Need Support? Contact our Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 3801300 657 380
Welcome to our monthly Breaking Free newsletter, this time with our lead article helping us better understand addictions and their association with childhood trauma.
We present different strategies you might find useful for coping with greater media focus on childhood trauma and abuse, and share some resources we hope may be helpful. Learn more about our Survivor Workshops, currently in the planning stages for the second half of this year, and into next year.
As always if you have comments about what you have read in this issue, contributions for the My Story section, or suggestions for future issues, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
Warning: This article may contain content that could disturb some readers. If reading this story causes you distress and you need support, please call the Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380 (9am-5pm AEST, 7 days). Calls that cannot be answered directly will be returned as soon as possible, so please leave a message with your phone number, and state of residence
Who can be found on the battlefield
When the enemy attack
Taking no survivors
They thrust so deeply
Making permanent the wounding
The war rages
Fighting daily for sanity
I attempt to out manoeuvre it
To maintain a pretence of normality
The real enemy have long since left the war zone
Of lonely places and stained bed sheets
But the battle continues unabated
In the battlefield of the mind
Shadows of the past
The war is unseen to most
But real to me
Seen by some
Known by our abusers
The war is over
Is the war over?
My soul lies devastated
Devoid of life
Careering hopelessly from one burnt out trench to another
A dark foreboding
Left fighting shadows
Oh how foolish
But how unstoppable
As if it be today
But its presence immediate
Supporting Recovery – Blue Knot Foundation Fact Sheet for friends and family of people who have experienced childhood trauma (including abuse).
If you are supporting a family member, friend, partner or someone you care about to recover from child abuse or trauma, this fact sheet can help you understand what happened to the person, how it affected them, how they coped and what you can do to support them.
Encompassing the voices of survivors, supporters and professionals, it provides information based on the latest research and insight into the challenges and opportunities of supporting a survivor. It highlights the importance of trusting relationships in recovery. If you are supporting a survivor, your relationship with them is critical.
To help you, it presents the principles of being trauma-informed: safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment. These principles provide a good framework to support healthy healing relationships. It shows the importance of hope and optimism around healing, as well as that of self-care for all.
This fact sheet is one of a suite of resources to support supporters. View other Fact Sheets here.
Blue Knot Foundation makes every effort to provide readers of its website and newsletters with information which is accurate and helpful. It is not however a substitute for counselling or professional advice. While all attempts have been made to verify all information provided, Blue Knot Foundation cannot guarantee and does not assume any responsibility for currency, errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the information provided.
Many people who seek treatment for alcohol or drug use have histories of trauma. In fact, addiction is a common and anticipated outcome of adverse experiences in childhood such as abuse, neglect, violence and other traumas. The more adverse experiences a person was subjected to in childhood, often the greater the risk of an addiction, and not just addictions to alcohol and drugs. Addictions such as overwork, compulsive shopping, eating disorders, sex addiction, gambling, videogames and sport. Some addictions are more socially acceptable than others, but all can be understood in the context of underlying trauma.
In order to survive extreme early stress, the person affected “has to” come up with coping mechanisms to get through what is happening to them. Whereas these coping mechanisms are protective initially, they can come at a high cost to the person and their wellbeing later on in life. In adulthood, many addictions can be seen in the context of coping with an impossible situation.
The fact that addictions are coping strategies and attempts to ‘solve the problem’ of the trauma experienced is often not understood or identified by people experiencing addictions, nor by some services, which consider single problems in isolation. In a research study conducted in 2010 by then ASCA (now Blue Knot Foundation) interviews were conducted with people using services who had a history of childhood abuse and drug and alcohol use. Survivor participants commonly reported that the links between their abuse and their use of alcohol and drugs were not always clear to them until they entered treatment.
Before entering treatment, they had their own explanations for the difficulties they were experiencing in their lives. Commonly they felt ‘bad’ or ‘weak’ and tended to blame themselves:
“I believed there are good people and bad people and I was a bad person. My mum and grandmother used to say I was bad, naughty, giving mum a bad time. You end up thinking “I’ll show you how bad I can be!” They [counsellors] wanted to talk about my childhood and I remember saying “I don’t see the relevance”. (Female service user)
“I went to counselling. It was painful and I wasn’t making the links [between alcohol/drug use and child abuse]. I still held the reservation that no one could help me. I was un-helpable, unfixable. I knew the self-doubt and lack of trust. I didn’t trust anyone. I really loved my partner but I couldn’t work out why he loved me. I used to niggle at him till he shouted at me. That made sense.” (Female service user)
Many users of the services identified that the link between their abuse and their alcohol and drug use became clearer in services which themselves understood the links and did not work in a siloed way, only treating the alcohol or drug use of the mental health issues. When this happened those interviewed often felt more shame and stigma.
