assault took place. Any possible way that they could help a victim find fault within themselves, they did. In the next part of this blog post series, I’ll be sharing the final event that helped me leave this religion for good, and unfortunately, it’s addresses this type of scenario.
So what does someone like me, who followed this purity culture scam for YEARS and then broke it, do when coming back into this church labeled as a big wad of used gum? Hide in shame. On one hand they would tell me that my testimony of struggles turned success was a ‘beautiful example of God’s grace’. On the other hand, they would remind me that it would be best for me to find a husband that would be ‘ok with’ the fact that I broke God’s orders and am ‘not pure’. I was told that it would be very challenging for me to find a ‘Godly husband’ because I have had sex and/or masturbated. To be honest with you, even typing these words brings this cloak of shame, despite being out of this belief system for years now. It was taught to me at such a young age for a consistent period of time, so it’s not easy to shake off. There are times that I wonder if I really am the derogatory names that they call women who’ve had sexual partners in their lives.
I was taught to hate my body and only value it based on sex. I was taught that all of this had God’s stamp of approval. I already struggled with the way I felt about my body, so adding that my higher power had standards on my body, did NOT help.
When it comes to LGBTQIA+, this religion is relentless on proving that every word behind each letter is one of the worst sins imaginable. In their doctrine, they believe that marriage and relationships should be between male and female only. Unfortunately, parents who do not support their child’s identity and/or sexuality, are praised for not supporting them. To take it a step further, conversion therapy is strongly encouraged. The entire congregation will pray for you to change and you will not be able to participate in any form of leadership or activities such as choir, caring for kids or teaching lessons, being in nursery with the babies, etc. All because “you are not right with the Lord”.
A young man in my church was ‘caught’ on a tv show dating another male. He was ‘exposed’ to the pastor and within days, he was no where to be found. He was told to leave the congregation and was referred to several conversion therapy residential programs for teens (many of which the church’s offering had a portion supporting them). Come to find out, he was so hurt by this experience and suffered with his mental health and survived suicide attempts. I’ve tried to find him for years, but never could because he’s completely isolated himself from the chance of seeing an old Christian friend.
Another friend of mine was banned from his Christian college for the same thing. His immediate family went no contact to him and only his grandmother is in his life. When his grandmother hosts holiday gatherings, his mother makes a point to state that she will not attend if her son is there, whether he brings his significant other or not. Someone please explain to me how this is considered love from God. My friend is still with the man he was caught dating and lives a beautiful life, but still has to live with the daily reminder that his own parents completely abandoned him.
I remember being attracted to both male and females and always thinking that I was evil for it. I truly believed that my parents would go no contact as well if they ever found out. They have found out and haven’t really said much, but I know in my heart that my mom forever supports me, even if it’s different from her beliefs and way of life. As rejecting as it can feel, I know that who I love or who I’m attracted to isn’t what makes her love me any more or less. I remember as a teen I would ask hypothetical questions to my parents like, “if I were gay or bisexual, would you come to my wedding? Would you support me and still love me?” and without hesitation, my mom always answered, “Of course I would.”
I couldn’t continue to support this belief system and doctrine knowing that it was directly harming myself and my loved ones. I couldn’t support something that caused others to question their value in this world. I couldn’t keep supporting a belief system that hates people for loving someone. Stay tuned for the final part, part 3, where I’ll share my departure story and where I’m at now in my spirituality journey.
First pic: 90 pounds because my diet was snickers bars and whatever food I could steal from my supervisors home (I was a nanny!). A flip phone because iPhones were worth money and anything I could sell I would. The tank top and shorts? Stole those from a 10 year old because I had nothing clean or could fit. Hair never cut because again, money. Where was my money going? Heroin. My addiction was brutal at that time and little did that 19 year old know just one month after this picture I was going to lose everything I still had, wind up in prison, and experience traumas I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Oh sweet girl if you only knew the healing that would come after.
2nd pic: celebrating my cousins wedding with my family and Eric. 6 years heroin free, 4 years out of church (for me, this is healing), 6 years of trauma therapy, a career, a degree, a homeowner, a savings account, a soul sister best friend, a team of women in my corner, my family repaired, my body back, 8 years arrest free (despite the 85% chance of recidivism), a cat and doggo, and a business owner. You see, I needed that strong yet broken 19 year old in order to become the strong and healed 29 year old. This last year of my 20s showed me that I’m a warrior and resilient AF! I would do anything to be able to tell that girl just how precious and valuable she really is. That the love she thought she had was nothing compared to what she has now. I would tell her that she’s not just a junkie, and that when it comes to survival, there is no choice. So for anyone thinking I chose that life, we should have coffee and share our stories. I would tell this girl that she is brave and that even though her rock bottom had a trap door, she would be the one to find the way out. You go, girl.
Ally will be posting weekly through a very metaphorical voice that depicts addiction as a monkey that has occupied her personal space and refuses to leave.
‘The characteristics of Monkey is all over the map. He’s happiness, sadness, love, hate, honesty, control, manipulative, sneaky, attractive, ugly, confusion, strength, and mostly he’s one of the best liars I’ve ever encountered. The worst part about him is that no one, including myself, can predict his next move. Sometimes I’m a little ahead of him, but for the most part, he’s impossible to ignore…” Read More HERE: https://turningpointct.org/lets-talk/topic/the-monkey/
Wherever you are at in recovery, join her in discussion, as she unfolds the mysterious but inspiring path to recovery.
TurningPointCT.org was developed by young people in Connecticut who are in recovery from mental health and substance use issues. We know what it’s like to feel alone, stressed, worried, sad, and angry. We’ve lived through the ups and downs of self-harm, drugs and alcohol, and the struggle to find help. Learn More »