recovery

RECENT POSTS

My Own Personal Steubenville: Reflections On My High School Rape

(Reuters/WBUR)

(Reuters/WBUR)

In the wake of last week’s guilty verdict in Steubenville, Ohio, the case of the 16-year-old girl raped by two high school football players continues to reverberate. Time magazine carries a particularly interesting exploration of her possible avenues to recovery, and the factors that could affect it, here. In the essay below, a 46-year-old Massachusetts woman shares her own Steubenville-type experience from more than 30 years ago, and its aftermath. Because of the painful and personal nature of its content, she would like to remain anonymous.

I have a secret.

It’s something that happened in 1981, when I was a high school freshman, more than 30 years ago.

It was a Saturday night. My parents had gone out to meet friends and I was watching TV with my younger brother. A “popular” boy I didn’t know well but who had just started being friendly towards me called and asked if he and his four friends could come over. I’ll call him “John.” I was excited and nervous – the first boys to come over to my house! — and said sure.

They arrived and we all watched TV with my brother for a while. Then we went into the living room without my brother and talked. One of the boys suggested going upstairs so they could see my bedroom. We were sitting on the floor talking when John said, “one, two, three,” and they all jumped on top of me. Some were holding my arms, some were holding down my legs. They were pulling at my clothes. I was scared and confused and overwhelmed. I struggled and said, “John, get them off me.” He said no. I pleaded again, “John, get them off me.” He said, “OK, one at a time, then?”

First, I was victimized by the rape. Then I was victimized by how the people around me reacted to learning that I had been raped.

I agreed. I didn’t know what else to do. I just wanted them to get off me. I had recently moved to this fancy suburb from a more working-class area and was getting adjusted to the faster-paced lifestyle. I assumed this sort of thing must happen all the time and that I had just never heard about it because I was new in town.

The other boys left John and me alone in my bedroom. I don’t remember much except that he ripped off what was left of my clothing. I felt humiliated, devastated. The boys filed out and filed in. I stayed on my bedroom floor in a corner of the room, pulling on my underwear in between. The last one to come into my room was the only boy I knew somewhat from school. I just cried with him and he let my underwear stay on. Before that night, I had only kissed one boy – after he had been my “boyfriend” for several months.

On Monday I was shocked that everyone at school knew what had happened. Continue reading

Study: AA Benefits Men and Women In Different Ways

The notion that women and men think, speak and act like they’re from different planets is widely acknowledged and pretty much accepted. So the idea of a gender gap among recovering alcoholics isn’t that surprising — but it is intriguing.

(Jordan/flickr)

Now, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital report that among those participating in Alcoholics Anonymous, men and women found different aspects of the program particularly beneficial in terms of maintaing sobriety. They offer this example: for men, avoiding buddies who encourage drinking and social situations in which drinking is common had more powerful benefits, while for women the increased confidence of being able to abstain from drinking while feeling sad, depressed or anxious was more important.

The study, published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, seems to underscore the very different ways in which men and women make AA work for them. Interestingly, the research was initiated in part because, as the authors note, AA began as a male organization and is now only about one-third female. So the question is whether women are getting the same benefits? While the program appears to help both men and women, the researchers note that the magnitude and manner of those benefits are quite gender-specific. Continue reading

Harvard Wife, Mother & Heroin Addict: A Survivor’s Story

Coonamessett Farm

By Dr. Annie Brewster

Anne grew up with privilege. She was well-educated, and she had resources. She married a Harvard professor. She sent her children to a prestigious private school. On the surface, her life looked neat and pretty, even enviable. But her life had another, hidden side.

For over forty years, Anne has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and for many of these years, while injecting amphetamines and heroin, her life was controlled by the need to find her next fix.

I knew Anne while growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s. She was my friend’s mom. I remember her as warm and open, striking in her mini-skirts and stylish boots. While she was certainly more Bohemian than my own mother, I had no clue that she was an addict. I never would have guessed at the suffering that was going on in my friend’s home.