“If a psychiatrist or psychologist had been able to say to me ‘you know that twitching you have when you speak of molestation, that’s because of not being safe at home’. Instead they said ‘it’ll be better in long term rehab. to get a bit of distance and learning life skills.’ I thought because I was bad, I was being sent away.” (Female service user)
As survivors made the links and reflected on their childhood, they could often trace back to the ways in which they coped with their abuse in childhood, and with the pain and distress it caused.
“I used to steal food and binge-eat at 6-7 years. As soon as I had a voice and was going to school I started to comfort myself. Now I have accepted the abuse side of things, my behaviours are more understandable. Back then I thought ‘I need chocolate’. Now I know behaviour (e.g. smoking) is the same.” (Female service user)
“Looking back there were always risk taking behaviours to cope, but they were masked by this behaviour being the norm, besides one friend who pulled me aside and expressed concern about my drinking.” (Male service user)
Advances in neuroscience tell us about the plasticity of the brain (in particular, the newer parts) and opportunities for healing. Although adaptive responses often become less constructive, they actually are ‘strengths’ which helped the child, and now, the adult to survive.
Addictions are a way of soothing pain, distress and self-discomfort and of numbing those feelings. They become an emotional pattern of behaviours for the person and often occur across the generations, in different families. This doesn’t mean they are genetic but rather replicated patterns. This is not about blame but about an attempt to escape from the pain or the experience of having been hurt.
In addition, trauma in childhood affects the brain, limiting the development of the brain’s reward chemicals and circuits which regulate stress. As a result, people abused as children often don’t develop the internal capacity for pleasure and joy of people who haven’t been traumatised. For this reason, they seek ‘pleasure’ from outside of them to take the place of what can’t be generated from within.
The capacity to self-soothe and manage big feelings (regulate) comes from living in safe environments with well attuned caregivers. Many survivors who have not had caregivers who are consistent or who can help them make sense of what is happening have challenges in managing their emotions and levels of arousal. Being addicted can be an attempt to help to manage these highs and lows, anxieties and agitation.
If you are experiencing challenges with any of the issues raised in this article there is help and there is hope for recovery with the right support. Many alcohol and drug services are becoming trauma-informed and introducing trauma screening, so that issues related to prior trauma, and overwhelming stress, can be identified and people seeking help can be supported holistically through trauma-informed recovery programs. Programs which are safe, compassionate and collaborative, respond to the harm done and meet the person with empathy and understanding as to their current challenges promote long-term healing.
To find support and possible referrals call the Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380 between 9-5 Mon-Sun AEST.
When funding permits, Blue Knot schedules survivor workshops around the country. The full-day educational workshop is designed for people who have experienced abuse or trauma in childhood. It helps participants learn more about how the brain and body responds to stress, some common impacts of childhood trauma in adulthood, and different coping strategies survivors adopt over time. We share research and learnings that acknowledge survivor strength and resilience and show that recovery is possible.
“The format was incredible and really insightful. The [two presenters] were fantastic. There was nothing I could fault. 2 months down the track and I feel incredible and wanted to thank [you] as I am in a much better place.”
Anonymous, Melbourne VIC
Participants can gain understanding about different types of childhood trauma and abuse, how common they are in our society and how prior trauma often relates to current challenges with relationships, self-esteem, health and general wellbeing.
“Attending the… Survivors Workshop was a light bulb moment for me. Haven’t looked back since. Since then I have been working hard to make up for what I missed out on and I’m enjoying every minute of it!”
The workshop presents possible ways to identify and build on existing strengths, understand common reactions and enlist strategies for positive change, including engaging good support and self-care strategies. Workshops are designed to be educational, rather than therapy – while some group discussion is encouraged there is no obligation to speak or share personal experiences.
Grounded in the latest research, workshops are intended for adult survivors (16 yrs and over) who have experienced any form of childhood trauma, abuse or neglect or other adverse childhood experience.
“I came here today to support my friend but found it all so informative. I too was abused as a child but have always tried to ignore it. This workshop has me thinking…questioning.”
