How Trauma Informs Men’s Identity, Addiction and Recovery
Author Dan Griffin explores the connections between trauma, violence and addiction and asks what a trauma-informed curriculum can offer men in recovery.
They also learned—sometimes through everyday interactions with other men but frequently because of abuse or traumatic experiences—that the only appropriate way to express things like fear, hurt, rejection or sadness was through the conduit of anger and violence.
You might be wondering, “How is this related to the Twelve Steps?”—and on the surface, it might seem disconnected. But this is a conversation that all men in recovery should have with their loved ones and peers in recovery to begin to explore the connections between violence and the abuse and trauma they’ve experienced.
One of the most powerful breakthroughs in addiction treatment is our growing understanding of trauma. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines an event as traumatic when both of the following are present: “(1) the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others, and (2) the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.”
Mental health practitioners understand more now that one of the distinguishing factors with trauma is not the event itself as much as an individual’s response to the event. It’s very important to understand that if you’ve had a traumatic experience and still suffer from it, this does not mean you’re weak, sick, or that you are in any way at fault. When the serious effects of trauma go untreated, men in recovery—even long-term recovery—find that they are struggling with relapse, isolating from others and their Twelve Step communities, abusing loved ones, destroying their marriages and acting out in ways that damage themselves and others. A man in this place can work the Steps rigorously, but the emotional, physical and psychological fallout of untreated trauma will keep him stuck in the pain, confusion, depression, anger and hopelessness of addictive and unhealthy behaviors. Those around him might see him as a “dry drunk” even though he has been technically sober for years.
Of course, men are rarely encouraged to talk about their experience of abuse or trauma, and our culture seems very confused about what is acceptable behavior both from and towards boys and men. One notable exception to this norm produced an amazing cultural breakthrough regarding men's experience of trauma. It started with Tyler Perry talking about his own sexual abuse and culminated in November 2010 when Oprah aired an episode focusing on men’s needs. Two hundred men came forward about sexual abuse they had experienced. Even more powerful, their loved ones heard these stories—many for the first time—and were then interviewed for the show.
Only recently have we started to make the connection between the violence and abuse perpetrated on boys and men, how men are raised in this society, and the violence men commit. Every man I spoke with during the writing of A Man’s Way Through the Twelve Steps had experienced some kind of emotional or verbal abuse, and many talked about physical abuse, as well. A small percentage of men also admitted having been sexually abused. The silence that many men feel forced to keep around these traumatic experiences causes a great deal of pain and—not surprisingly—often becomes a factor in their addictive behaviors down the line.
So, knowing that abuse, trauma and violence against boys and men are so strongly linked with addiction—and knowing, if left untreated, that the aftermath of these experiences can cause undeniable psychological, emotional, relational, physical and spiritual destruction—doesn’t it seem not only logical but necessary to create addiction treatment curricula that are trauma-informed? I would submit that we as care providers are obligated to acknowledge the powerful role that trauma plays in men’s identity, addiction and recovery. Additionally, I believe we should offer help and healing opportunities not just for the addictive behavior on the surface, but for the untold pain, grief, violence and fear that underlie and feed it.
Over the next month, I will be writing a series of articles dedicated to the topic of men’s experiences with violence and how a trauma-informed curriculum can address their unique needs in recovery. My hope is that you will join this conversation, share your stories, and help get the word out about this important issue.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan Griffin, M.A., has worked in the mental health and addictions field for over 16 years. He is author of A Man’s Way Through the Twelve Steps and co-author of the groundbreaking trauma-informed curriculum, Helping Men Recover, which looks comprehensively and holistically at men’s needs and issues in recovery. To get a free excerpt from his book and his curriculum, go to http://www.dangriffin.com.