There’s much written about women who are victims of violence and who find themselves in opiate addiction recovery. But it’s harder to find information about the issues that men have faced when they’ve experienced trauma in their lives and succumb to the lure of opiates.
Some people, men and women, don’t even realize the extent of the trauma they’ve experienced. It’s like the tale of two donkeys who meet when their owners tie them up outside a saloon in an Old West mining town. One of the donkeys is loaded down with tools, supplies for his owner, and bags of ore. The other donkey wears nothing but a brightly colored blanket on his back. The second donkey says to the first donkey, “How’s it feel to carry that load all the time?” And the first donkey answers, “What load?”
If you’re a man who has become addicted to opiates, you may be very much like that first donkey. Men’s issues relating to trauma and addiction haven’t been studied as thoroughly as women’s, so you may not even realize the load you’ve been carrying.
Women are considered to be the weaker sex, and it’s true that most physical domestic violence is directed at them. As Dan Griffin states in his recent blogs on Addiction Pro, most trauma studies in the field of opiate addiction recovery have been initiated by women and about women. But that doesn’t exclude men as victims of physical or emotional violence.
Men’s Childhood Traumas Swept Under the Carpet
The truth about trauma and opiate addiction recovery, for men or women, goes back to traumatic childhood experiences. When children are under the age of 18, their experience of traumatic events is pretty equal, regardless of gender.
Some treatment professionals in opiate addiction recovery centers are implementing trauma-informed care, which means they want to be aware if a client’s addiction issues have been driven by traumatic events of their childhood. The Centers for Disease Control classifies ten types of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) into three categories, abuse, neglect and household challenges. These are the ten ACE’s:
- Being insulted, cursed at or humiliated regularly by a parent or other adult in the household, or being made to fear for your physical safety.
- Being pushed, slapped, or grabbed by a parent or other adult in the household, or being hit so hard that the adult left marks on or injured you.
- Being touched or fondled in a sexual way, or actually being forced to have some type of sex with a parent or other adult.
- Feeling that nobody in your household loved you or thought you were special, or living in a family in which the people just didn’t feel close or support one another.
- Being hungry, wearing dirty clothing, and feeling unprotected, or living with caregivers who were too drunk or too high to take care of you.
- Experiencing a divorce or separation between your parents.
- Witnessing abuse directed at your mother or stepmother, including pushing, grabbing, biting, kicking or hitting, or seeing her threatened with a gun or knife.
- Living with a parent or other adult who drank or used street drugs.
- Living with a parent or other adult who suffered from depression or mental illness, or with someone who attempted suicide
- Having a household member go to prison.
If you are suffering from alcoholism or addiction, you may have experienced 3 or 4 or more of these negative situations or circumstances. You also may not realize how unusual that is. Of a large study group of 17,000 children—with 54 percent female and 46 percent male—36 percent of the children studied had never experienced anything described in the 10-point list above. There were 26 percent who experienced just one of those events. That means that over 50 percent of the kids studied never endured some of the same experiences as you.
Less than ten percent of the study group experienced three or more events. Another 12.5 percent of them experienced four events. It should come as no surprise that the issues those children grew up with were swept under the rug—for boys more often than girls. After all, aren’t men supposed to be the stronger gender?
Veterans in Opiate Addiction Recovery: Recognizing Unique Issues
Traumatic childhood experiences aren’t the only factor. Despite greater enlistment in the military by women these days, men still fight the majority of the battles. The treatment professionals who deal with veterans’ post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) simply cannot understand all the issues affecting veterans of the wars. Everything from simple MREs to extensive and horrific battle wounds can affect a man’s ability to cope when he returns stateside. The issues that persist once the fighting is done are often factors in opiate or other drug use, and should be addressed in a comprehensive treatment plan.
Domestic Violence Goes Both Ways
As unlikely as it seems, men can be victims of domestic violence. There is a stereotype of the abused spouse in our society—we almost always think of it as the woman in the relationship. The man is big and tough, right? How could he be the victim of trauma in a relationship? If you are a man working on opiate addiction recovery, ask yourself these questions about your relationship:
- Does your partner call you names and insult you?
- Has your partner ever prevented you from going to work or school for any reason?
- Does your partner object whenever you want to see your family and friends?
- Does your partner try to control how much money you spend or what you spend it on?
- Does your partner constantly suspect you of cheating?
- Does your partner’s temper get out of control when they are drinking or doing drugs?
- Has your partner threatened you with a weapon?
- Does your partner blame you for making them lose control of their behavior?
- Has your partner forced or manipulated you to have sex?
You are in need of counseling for domestic violence just as much as any abused woman. You may also have a partner who uses Children’s Services to cut you off from your children or prosecute you falsely for abuse that you have allegedly committed, which is just one more avenue of trauma that men are forced to travel.
Be Open and Honest With Your Counselor
As a result of these experiences that affect adult males and possibly influence addictive behavior, Griffin has published The Eight Agreements on male trauma and addiction. They originated at an addiction summit held in California in May 2013. The Eight Agreements tell us:
- It is a myth that trauma is not an issue for males.
- Trauma contributes significantly to drug and alcohol addiction in males, including the need for opiate addiction recovery.
- Because of cultural and biological stereotyping, men minimize or deny the traumatic experiences they’ve had.
- Cultural myths about men wield a negative influence on their addiction treatment.
- The assumption that men are the perpetrators in abusive relationships often results in re-traumatization.
- Assessment of male trauma must be a part of drug, alcohol, or opiate addiction recovery.
- Men face an increased chance of opiate addiction recovery if they receive services where male issues are addressed.
- The cycles of domestic and household violence are interrupted when men receive treatment for trauma as part of their opiate addiction recovery.
Specifically, this treatment can come as part of your individual counseling sessions while you are engaged in services at a neighborhood methadone treatment program. You must realize that it’s important to report your past adverse experiences openly and honestly. It’s time to stop minimizing the prior harmful events of your life. Only then can you find your way back to a full and rewarding recovery lifestyle in your community.