Anonymous, Survivor Workshop participant
It costs Blue Knot Foundation $6,000 to deliver a one-day Survivor Workshop with up to 30 participants each, and we currently have a waitlist of 124 people from across Australia. If you or your organisation are in a position to financially support a Survivor Workshop, to help provide much needed connection, knowledge and assistance for survivors of childhood trauma, please contact us at email@example.com or phone us on (02) 8920 3611 (donations are tax-deductible).
Once scheduled dates for Survivor Workshops will be displayed here and announced in upcoming editions of Breaking Free.
We are pleased to announce new professional development training dates for the second half of 2019.
Thanks to our Blue Knot Community, most trainings in the first half of 2019 were sold out - places for the new dates in the second half of the year are also filling up quickly.
Visit our training calendar here to register. Alternatively, you can have view all training dates for the second half of 2019 here.
Want to find out more? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on (02) 8920-3611 to speak to one
of our helpful training team members.
While the publication and dissemination of stories and survivor experiences help to ‘break the silence’ and secrecy around child abuse, doing so can also raise a lot of issues for many, especially for survivors. The Court of Appeal has set the 5th and 6th of June to consider Cardinal Pell’s appeal for his conviction for the abuse of two choirboys in the 1990s. Given this case is so high profile it is anticipated that emotions will run high and that there will be a lot of reports in the media and accompanying commentary.
Reading about this case as well as other increasingly frequent media reports can bring past traumatic experiences and feelings to the surface. At times, it can threaten to overwhelm us. This is completely understandable for us all but especially for people who have experienced their own abuse or other traumas.
To help support you to manage the possible negative effects of media reporting about abuse or trauma, we asked our Blue Knot Helpline counsellors for their thoughts.
From this, we have collated some self-care tips and strategies we hope will be of use.
Firstly, what is a trigger? For survivors, triggers are anything in their daily life that reminds them of prior abuse, violence or trauma. While sometimes a survivor can connect the trigger to their abuse, at other times the connection is less apparent. The person may experience bad and upsetting feelings in response to something in the present, but to which their reaction is not easily understood.
If the person is unable to connect their present reactions to a past situation or events they may feel as though they are going ‘crazy’ or that something is wrong with them. This can be scary and confusing and can lead to feelings of fear, anxiety and shame, emotional numbing, social withdrawal, nightmares, eating problems, self-harm and suicidal ideation. If this happens to you, it is important to remember that you are not going ‘crazy’ but that you are experiencing a “normal response to abnormal events.”
If you have been ‘triggered’ by a story or an event in the media, consider the following suggestions to see what might help you feel more grounded:
• Stop what you are doing and try to tune into what is happening in your body and/or mind. See if you can identify the trigger.
• Pay particular attention to your senses – to images, smells, tastes, sounds and tactile experiences that remind you or your body of the original traumatic experience. Can you see a connection between the present event and past experiences?
• Remember to breathe and stay connected to your body. Focus on calming yourself. Tell yourself some reassuring things. Check that you are taking slow and deep breaths. Relax your body. Do whatever works for you.
• Reconnect with the present moment. Make an effort to notice what is around you, touch things, notice smells, and see where you are and who you are with.
• Remind yourself that what you are doing and experiencing now is different to what happened during your abuse or other distressing experience.
• Create a safe area in your home – a place you can go when you are feeling frightened or upset. Make an agreement with yourself that you will stay in that space until the feeling passes, one breath at a time. You may also set up objects in your safe area that calm and soothe you. Your safe space may be at a window seat, in your bed or in a comfortable chair.
• It is important to know that you do have a choice and that it is OK to switch the television off or to avoid reading the newspaper and scrolling through social media. You may decide to limit your exposure to the news or to avoid it altogether particularly if you are already feeling overwhelmed.
• Find a trusted person to whom you can talk. It may be a relative, friend or neighbour or consider speaking to a trauma-informed counsellor on the Blue Knot Helpline by calling 1300 657 380 9am – 5pm Monday to Sunday AEST. The counsellor can support you to help you identify and understand your possible triggers, to feel safe and develop ways of additional ways of coping. They can also help you with a referral for ongoing support if you feel you want or need it.
Australian survivors of child sexual abuse fear the Catholic Church cannot be trusted to police itself despite a new Vatican law requiring all priests and nuns to report clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups to their superiors. Read More
Workshops are being held in the Murrumbidgee area in a bid to help rural workers who are supporting others experiencing drought-related distress and trauma. Read More
Martin Dearlove, from Busselton in Western Australia, spoke on a U.S. radio show about the importance of a nurse’s role in childhood trauma. He was hospitalised at a young age however has no memory of the experience. Read More
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