Surrender

Addiction is a disease with enormous financial and human costs: the National Institute of Drug Addiction estimates that substance abuse in the United States costs more than $600 billion annually. Addiction has been linked to increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, stroke, certain cancers, and mental illness. Intravenous drug use accounts for more than one-third of the new cases of HIV, and for the majority of cases of Hepatitis C, which can lead to liver cirrhosis, and in rare cases, liver cancer.

 

Anne, and her horse Tess, 2011

Medical research has only recently started to characterize addiction as a disease of the brain that preys on and alters the limbic system, the brain’s reward center. This has changed various approaches to treatment, and should also temper our judgement of the individuals who suffer from this condition.

Here, Anne, now 67, speaks about her long struggle with addiction. With tremendous courage, she talks about her pain, the pain she caused others, her numerous attempts to get sober and her many relapses. Anne has been sober for seven years now, a huge accomplishment. But her struggle continues because addiction is a chronic, lifelong disease.

(Dr. Annie Brewster is a Boston internist who became interested in storytelling as a way to promote healing among patients. You can hear more of her stories here, here and here, as part of our Listening To Patients series.)

When Mental Illness Is A Résumé Booster

Schizophrenia helped Lisa Halpern land her current job.

Sure, she graduated with honors from Duke University and Harvard’s Kennedy School. She’s an athlete — her first triathlon victory was at age 10 — who is clearly smart, articulate and driven. (Telegenic too — in high school, she appeared as an extra in Beverly Hills, 90210.) But it wasn’t Lisa’s academic pedigree or winning personality that won her a top post as Director of Recovery Services at Vinfen, a Cambridge, Mass. nonprofit that offers psychiatric and other support services to about 7,000 adults and children.

What makes Lisa uniquely qualified to help others deal with the ravages of mental illness is this: Her deep shame, at age 26, over forgetting how to work a coin-operated washing machine; her paranoid self-exile in a dark basement apartment three blocks from Harvard; her sudden thoughts of suicide at life’s little annoyances, from a flat tire to a mediocre test score; her descent into an isolated, pre-literate cocoon, where she was forced to begin again as a child, with “Babar” read aloud by her mother.

That was years ago, after two hospitalizations, medications that made her drool and gain weight, and voices telling her to cross the highway median while driving. These days, Lisa’s on the national lecture and teaching circuit. She speaks at film festivals, major medical conferences and has led Grand Rounds at the hospital where she was once a patient on the psych ward.


Continue reading

The Healing Wig — And The Power Of Cherished Objects

Can certain special objects, like wigs, actually have healing power?

This story is not about politics. It’s about a wig. A wig passed from one woman with breast cancer to another, and another, until it became a cherished gift, seemingly imbued with the power to heal.

Jeff Zaslow, writing in The Wall Street Journal, nicely explores the “talisman placebo effect,” that is, the power of physical objects to embody hope, and the notion that if something worked for someone else, it can possibly work for you.

Why do human beings attach such great power to objects that are given to them, especially in times of crisis? For thousands of years, civilizations have embraced the mystical possibilities in amulets and talismans. Now science is explaining how these items actually work, and why, in today’s digital age, they often take on even more significance.

“It’s not voodoo,” says Barbara Stoberock, a researcher at the University of Cologne in Germany. “It can be explained. If you have a lucky charm, and believe it helps you, there’s a psychological mechanism. It lifts your beliefs in your own capabilities, and gives you a boost.”

In a study released this year, Ms. Stoberock and a team of social psychologists found that people are more likely to attach superstitions to items during moments of uncertainty—when they’re under high stress and low levels of perceived control.

The researchers conducted several experiments in which subjects performed better on memory and dexterity tests if they had personal talismans with them, whether stuffed animals, childhood blankets or inherited jewelry.

He also gave a nice plug to my blogging partner, Carey Goldberg, and her book, “Three Wishes,” about some extraordinary (or so it seems) vials of donor sperm that she passed to another woman, who then passed it along again, until the three pushing-40 women were all happily married, and with children they’d been dreaming of for years. “The unused vials of sperm,” writes Zaslow, “became talismans for romance, luck and motherhood.”