Sometimes the feelings that come after sexual violence can be really overwhelming, and survivors might use different strategies to cope with this – including drugs, alcohol and issues with food (restricting or binging). At the Rosey Project, we don’t put coping strategies into boxes like "healthy" and "unhealthy". Instead, we acknowledge that all coping strategies have pros and cons. We will work with you to increase the number of coping strategies you have, and to reduce any of the cons that might be relevant to you. Here, one survivor tells us what she did to stay safe while using drugs and alcohol as a coping strategy.
Right now you might want to feel numb, or you might feel so numb you want to feel something. Using drugs or alcohol can achieve this, but it is important to know this is only short term and it can’t be sustained
When I was struggling to cope after my sexual assault, I turned to drugs and alcohol. In those moments I could escape dealing with my problems, but the minute they wore off my problems were back in my face. Dealing with the lows brought about by drugs, I was left feeling worse than I did at the start, and they left me chasing a bigger high. I think part of me wanted to be the one hurting my body, and it gave me the chance to numb the pain. I know now that the pain isn’t going to go away, that it is something I have learned to live with and no amount of drugs and alcohol can change what happened to me.
- Take them in a safe environment with people you trust.
- Drink water to stay hydrated, roughly 500ml per hour. Overhydration is a massive problem when taking ecstasy, so it is important not to drink too much.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes to prevent overheating.
- Excessive drug use increases susceptibility to mental health issues and heightens pre-existing conditions.
- Mixing drugs increases the likelihood of an overdose.
- When taking pills, start off with a smaller dose (half a pill) and wait to see the effect. This will decrease chances of an overdose.
- Never share needles.
- If you feel unwell, seek assistance and tell them what you have taken.
- Avoid drinking alone.
- Avoid mixing with drugs.
- Make your surrounding environment safer. For instance, if you are prone to self-harming when intoxicated, removal of tools would be a safer option.
- Know your limits.
- If you are on a night out, stay close to friends and help each other get home.
- Alcohol dehydrates your body, so it is important to drink water when drinking alcohol.
- Have a family member or close friend you can call if you need a safe way of getting home.
- If you think you or a friend might have alcohol poisoning, seek assistance by calling 999.
another survivor tells us about her experiences of disordered eating.
To cope with my experiences of sexual violence, I turned to the gym and controlled/disordered eating. At the time, this felt really "healthy" – I was exercising and eating well. As time progressed and my mental health deteriorated, I continued to deny to myself what had happened to me was abuse and this "healthy" coping mechanism became hurtful. I was exercising 2-3 hours daily, restricting my diet to "clean" and "healthy" foods only. I went from a size 12 to a size 8 in a few months. I started to restrict portions and miss meals altogether. When I ate something "bad", I would make myself sick. I would go for dinner with my friends and leave as quickly as possible to ensure I could make myself sick as quickly as possible. Everyone complimented me, they told me I looked great and this only fuelled my eating disorder.
This coping mechanism got me through a really difficult time in my life, but I wish I had used a more positive strategy. This disordered eating and negative body image has had a lasting effect on my life. I still struggle with my weight and with enjoying food. My teeth became really weak because of my bulimia. I’ve had to get lots of painful and expensive dental treatment. Moments that should’ve been exciting and happy, like buying a wedding dress, were ruined by the anxiety around my weight and body image.
I wish I had gotten support from rape crisis sooner; I wish my friends and family had challenged my weight loss as a negative thing. If I had sought support, I could’ve used another coping mechanism that didn’t leave these long-term negative thoughts.